Will Boomers and Gen X keep shopping online post-pandemic?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/RgStudio
Jul 13, 2020
Tom Ryan

Older consumers, forced to shop online in response to COVID-19, are expected to drive e-commerce growth in the short- to medium-term, predicts a new study from Mintel.

The study, based on a survey of 2,000 U.K. consumers taken from June 25 to July 1, found that prior to the lockdown, over-65s were the least likely age group to shop online; in May 2019, just 16 percent of those aged over 65 shopped online at least once a week, compared to 54 percent of consumers aged 25 to 34 — the most frequent online shoppers. Following lockdown, the over-65s were as likely as the average consumer to have shopped more online since the start of COVID-19 (43 percent versus 42 percent of all adults).

Besides becoming more accustomed to online purchasing, one driver of increased online purchases among over-65s is heightened concern over infection. Fifty-six percent of over-65s were worried or extremely worried about being exposed to the virus, versus 40 percent of 16-to 24-year-olds.

Another driver cited was less vulnerability to unemployment. Thirty-eight percent of 16-to 34-year-olds indicated they were cutting back on non-essential expenses, compared to 31 percent over-65s.

In June, eMarketer in a similar manner raised its 2020 forecasts to 5.8 percent growth in the number of digital buyers 45 and older, up from 3.2 percent previously. EMarketer wrote in a statement, “Because older adults are more likely to develop serious complications from the coronavirus, it’s unsurprising that they are taking extra precautions and utilizing more online and contactless shopping options.”

Longer term, however, an FMI survey showed that only 10 percent of Baby Boomers would buy more groceries online once the pandemic is over. That compares to 35 percent for Generation X, 40 percent for Millennials and 34 percent for Generation Z. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What’s the likelihood that the majority of older consumers will largely return to their old purchasing habits once the crisis is over? What will it take to retain older consumers as online shoppers vs. younger consumers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Many Americans have been in some version of isolation, lockdown, or stay-at-home for 130 days. New habits are being formed and many of them are here to stay."
"Months of living in a pandemic world has been habit-forming, but so are 60+ years of living."
"It’s not likely that 100 percent of old shopping behaviors will return, it’s just too convenient to have groceries delivered to your door."

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39 Comments on "Will Boomers and Gen X keep shopping online post-pandemic?"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

The boost in online shopping is here to stay. Online shopping is much more convenient and now that more consumers have made online shopping a weekly or daily practice, it has become a habit that will endure. The hassle of driving to stores, especially malls, is not worth it for many consumers. The physical stores that survive will be experiential stores.

Stephen Rector
BrainTrust

What was supposed to happen over the course of several years just happened in a matter of weeks – including the growth of e-commerce. People that previously were not online shoppers are now enjoying the convenience and ease of online shopping – so while there could be some shift back to in-store shopping, many people will not look back to the way it was.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

The determining factor of post-COVID-19 shopping habits will be experience as opposed to age. While Boomers were slow to adapt to online, they did so as it became necessary. But the sudden influx of new online shoppers meant that the experience for many was poor – that impression is more likely to influence behavior than anything else.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

As with most things in retail, older shoppers (a group that I may, in fact, belong to) will go where their experiences take them. If we continue to deliver online experiences that meet their expectations, then stores will have to up their game to deliver experiences that differentiate and add value to what older shoppers are getting online. Otherwise, these “younger” habits are likely to persist with “older” shoppers long after the crisis fades.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Your definitions are very kind to an older person like me. Thank you for including me in your “group.”

Bethany Allee
BrainTrust

It takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. It also takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

Many Americans have been in some version of isolation, lockdown, or stay-at-home for 130 days. New habits are being formed and many of them are here to stay.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I don’t think we will see a return to pre-COVID-19 shopping habits. People are very concerned with staying healthy and don’t want to risk infection needlessly. We need to do a better job as retailers to improve the customer journey for delivery, BOPIS and BOPAC. We can’t be satisfied with the broken Instacart model and the gouging currently going on with the food delivery vendors eating all the profit from restaurant sales. We have a scorpion and frog parable going on in the space where the delivery companies are killing their partner by overcharging. Few of these businesses can sustain 30 percent delivery fees when their in-restaurant capacity is at 50 percent.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Boomers will continue for health reasons and Gen X will do so for convenience.

Grocery is a unique category because of delivery costs. Here cost trumps convenience or health concerns. Unless grocery companies come up with some way of bundling delivery charges with spend – a monthly minimum spend for free delivery – it is hard to see how online grocery will sustain its growth rates. That’s why Walmart+ could be attractive to a large segment of recent converts to online grocery.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This will not be about fear of contracting contagious diseases. COVID-19 will have permanently created changes in behavioral patterns. The Baby Boomer generation will go back to in-store shopping but in much-diminished numbers. The pandemic has shown many consumers that certain things can more easily be purchased online and we all can use the saved travel time for other, more productive or more pleasurable activities. One can teach even these “old dogs” new tricks. We learn well!

