Understanding Shoppers Across Generations

By - March 26, 2019

From Gen X to Millennials to Gen Z, shoppers around the world spend billions upon billions of dollars every year. Millennials by themselves spend approximately $600 billion annually, or over $1.6 billion every day, in the United States alone.

It is critical that retailers, fashion brands, and other businesses cultivate a deep understanding of what makes each generation of shoppers tick. While there are key differences between these three generations, there are also striking (and sometimes surprising) similarities.

Here is an in-depth look at the shopping habits and preferences of the consumer base’s current “Big Three.”

Gen X

Generation X includes consumers born from roughly 1965 to 1976. Many shoppers from Generation X are part of the most educated and sophisticated customer demographic. In the United States, an estimated 35 percent of Gen X-ers hold degrees, compared to only 19 percent of Millennials.

What does this mean for retailers? Gen X-ers tend to hold value above other factors, such as experience and pricing. Many Gen X-ers carry heavy loads of responsibility within the home and at the office, and they want their purchases to be practical and meet their expectations. For instance, Gen X-ers spend an average of 40 percent of their income on groceries, compared to 19 percent for Millennials.

Gen X-ers are comfortable with shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. As the link between the Baby Boomer generation and Millennials, Gen X-ers are the most traditionally-minded of the three consumer segments under discussion here.


Gen Y or Millennial shoppers include consumers born between 1977 and 1995. Millennials are currently the most potent buying force in the United States. By 2020, their annual spending is projected to balloon to $1.4 trillion, which will represent almost a third of total retail sales.

There are some interesting similarities between Millennials and Gen X-ers. For example, in one survey over half of Millennials and Gen X-ers said they seek out “the cheapest return option.” Both groups increasingly practice “showrooming,” or examining merchandise in-person and then shopping online for best prices. A majority of shoppers from both generations also value “real-time product availability” as an important factor in where they decide to shop.

Moreover, many Millennials (up to 82 percent across all retail industries) prefer the in-store shopping experience to purchasing online. While they are technologically savvy, in their shopping habits they value online and mobile channels primarily for the information gained from them, such as discounts, promotions, product specs, and reviews. However, it is important to note Millennials also value the option to switch fulfillment channels at short notice.

One main difference between Millennials and previous generations is their focus on customer experience over value. Many Gen X-ers are cynical about advertisements and corporations in general, with only one percent saying that a compelling advertisement would make them view a brand as more trustworthy than before. However, their loyalty can be earned, provided they feel the company in question has “treated them right.”

Once that loyalty has been earned, a whopping 95 percent of Millennials say they want their brands to actively “court” them through personalized coupons, discounts, and promotions sent via mail or email.

Gen Z

Generation Z refers to consumers born in or after 1996. Some companies classify Gen Z-ers as anyone 20 years old or younger. According to research, Generation Z is projected to include some 2.5 billion people by 2020.

While Gen Z-ers are often portrayed as being completely absorbed in their mobile devices, surprising findings have revealed the vast majority of them prefer in-store shopping as their go-to purchasing option. For instance, one survey found that 98 percent of Generation Z shoppers buy in a store “some or most of the time.” And 77 percent of Gen Z respondents to another survey stated they prefer shopping in brick-and-mortar stores to shopping online.

Gen Z-ers and Millennials also align in their desire for a seamless omnichannel fulfillment experience. While both groups demand an integrated approach to order fulfillment, Gen Z-ers, in particular, are willing to pay top dollar for instant gratification. In fact, some 58 percent of Gen Z-ers said they would willingly pay an extra $5 or more for a one-hour delivery service.

Like Millennials, Gen Z-ers value mobile devices for the level of information available at their fingertips. However, unlike Millennials who primarily use their smartphones to price check or research product details, Gen Z-ers who are shopping in-store often use messaging and social media to seek advice on purchasing decisions. For instance, up to 46 percent of Gen Z-ers will send pictures of the product or item to friends or family members to ask for their opinion before buying.

Another difference between Generation Z and previous generations is their willingness to give feedback to the retailer or company. In fact, 70 percent of Gen Z-ers have written product or business reviews, and 40 percent of one survey’s Gen Z respondents stated that they give feedback often.

Generation Z shoppers are more in tune with social media as a point of purchase than other groups. More than two-thirds of Gen Z-ers are interested in directly purchasing from social media sites.

How Brands are Adapting

Brands who target Generation Z shoppers are adapting their marketing and fulfillment strategies to capture the largest possible market share. For example, Instagram recently introduced Checkout to more than 20 brands to start, which will allow its users to make purchases without leaving the site.

Many brands targeting Gen Z-ers look for ways to engage with them through chatbots, or via social media posts. Companies also enlist the help of influencers on YouTube and other platforms to promote their products and services.

Of course, companies who primarily target Generation X and Millennials often focus on differentiating themselves by addressing pain points, such as fulfillment delays, poor customer service, and low-quality Web content. Providing a valuable, seamless customer experience is high on their list of priorities.

No matter the product or service you are offering, a deeper understanding of how your target demographic thinks, acts, and shops will help you to make the best business decisions for your brand.