Millennials and the Future of Commerce: Insights from Asia’s 1st Millennial 20/20 Summit

The Millennial generation grew up in a world of intense disruption led by technology and innovation. The power of the internet combined with the proliferation of mobile technology has transformed millennials’ needs, wants, and behavior. The Millennial 20/20 Summit (M2020) was a 2-day industry gathering hosted at the iconic Singapore ArtScience Musuem. More than 130 speakers and 1500 brands, companies, startups, and visitors came together to exchange thoughts and ideas on the future of technology and commerce, powered by the next generation of millennial consumers.Millennial Infographic

A neat little doodle about Millennial consumers by Idea Ink.

If anything was apparent and clear from the M2020 exhibitions, keynotes and panel discussions, the driving force behind the success of any brand or product seeking to connect with the millennial generation lies with  singular, warm-bodied entities – us. We moved from being mere consumers to “prosumers”, where we, are now too, content creators and publishers in our own spaces. So how does a brand or business capitalize on the limitless reach of the social web?

The Power of Me

The consumer world is already saturated with content marketing – it exists on every platform that is currently available. Kevin Hagino, Senior Regional Brand Manager for Lego Southeast Asia puts it across accurately with a controversial illustration. “The difference in approach is like marriage and prostitution. Brands who throw their content at consumers desperately saying ‘watch me’ will do anything or say anything to get people to watch it, essentially ‘prostituting’ themselves,” he said. “But if you think about marriage, there’s a reason why it makes sense. It’s a long-term relationship that you’re trying to nurture. It has become far too easy to ‘prostitute’ ourselves because of all the platforms out there,” he added. Bringing “prosumers” into the process of product design and development, is nurturing that long-term relationship, and ensuring that the eventual product/service is something of their desire, which they would be happy to be advocates for on their own social media channels, spreading awareness of your brand throughout their online social circles.

Convergence of Mobile and Commerce

“A mobile phone is life ”, that was Bastian Purrer’s (Co-Founder & CEO of Lyke) response when asked to describe in a few words, what the mobile phone meant to consumers in Asia. He elaborated on how these devices have formed a core part of people’s personal and commercial interactions. Michael Lints, from Golden Gate Ventures, recounted some of his experiences in the region, especially in Indonesia where he observed that people used their mobile phones for pretty much everything from banking to shopping and entertainment, it was the device that brought consumer experiences together, and this has led his team to focus on investing in mobile-only businesses.

M2020 1

Facebook’s Ferguson O’Hare spoke of the innovative ways in which people “hacked” their mobile platforms and engaged in transactions that weren’t part of the original, intended design. Facebook uses this as an opportunity to learn more about the features businesses and consumers need in order to enhance their mobile experience. Instances where farmers in the Middle East have found a way to sell sheep on Instagram, to how small businesses in India and Indonesia use Facebook messages for transactions shows us how tech-savvy businesses and consumers push the limits of mobile technology.


Individualism & Personalization: How millennials are changing the way we shop

What drives demand in the millennial generation? “We are in an age of individualism, whatever you do, and however you voice it, it has to have personality,” Stephanie Chai, CEO of luxury hotel booking portal, The Luxe Nomad, said when asked for views on how to best market to Millennials. “We did it by ourselves. Just using my sense of humor on Instagram” she added. Millennials are looking for fully-personalized experiences that gratify them.

In a packed session on fashion and beauty, Forbes Senior Digital Editor Rana Wehbe moderated a panel discussion with three powerhouse young female entrepreneurs – Rachel Lim, Co-Founder of Love, Bonito, a popular online fashion retailer; Sylvia Yin, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Shoppr, an online fashion clothing site and shopping app; and Le Hoang Uyen Vy, Managing Director of Adayroi, an e-commerce initiative by Vincommerce, Vietnam’s largest retail company. The panelists shared their passions and motivations in the online fashion world and spoke about the changing ways in which millennials shop. One of the key points they emphasized was that millennials are different from consumers of previous generations – they are more discerning, educated, and empowered through technology and the Internet of Things; making it easier for them to make informed and educated choices with their purchases.

Data and the Complexity of the Consumer Journey

Data is a big part of the digital transformation that we see in commerce today and a lot more attention is being paid on how to best leverage data analytics.

To discuss this, Mashable’s Gwendolyn Regina moderated a panel discussion with executives from Mondelez, Nespresso, Pizza Hut, and Deliveroo to talk about the opportunities that online and offline data has unlocked and the challenges posed by the rising sea of data.


Tristan Torres Velat from Deliveroo, a food delivery mobile app, spoke about the advantage that they have as a mobile-only platform, which gave them access to a great deal consumer behavior data. An amusing example he shared was that deliveries for high-calorie food such as pizzas and burgers peaked towards the end of the week, and decreased at the start of the week when customers ordered healthier options such as salads. Deliveroo taps on its customer buying behavior to promote higher priced healthy food options during the weekdays; a simple example of how a data-driven insight can help make better decisions and drive better business results.

But some would ask how this is relevant for businesses that are only partially online? Mondelez’s E-Commerce Director, Ganesh Kashyap, faced this challenge and spoke about how Mondelez leveraged both online and offline data in China and managed to grow their Oreo Thins business.

Their offline data – comprises of focus groups and panel data – shows that more women between the ages of 25 and 30 were avoiding Oreo’s because they felt it was too sweet and couldn’t consume it without feeling guilty from the calories. Using data from market research, Mondelez developed and launched Oreo Thins meant to target this consumer group online, but the response was lukewarm. So the team turned to online data and through content optimization, managed to drive higher message relevance, click-through and ultimately sales and demand for Oreo Thins.

Pizza Hut’s Marketing Advisor, Charmaine Wong further emphasized the importance of using a business’ data as a continuum of information that can lead to concrete business intelligence, and that both offline and online data should complement each other to drive integrated business insights.

The panel acknowledged that, though data has helped many businesses reap rewards and unlock opportunities, businesses are still in the early years of fully understanding its potential and applications. Nespresso’s Head of Ecommerce, James Hansford, pointed to the incredible complexity of consumer behavior and consumption in the digital world; where there are multiple layers and points of user interaction. The challenge for brands is to be able to understand, identify and help address consumer needs, wants and pain points.

As millennials start to come of age, they are starting to have the spending power to shape the future of the world’s products and services, becoming a force to be reckoned within the market. The world will begin to see highly-customized and individualized products and experiences tailored around individual preferences. The next era of consumer consumption will be driven by the power of me.


– By Lim Tsu Ern, Natasha Sahetapy, and Nithun Nandakumar