Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z Shopping Behaviors, Compared

Every day, there are new articles hand-wringing about Tide Pods and generation Z, lambasting Millennials for liking avocado toast and attempting to demystify the next generation. Behind all that is a lot of noise, half-hearted personality profiles that seem more about venting confusion than providing practical takeaways. That’s why this article and research from Infobrandz is refreshing. The company performed a deep-dive, data-driven comparative analysis of shopping behaviors for three different generational demographics, imparting a number of marketing takeaways along the way.

We read the article using an ecommerce lens, and today we’d like to summarize the findings and provide a few of our own takeaways for ecommerce merchants specifically. Enjoy!

Generation X and Ecommerce

From an ecommerce and marketing standpoint, a strange thing is happening with Generation X, the cohort following the Baby Boomers: marketers are forgetting about them. Born between the early-to-mid-60’s and the early 80’s (putting them roughly between 35 and 55 years old), generation X isn’t just one of the most diverse generations; they’re also among the most educated. In fact, 35% of them hold degrees, compared to 19% of Millennials.

It’s perhaps their age range and economic diversity that makes Generation X difficult to categorize; when it comes to where someone is in their career and family life, there’s a big difference between the ages of 35 and 55. 35-year-olds, for example, may be new homeowners or recent parents, which might mean they’ll be more budget-conscious than a 55-year-old with recently self-sufficient kids and a more advanced career trajectory.

There are some commonalities within the Generation X cohort as a whole, and they all point back to one thing: careful consumption.

That said, there are some commonalities within the cohort as a whole, and they all point back to one thing: careful consumption. It doesn’t really matter whether Gen-Xers are on a tight budget or are relatively affluent; they do not like to waste their money either way. Instead, they care deeply about value, educate themselves thoroughly before purchasing a product, and tend to stay brand-loyal because of the extra time it takes them to choose a brand they trust.

As An Ecommerce Merchant, Win Over Generation X By:

  • Emphasizing Value In Your Marketing. This isn’t a generation that needs a flashy brand or reassurance that they’re cultivating a certain lifestyle; they just want to know that the product they’re purchasing is a good one. Share what makes your product high-quality, reliable, and fairly-priced. And remember, “good value” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “the best price;” it simply means the best value for the price, however you choose to define that.

  • Offering Hassle-Free Returns and/or a Warranty: Sure, you can explain why your products are trustworthy, but this is a generation that also wants to see you put your money where your mouth is. A customer-friendly return policy or a warranty on an expensive item isn’t just beneficial to the customer on a surface level; it also signifies your trust and pride in your own products.

  • Educating Your Customers: Part of seeking out value is doing research prior to making a purchase. That means you’re going to want to think carefully about how your customer is choosing to educate themselves - reviews? Blog posts? Googling questions? - and then be there with an answer whenever possible. Develop a blog or robust resource section on your own site with answers to some common questions, and establish yourself as a merchant who really knows and appreciates the products.

  • Encouraging Repeat Visits: Remember, many Gen-Xers want to be loyal to your brand because of all the research it takes to make the initial choice. Make it easy for them. Run a newsletter campaign, offer reward points, and create an unboxing experience that will surprise and delight them.

Millennials and Ecommerce

When it comes to Millennials, a lot of marketing begins and ends at the stereotype - broke but entitled, image-driven and financially irresponsible - and that does a disservice to everyone involved. There’s actually a lot of complexity and heart in this group, and if your marketing is reductive, lazy or disingenuous, Millennials are the first people to notice.

Full disclosure: at age 32, I’m a Millennial, which leads into the next point: Millennials are older than you think they are. The general consensus puts the cohort between the ages of 18 and 35, although there’s a growing group of people who would like to consider 80’s children their own demographic because of their unique familiarity with both analogue and digital technology.

Let’s dig into that stereotype for just a second and think about what’s really going on here: where did that entitled, financially irresponsible stereotype come from, and what does it really mean? Millennials came of age in a rough economy, where wages remained stagnant while the cost of living skyrocketed. A fifth of them are highly educated, but since they graduated into a recession, having a degree did not help their job prospects. That means there are a lot of Millennials working low-wage jobs, and a lot of them do talk about how they deserve more because, well, they were raised to have faith in an economic landscape that doesn’t exist anymore, by people who believe it still exists.

