Millennials and Generation Z consumers get all of the attention when it comes to their changing digital habits amid the pandemic.
Google the words “millennials shopping shift,” and page after page of listicles, think pieces and how-to articles appear. But do the same with “baby boomer shopping shift,” and one will find about a half a page of dedicated articles — and a lot of other pieces comparing boomers to millennials or talking about generational shopping shifts more broadly. And try searching for “senior shopping shift,” and the majority of results concern shopping habits in Ohio.
That millennials and Generation Z consumers capture much of this interest is unsurprising. After all, millennials are entering their prime spending years and are getting dinged by their second “once-in-a-lifetime” financial downturn. And Generation Z represents what the commerce will look like in the coming years. Plus, both generations are digital natives.
Still, the lack of comparable interest in older consumers’ shopping habits is surprising considering that baby boomers hold the majority of U.S. household wealth at 56 percent. They’re also among those most in danger from the pandemic as the average baby boomer is now over age 65. That’s the point where the virus’s fatality rate approaches 20 percent.
Lest one think that the sparse coverage indicates the lack of a sea change among older consumers’ shopping habits, PYMNTS surveys have found that the digital shift is rapidly underway with both boomers and seniors. And it’s unlikely to reverse itself, at least until a vaccine is created.
It’s true that like all demographic groups PYMNTS surveyed, the largest share of boomers and seniors (59.7 percent) said the pandemic had caused no changes in their shopping habits. And it’s fair to note that figure is larger than the largest share of many other demographic segments reporting no behavioral changes. For instance, 58.2 percent of Generation Xers reported not changing their habits, and so did 54.9 percent of bridge millennials and 53 percent of millennials.
But that means the remaining 40.3 percent of seniors and boomers have made at least some shopping shifts. Additionally, some 21.7 percent of seniors and boomers said their shifts to online shopping are permanent, versus just 11.8 percent who said they only changed behaviors temporarily because of the pandemic.
In fact, that stickiness among generations that many assume are slow and hard to change becomes apparent when one digs deeper into what older consumers appreciate about digital shopping.
Consumers of all ages listed fear of infection, fear of contaminating someone else and fear of dying as their top three pandemic-related worries. Shoppers of all ages also said they believe that digital channels are critical to avoiding the virus, but older consumers tend to feel a bit more strongly about that.
Some 47 percent of boomers and seniors said they see choosing merchants based on their digital capabilities as a means of avoiding infection. That compares to just 41.5 percent of Generation X and 38.6 percent of bridge millennials who feel the same way.
And of the four demographic profiles that PYMNTS divides consumers into based on their pandemic-period shopping habits, boomers and seniors tend to most likely slot into the “safety shifters” category. Those are consumers who have embraced digital channels to buy groceries and other products and are more concerned about contracting the virus than other people. Safety shifters place a high premium on being offered digital shopping options.
PYMNTS’ survey showed that 52.3 percent of safety shifters feel it’s “very” or “extremely” important for merchants to provide such options going forward. By contrast, only 43.1 percent of what PYMNTS calls social shifters and 42.9 percent of convenience shifters feel the same way. Meanwhile, office shifters are less likely to say merchants should provide digital shopping, with only 39.5 percent considering that “very” or “extremely” important.”
In It For The Long Haul
Consumers, on the whole, have greatly elongated their estimates for how long the pandemic will last, but seniors and boomers are the most pessimistic when it comes to the return of “normal.” Some 60 percent of those PYMNTS surveyed said they believe their lives won’t return to normal for at least another six months, while 11.5 percent said life will never go back to how it was.
The bottom line: Many older shoppers have gone dedicatedly digital, albeit quietly and somewhat under the radar. They did so at first out of absolute necessity — but they are increasingly continuing to do so out of preference.