This is an inconvenient truth: By and large, the antiques world is responsible for the shrinking market caused by its consistent neglect of the younger generation, and such an important demographic group will go on as missing unless they are brought in on their own terms, in their own way. The antiques industry is talking, but is it communicating?
There are no other issues more urgent than the expansion of the customer pool for the antiques business. From the beginning of the year, the first batch of the boomer generation enters the age of 65. With more retirements on the way, the core antiques consumers will begin downsizing. Yet in any given antiques show that we have attended, there hardly exist any young shoppers looking to fill their apartments with antiques. To expect them to love antiques suddenly when entering middle age is more of a well-wishing fairytale, and it is imperative for the whole industry to rethink and innovate in order to bring them in, NOW.
First let’s look at what marketing has been done for the typical antiques show. Well, the best of all is “word of mouth.” Collectors get recommendations from friends (now they can get facebook recommendations), or they can inquire with dealers about other shows when attending one, who, nevertheless, will recommend their next show without reserve. Yet, this customer is not your typical Joe and the younger generations may not have collectors in his friendship circle and taking notes from dealers is a default sign of seasoned collectors.
Advertisement on traditional media is more a reminder to the seasoned or returned customers than to lure the new younger generation. I do not want to discredit the importance of the trade papers and the benefit of having show listed in such trade magazines. But let’s face it, less than 30 percent of people who are under 35 read any newspaper in 2009, not to mention the trade papers. Andrew and Hollie have a noble editorial column “The Young Collector” in the Main Antiques Digest, yet ironically they cannot avoid the conundrum that those articles are read largely by the gray-haired readers.
Nowadays most shows do have a website, unfortunately often with a design philosophy 10 years behind. What I mean is that it is often the same kind of HTML static page as those created before the boom and burst of dot.com. It is there again for the convenience of the internet-savvy type of the seasoned shoppers who can type a shows’ name into Google and find out locations, time, admission fee and perhaps a glimpse of dealer list. But again, the missing link here is the new customers must know the name in order to search for it. How would they come to know it?
Other advertising methods include postcards, radio or TV ads (or better a TV report). While the cost of the postcards may prohibit mass-mailing because of its low conversion rate to the young generation, radio or TV ads have also been made with a mind toward seasoned collectors. A even worse news is that based on Nielsen young people don’t watch TV on TV (and instead watch TV online or portable devices).
Now let’s look at some common attributes and trends of shopping patterns in generation x and y, which can be summarized in two words: social shopping.
It is NOT about that they will use OpenTable to make reservation for the dinner at a trendy restaurant and it is NOT about that they will buy books or almost anything online such Amazon.com. It is the capability of interacting with like-minded fellow to discuss, share and shop (Amazon review and rating system), take and give recommendations to each other (iTune store or urbanspoon) and connect directly with the service or product provider (check styleforum.net) to build the trust within the community.
Perhaps it is unfair to compare the comprehensive design of Amazon with a mom-and-pop website. Social shopping is just gaining momentum with big retailers now. However, from a technological perspective, the popular websites which attract the younger generation are either those with rich content (think of New York Times or Yahoo main page ) or those providing a unique service (think of Twitter or Groupon). But in either case, interaction is a must to keep their attention and get them to return. Both the New York Times or Yahoo have some interactive flash to use video and images to entice reader’s feedback or comments. Twitter is totally based on the inter-personally interactions. A simple static webpage will not trigger the conversion of the lead even if they happen to come across such a webpage, even worse if such a website is only updated once a year before the show.
While interaction may seem a long way to go as most of the show managers may not have the human resources and technology know-how to open up the opportunity for social shopping, they can begin to start from some simple tasks. For example, while not many shows can have the former Met director make a video as seen in the website of the Winter Antiques Show, home-made videos can be created with a less than 100-dollar camera and uploaded onto YouTube or Facebook. Don’t be afraid of professional editing or image quality. Take for example of Gary Vaynerchuk who became a celebrity with his home-made videos about wine. YouTube for generation Y is a way of communication and informality invites comments and interaction. Even better, invite visitors to upload their own video or photos to get into the video contest for prize or discount for the next year. The next generation look for the opportunity of participating in their own comfort zone. If antiquing is not within their comfort zone, photo and videos are.
Another example is Groupon. Perhaps some show managers who rely on the admission to break even, the total cost can hardly offer a 50 percent discount unless more than 1,000 show up at the door, it is still worth trying to make the presence in such new social shopping site. Whether or not such a deal will be “on” or not does not matter, it is the exposure to the younger generation who otherwise would not have heard of the show that makes it an ideal channel for antiques show. According to J.P. Morgan/eMarketer, web users between 18 to 34 were 10 times as likely as those 55 and older to have purchased from such a site–and those who earn $100,000 or more are also more likely to participate in social shopping. More interestingly, these shoppers are venture-takers who are willing to try something new, for them including the antiques experience!
In the end, we are in the 21st century with fads and trends in technology (and hence young generation’s next infatuation) will continue to change. Abraham Lincoln, in his speech to the Congress in 1862, made such a statement which is still resonating nowadays to the antiques business: The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.