How Purchasing Behavior Differs by Generations

In order to stay relevant in any marketplace, it’s essential for small businesses to fully understand consumers’ purchasing preferences. Of course, not all customers are alike — there are some important differences in the purchasing behavior for each generation.

Figuring out how each generation prefers to pay can give you the best chance of converting potential customers when they are at a very crucial part of the marketing funnel.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials are similar in their purchasing behaviors, and more importantly — how they’re different.


Baby Boomers Emphasize Customer Service

While all generations value customer service, baby boomers in particular emphasize its importance, both in terms of which brands they’re loyal to, and in deciding whether to shop online or at a local retailer.

Baby boomers have a strong preference for shopping in a traditional store over an online one, with 84% preferring a brick-and-mortar experience, according to Salesfloor. This is largely due to their preference for engaging with in-store clerks.

Nonetheless, baby boomers do regularly shop online, but they bring those high expectations for exceptional customer service with them.

Studies show that Baby Boomers own more than half (58%) of all household wealth and spend over $500 billion annually. Ecommerce stores hoping for a piece of the baby boomers’ considerable buying power should make customer service the primary focus this year.

Having a customer service number readily available and/or a live chat option can help provide the personalized experience older shoppers expect. Once they’ve made their selection, your job is not done — according to the Baymard Institute, some 70% of shopping carts are abandoned. Integrating live chat prompts in the checkout process can help prevent this high percentage of drop-offs.


Gen Xers Do In-Depth Research

While research shows that millennials value an emotional connection with brands, their older counterparts in Generation X just want the facts.

Gen Xers spends the majority of their time researching products. They are compelled by reviews and straightforward product information. They don’t really care for any marketing messages. But while Gen Xers are not afraid to spend time researching products, they are short on time.

Brands should focus on search engine optimization (SEO) to help this generation discover their products quickly. SEO techniques help ensure that your website’s product listing is a top option when a Gen Xer searches for your product on Google or a similar search engine.

By providing strong reviews and clear messaging about the benefits of your products, you can hasten Gen Xers’ decision-making process. Implementing a speedy and secure checkout process seals the deal.


Millennials Integrate Technology Into Their Shopping Experience

While every generation buys online (and in fact, older generations spend more money online overall), millennials integrate technology into their shopping habits far more than others.

They’re highly driven by price, according to a report by CouponFollow, and are more likely to use their phones to research a product or a coupon/discount than other generations.

At checkout, larger numbers of these shoppers are using their mobile devices as a wallet and more than half (51%) use P2P payment apps such as PayPal and Venmo.

For ecommerce and traditional stores alike, streamlining the payment experience by offering self-checkout kiosks, mobile wallet support, in-app purchasing, social media purchasing, and other advanced digital payment options can help retailers appeal to the millennial shopper.


Final Thoughts

Each generation values different elements in the shopping experience — from the customer service-focused baby boomer, to the researching Gen Xer, to the technologically savvy millennial.

But all three generations are shopping online more and more — and using online research, reviews, and social media engagement throughout the shopping experience.

All three generations are also increasingly making purchases on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Shopping apps and mobile-friendly websites are no longer optional for retailers hoping to succeed.

And in the wake of major data breaches, security is on everyone’s mind. A trustworthy online image and secure checkout experience is crucial for getting anyone to ultimately click “Buy”.


About the Author: Riley Panko is a Senior Writer at The Manifest, a B2B news and how-to site. She conducts relevant research that aims to help consumers enhance their business and select the services and software best-suited to their needs.

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