Blog > Generational Characteristics and Behaviour in Retail

Generational Characteristics and Behaviour in Retail

Understanding your audience is everything, especially for retailers. Surely you need to know who you’re selling to, to get their attention?

However, retail giants still can be found grouping their customers into basic audiences – male, female or both. In reality, every individual shopper can have a unique behavioural pattern meaning that as one shopper responds well to a marketing campaign or sale, other shoppers of the same audience may not.

A key fact forgotten by retailers that contributes to the consumer demographic is the age category.

As generation categories pass, trends change and products that used to be the must haves are now just moments of nostalgia.

So understanding the generational categories, their characteristics, their influences and their shopping behaviour is a key element to successful retailers.

The Baby Boomers:

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers were the generation of Rock and Roll. The generation responsible for social change, the hippie movement and the rise of feminism, Elvis Presley, and the Rolling Stones.

Rebellious as teens but conservative as adults, Baby Boomers were the post-war generation that rebuilt the economy and fought for civil rights.

They were the first generation to have televisions in the family homes and came of age as mass developments were taking place in the world, these developments and historical moments included: The first American landing on the moon, the founding of Sony, Edwin Land developing the first instant camera, the sales of the first tape and video recorders, the first time a mechanical heart was used in a human patient, racial segregation was forbidden, Toyota began exporting vehicles to the U.S., the Barbie Doll dominated the toy market, the passing of Marilyn Monroe and to mark the end of a generation, the Martin Luther King ‘I Have A Dream Speech’.

generation categories: baby boomer

Image Source: RetroWaste

As shoppers in 2017, Baby Boomers are still the generation that has the most disposable income and account for around 45-50% of luxury retail expenditure. Baby Boomers didn’t grow up with technology as it is today, unlike the generations after them, but they are not technophobes. Baby Boomers have had to learn and adapt to modern technology, and although they prefer traditional marketing tactics, a study from Immerson Active uncovered that a staggering 66% of Baby Boomers do go online to either make purchases or research brands and products.

Although having adopted technology and social media, Baby Boomers still do favour the one-to-one interactions of physical retail stores and look for quality, craftsmanship, and heritage in their purchases. Boomers will use digital technology to research a method of contact, but would rather go into a brick-and-mortar store as they want to feel that their purchase is valued by the person dealing with them, but by the brand in general.

Generation X: 

Born between 1964 and 1984, Gen X brought us the revolution of music. In the late 60s they brought the skinhead subculture in the early rise of punk and in the 70s they brought us the mods and rockers, and the anti-capitalists and towards the final years of Gen X, Indie, Grunge and Alternative was born. They delighted us with music from artists such as Abba, AC/DC, Backstreet Boys, Bananarama, Band Aid, Prince, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard, Guns n’ Roses, The Police, Duran Duran, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Wham! and Cher… Just to name a few.

Then along came MTV, the channel that influenced everything in their lives from fashion, political awareness, music, trends, and vocabulary.

Generation X were more independent and better educated. Known as the ‘latchkey kids’, Gen X were exposed to a lot of childminding and grew up around divorce.

They are a generally smaller cohort and are often squished between Baby Boomers and Millennials.

Generation category: gen x

Image Source: Pinterest, BBC & MeTV

Some key moments in their coming of age were events such as the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of the PC, the first Superbowl, the Death Penalty was abolished, Elvis died, Pac-man was released, homosexuality was legalised, Concord makes its maiden flight, the world’s first IVF baby was born, Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister, the economic recession, and high unemployment,

Like Baby Boomers, Gen X wasn’t born into technology but their transition was much sooner. Most didn’t have a computer at primary school but by the time they were at middle school nearly all education centres had one. They saw the development, so they are accustomed to traditional marketing such as print, radio, and television but they are also responsive to digital marketing.

They don’t want to try new brands, they prefer to stick with brands they trust and will pay extra for them.

