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Can’t Baby Boomers And Millennials Get Along (To Benefit Retail)?

The general scope of retail marketing, as it pertains to age groups over the last several years, seems to have been: Go after the millennials and forget everybody else.

That’s a bit of reductive hyperbole, of course; retailers are aware that there’s money to be made from every age group. But the fact remains that, at the two ends of the present consumer economy, currently sit Baby Boomers (those between the ages of 51 and 69 in 2015) and millennials (those aged 18–34).

While Boomers make up a significant portion of the U.S. population (75.4 million, according to the United States Census Bureau), they tend to be targeted by retailers less fervently than millennials — not only because the latter group last year rose to outnumber Baby Boomers (having reached 83.1 million, says the Census Bureau, accounting for more than one-quarter of the U.S. population) but because millennials are perceived as being, in comparison to the two-generations-older group (with Generation X ensconced firmly in the middle), the more upwardly mobile, proactive and engaged consumer audience. Boomers, on the other hand, are largely viewed by the retail industry as being settled in their ways — and, therefore, not avid seekers of new or expanded purchase experiences — as they head into retirement (or have reached it already).

There is a case to be made, however, that U.S. retailers that are so quick to write off Baby Boomers as, more or less, a lost cause (from a perspective of potential sales), while putting the majority of their marketing efforts toward reaching millennials, are missing out on the opportunity to generate a wider swath of profit from both groups — given that their exist overlaps in the shopping behaviors of the two that might not be obvious at a glance.

“There’s this pervasive idea that you think about a Baby Boomer as someone who’s retired — they’re an empty nester, and they’ve been devastated by the economy,” Beth Craig, director of insights at Catapult Marketing, was quoted in a recent article from the Path to Purchase Institute (P2PI). “Quite honestly, when you talk to Boomer shoppers, this isn’t how they perceive themselves at all. Whether they are retired or not, their lives are busier today than they’ve ever been.”

P2PI reports that research data collected by Catapult shows that diversity — a prime characteristic of appeal for retailers with regard to millennials — is alive and well amongst Boomers. Close to half (44 percent) of them have full-time jobs, while a smaller portion still hold part-time jobs. As for retirees (which Baby Boomers are increasingly — albeit incorrectly — viewed as in toto), that subset remains active retail consumers in areas like travel and recreation.

Additionally, found Catapult’s research, while millennials are, by and large, in the early stages of becoming valuable parental consumers, retailers shouldn’t presume that Boomers are no longer raising — and, therefore, no longer purchasing for — children. On the contrary, 25 percent of the Baby Boomers that Catapult surveyed have kids aged 6–12 in their households, while 59 percent of them share a home with family members under the age of 21.

As Craig remarked, ”You better believe that’s going to impact the products [those Baby Boomers] buy and the types of retailers they shop at.”

While a good portion of Boomers (32 percent) surveyed by Catapult did express a preference for local brick-and-mortar retailers, they are not — contrary to popular belief — set in their ways in that regard. As supported by the data showing that an increasing number of Baby Boomers are spending money, for example, at alternative grocery stores, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, they are — much like millennials — open to experimenting with their purchasing habits.

More tellingly, those purchasing habits, Catapult’s research showed, are not limited to physical retailers. It’s an eCommerce world, after all, and Baby Boomers are living in it, just like millennials — in fact, more so, according to Craig, who stated (via P2PI) that “Boomers outspend millennials two-to-one in online purchases.”

Baby Boomers aren’t just using their desktops to buy online, either. Catapult’s data shows that 43 percent of Boomers use smartphones as part of their eCommerce experience (favoring Amazon and Walmart as their digital destinations).

“Why should we continue to care about the Boomer shopper?” posited Craig. ”They still have very busy and active lives. Their lives have changed, so they’re looking for something a little more convenient. They’re shopping for themselves, for their grandchildren and, in those cases where they still have elderly parents, they’re shopping for them as well. They have the money to spend” — Catapult’s research indicated that Boomers, on average, have a higher household income than millennials — “and they’re not afraid to spend it.”

Perhaps, then, in their unending quest to gain the eyes and ears — and, resultantly, dollars — of connected and active millennials, retailers ought to keep in mind that the group is not as different, at least in terms of consumer behavior, from Baby Boomers as it might seem.

Millennials and Baby Boomers might even have some more common ground in worrying about losing marketing attention to the next consumer group: Edgers. Who knows what those kids are up to.

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