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Different Generations, Different Paths To Purchase

The path to purchase has undergone a radical change in recent years. The rise of social media and, now, connected mobile devices have reshaped how consumers discover, research and complete the purchase of products, both online and in store. To stay competitive, retailers must not only understand these shifting patterns in the path to purchase but be able to innovate within them. This week, we zero in on a particularly interesting conversation happening around path to purchase and its continued evolution.

Closing The Generation Gap

It’s no secret that different generations have different comfort levels associated with usage of technology. Nowhere is this more evident than in retail and eCommerce. A recent SSI study articulates the subtle differences between how consumers of different generations use technology — or don’t — on their buying journey.

The report breaks the respondent pool — which consisted of 6,173 people in six countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany and Japan) interviewed online in Sept. 2015 — into three distinct “digital generations:” Digital Immigrants (Baby Boomers), those who had to learn to be digital as adults; Digital Pioneers (Gen X), those who grew up learning each new technology tool as it came onto the market; and Digital Natives (millennials), those who have never known anything but a digital world.

The differences in how these generations use, interact with and think of technology was stark. For example, 80 percent of Baby Boomers said they use online tools to keep in touch with friends and family, which speaks to the mass adoption of prolific social media tools like Facebook. However, digging deeper, the study shows that only 4 percent of Boomers say they only meet new people online, while 21 percent of millennials say this is true for them.

When it comes to the path to purchase, millennials again come out as the heaviest mobile users across all four stages of the path to purchase, which, for the sake of the study, were defined as: information gathering, brand shortlisting, the purchase itself and then post-purchase rationalizing. Seventy-two percent of millennials say they use their mobile device during the information gathering stage, compared to 57 percent of Gen Xers and 32 percent of Boomers. The numbers stay relatively consistent across the generations as they move through the funnel, ending at the purchasing stage — where the numbers shift slightly but follow the same general pattern, with 61 percent of millennials, 52 percent of Gen Xers and 31 percent of Boomers using mobile devices.

Interestingly, when it comes to rationalizing purchases, the generations each see a slight increase in their mobile usage, with 64 percent of millennials, 59 percent of Gen Xers and 38 percent of Boomers. This might be considered irrelevant for brands (as the purchase has already happened), but the reality is that peer-to-peer referrals are some of the strongest endorsements brands can hope to get, and mobile devices and social media have only helped to increase the importance of customers sharing their retail experiences with their digital network.

Moving into more practical purchases, 30 percent of Boomers say they do grocery shopping online, while 41 percent of millennials do the same. And all the generations are heavy online banking users with 43 percent of Boomers — compared to 49 percent of Gen Xers and 50 percent of millennials — saying they exclusively use online and mobile applications to conduct their banking.

The study goes on to point out that savvy retailers, like H&M, have taken note of this heavy use of mobile in every stage of their purchase path across generations and are taking advantage by offering more seamless segues from one stage to the next. At H&M’s Times Square location, shoppers can now make purchases directly from the dressing room, cutting down on the time that they are likely reaching out to friends on their mobile device for feedback on a garment and deciding to make a purchase.

While there may be subtle differences between generations and their usage of technology — specifically, mobile devices — in their path to purchase, the numbers in this study suggest that usage across all ages is increasing and will only continue to do so in the future.

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