Millennials are the merry murderers of the 21st century, slaying everything from golf to weddings. After all, they’re simply more interested in traveling to Third World countries or dining exclusively on avocado toast and gourmet coffee than being proper beer-drinkin’, homeownin’, Wal-Mart shoppin’ Americans. The biggest victim is the great American institution of retail, which millennials simply refuse to open their slim wallets to save.

I jest, of course. But whether or not millennials should be blamed or rewarded for helping the decline of overpriced department stores or questionably-sourced jewelry chains matters not. Millennials aren’t killing retail — they’re transforming it.

It turns out millennials should be absolved of (most of) their alleged crimes, because retail isn’t actually dead. First, it’s mostly department stores that are suffering, while mass-market retailers, “fast fashion” stores, and discount-oriented chains such as TJMaxx are thriving with millennials. The problem with department stores is that they don’t reflect how people shop. Today’s customers, millennials in particular, aren’t looking for a place in which decisions are made for them. They want to have a customized experience, and that includes bargain-hunting and finding unique items.

In fact, millennials’ famous preference for “experience over things” is actually doing retail some favors: more customers want a personalized experience in which they talk to experts who work at the stores, rather than the impersonal experience of online shopping. While customer service employees will need to level up, they still have jobs. (The jury is still out on whether or not customers will treat them like humans.) Clothing and jewelry retailers have moved toward an experiential approach in which customers, especially those narcissistic millennials, feel special. Of course, everyone, no matter what generation, tends to buy more when they feel special.

Even the most aggressive millennial-blamers have to admit that millennials are helping spur the rise of online shopping and that retailers who can’t offer a compelling online platform or competitive prices probably don’t deserve to stay in the big leagues. And those retailers who, like millennials, are “digital natives” or who successfully incorporated e-commerce into their business model are seeing an uptick in sales. After all, now agoraphobes can buy whatever they’d like and have it shipped right to their day.

But millennials didn’t stop there; they wanted a digital experience in the few brick-and-mortar stores they hadn’t killed. They wanted to be able to “order online and pick up in-store,” or better yet, use self-service kiosks to get everything they need. Naturally, fears about robots taking our jobs rose anew, although nearly two centuries of threats haven’t yet come to fruition.

Millennials may not be buying homes, but they’re helping other people live the American Dream by supporting local businesses. As part of their need to be ethical, sustainable, and “woke,” they’re more likely to shop with their conscience, and “buying local” is an easy way to achieve that. Some large retailers, such as Lucky’s Market, have taken this to heart and regularly offer locally sourced products in their stores.

So the next time you go shopping and you have the store rewards app on your phone, thank a millennial. Next time you can pick up local beer at the same time you’re picking up toilet paper, thank a millennial. Next time you can get a fully customized retail experience instead of stared confusedly at a row of eyeshadows, thank a millennial.

Also, millennials killed American cheese, and for that, we’re all thankful.

Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL and on the cusp of Gen X and millennial. She does indeed love avocado toast, craft beer, and killing outdated American institutions. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.

Writer by day, circus artist by night. I write about art, media, culture, health, science, and where they all meet. Join my list:

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