Understanding Generational Differences in Retail: The Law of the Hammer


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“When you have a good hammer, everything looks like a nail.¹”

We tend to see our world through the lens of our favorite tools. Econometricians tend to think in terms of causal models, experimental psychologists tend to think in terms of factorial designs, and data scientists tend to think in terms of database structures. A species-optimizing tool that we use every day and shapes the way we see the world is language. You are using it right now.

The language we use greatly influences how we think. For example, those in cold climates have richer descriptions of snow than those in warm climates who might not have a word at all for it. The richness of these snow descriptors would undoubtedly help you select the best conditions for which to speed across the tundra with a dog team or just stay indoors and eat kippers. Language is a tool we use that helps us to adapt to and manage our environment.

Happily, my 7-year-old daughter does not have to contend with such decisions. She is, however, taxed to understand why people say “roll up the window” in the car or “turn off” the television. There is nothing to roll or turn. These are idioms of the old. She is annoyed when she can’t instantly summon the exact show she wants or can’t move things around on the screen with the touch of her fingers.

Technology impacts her worldview – the language she uses and how she thinks, connects, problem solves, and interacts with her environment. The younger generations of Millennials and Plurals prefer the brief and instantaneous, but are consistently and constantly connected. Text someone under 25 and see how quick you get a return text…freaky fast!

These communication preferences are different from my generation of Gen Xers, who use email as a primary form of communication, and older generations, who prefer to pick up the phone and talk. They are, in turn, different from the ancient, who like to pen the occasional letter. I must admit, I still get voice mails occasionally.

It is almost passé to say the mobile smartphone radically changed our world. But it’s true, and we are still feeling and understanding the profound effects that this small object we carry in our purses and pockets is having on people’s worldview. It accelerates and changes the way we communicate and use language. Everyone, but Millennials and Plurals in particular, see it as much more than a phone or communication device; it is a form of entertainment a personal organizer, a controller of stuff and locator of things. It’s a shopping buddy.

According to results from the MaritzCX G-Tailing study, more than two thirds (67%) of Millennials are using their mobile device to check products and prices online while physically in a bricks-and-mortar stores. This compares to only 1 in 5 of older Boomers who engage in this form of showrooming behavior.

DF check prices

This has monumental consequences for anyone with an online or physical retail presence. Younger generations expect to communicate using mobile technology. They expect things to work like NetflixAmazon, and Facebook. When they don’t, they are disappointed. Disappointed customers are bad.

Amazon in particular has set a new expectation for shopping, particularly among younger generations. Half of those 18-22 (Plurals) stated they would prefer to order their regular household goods online and wait 2-3 days for them almost all the time or exclusively. They want to order their Kombucha tea and environmentally friendly laundry detergent like they do pizza, and increasingly companies such as EbayAmazon, and Google are fulfilling on that promise.  One has to wonder about the confluence of home delivery and autonomous vehicles. That Google is in both is more than coincidental, I think.

Other industries are following suit with KFC and Taco Bell  announcing plans to do delivery and organic grocer Whole Foods Market partnering to do the same. This retailing trend is expanding beyond packaged goods, groceries, and quick serve restaurants. An overwhelming majority (87%) of Millennial new car shoppers said they would wait several weeks for a new car, if they could get exactly want. Some dealers are responding to this trend through their internet sales departments and also offering home delivery.

Mobile, real time analytics, and new approaches to retailing are rapidly transforming customer expectations about their shopping experience and how they want companies to deliver products and services. If you are in the business of listening to the voice of the customer, you should know that the majority of your customers are probably now completing (or not completing) your surveys on mobile devices. How does it look? Does it make your brand contemporary with responsive mobile design or are they old fashioned and hard to read? Is your customer care center geared up for social media and prepared to get back with customers in the few minutes they expect?

The tools we use shape our worldview and set our expectations. Increasingly for younger generations those tools are always on demand, easy to use, provide helpful information to reduce complexity, and are quick to deliver.

Is your company ready for Millennials and Plurals? Too late, they’re already here with their new-fangled whatchamacallit hammers.

If you want to hear more about generational attitudinal preferences in privacy, shopping, and retail from our G-Tailing study, watch Dave Fish’s webinar, Understanding Generational Differences in Retail.

¹Attribution to variations of this quote has been made to Mark Twain, Abraham Maslow and others. Thanks to JD Eveland for introducing me to this concept.  For an interesting discussion of the evolution of this useful idiom, check this out.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Fish, Ph.D.

Dave is the founder of CuriosityCX, an insights and advisory consultancy for Customer Experience. Formerly he was CMO for MaritzCX, now an InMoment company. He has 25+ years of applied experience in understanding consumer behavior consulting with Global 50 companies. Dave has held several executive positions at the Mars Agency, Engine Group, J.D. Power and Associates, Toyota Motor North America, and American Savings Bank. He teaches at the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of "The Customer Experience Field Guide" available on Amazon and BookLogix.com.


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