Shopping Habits in Different Generations: Boomers vs. Gen Z

You might think that Baby Boomers and Generation Z don’t have a lot in common. That would be a mistake. Sure, Boomers are nearing or are already retired, while the typical Gen Zer is just finishing up college. One is downsizing their homes and costs, the other is just coming into their own. Yet there’s one major thing they have in common: they are both fans of shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.

Buying Habits of Baby Boomers

Boomers are still viewed as one of the largest and most affluent generations we’ve seen. As a generation that still holds $2.6 trillion in buying power, they’re a leader in keeping brick and mortar stores in business. While Boomers are one of the most affluent generations, a driving force behind that statistic is that many Boomers are still in the workforce, even those who have surpassed retirement age.

65% of Boomer women are expected to be working by 2022, many returning to the workforce after retiring and realizing that they will need more income to stay afloat through the autumn of their life. Many of those who have returned to the workforce use their income to cover bills and also enjoy the resurgence of expendable income to make their lives comfortable.

When it comes to shopping, Baby Boomers expect to be treated like the valuable customer they are. This mindset drives them to physical store locations as they prefer a human experience when shopping for goods, and will abandon shopping at a store, even one of their favorites, if they have a bad experience with customer service.

How to Reach A Target Audience of Baby Boomer Shoppers

They prefer a pleasant shopping experience that is convenient and straight forward, they aren’t ones to browse and seek out new brands or items. They visit stores where they know the items they’re looking for are available, so they can grab each item and go. Boomers stick to what they know is tried and true. This is not to say they’re nostalgic, they do not strictly buy the brands they grew up with, they buy what they have learned works best over years of trial.

If they are in the market for a new brand or product, they’re more likely to seek out products that have a strong suggested popularity—products that are perceived as popular among peers or with prominent omnichannel engagement are what they are most likely to try first. However, they are not a generation that is easily influenced by social media popularity. While they enjoy spending time with social media, they view it as a source of entertainment rather than a trustworthy source.

While this generation prefers to shop in-store, they often use online shopping for things that are unavailable in-store near them, and for difficult to find items. They enjoy taking stock of their options but aren’t often ones to hunt in vain for a bargain. If a reward or loyalty option is available online, this will increase their likelihood to shop in this fashion as this ties into their perception of being a valued consumer.

When it comes to spending, these empty-nesters place greater importance on spending to improve and customize their homes, on healthier food, and to spoil their fur babies who have brought youthful exuberance back into their homes. Many also feel that incorporating travel into their lives is important, mainly spending money on luxury cruises and airfare.

The Shopping Behavior of Generation Z

Generation Z is the first generation to live their entire lives within a digital-first world; this generation relies on and expects everything to be readily available online. As a generation that expects things to be instantly ready (they’re 60% more likely to hang up if a phone isn’t answered within 45 seconds), they don’t like waiting for things they buy online to ship, they need instant gratification.

While their reasons are not wholly the same as Baby Boomers, Generation Z is the most prominent generation to prefer in-store shopping versus online. 84% of Gen Z views shopping as an opportunity to plan an outing with friends, often creating a shopping list of things they’ve found online and want to buy in their local store while browsing with a group of friends. A traditional store environment won’t hold the attention of Gen Z shoppers, however. Gen Z is used to being entertained, so they seek out stores that have digital enhancements and ways to incorporate their in-store experience into their online lives. Locations that create a digitally friendly space in their physical location are more likely to gain Gen Z shoppers.

Many Gen Zers take two steps when it comes to their shopping. First, they begin with research online. They’ll browse multiple websites to locate the product they want based on reviews from other consumers. Once they’ve found what they’re looking for, they switch to checking inventory availability at their favorite local stores with the intention of buying online and picking up in-store (BOPIS/BOPUS). This new form of shopping has been gaining traction in recent years but has continued to gain momentum as more of Gen Z enters into their buying power. Equally new to the shopping space are fashion rental and clothing resale platforms. Gen Z feels the need to impress at all times given their perpetually connected habits, so they turn to fashion rentals or discounted clothing resale to keep up with trends without over-extending their limited income.

How to Reach a Target Audience of Gen Z Buyers

So how do you reach a generation that has access to so many sources? Much like Boomers, Generation Z does not view social media as a trustworthy source. The generation grew up with digital media and has a keen sense of what is genuine online and easily see though the façade of social influencers and targeted ads. Instead, Gen Z trusts word of mouth from friends, and occasionally family, to help with their purchase decisions. They also gravitate to brands that align with their values and interact with user generated content (UGC). They appreciate brands that comment on or share pictures and reviews created by real shoppers such as themselves, and as a result will share their own review on items they purchase to encourage others in their generation to buy as well.

Since many Gen Zers are too young to be on their own, they have more flexibility with their income, however limited it may be. They do not have cost of living expenses and many still receive an allowance, affording them the ability to spend on things they want, not necessarily things they need. That’s why it’s crucial for brands across industries—from auto and tech to fashion and beauty—to connect with these consumers now, and build relationships that will carry  Gen Z made up 25% of all foodservice traffic and had 14.6 billion restaurant visits in 2018. Similar to Boomers, they also view travel as a vital part of life, spending on cruises and airfare.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Baby Boomers and Generation Z seem like two different species when you compare how each grew up. Neither could comprehend what the other experienced, yet as time goes on their preferences are coming closer and closer to the same center. Each generation uses the internet and trusts it as a reference, but neither enjoy shopping online and instead prefer the experience of finding things themselves in-store. They each expect a unique experience in their own generational way and want items that are worth the cost. Rather than staying in, both generations value experiences and seek human interactions.

Retailers can please each generation by catering to them—treat them as a priority, create comfortable shopping experiences, and embrace their individuality no matter how alike they may begin to look.

Subscribe To News & Trends