Millennials' definition of value isn’t a Gen X-style calculation of price versus quality; it’s in the quality of the experience and their ability to share it with others.

How does that translate to spending behavior? This is the part that causes some disconnect: their definition of value isn’t a Gen X-style calculation of price versus quality; it’s in the quality of the experience and their ability to share it with others. That’s why appreciating an expensive brunch with their friends makes perfect sense to them as a high-value experience. When home ownership feels untenable no matter how much you save, it’s easier to justify using your resources to enjoy the moment.

As An Ecommerce Merchant, Win Over Millennials By:

  • Being Honest: Salesy, buzzword-heavy marketing just isn’t going to work with this crowd. Having seen the birth of the digital age, Millennials have an innate understanding of website marketing in all its clunky forms. They’ve filed away patterns, and any pattern that flags raises an “over-marketed” or “disingenuous” flag will be rejected immediately. It’s okay to be excited about your products. You deserve to be! But share what really excites you about them and why you think they would help your customers, not what you think people want you to say.

  • Writing Engaging Content: The Forbes article pointed this one out too, but I’ll go ahead and highlight it because Millennials consume content voraciously. Thoughtful, engaging content about your subject matter is a great way to connect to Millennials on an authentic and shareable level.

  • Creating an Experience: Just like with the Gen Xers, your customer’s journey doesn’t stop when they hit the confirmation page. So continue that customer journey all the way through, from creating a delightful unboxing experience to making sure your customer service is in top form.

  • Building a Community: Millennials love creating and joining communities, and with their comfort with technology, they often don’t have to step outside their homes to do it. This means they have access to a huge array of options and can be discerning about the ones they join. So, use your ecommerce shop’s social media accounts not as promotional tools but community-builders. Figure out what your target’s ideal community looks like - what do they value, consume, enjoy? How do they talk? What kind of humor do they have? - and then create it.

Generation Z and Ecommerce

Finally, we come to Gen Z, our newest generation. Also, I’m not sure who decided to start the labels with X because we’re about to be out of letters. Generally defined as the cohort born after 2000 with no consensus on an upper birthday range, this is the generation that has truly been raised in a digital world. When most people talk about Generation Z, they’re talking about teenagers, so we’ll go ahead and use that as our reference point too.

From a marketing and ecommerce end, there’s less to say about Generation Z, because as a cohort they’re still evolving. There’s also the sticky dilemma of marketing to teenagers and younger people in general, because at the end of the day, it’s usually not their own income that they’re spending.

Mobile devices and social media are second nature to Gen Z.

What we can say about Generation Z is that mobile devices and social media are second nature to them, and that their social media communities are huge. In a sense, this generation grew up performing for the camera, so they know how to curate their image and, because high school is high school, they know who the influencers are. The difference is, their access to a greater amount of people allows them to see circles of influencers: they know who their influencers’ influencers are, in other words.

As an Ecommerce Merchant, Win Over Generation Z By:

  • Listening. My guess is this is a cohort that will have a lot in common with Millennials, which means before you start talking at them, you should do some listening. They want to be heard, so give them the platform. Ask questions and acknowledge what they say.

  • Understanding That They’re Still Evolving: Because of their age and their life experiences, there are really no absolutes with this group yet - and that’s doubly true given their ability to keep up with changing technology and social trends like no other group can. In two years - or ten years, or six months - if you’re still using the things you know about them today to inform your understanding of them, you’re going to miss the mark. Instead, stay on top of trends and research, and try to evolve alongside them.

  • Hiring a Gen Zer: Social media is a lot to keep up with, I know. And nothing can make you feel older than trying to set up a business Snapchat account because you’re “supposed to” and then having no idea what to do with it. The easiest way to meet a challenge like this is to seek help directly from the source. Having someone on staff who can tell you what the “kids these days” like will be worth its weight in gold.

Above all, know the demographic you’re targeting, and then take the time to understand it. Because no matter how old we are, when it comes to shopping and ecommerce, we all just want marketing that connects!

Want to know more about targeting specific age groups? Leave us a comment!