Exploring Consumer Shopping Preferences: Three Generations

By Wuest, Beth; Welkey, Sharon et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 2008 | Go to article overview
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Exploring Consumer Shopping Preferences: Three Generations


Wuest, Beth, Welkey, Sharon, Mogab, Jack, Nicols, Kay, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Similarities and differences of Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Generation Y perceptions of the importance of various features and services when shopping at a retail center were studied. Data were collected in a mall intercept format at two large retail centers and they were analyzed using nonparametric statistics. The perceptions of the importance of mall features and the satisfaction with services were generally similar. Differences occurred in the importance of selection of stores and in satisfaction with mall atmosphere and services. Consumer educators and businesses alike should consider the differences of generations as they work with consumers across generations.

Collectively, three generations, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y comprise the majority of the United States population and consumer spending power. Their consumer preferences and needs as well as their satisfaction with features and services of shopping venues are of particular concern for service providers. As businesses and consumer educators look for means to meet consumer needs more effectively, a better understanding of the importance of customer services to various generations is crucial.

Shaped by experiences during their formative years, individuals develop generational mindsets that are thought to be major factors in consumer decisions (Fishman, 2006). Likewise, generation theorists propose that as the macroenvironment changes, there are concomitant and distinctive changes in patterns of consumer behavior (Strauss & Howe, 1999). Although a generation may have rich variety in its members, as a group of individuals who have "come of age" together they also possess certain broad characteristics (Mitchell, 2003). Recognizing similarities and differences in generations is basic to understanding consumer preferences and behaviors.

The U.S. Census Bureau (2006) defines Baby Boomers as individuals born between 1946 and 1964. In 2005, there were 78.2 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. Baby Boomers make up a large majority of today's work force and possess much of the wealth; therefore, they have significant buying power. They did not live through the Depression, they are not afraid to spend money, and they are credited with keeping the economy afloat (Baby Boomer Marketing Defined, n.d.). Juggling demands of careers, children, parents, and their own aging, Boomers strive to reduce stress with products and services that make their lives easier and more convenient (Fishman, 2006).

For this study, Generation X is comprised of people born between 1965 and 1976 (Heathfield, n.d.). The estimated 45 million Generation Xers are one of the most ethnically diverse generations in American history with almost 35% classified as nonwhite or Hispanic (Connelly, 1999). Generation X, portrayed as cautious shoppers and heavy Internet users, lack brand loyalty (Dart, 2001). Generation X demands an honest, straightforward approach; no other generation is as marketsavvy (Fishman, 2006).

Generation Y consists of 60-70 million individuals born between 1977 and 1994 (Paul, 2001). Generation Y is viewed as the emerging generation with powerful aggregate spending (Cui, Trent, Sullivan, & Matiru, 2003). Generation Y already accounts for 21% of total spending and is the most consumption-oriented generation (Gen Y and the Future, 2002/2003). Generation Y spends more freely than Generation X and shows more interest in fashion and style (Dart, 2001). It has been suggested that the unique lifestyle of Generation Y may have a significant impact on the needs and expectations for retail services (Ma & Niehm, 2006). They have grown up in a more technological and media-saturated world than their parents and older siblings (Neuborne & Kerwin, 1999). For Generation Y, shopping and entertainment are inextricably linked (Gen Y and the Future, 2002/2003). Generation Y is brand loyal; brand name means a certain quality and recognition by peers (Fishman, 2006).

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