It’s no secret that traditional retailers are struggling.

Among the usual culprits of the rise of online shopping, consumers having less spending money, and new technologies disrupting the retail industry, there is another issue to be found here.

Companies simply don’t know how to market to their most important customers, millennials.

The millennial is a tricky creature, for sure. While previous generations have emphasized buying things as part of their luxurious experiences, millennials seem to be far more interested in buying experiences.

You can thank social media for that. If a purchase doesn’t translate into something they can share with their friends on Instagram or Snapchat, most people simply won’t even bother buying it.

We can spend our time debating about whether that’s even a healthy mindset or not, and if constantly oversharing our lives is contributing to the slow decline of our society…

…or we can just figure out how to make money off it.

Considering this is the reality of doing business these days, and we can’t do much to change it, I vote for the latter.

So, does this mean traditional retail is dead? Far from it.

But, it does mean that traditional retail as we know it is dead. The businesses that succeed are going to be the ones that offer unique, shareable customer experiences.

Let’s look at two examples of what a stellar customer experience entails.

Chick-Fil-A solves a problem that hits close to home

customer experience definition

Chick-Fil-A, a fairly popular fast food chain based in the US, recently made headlines for one of their promotional offers. One that solved a growing a problem for families in America.

Research has shown that using your phone while you eat “leaves you incapable of fully enjoying the food, damages romantic relationships, and contributes to feelings of depression when you’re being snubbed by your partner.”

To help solve this issue, Chick-Fil-A designed the “Cell Phone Coop Family Challenge”. Simply place your phone on silent and inside the ‘coop’ for the duration of the meal, and receive free ice cream as a reward. (and the company of the people around you, of course)

The promotion went viral on social media, and was picked up by many major news outlets, all without spending a dime on advertising.

The fast food industry is one of the most competitive around and is extremely difficult to get any attention, making this campaign all the more impressive.

Caplansky’s is designing restaurants ‘built for Instagram’

what is customer experience

A local smoked meat favorite in Toronto, Caplansky’s Deli is launching a new franchising program aimed at expanding their “fast-casual” concept across Canada.

Popular with millennials, fast-casual is the segment of the market “where the greatest levels of growth are being experienced,” says retail futurist Doug Stephens of Retail Prophet. “That in itself represents an opportunity for Caplansky’s.”

And what else is popular with millennials? Inclusiveness, multi-culturalism, and sharing their lives on social media.

The new logo, he says, “is about showing a face to the world that is inclusive and relevant no matter what your culture.” Besides which, “my mother loves it and she’s always right about everything…which reminds me, I need to call her.” Such humour is part of Mr. Caplansky’s schtick and the new outlets will capitalize on it, with floor tiles trumpeting “call your mother” and “pick up a check once in a while.” Says Mr. Caplansky: “The whole store is built for Instagram.

Notice how there is virtually no mention of their actual product, smoked meat sandwiches.

Why is that? How could they pass up such a great opportunity to talk about their delicious products?

Experience trumps product every single day

There is nothing unique about fried chicken or smoked meat sandwiches. Granted, in order for these companies to have gotten this far, they had to have a product worth selling.

But having a great product never guarantees your success.

In this day and age, the experience your customer has while purchasing your product is the most important aspect of your business.

And what do millennial consumers love most? Exclusivity.

That feeling of discovering a band before they hit it big, or finding a hole-in-the-wall diner with the greatest waffles you’ve ever had, or uncovering a hidden gem on Netflix. That is the kind of experience this generation wants from their purchases.

So yeah, you could go to a lot of places to get a good smoked meat sandwich or some crispy fried chicken, but how many of those are #Instagram worthy?