What different generations expect from e-commerce
Published on: October 26, 2022
Updated: August 28, 2023
A few short years ago, e-commerce retailers were focused on younger consumers. Older generations were slow to start ordering online. But in 2022, things look very different.
People of all ages now make a significant proportion of their purchases online. We’ve collected the data on how these different age groups act online: their wants, their needs, and their expectations from e-commerce retailers.
Gen Z is currently the youngest, economically active generation. (Gen Alpha – their successors – are still busy doing homework and learning how to ride a bike.) Their spending power has increased as they reach working age, so their influence is only set to rise.
Zoomers are extremely online: over 40% make the majority of their clothing purchases online. However, their use of the internet might surprise you. Gen Z still prefer brand websites as their main source of product information. Social media recommendations, word of mouth, and in-store shopping all tie for second place.
For e-commerce retailers, there are three things that make Gen Z different from other generations:
- They’re less brand loyal. Retailers must work harder to retain Gen Z customers, through personalized service and unique experiences.
- They’re intensely visual. Zoomers respond best to visual ads, especially short videos. They may also prefer to use tools such as visual search over conventional keyword-searching.
- They move fast. Gen Z are more likely to make impulse purchases, which is good for retailers. But there’s a flipside to their fast-moving approach: they have lower tolerance for slow websites, slow customer service, or slow deliveries.
Millennials were the first generation to grow up with internet and mobile phones, which is why they have a reputation for challenging retailers and forcing them to innovate. They’re also known as a purpose-driven generation.
For e-commerce retailers, the key feature of Millennials is their dependence on returns. Millennials invented the concept of “try before you buy” for online orders – for example, often ordering clothing in multiple sizes, with the intention of returning most of the order. Retailers need generous and easy return policies to attract this age group.
Efficient delivery and returns are a priority for Millennials. But they have other expectations of e-commerce retailers, too.
- Millennials are brand loyal. They’re happy to join loyalty programs, and expect to be rewarded by brands in return.
- They expect a lot of product information, from reviews to specifications, stock levels, and educational content.
- They value brand purpose and storytelling. If you want to attract Millennial customers, create content that shows off your backstory, values, and social goals.
Gen X are often described as the “forgotten generation”, caught between the baby boomers above them and Millennials below.
But e-commerce retailers ignore Gen X at their peril. This generation currently has the largest average household income, largest family units, and is at a life stage where they have plenty of spending power.
However, Gen X are known for being financially cautious. They expect retailers to offer discounts, coupons, and loyalty rewards. They prioritize a smooth checkout experience and affordable products over anything else.
If you want to market to this demographic, focus on customer reviews and testimonials. Gen X are more likely to trust their peers than brand messaging – and they always read the reviews.
Baby Boomers are the oldest generation on our list. But don’t assume that because they’re older, they’re offline.
During the pandemic, over-65s became the fastest-growing group of online shoppers. Their e-commerce spending has increased by almost 50% year on year. This generation represents a huge economic opportunity.
So what do they want from retailers?
- Boomers expect simple user interfaces and clear refund policies. Their trust in the internet is lower, so retailers need to demonstrate their reliability.
- They want localized information. Younger generations are more used to websites with multiple languages or currencies, but Boomers expect to have a locally customized experience.
- They may prefer hybrid delivery options. During the pandemic, many Boomers embraced online orders – but they preferred curbside pick-up over home deliveries.
What does this mean for e-commerce retailers?
E-commerce retailers can draw some broad conclusions about consumer behavior from this information.
Younger generations are more focused on media, storytelling, and personalization. Older generations care more about value and convenience.
However, one thing unites all generations: they’re all interested in e-commerce. Smart retailers will offer a range of flexible options so that everyone feels welcome in their online stores.