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

The presence and uncertainty surrounding the virus will pretty much make sure that the pendulum doesn’t swing all the way back to any previous models. New shopping habits forced on some people have been embraced as more efficient and convenient.

But the swing back will be as dependent on how retailers execute from both a safety and a merchandising point of view as it is on newly embraced habits. People want to venture out again, but they will have to be convinced retailer by retailer, restaurant by restaurant. Plus retail had a “boring” problem pre-pandemic. Safe and boring is not going to cut it. Safe and engaging is now a minimum standard.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

There will be competing influences driving the final outcome here. Seniors who were resisting online shopping due to unfamiliarity or force of habit have overcome that and will likely stay online. The flipside is that going shopping is a social release — especially for single seniors who don’t get out much. It gives them something to do. The other benefit will be that going shopping again will give a psychological boost of “returning to normal.” Overall, I expect seniors to feel the advantages of online are quite useful.

Raj B. Shroff
BrainTrust

I think the likelihood of older consumers returning to their old habits depends on the categories. For “need” items or more functional items, it seems those would remain as online purchases. However for the “want” items or more spur of the moment purchases, older shopper will go back to buying in stores. Humans are social animals, people will want to be around other people and many enjoy shopping in the physical world. To retain older consumers, retailers would need to make ordering and recurring purchases simple, curate reviews, offer price matching, and improve packaging to make it easier to open — to name a few strategies.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Given that most non-essential shops in the U.K. were forced to close for a prolonged period of time, it is unsurprising that more people – of all age groups – shopped online. As things reopen, online shopping penetration will decline from its peak. However, it will remain elevated both because some older shoppers have enjoyed the online process and because of lingering health concerns. Untangling the two dynamics will be difficult and we won’t fully understand the lasting impact until we are on more stable ground in terms of the pandemic.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

My father who is 72, switched to a smartphone (from a flip phone) four years ago. He never used his phone to order food, groceries, or things from Amazon — until the pandemic. Now he goes out only for what is necessary (he wears a mask) and shops largely online. He found the ease of ordering online not as painful as he thought and I was amazed to hear that he says he will keep doing it post-pandemic.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
These surveys are all over the place. I read one this morning from Maybe*, also in the U.K., that said 43 percent of people anticipate they will return to shopping the same way that they did before COVID-19. I can tell you that this Baby Boomer has already cautiously returned to shopping for myself. Ordering online is easy but it’s just not the same. I have found grocer websites don’t always list everything I need which makes it frustrating, and there are too many substitutions. My Millennial children shop both in-store and online, depending on need. As far as groceries go, one is back out in the world so he visits stores. My daughter is housebound with a new baby and she isn’t taking any chances. Everything for her is online with either curbside pickup or delivery. I think a lot of it comes down to our comfort level in leaving the house during the pandemic. People are resilient and will always be social creatures. A shopping trip, regardless of the store, is social. Shopping… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I think this has more to do with the categories than the age demographics. Shopping online for groceries has still not caught on with a majority of shoppers, while other categories are skyrocketing. I also believe that older shoppers will continue to shop online for those categories after they have enjoyed the convenience of it.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

The boost in online shopping is from necessity and it will not keep up the promises. In-store shopping is more convenient as a weekly habit. Just look at grocers. The hassle of ordering online, having delays in shipments, fitting issues and returns are not worth it still for most consumers. I have plenty of clients with lines to get into stores when customers could have purchased online much quicker.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

To me this looks backwards. The convenience is online. The hassle is going to the store.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I’m only reporting reality, not survey results, Gene.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Our clients are reporting similar things. Why are people so quick to dismiss brick and mortar shopping? SMH

Ryan Grogman
BrainTrust

Even though some of the gains achieved with online shopping will retreat some once stores are fully reopened and it is believed to be safe to venture out again to physical stores, the accelerated shift towards online shopping for older consumers is here to stay. The pandemic accelerated the shift out of health and necessity, but the convenience will be what impacts the permanent behavior change. Therefore, it’s imperative that retailers continue their efforts to ensure an efficient and positive customer experience for their omnichannel shoppers.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

