by James Flynn , 12/21/20
Changes to the 2020 holiday shopping season are a continued reflection of the adjustments that consumers have made over the pandemic. These new retail habits have made particularly large gains among baby boomers and the Silent Generation. Older consumers have not only embraced some of these changes but will likely stick with them post-pandemic.
Though digital spend has been growing for some time, this year’s growth has largely been a result of the pandemic and consequential new digital habits. A study from Glassbox said that 70% of U.S. consumers will make the majority of holiday purchases online this year via web or mobile. The National Retail Federation found 74% of holiday shopping will be spread out over several months this year, with even January seeing more action than usual.
With ecommerce penetration continuing to grow, the expanding consumer base via baby boomers and the Silent Generation is a large contributor. According to eMarketer, 47% of baby boomers (internet users only) increased their digital spend as of May. The pandemic essentially forced the hand of these older consumers, who were slower to adapt as normal shopping routines were completely upended within a couple weeks.
Increases in these digital spend habits also occurred in conjunction with other digital adoptions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, survey research has found substantial upticks in social media use and streaming among these older consumers. This is a strong sign that seniors are really embracing these changes.
COVID-19 may have forced many older consumers to start these new habits, such as online grocery shopping. However, they will likely stick to these habits post-pandemic. The National Retail Federation did a survey about baby boomers trying a buy-online, pick-up-in-store service. Approximately two-thirds of boomers have tried this hybrid buying method, with 63% claiming it improved their overall experience. When asked why they tried it, 62% claimed just to avoid shipping fees, versus 35% who tried it due to social distancing.
Increased digital adoption isn’t the only factor that should be considered on the brand side. Seniors will also likely weather the recession far better than younger generations. A survey done by Edward Jones and Age Wave said 16% of baby boomers and 6% of the Silent Generation considered COVID-19 to have an extremely/very negative impact on their personal finances, in comparison to 24% of Gen-Xers and nearly a third of millennials and Gen-Zers Financial factors such as less debt/mortgage payments, less dependents, and less volatility in job income were likely the largest contributors. Senior also hold a disproportionate large percent of the total U.S. household wealth.
If retail brands want to survive the current economic downturn, now is the time to look toward reaching an older consumer base during an opportune period.