How Well Do You Know Your Customers?


Our first presentation on generational diversity happened in 1996, right around the time the first of the Baby Boomers started to turn 50. It has remained one of our most requested topics ever since. Before Covid reared its ugly head we’d host focus groups with people from different generations and hold one-on-one interviews to see the world through diverse eyes. Zoom helped when the world shut down and we are beginning to schedule group meetings once again. A lot has changed since March of 2020. We know that in retail everything you do has to be done with the consumer in mind, and the consumer is continuously changing. 

We’re both Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964 – but our stories are about as opposite as they can get. Half of the Baby Boomers are considered Classic Boomers (68-76), when you see an ad hawking life insurance and reverse mortgages, this is the group they are generally talking about. Many are retired or downsizing, and some are buying second homes. 

In contrast, are the Boomers who make up Generation Jones (58-67) are very different. In the 60s, while Classic Boomers were doing cool things like hanging out at Woodstock, Gen Jones were kids. Jonathon Pontell, who coined the name as a sarcastic nod to “keeping up with the Joneses”, members of Gen Jones “fill the space between Woodstock and Lollapalooza, between ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out’ and ‘Just say no,’”. Many members of Gen Jones more closely relate to Gen X. Want to make their heads explode? Market to them the same way you market to customers in their late 70s. 

But we digress… 

Let’s just say that Baby Boomers aren’t who you might think they are. They are doing things over in style, they know what they want and they actively seek retailers and brands who are willing to give it to them. Regardless of what you see on TV, Boomers are physically active, mentally astute, and socially engaged both in person and online. Facebook is still their social media of choice, and not because they are keeping up with their grandkids. When it comes to shopping, Baby Boomers hold 70% of the disposable income in the U.S., spending more than any other generation, across all categories. Yet, this is a customer who is vastly ignored. Big mistake. 

In a shopping experience, Boomers expect attention, extra services and conveniences. Use photos in your marketing of people who look like them, and make it easy to shop your website with big photos and larger fonts. Add a tab at the top visitors can click to enlarge the font. 

Generation X – born 1965 – 1980 – is the smallest generation. They came of age at a time of recession. By the time they were ready to get to work, jobs were already filled by Baby Boomers who were busy climbing the corporate ladder. 

Gen X and Boomers childhoods were very different: Moms met little Boomers at the door with freshly baked cookies and milk; as latchkey kids, Xers let themselves in the door and grabbed a box of Oreos before tuning in to After Schools Specials on ABC or challenged themselves to a game of Frogger. (Google it). This made them both fiercely independent and deeply family oriented. 

Gen X is second to Baby Boomers in buying power. And as the newest Sandwich Generation, they hold purchasing influence over their own homes as well as their parents. This is a generation of consumers who are resourceful, independent, and skeptical. In a shopping experience, they look for value and information. And they expect the retailers and brands of choice to be authentic. 

Online reviews play a big part in where Gen X ultimately chooses to buy, so be sure you claim your Yelppage and Google Business page, filling out all the boxes, adding photos and any other information that is important to your business. 

The mercurial Millennials – born 1981-1995 – have always been a part of conversation. They were asked for their opinion almost from birth: What kind of car should mommy buy? What color should we paint your room? Who cares, you’re four?! Millennials care; they grew up knowing their opinion was important; online and off, it should be important to you, too. 

Millennials were digital in diapers. Sure, they had to initially learn about the internet on AOL on their parent’s computer, but their world has always been 24/7. WWW to a millennials means, “Whatever, Whenever, Wherever”. They demand an interactive online experience. This means your website can’t be an online brochure. It needs video, project sheets, ideas, and plenty of photos. 

Millennials also prefer stores that offer more than item and price. They want a trip to your store to be an experience, with an ambiance that ties in with what you sell, merchandise that is displayed, rather than housed on basic fixturing, and store associates who know their stuff. 

Generation Z – born 1994 – 2010 – are a self-driven bunch. It’s been said that they are on track to emulate the Greatest Generation because they care deeply for others, are big on community, diversity, and inclusion. 

Gen Z will enjoy a lifelong use of technology; they were the first generation to be able to carry the internet around in their pockets so instant gratification is second nature to them. It’s important to come to their terms because they aren’t interested in yours – the way you have always done things is ancient history to them. Keep your sales floor fresh and your online content creative, relevant, and engaging or Gen Z will simply tune you out. 

The good news is that hard work pays off with Gen Z. They enjoy shopping in physical stores more than they do online, and they are loyal shoppers who will stay loyal to a brand forever if they have continued positive purchasing experiences. 

Gen Z worries about the planet, sustainability, and authenticity. They choose stores and brands that value the same things they value. Actually, sustainability is big for every generation. A 2022 study by Sensormatic Solutions, a retail inventory technology company, found that 81% of the respondents were concerned or very concerned about sustainability and the environment’s future, and 70% said they would change their shopping habits if they discovered that a store or brand wasn’t operating sustainably. How are you doing in this area? Whatever you do, keep customers informed about what you are doing to help the environment. 

Called the first Digital Natives, Generation Alpha – born 2011 – 2025 – grew up in a digital environment where almost anything they want is just a click away. By 2025 they will number more than 2 billion worldwide, making them largest generation in the history of the world. According to the McCrindle, the consulting agency that named them, Alphas will live longer lives and will be more culturally diverse compared to the former generations. They will be shaped by technology because that’s all they have ever known – these kids will live fascinating lives! Click to download McCrindle’s “Meet the Alphas”, an eye opening report everyone in business today should read. 

As consumers continue to grow and evolve, your job is to learn what they expect from a visit to your store. It’s hard, but try not to view other generations through the lens of your own. Instead, look for new ways to build relationships, connect with each generation, engage them in conversation, and influence where they shop. 

It’s a tall order but giving customers what they want also requires a deep understanding of your current, past, and upcoming inventories. Check out Surefront, the only retail product lifecycle management platform (PLM) solution that is built by a retailer, for retailers. Surefront’s software gives you a complete inventory overview and the ability to communicate with your vendors in seconds. Visit Surefront’s website to learn more or click here or here to book a custom demo with a Surefront product lifecycle management expert today.

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