If you were born 50 to 70 years ago, you’re a ‘Baby Boomer’. Yes, most of you are still alive and do most of things you did as a youngster, but doing it differently. Retailers should realize that you are different from other generations and therefore behave differently when shopping. If they make your shopping trip a pleasant one, they may find that you (Baby Boomers) can be a profitable customer niche. Similarly can retailers with an online presence achieve more sales and positive word of mouth once they recognize Baby Boomers is a valuable consumer segment.
The Baby Boomers is part of a cohort – that is people who are born within a certain time frame and who are consequently subject to similar environmental influences. Other groups in this generational cohort are “Generation X or Millennials”; “Generation Y” and “Generation Z”. The Baby Boomers and how they shop will be discussed in this piece.
Who and what are the Baby Boomers?
Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, the period after World War 2. The number of Baby Boomers peaked in 1999, but has decreased since then and their number will continue to decline. Boomers make rational consumption decisions and their decisions are influenced by experts and close friends. They are more ethnically diverse, more highly educated, more likely to be employed in professional and managerial positions and spend more of their adult years working than previous generations 1.
They also differ in their personal and social lives from other generations as they are less likely to be married and to have an available spouse or adult children. Many Baby-boomers face triple dilemma of burdening care-giving of parents, financial support for offspring, and their own future older life 2. Such an overburden can lead to insufficient preparation for old age and may lead to depression. Boomers however, are not unfamiliar with the internet.
The Baby Boomers is the first generation that enters retirement with an extensive knowledge of the internet 1. Lee Rainie and Andrew Perrin of the Pew Research Center reported the following about the adoption of technology by US Baby Boomers:
- 76 – 83 % are internet users;
- 60 – 66 % have broadband at home;
- 87 – 91% own a cellphone;
- 45 – 54% participate in social media;
- 46 – 52 % use Facebook.
Apart from being users of the internet, Baby Boomers also spend a lot of time on the internet. Ian Barker of BetaNews reports that Boomers spend the longest time on the internet compared to the other generational cohorts.
Now that we know a little more about Boomers and their use of technology, it is time to see how they behave when gone shopping.
The shopping behavior of Baby Boomers
Retailers can use cohort analysis in market segmentation because each cohort shares values, attitudes, consumption patterns, or an ability to use technology 3. Shopper age affects the shopping behavior of consumers. It is not different with Baby Boomers – Baby Boomers are direct when shopping; they know what they intend to purchase and plan their shopping trip 3. They are more deal prone than other generational cohorts. Atkins and Hyun 4 suggest retailers do the following improve the shopping experience of Baby Boomers:
- Marketers must understand the importance of saving time/effort and money for these consumers;
- In-store directional signage, information kiosks or in-store product pickup will increase the convenience of the shopping experience;
- Offer frequently purchased products such as pharmacy and staple food items closer to the entrance;
- Provide promotional savings such as senior discounts and coupons that will entice and satisfy the older consumers;
- When targeting older customers, who value getting the right purchase, it is important to offer product assortments that meet their needs
Baby Boomers also shop online.
The online shopping behavior of Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers use the internet a minimum of 10 hours per week. Importantly, they use those hours to connect with friends and family (66%), to read the news online (about 37%), and to shop (35%) 3. eMarketer interviewed Lori Bitter, consultant at The Business of Aging and author of “The Grandparent Economy” about “How Baby Boomers Make Purchase Choices Online and on Mobile”. Some of the comments Lori made are the following:
- About Boomers browsing the mobile web and using apps – “The ones who have smartphones do use the mobile web. Boomers like peer reviews of restaurants and store experiences, and are beginning to use tools like Yelp or OpenTable. But they still mostly choose to search [the web]. In focus groups, boomers seem to be confused about when they’re actually in an app vs. when they’re online on their phones. Apps are not part of their adoption curve yet.”
- Getting Boomers engaged on mobile devices – “For younger generations, their smartphone is their life, but boomers have to be led there. For example, some consumers can’t keep track of their rewards programs, but marketers can remind them to use those points at checkout. Baby boomers think about points and coupons differently than younger populations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like a deal. Building in reminders through mobile is a [good idea]. “
- What Baby Boomers think about the value that new technology offer them – “The baby boom generation has probably seen more change than arguably any generation in history. I don’t think they’re afraid of it, but they do have a “been there, done that” mentality. They might not have bought the iPhone 4, and skipped right to the iPhone 6. They’re willing to wait. In general, creating urgency is very difficult with this population.”
Baby Boomers that get older, and get less mobile, may shop more online. The products can be delivered on their doorsteps.
Baby Boomers were a decade or so back the cohort that was targeted most by retailers. They were plentiful with lots of cash to spend. Age, however, has started caught up with them. They are still a profitable consumer niche if retailers recognize their needs and make the shopping experience a happy one. Retailer’s main target nowadays is the Generation X or Millennials cohort. Read this piece “Demographic Segmentation – Dividing the Market by Generations “for more on generational cohorts.
1 Genoe, M.R., Liechty, T.,Marston, H.R. and Sutherland, V., 2016. Blogging into Retirement: Using Qualitative Online Research Methods to Understand Leisure among Baby Boomers. Journal of Leisure Research, 48(1):15
2 Park, Y.J. and Kim, Y.J. 2016. The Relationship among Financial Support for offspring, Care-giving to Parents, Preparation for Their Own Old Age, and Depression of Baby-boomers, Advanced Science and Technology Letters, Vol.131
3 Sullivan, P. and Hyun, S.Y.J. 2016. Clothing Retail Channel Use and Digital Behavior: Generation and Gender Differences, Journal of Business Theory and Practice, 4(1):125
4 Atkins, K.G. and Hyun, S.Y.J., 2016. Smart Shoppers’ Purchasing Experiences: Functions of Product Type, Gender, and Generation, International Journal of Marketing Studies, 8(2):1