Getting to know Baby Boomers: their presence in the online retail sector.

Posted by Alex Baines on the 23rd August, 2019
There is an outdated assumption in the retail industry that Baby Boomers are shopping in-store and Millennials online, and channels are therefore being designed for these audiences. The shopping behaviours of older generations are changing, and marketing shouldn’t ignore this.

Baby Boomers are a powerful generation for retailers.
One of the most powerful and influential generations, Baby Boomers, are often misunderstood and neglected by marketers. In fact, only 5% of advertising is typically positioned towards this huge market even though they account for 23% of the UK’s population.

Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. Generally, they have above average levels of disposable income (actually being responsible for 51% of the UK’s total wealth (1)). Most importantly, however, they don’t hesitate to spend it to improve their lives. This means that marketing activities geared towards this generation is an untapped area for ROI opportunity. So why do many retailers focus less and less on this powerful generation?

Let’s consider the facts: some tendencies and characteristics of Baby Boomers that have been established by existing research. Despite many assumptions otherwise, they are a tech-savvy group. 71% own smartphones (2) and 78% actively enjoy using technology. Understandably, adding fuel to the belief that they are misunderstood, this generation resent any stereotyping as being ‘old’, with 75% not feeling appropriately represented by the media. A high proportion of Baby Boomers engage on social media (with over 60% on Facebook (3)) and aren’t as averse to change as once thought: 54% are prepared to try a new brand if it looks interesting (4). We believe marketers can connect with this generation by understanding how Baby Boomers characteristically feel, think and do. These characteristics can then be harnessed to inform marketing strategies more effectively.

Whilst Millennials and beyond are labelled ‘digital natives’, less is known about the digital habits of Baby Boomers.
We investigated the consumer journey for Baby Boomers both online and in-store with a focus on two key shopping trends: showrooming and webrooming. Showrooming is the act of looking at items in-store before buying online. Webrooming, the inverse, involves researching items online before buying in-store. Both are modern approaches to purchasing, made possible by the ease and accessibility of online shopping platforms and mobile applications.

We researched the views and behaviours of 2,000 nationally representative adults in the UK via the Walnut Omnibus. In short, our research set out to investigate webrooming and showrooming when making non-food purchases and figure out who, if anyone, is adopting these shopping techniques. We noted these surprising results for Baby Boomers and, hint hint, marketers should be listening!


We captured the proportion of UK shoppers who claim to look in-store before buying online (showrooming). Our findings show that, despite Gen X and Millennials being the most likely group to do this, just over half of Baby Boomers also engage in this behaviour. The implications of this is that brands and retailers must ensure their online customer journey is tailored as much to the Baby Boomers as younger generations of consumers; ensuring simplicity at the point of purchase (whilst remembering that they are visiting in-store to browse).


Interestingly, a similar trend is found for showrooming, with Baby Boomer habits being not too far removed from their younger counterparts. 71% of Baby Boomers said that they would look up an item online before going in store to buy. These figures show that brands and retailers must ensure their online researching environment, as well as in-store environment, is designed with Baby Boomers AND younger generations in mind.

Multichannel shopping is for the masses, not just the young.
In particular, the online environment is often neglected in terms of being developed for the Baby Boomer generation. Retailers and brands must take the time to carefully consider their online presence through the eyes of the Baby Boomer generation, not just younger generations. It is also important that insight does not ignore this group, especially as they hold the greatest levels of disposable income. Too often at Walnut Unlimited, we receive research briefs that look to understand the views of the under 55’s, yet this is missing a large group of the population who perhaps feel that brands are not ‘for them’ anymore. We hope this will change for brands where Baby Boomers present an opportunity!

Personalisation opens up opportunities to connect with Baby Boomers online (and in-store!)
The beauty of the online channel is the ability to personalise content with greater ease than the physical environment. In terms of appealing to Baby Boomers online, retailers should ensure that they personalise their advertising through the use of analytics and tracking. If a website registers that a Baby Boomer consumer has clicked through to their home page, either through cookies or through a profile login, the retailer could ensure that older models showing relevant fashion are shown first; we know that people feel more connected to images that include ‘people like them’. However, marketers should not take this too far; remember, Baby Boomers do not consider themselves to be ‘old’.

Online journey development should not forget to appeal to the characteristics of Baby Boomers.

Research shows that Baby Boomers are especially likely to be looking for a streamlined shopping experience, as they are least likely to shop as a leisure activity. Online channels can cater to this by ensuring the minimum amount of steps to payment, but also providing easily accessible product information (detail on the style, fit and material of clothes, as ASOS do extensively). The industry should listen to Baby Boomers more often, given that they don’t tend to be within the marketing industry itself.

We know that it is hard for humans to appreciate the viewpoint and experiences of others, in the same way they do for those similar to themselves. Marketing tends to be a young discipline, and therefore those working in the industry need to be careful when making assumptions about the preferences and habits of older consumers.

Baby Boomers are a great generation for brands to connect with.
Existing research shows that Baby Boomers tend to be self-confident and secure, enjoy experiences over materialism and will spend more for a feeling of luxury. These characteristics should shape the way they are spoken to.

Baby Boomers certainly aren’t one homogeneous group. They were the first generation to be called ‘teenagers’, indicating the fact that they may be more individual than any ‘older’ generations that have existed before them. Understanding Baby Boomers as a whole, and by segment appropriate to the category of interest, will be highly valuable to ensure they aren’t forgotten.


Meet the Author: Alex Baines
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