Consumers who had never purchased online are now converts. They love the convenience and see that it is easier for many purchases than traditional approaches. This is the case across all generational groups. Bain have done some research for e-commerce in grocery and it shows huge growth in major economies. Older consumers are often believed to have larger amounts of disposable income hence as they have moved online, continuing to give them service they need will retain them as customers – it may be more appropriate to focus on keeping this group as customers rather than encouraging them to return to their traditional approaches.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

First, there’s no evidence supporting an end to this pandemic any time soon. Older customers, who are most at risk, don’t seem to be in any hurry to return to stores. It’s going to be important that retailers continue to innovate and become more agile to meet customers’ needs.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

The continuing surge of COVID-19 cases will continue to drive all shoppers to online for the foreseeable future. Every week that new consumer behaviors are engaged it makes it more likely that these behaviors will continue in the longer term.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust
I’d say the chances of old shopping habits returning as before are nil. Zero. Will the Boomers and Generation X do SOME shopping as before? Sure. But given the fact that many of them are the most vulnerable AND the ease with which home delivery has advanced in almost every retail category, I don’t see them going back to ’90s numbers. Our recent study showed that overall, only 48 percent of folks were going to visit stores as their primary shopping experience compared to pre-COVID-19, and most of them were younger. That would be a tipping point for online sales if it plays out. Reminds me of drinking single malt scotch for the first time and thinking, ‘what was that other crap i was drinking?’ – and then never going back. The ship to home experience now is just SO much easier and SO much safer, it’s a no-brainer once you’ve had to do it to never go back (unless you really felt like it every now and then, for old time’s sake).
Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Our 2020 consumer habits are driven by health and safety fears, regardless of our age. That’s why older consumers are less likely to return to stores once they’ve grown accustomed to the safety and convenience of e-commerce and delivery to their doorstep or car.

As a sandwich generation, Gen X is overstretched, raising families and caring for elderly parents. Time savings and convenience make online shopping a long-term habit that suits the lifestyle of this cohort, even without a pandemic.

Rachelle King
BrainTrust

We are scarcely six months into a pandemic that doesn’t have an end date. Not only is is difficult to project consumer behavior post-COVID-19, it’s difficult to project consumer behavior by year end. What we can lean into is the fact that the longer you do something, the more likely it is to becomes a habit. To that end, it’s likely older consumers would still be open to buying online post-COVID-19.

However when it’s truly safe to get to the stores and smell a fresh peach, squeeze a tomato or rummage over identical-looking potatoes until you find just the right one for you — this basic desire to touch/feel/see/smell may entice shoppers back to stores, if only for a little while.

It’s not likely that 100 percent of old shopping behaviors will return, it’s just too convenient to have groceries delivered to your door. Rather what may drive shoppers back to stores is not a fatigue over convenience but the basic human desire for sensory experience. Something even online convenience can’t rival.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Any semblance of safe shopping will bring back many to the store. The store provides the immediacy of product plus spontaneous shopping – critical factors for retail. Add to the knocks against e-commerce poor experiences up front, the uncertainty of delivery, and higher costs, and Gen X and Boomers will mostly return to earlier shopping patterns. There will be increased online shopping but not to the levels many suggest. Perhaps we’ll see a few years fast forward on a linear transformation towards online shopping, but nothing revolutionary. The fact is that most Gen Xers and Boomers had been quite familiar with online shopping prior to COVID-19 and preferred shopping in the store anyway.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust
This isn’t just an easy “yes” or “no” answer nor is it a one or the other choice. Our new research shows that 55 percent of Gen X and 46 percent of Boomers have shopped online for groceries five+ times. They are also the most satisfied (4.43 on a five-point scale for Boomers and 4.35 for Gen X). Many Boomers (37 percent) and Gen Xers (52 percent) report shopping both online and in-store in the last 30 days. Finally, 53 percent of Gen X shoppers and 41 percent of Boomer shoppers expect to purchase more online in the next 12 months while at the same time 17 percent of Boomers and 12 percent of Gen Xers expect to shop less online for groceries in the next 12 months. So all of this indicates to me that there will be a magnitude of retention of new online business while, yes, some will go back to in-store shopping. I wouldn’t dismiss the growth that is happening in online grocery and expect that the old normal is the… Read more »
Chuck Ehredt
Guest

Customers are loyal to brands based on their experience (and overall perception of value). Prior to COVID-19, older consumers had more established habits around off-line shopping but, given the pandemic, were forced to change those habits.

The online shopping experience is not equally good across all retailers, but where customers of any generation had a good online experience, habits are bound to change – leading to more online orders even when customers have an offline choice.