As shoppers, they’re loyal with an estimated 65% of their generation more likely to make a monthly purchase with a loyalty program.

Don’t underestimate their digital ability, they may not be native but they’re still savvy. Millward Brown Digital reported that 60% of the 1000 they screened use a smartphone on a daily basis, whilst 67% use a laptop or PC daily, but that doesn’t mean that the physical store is dead… with roughly 48% still opting to shop in store over online.

They want purchase related information, they want to know that they are not being taken advantage of and want the best deal possible.

Generation Y / The Millennials:

Born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, following on from the generation before them they brought us music legends including Oasis, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Blur, Radio Head, Green Day, Mariah Carey, R.E.M., No Doubt, Goo Goo Dolls, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Spice Girls, Madonna, Celine Dion and David Bowie.

Key moments during the Millennial generation include the launch of Facebook, 9/11, The Ozone hole discovered, first smoking ban in restaurants, PG13 film ratings, Apple unveils the Mac, first successful heart transplant, Chernobyl disaster, the World Wide Web opens to the public, Nelson Mandela was elected as president of South Africa, Dolly the sheep is cloned, the death of Princess Diana, Google was founded and No Child Left Behind enacted.

Following the recession, millennials face a tough job market. They also are waiting later in life to get married and have families.

Millennials are the first generation that grew up immersed in digital technology, they don’t remember the days when the television only had three channels, they don’t know what it’s like to like without a mobile phone.

Generation category: Gen Y

Image Source: RetroWaste, Complex & RetroMash

They are the largest generation in history, and also the most educated.

They care about health, social and environmental issues and they are global citizens, they feel a responsibility to make the word better.

Millennials have an entrepreneurial spirit, growing up watching Steve Jobs lead Apple and Social giants like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey revolutionise the social media industry. They want to disrupt, 1/6 of the UK workforce are freelance or work for themselves.

Again, fear not for the future of physical stores; according to a study taken by GeoMarketing 82% of Millennials believe it is important for a brand to have a physical store, with GeoMarketing stating that Millennials value physical stores more than any other generation, because they want to be able to shop both offline and online.

69% of Millennial shoppers belong to a retail loyalty program, and more than 80% of their retail spending is done in-store.

Generation Z… The new kids on the block: 

Generation Z is the newest of the cohorts, with their key demographic only just coming of age.

They are the most diverse and accepting generation of all and believe everyone should live the way they want to and be who they are. They’re concerned about the planet, they all want to volunteer and they want retailers to share their values.

They are still be influenced by fashion, music, and media and their generation hasn’t even taken over yet, however, although young they have still been exposed to some key elements that will define their generation, some of these include the death of Prince, Cyberbullying laws in 35 states, the capture of Saddam Hussein, WikiLeaks, Barack Obama is the first black President of the USA, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, legalisation of same-sex marriage, acceptance of LGBT community, Donald Trump becomes President, the release of the iPod, the creation of YouTube, Planet Earth starts on BBC 1, The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, heightened terror attacks, London holds the Olympics and the end of the Iraq War.

generation category: Gen Z

Image Source: Rolling Stone, Money Inc & Human Rights

These are the truly digital generation. Born after 1995, they spend more of their free time online than any other generation. They are the most connected and can have anything they desire within seconds but their spending outlook isn’t quite what you would expect.

IBM released a study that revealed 63% of Gen Z prefer to shop in-store, seeing shopping as a social activity which allows them to spend more time with friends and family… But it’s not quite that simple because they want more than any other generation.

Gen Z wants experiences, they want immersive technology and if you can’t offer what they are looking for, they will already be looking at your competitors.

They want to save the word, they’re diverse and they’re the most accepting generation of all time. 76% are concerned about human impact on the planet, and nearly all of Gen Z stand for something and they want brands to do the same. They’re challenging gender norms, they are breaking prejudice boundaries and that will strongly influence their purchasing decisions.