Shoppers' expectations guided by generation

Shopper with smartphone
Customers expect a seamless experience, regardless of channel and digital enablement at every touch point.

There are definitely differences in generational buying behavior due to varying coming-of-age experiences, according to a recent study by Alliance Data Systems Corporation's card services business. 

The Generational Perspective study showed that a shopper's expectations are first guided by generational identity and then by the stage that person is in life, such as career, family, empty-nesting and retirement. 

For example, the study showed that Gen Xers and millennials came of age during the information revolution and want instant gratification. 

Each generation connects with brands differently, as millennials are willing to go out of their way for a brand they love and members of the Silent Generation, those born between 1925 and 1945, do not express the same type of loyalty. 

However, all consumers shared the same baseline brand expectations regardless of generation, which include payment security, easy brand interactions and transparent promotions. 

Specifically, the results of the study made these discoveries about each generation:

  • Millennials need to feel emotionally connected to the shopping experience both in-store and online. They are willing to explore what a brand offers, but they want the information quickly. To win with millennials, brands should allow connection to their social networks and enable self-service options such as chatbots to deliver in-the-moment service. 
  • Generation X is looking for efficiency as they balance careers with family. They want to know up front why a retailer's product is what they need. Retailers should focus on solutions that save time for these shoppers, like order online and curbside pickup. 
  • Baby boomers care about quality over cost, so retailers must tell them why a product is worth the price. They have time, money and value customer service, so retailers need to offer white-glove, personalized treatment to gain their loyalty. 
  • The Silent Generation does not believe in waste in what they buy, so retailers must appeal to their sensible nature and focus on value first. In-store associates are a retailer's best brand ambassador for this generation, who wants the associate to know them by name. 

According to Shannon Andrick, vice president of marketing advancement at Alliance Data's card services business, the study showed that buying behaviors were clearly influenced by what consumers were exposed to in their habit-forming years. 

Shannon Andrick

"Consumer buying behaviors mirror values formed at an early age—and those behaviors are indicative of life experiences by generation. So while millennials, for example, may not like being labeled as the 'me' generation, it makes sense when you think about the influences that shaped their formative years," she told FierceRetail.

However, Andrick believes that retailers are missing the boat when it comes to connecting with consumers in a very authentic way. In other words, the retailers have not met emotional needs that help to build relationships with customers. 

"Retailers will benefit from digging into their customer data and getting to know the different generational segments on a deep level," Andrick said. "Understanding why those customers shop the brand and what need the brand fulfills for them will help them attract and retain loyal customers." 

In the future, brick-and-mobile will continue to dominate the shopping experience, according to Andrick. Customers expect a seamless experience, regardless of channel and digital enablement at every touch point, especially as Generation Z gains spending power. 

"Generation Z consists of true digital natives and they will shop brands, not channels," she said. "Brands who study what drives each generation will get an understanding into what will drive loyalty long-term."