So beyond necessity influencing where customers shopped during the past three months, I anticipate those retailers that deliver a good online experience will retain online sales volume, while those that don´t will lose the customer to someone who does; or hopefully offer a compelling enough offline experience to retain previous business volumes.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Older shoppers and many younger ones will shop in brick-and-mortar stores. It will be like a trip to exercise their freedom. But they will want retailers to show them new and exciting presentations like they had never before seen in their stores. That is the retailer’s major challenge; supplying a Disney-like experience that takes the customer’s breath away in the first five minutes. And it must keep changing weekly. That being said, yes, everyone will continue shopping online. The real pressure is on the brick-and-mortar retailers.

Trinity Wiles
Guest

It’s very likely consumers will continue shopping online once the crisis is over. Ecommerce growth will continue. Stores will become the flagships for experiences. People no longer shop in stores for convenience, they shop for the experience and we have been forced to face that during this pandemic.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

It’s hard to project how many Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers will continue shopping online post-pandemic because we don’t know what a post-pandemic world looks like yet.

Additionally, studies point to the fact that this won’t be the last global pandemic many of us endure, so the importance of online shopping and social distancing measures will remain relevant as time goes on.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Many older workers will return to their old habits just due to the socialization that occurs with in-store shopping and to see the items they want to buy. While the online experience has been good from many retailers, and helped many people who did not want to contact others due to worries about the virus, when the virus is not a threat, older consumers will want to venture out, especially for groceries.

Shikha Jain
BrainTrust

Months of living in a pandemic world has been habit-forming, but so are 60+ years of living. It’s true that while many Boomers used to shy away from online shopping due to a lack of confidence with the digital world, some have a newfound sense of ease with and appreciation for it, thanks largely to Amazon. Nevertheless, this generation’s behavioral pliability is probably less than those after them simply due to their age. Older consumers may maintain a remnant of pandemic purchasing patterns, but most will be eager to resume their “normal,” even though caution around the physical shopping experience is likely to be greater and linger longer for this crowd. I predict a slow but steady, if not altogether complete, return to old habits.

Strategies for maintaining their digital business might include a continued focus on safety and reminders of how easy online ordering made it to stay safe and healthy the last few months.

James Tenser
BrainTrust
Any time I review a study that reports how consumers say they will shop in the future, I am skeptical. The choice between online shopping and in-store shopping is always a trade-off from the perspective of convenience and timing. Just because some folks have resorted to digital shopping for the first time during the pandemic does not mean they will prefer it henceforth. It does, however, widen the set of acceptable choices for shoppers who previously were averse to online ordering. Single item orders from Amazon (like the USB-c and CAT-8 cables I recently purchased for my home network) are indeed much easier to make online. The weekly grocery order is much more challenging and it requires the shopper to visualize their planned consumption rather than respond to merchandising cues experienced in the store environment. Shopping preferences will (have) surely be altered from this point forward, but it would be foolish to project the slope of the short-term spike we have seen in the past half-year. More online shopping experiences translate to both positive and… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
This pandemic is defined more by what we do not know than by what we do know. Here’s what I know: 1) For every survey that says consumers won’t return to shopping in-store because of new online shopping habits, you can find another one that says the opposite. People answer surveys with how they *think* they will act in the future. Many times we learn that people don’t end up doing what they say they will do. 2) Most people have been in some form of a lockdown or sheltering in place or just plain avoiding going out for health and safety reasons (especially if someone in their household is high risk) for long enough to form new habits. 3) Convenience is king. This was true before the pandemic, and this has become even more important during the pandemic. Here’s what I don’t know, and frankly, what I don’t think these surveys tell a real story about: 1) It’s hard to generalize across retail segments to predict consumer behavior. You can’t assume people in any… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

This is something of a trick question, since habits were evolving even before the crisis, so the chance of returning to “old” literally is zero (though perhaps “largely” anticipates this). But back on point, we just don’t really know. Certainly the more online habits become normalized, the more likely they are to persist, but there are a variety of reasons for not shopping online — particularly if the experience is negative — and those will persist, regardless. But generally, I think we’ve moved a couple years up on pre-existing trends; whether it’s a permanent shift or there’s a pause, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

I don’t want to admit it, but I am going to tell you that I am one of those older consumers. So talking from my perspective as a focus group of one, I have developed a new habit of going to the web and buying more stuff. Everything is now just one click away, and every time I push the buy button, I am reinforcing a new behavior. The same for all of my friends who are doing the same thing. Yes, my wife and I will return to shopping in stores, but a lot less frequently.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Many Americans have been in some version of isolation, lockdown, or stay-at-home for 130 days. New habits are being formed and many of them are here to stay."
"Months of living in a pandemic world has been habit-forming, but so are 60+ years of living."
"It’s not likely that 100 percent of old shopping behaviors will return, it’s just too convenient to have groceries delivered to your door."

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