Retail Expert Paco Underhill Says Boomer Purchasing Power Creates Loyalty Opportunity for Brands

two women with shopping bags

With older consumers — those with the most cash to burn — proving to be more loyal than their younger counterparts, brands that can win their affinity have the opportunity to create longer-term, more valuable relationships.

In an interview with PYMNTS, psychologist and retail consultant Paco Underhill, New York Times best-selling author of “Why We Buy,” among other books, spoke to how the concentration of wealth in the hands of older consumers is changing the game in loyalty.

“The concentration of wealth in North America is largely in the hands of people who are 55 and over,” Underhill said. “Once we reach age 40, 80% of our weekly purchases are the same thing. I have decided that I hate Gulden’s Mustard, and I only eat the Grey Poupon. Part of what this means is that the way I consume and the issues of trial for me are very, very different than the issues of trial for someone younger.”

Yet that remaining 20% poses a valuable opportunity. For the 2023 study “Consumer Inflation Sentiment: The False Appeal of Deal-Chasing Consumers,” PYMNTS Intelligence surveyed more than 2,100 U.S. consumers. The results revealed that Generation X consumers, baby boomers and seniors are disproportionately likely to be persuadables — shoppers who look for good prices but also factor in convenience and brand loyalty, rather than simply chasing the best deal. The report revealed that 41% of Gen X consumers and 42% of baby boomers and seniors fall into this group, versus just 33% of millennials and 36% of Gen X shoppers.

Underhill noted that these older shoppers demand marketing that will “bubble down” rather than “bubble up.” That is, while younger consumers respond to more peer-to-peer recommendations, seeking shopping inspiration from social channels, older shoppers are more receptive to traditional advertisements.

Additionally, as merchants look to win the spending of these older shoppers with the bulk of the spending power, Underhill argued, their investments in omnichannel technologies tend to fail to meet these populations’ needs.

“One of the challenges in that cyber design world is that the overwhelming majority of web design is being designed for the age of the web designer, rather than the broader public,” Underhill said.

PYMNTS Intelligence data find that older consumers tend to be left out of retail’s omnichannel shift. The study “2024 Global Digital Shopping Index: U.S. Edition,” created in collaboration with Visa Acceptance Solutions, revealed that 58% of baby boomers and seniors in the United States prefer to shop in stores without any digital engagement. This share is significantly higher than the population-wide average of 44%. Plus, the study found, only 18% of consumers in this generation are Click-and-Mortar™ shoppers, favoring retail journeys that integrate digital convenience into the in-person experience, compared to nearly a third of the U.S. population overall.

Underhill argued that these generational concerns should not only inform merchants’ digital offerings, demanding greater accessibility in the user experience, but should also have a role in shaping the in-store environment.

“So, for example, what music do I play on Monday morning versus Monday afternoon versus Monday night based on the generation of who’s in the store at that particular moment,” he said. “There’s a time to play Frank Sinatra, [and] there’s a time to play Death Cab for Cutie.”

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