retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

This is a story that I knew was coming. The basic fact underlying it has been obvious for some time, as were the implications of the change it portends. Yet the moment still feels like something worth sharing and discussing.

This year’s class of college freshmen class, born in 1995, is the first ever born after the advent of the Internet, as we know it today. In other words, the world of the web is the only world they have ever known.

Of course, it’s also obvious that the past three to six freshmen classes actually fall into the same bucket since I doubt many of them were reading Encyclopedia Britannica in their jogging strollers. Nonetheless, this is a threshold I think we need to contemplate.

This is a generation that never thought of using an encyclopedia because Google was always there. They probably never read newspapers in print because all the news they ever wanted was always at their fingertips. They never listened to a record or cassette tape because MP3s have always existed for them.

And when it comes to shopping, they have always known about a place called Amazon.com.

This is, of course, hardly the first time this type of generational change has happened. My generation knew nothing about iceboxes, general stores or party lines. But think of how the culture's advances beyond those things signaled remarkable changes in how we shopped and communicated.

This new shift matters because there are countless habits of these college freshmen that many of us understand and misunderstand. They study differently because nothing else would make sense. They multi-task because they always have and always could.

They relate easily to each other by devices and don’t use social media or smartphones the same way their parents do. (Ask them about Snapchat, Vine or Instagram to get a glimpse into their world of hyper-fast communication.)

This also means that as this new class - and all those that follow - emerges into the world, it will challenge the ways we communicate with this generation as associates and shoppers. That means we need learn new ways to market and communicate, and how we recruit and train.

Some folks born before 1995 might argue that we have important skills to teach, such as how to talk to people while looking them in the eyes. But whatever argument you have about this change, well, get over it.

Our goal now should be to learn how to merge the best of all worlds and become the marketers and employers that can talk to both camps.

One other thing to consider: WTOP, the local all-news radio station in Washington, DC, reported last week that older people have finally found a technology that they can learn easily and use to solve real problems. The technology is social media and, according to the radio station, forums like Facebook are helping older people overcome feelings of isolation by giving them an easy link to community.

Things just keep changing.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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