The holiday season has been synonymous with shopping since the invention of the gold coin. Holiday sales will grow by 3.8 to 4.2 percent this year. But for modern consumers, holiday shopping is no longer only about tinseled storefronts and mall Santas. Smartphones, social media, and SMS notifications play an important part in most customers’ path-to-purchase. NRF forecasts that 20 percent of retail sales will take place online this year, which is double the amount of online purchases that customers made over the 2018 holiday. Although online holiday shopping is on the rise, there’s still one generation that will make the bulk of their holiday purchases in-store, at the very last minute: The Silent Generation.
It’s hard enough to get retailers to pay attention to Boomers, the richest consumer demographic alive today. Start talking about customers in their late 70s, 80s, and 90s, and you’ll send most millennial and Gen X marketers running back to their co-work offices to make more live Facebook videos. The Silent Generation is not only misunderstood, but they’re also severely underserved. Which is why it’s so important for retailers to understand their actual target demographics and to take consumer behavioral data into account before relying on their traditional holiday sales strategy.
The Silents Are the OG Holiday Heavy Hitters
The Silent Generation was born between 1928-1945 and they’re currently between 74 and 91 years old. It’s easy to think that this demographic did the bulk of their holiday shopping in their younger years and that they no longer have major spending power, but the cold hard facts don’t back up this assumption. So much focus is devoted to millennial and Gen Z shopping behaviors, while maturing generations are largely neglected by mainstream advertisers. But, as my grandpa would have said, put this in your pipe and smoke it: The NPD Group reports that the Silent Generation plans to spend as much as millennials this holiday season. