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.