Generation game: how to sell to all ages

While consumers in different demographics have varying priorities when it comes to online shopping, they’re all losing tolerance for substandard etail experiences


Women taking picture of clothing in shop

Gertrude Stein, the avant-garde novelist and poet, declared that “whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping”. The meteoric rise of ecommerce has, 75 years after her death, given this aphorism added meaning.

Thanks to the power of the internet and the ubiquity of smart devices and applications, today’s consumers have never had more places to go shopping and be happy, without even having to leave their homes. With such a wealth of choice at their fingertips, they’re unlikely to be patient when a retailer fails to hit the standard of ecommerce experience to which they’ve become accustomed.

Any brand that fails to engage with its target customers in their preferred place to shop will pay a heavy price. The lack of an effective ecommerce strategy has proved damaging for Topshop, Debenhams and Primark, to name but three laggards.

Research shows that 51% of consumers now want a mix of both bricks and clicks for the best experience

It’s clear that retailers need to keep pace with consumers’ changing requirements to survive. The digitalisation of the shopping experience, accelerated by the Covid-19 lockdowns, has transformed how customer loyalty is gained and lost. New statistics indicate what shoppers want from etailers varies depending on their age. 

A survey published by Sitecore, a company focused on improving consumers’ online experiences, suggests that 61% of 18- to 24-year olds are less loyal to brands than they were before the pandemic, compared with 33% of baby-boomers, while 69% of these post-millennials have become less patient with poorly functioning websites. 

Meanwhile, research from customer-service software firm Zendesk has indicated that 80% of UK consumers will switch retailers after only one bad experience. 

A great opportunity to innovate and expand the customer base

“The pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we shop,” says Jeni Mundy, Visa’s MD in the UK and Ireland. “Our research shows that 51% of consumers now want a mix of both bricks and clicks for the best experience.”

She continues: “As the lines between offline and online continue to blur, there is great opportunity for businesses to keep innovating to reach new shoppers, expand their customer base and build their brands. But different generations and age groups have varying priorities, so it’s more important than ever for retailers to tailor their websites and social media offerings to meet their target audiences’ needs.”

Visa’s research suggests that 18- to 34-year-olds shop mainly online for a wide variety of goods and services. “Updating your website to showcase the full range of products is a good way to attract this audience,” Mundy recommends. “Many in this age group are also likely to shop on social media, so having a presence here and switching on the ‘swipe up to shop’ functionality is a great way to meet them.”

Social media campaigns and digital events encourage micro-influencers

Studies show that consumers aged between 35 and 54 most want an efficient online shopping experience. A well-signposted website is therefore vital. For people aged 55 and above, simplicity is the key, so maintaining an uncluttered, straightforward page design should help to attract and retain them as customers. 

Francesca Grillini, an ecommerce manager at Reckitt, points out that social media platforms ranging from TikTok and Clubhouse to Instagram and Facebook are especially popular among both millennial and gen-Z audiences. 

“Members of generation Z are digital natives who have attention spans of eight seconds, compared with millennials’ 12 seconds. Yet they are notoriously loyal,” she says. “They can quickly become brand ambassadors, acting as micro-influencers on social channels.”

Ecommerce is “more about necessity” for baby boomers, she says, suggesting that people in this generation have changed their shopping behaviour the most during the pandemic. Ecommerce has “opened previously closed doors” for boomers, many of whom have been forced to shop online more often because of lockdowns and health concerns. 

The Covid crisis obliged most high-street businesses to close their doors at various points over the past 18 months. North London restaurant Top Cuvée was among them, but it took a glass-half-full approach to the problem and has successfully turned to ecommerce, becoming an online wine supplier. It has fostered customer loyalty by adopting a multichannel marketing strategy, including email newsletters, social media campaigns (the firm’s Instagram following has grown tenfold to 35,000 in a year) and interactive online events. 

Brodie Meah, co-founder and chef at Top Cuvée, says: “Our mailing list is a great way of keeping people informed and engaged, but we generate a lot of sales from social media too. We recently held a digital Easter egg hunt, which drove mass engagement online as well as attracting over 1,000 customers to our physical store.”

Tom Pugh is director of client services at Revive Management, a software company specialising in payment systems. He salutes any retail business that’s willing to embrace a multichannel approach. 

“There is a huge demand for them to accelerate, improve and enhance their digital capabilities and to blend these with in-store experiences to add value,” he says. “Omnichannel strategies allow businesses to create breadth and increased accessibility to their customers.”

Connecting with consumers across various channels enables a deeper understanding of their generational habits, which is why investment in ecommerce is worthwhile, Pugh adds. “Providing customers with a variety of channels of engagement is key, as it empowers them to interact via their preferred channel.” 

After all, shopping instils happiness – as Gertrude Stein would concur.