Uncle Jesse and the digital experience: How different generations shop

by Ginger Rohlfs

The next time you’re with a group of people, ask them “What show featured Uncle Jesse?” In most instances, you’ll be able to assess someone’s generation based on their answer. While many of you reading this are most likely saying “Full House, duh!”, there is another group proudly exclaiming “Dukes of Hazzard!” You’re BOTH right. The difference is, millennials and later generations often answer Full House while Generation X and baby boomers choose Dukes of Hazzard. It’s all about the impact each show had during their most influential years. What does this have to do with digital experiences? Probably not much when it comes to Uncle Jesse (unless John Stamos is featured in your banner ads), but understanding generational behaviors could give you an edge in eCommerce and digital marketing. 

With today’s heightened awareness of generational gaps (okay, boomer!) and all the buzz about millennials (participation trophy, anyone?), I decided to take a deep dive into the digital behaviors of two of the largest influential consumer groups: generation X and millennials. As consumer marketers, it’s important to understand both the commonalities and the differences (plus dispel some misconceptions).

Generation X has an estimated population of 66 million and is classified as those born between 1965 and 1980. The millennial generation is defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, and in 2019 millennials surpassed the baby boomers to earn the title of largest generation by population at a whopping 73 million. As an official, card-carrying member of generation X, I thought it would be interesting to see how my generation approaches online shopping compared to the ginormous group of “youngins” who do not remember life before MTV and microwaves. What was surprising is that there are more similarities than not between the two (and no trophies necessary), from personalized experiences and loyalty programs to mobile use and social media. 

 

Laptop and in-store purchases

When it comes to shopping behaviors, millennials and Generation X appear to have similar traits across a number of variables, such as utilizing online marketplaces (Amazon, Etsy), leveraging product reviews, using loyalty or rewards programs, and general shopping preferences either by device or location. For instance, laptop computers are (surprisingly) still the first choice for both generations when making purchases online. And although the margin is very narrow, a majority of both Gen X and millennials still prefer making purchases or picking up their online purchase in a physical store due to instant gratification. (Hello omni-channel marketing!)

 

Personal data use

In addition, 63 percent of millennials and 58 percent of gen Xers are willing to share personal data in exchange for personalized content which includes offers, coupons, and product recommendations. A slightly higher percentage of each generation also appreciates it when retailers provide product recommendations based on past purchasing behavior. Fortunately for merchants, Salesforce makes it easy to implement this type of program with Commerce Cloud’s Einstein recommendations coupled with Marketing Cloud’s Personalization Builder. This combination allows businesses to provide storefront product recommendations for any given customer as well as follow-up with targeted email campaigns featuring dynamic messaging based on customer behavior. The best part? Product recommendations have been found to increase AOV an average of 26 percent. It’s a win-win for both the end consumer (regardless of generation) and the merchant!

 

Loyalty programs

While on the topic of personalization, let’s go back to the similarities again and take a look at loyalty programs. When asked about loyalty, millennials were 72 percent more likely to buy from a company offering a loyalty program versus those that did not offer one, while gen X was a close second at 68 percent more likely to buy. Long story short—loyalty matters. However, not just any loyalty program will do. In recent years, punch cards and manual points tracking have been replaced by more personalized programs, fostering the development of loyalty management practices. The concept of loyalty management is the creation of one-to-one customer journeys, such as bounce-back offers and early access. Just like with personalization, the Salesforce platform allows for easy loyalty management through Marketing Cloud and Commerce Cloud to provide a 360-degree view of your customer for enhanced experiences. (Gen X or millennial, we’re all about the experience!)

 

Social media

Although understanding the similarities between the two generations provides marketers with streamlined ideas, differences must also be considered in order to build out a solid marketing program. Social media, while utilized by both Generation X and millennials, is by far more influential among millennials. Fifty-six percent of them use social media for product information and reviews, as compared to 35 percent for the remaining generations. On average, approximately 90.4 percent of millennials participate in some form of social media compared to only 77 percent of Generation X. Even though there is a larger gap between the two generations in terms of social media usage, both percentages should tell any marketer that adding social media is imperative to any solid marketing plan. Implementing Salesforce Social Studio provides marketers with the tools to increase customer engagement, analyze what customers are conversing about, and understand their behavior in order to create compelling customer journeys. 

 

Mobile

We know what you are thinking. Well, what about mobile? It’s true that millennials lead the pack when it comes to constant connectivity, with 51 percent admitting they run their life from their mobile device. (Generation X comes in second at 40 percent.) Today’s state of mobile usage comes with a new set of expectations from customers, especially millennials who look for real-time interactions from brands and stores. When visiting a brick and mortar store, millennials utilize their smartphones to locate items, research products, and in some cases check inventory. If they have made an online purchase and need assistance or have a question, they search for a solution before engaging customer service, and if they do engage customer service, they expect a response within 10 minutes. Because everything they do is at the palm of their hands (literally), millennials expect businesses to be just as flexible and connected. You can stay ahead of the technological curve and leverage Salesforce Service Cloud to ensure customers can access the services they need when (and where) they need them. 

 

Overall, when it comes to assessing the digital shopping landscape and how each generation approaches eCommerce, it is safe to say that the gap between Generation X and millennials seems to be narrowing. No longer are there huge disparities in their digital behaviors, but rather the parallels are starting to run congruent. As long as the customer experience is at the forefront and personalization is a prominent focus for both millennials and Generation X, eCommerce success is sure to follow for two of the biggest consumer generations ruling the digital space. Have mercy!

 

GingerGinger is an eCommerce Solutions Strategist here at Simplus. She has over 20 years of multi-channel experience in consumer products marketing with an emphasis in eCommerce and brand development strategy. She’s creative and passionate about social media, digital marketing, brand awareness, and customer retention/loyalty.

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