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Boomers or Bust

By Miller Zell

Facing greater competitive pressure, retailers are transforming the Store of the Future into a modern reality. Tactics such as a more futuristic store design, virtual and augmented reality merchandising, drone delivery and synergy between online and brick-and-mortar operations are now the norm as retailers elevate the customer experience. However, is this reinvention truly satisfying the entire customer base? In the rush to modernize, large-scale retailers may risk alienating a large – and significantly lucrative – consumer segment.

Baby Boomers (or individuals between the ages of 54-721) still play a vital role in the growth and stability of the American economy. They control 70 percent of all U.S. disposable income2, wielding a mighty $3.2 trillion per year in buying power3. Responsible for half of all consumer purchases2, four in five retailers deem them responsible for more than half of their overall sales4.

And yet, Baby Boomers largely are overlooked as retailers modernize for the future.

Sure, Baby Boomers trail Millennials (individuals between the ages of 22-371) in total volume (83 million vs. 75.4 million, as of 20155), and are less likely than Gen Xers (individuals between the ages of 38-531) to engage in a fully technology-dependent shopping experience. However, Baby Boomers do outpace their fellow shoppers in many categories of great relevance to retailers.

Unlike Millennials, often burdened by student debt and the costs of supporting families, Baby Boomers have more expendable income. Typically, this audience includes empty-nesters who have paid off their mortgages and early-life debts and can spend more on themselves5. While Baby Boomers may have greater expectations for their retail experience, their preferences also arguably are easier to anticipate than the more frequently-changing habits of Millennial or Gen X consumers.

As retailers reinvent their physical and online shopping channels, it’s essential that their approaches accommodate Baby Boomers. The following six considerations can help guide a successful future-focused business strategy guaranteed to appease this powerful audience.

Avoid Generational Bias

In the rush to meet dynamic customer demands, retailers must ensure their strategies benefit all audiences. While Millennials are a valued customer segment, businesses cannot exclude other generations to cater to them – especially when Baby Boomers hold similarly impactful influence. In fact, this demographic can be a brick-and-mortar retailer’s closest ally, as only one in four Baby Boomers say they prefer online shopping to visiting a physical retailer6.

While Millennials have embraced consumerism as fun and relaxing, Baby Boomers are more deliberate. Only 37 percent of Baby Boomers say they are likely to browse a store in search of new products, while an even narrower segment (13 percent) said they would shop without conducting some initial thinking or research5. This “retail as a mission” philosophy makes it more vital for store designers to maintain a simple, orderly store flow. Baby Boomer shoppers want to find their target items quickly, and retailers should implement strategies that balance clarity and organization with more experiential elements.

The Baby Boomer generation is just as willing to integrate technology into the customer experience as their fellow demographics.


Don’t Discredit a Technology “Boom”

Contrary to stereotypes, the Baby Boomer generation is just as willing to integrate technology into the customer experience as their fellow demographics – even if only at a fundamental level. While Baby Boomers may prefer to finalize their purchase in-store, they remain likely to use complementary online channels and emerging technologies for product research.

It’s clear that technology fuels shopping strategies among every demographic. However, it’s up to savvy retailers to understand and adapt to just how each audience leverages digital and social commerce platforms. For instance, social media reviews and mobile applications are more likely to impact purchasing decisions among Millennial consumers than Baby Boomers. Both Millennials (77 percent) and Baby Boomers (50 percent) rely on their smartphones to identify and capitalize on promotions and augment their overall shopping experience6.

Follow the Fundamentals

As long-time brick-and-mortar store visitors, Baby Boomers have more specialized requirements for their on-site experience. Often, these are non-negotiable. Baby Boomers are 54 percent more likely than Millennials to write off a physical shop if the environment does not meet their standards5.

Fortunately, these “specialized requirements” should already be a part of any retail reinvention plan. Baby Boomers want to walk through stores that are clean, wide-aisled and organized. They also want access to a knowledgeable retail team who can help them locate their priority products without hassle.

Even as the shopping experience evolves, and consumers of all ages gravitate to trends such as advanced delivery and Click & Collect shopping, a reliance on trusted fundamentals can help retailers build on common multi-generational ground.

Make a Point of Returns

Baby Boomers place great value on access to a streamlined, painless returns process, and trust in-store customer service teams to meet their needs in lieu of online avenues. To accommodate these preferences and improve efficiency, retailers should reevaluate and potentially modify the design and flow of their returns counter, and the ease and flexibility of their returns process. This operation can make the difference in retaining Baby Boomer customer loyalty, as more than half of shoppers in this demographic say they would not go back to a retailer following a bad returns experience5.

65% of Baby Boomers say a ‘helpful and knowledgeable staff’ is one of the top three aspects of an exceptional shopping experience5.


Personalize and Engage

While younger generations are more likely to trust smartphone apps and self-service options for product queries, Baby Boomers still prefer personal interaction. Should they have questions about specific products or store policies, they expect retail staff to provide the answers they need clearly and quickly. When considering their retail priorities, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Baby Boomers list a “helpful and knowledgeable staff” as one of the top three aspects of an exceptional shopping experience5.

Retailers should keep these preferences in mind when evaluating potential inclusion or expansion of self-checkout services. While such impersonal outlets can benefit busy Baby Boomers who don’t want to wait in line, they also can prove underwhelming at times to seasoned shoppers who appreciate a smile or brief conversation with human cashiers.

Trust the Experts

Generational dynamics are tricky, and the tastes and behaviors within each audience change frequently. As retailers fine-tune their reinvention plans, it’s advantageous to engage with a trusted partner who can provide supplemental support and dive deeper into the evolution of these specialized demographics. Such collaboration can help retailers anticipate shifting trends and ensure complete support for shoppers across all ages and backgrounds.


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