Millennials, those Americans age 18 to 34, had fondly (wink) been given the reputation of the “entitlement” generation. They grew up during prosperous economic times when their Boomer parents had the funds to purchase the latest and greatest innovations retailers had to offer, from clothes to gadgets to automobiles.

Retailers could not wait for this generation, accustomed to immediate gratification, to enter the shopping force and were strategically waiting in the wings with programs, product lines and promotions specifically-tailored to win this generation’s mind share.

Enter the Great Recession…

This generation was entitled no more. No group in the country has been harder hit by the downfall of the economy. For a large group of Millennials, their careers are in holding patterns (or have not even begun); they hold enormous amounts of education debt and a quarter of them describe life as “financial desperation.” What results is a group of people who have more time, but less money to spend than their Boomer counterparts.

This is a group that is used to having information streaming in, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So therefore, extensive research has become the norm for any Millennial making a purchase decision. One study reports that Millennials will check more than 10 sources and spend sometimes what amounts to days’ worth of time online and in-store before sealing the deal on a purchase.

The other, more widely known, fact about this generation is that the Millenials grew up with technology. They are married to their mobile phones and they’re not afraid to use them for commerce. Almost 75% of Millennials who own a smart phone report transacting on their mobile devices. Much of the research done by this age group is orchestrated through mobile and tablet devices, whether they’re in-store comparing prices or pulling together review information from various sites.

What do all these disparate points mean for retailers looking to snag the attention of the Millennials, who may not have the wallet share now, but will someday be taking the place of the hordes of Baby Boomers who will retire in the next ten years?

It means possibly changing your perspective on mobile and what it means to your business. Creating a mobile-optimized site is of course the first task. But, what next? The obvious second task for a mobile strategy is developing an app around your products or your brands. Flashy, fun, something that’s sure to go “viral…” these are all terms thrown around the table of large marketing agencies trying to make a splash for you brand’s mobile presence.

Flashy, fun and viral only scratch the surface of a successful mobile app geared toward a generation with a penchant for research.

Instead of a mobile app being a way to just grab attention, successful retailers will use their mobile apps to support the research process, ultimately encouraging the shopper to buy the right product from their sites. Mobile Guided Selling Apps do just that. They serve as a research tool by walking shoppers through a series of questions about their wants, needs, preferences or lifestyles, then recommending products based on the answers.

Mobile Guided Selling Apps come in many shapes and forms but ultimately the goals of these apps are to educate consumers, guide them to the product that fits their needs, help them make sense of complicated purchase decisions and increase engagement with the brand.

Take, for instance, a mobile TV finder that lives on a major retailer’s site.
The tool asks the shopper questions like: How big the room is where the TV will go? What are you planning to do on the TV (watch movies, game)? How far away will you sit; and, possibly most important, what is your budget?

Taking the answers to the questions into account, the tool recommends TVs in the price range that will be optimized for the shopper’s intended use.

The products recommended by the tool include peer ratings and review information and also outline the compatible parts that will be needed for that particular model of TV.

The Mobile Guided Selling App experience amounts to multiple sites and hours’ worth of research, all within budget, orchestrated in about ten minutes from a mobile site where the product can be purchased immediately or taken along with the shopper later.

It’s a different take on the “typical” app experience, but one that will resonate with a group of people who wants to be absolutely certain about the purchases they make and want to use mobile devices to do it.

Eric Tobias is president of iGoDigital, a company that offers personal product recommendations and guided selling technology.

Photo via Ed Yourdon/Flickr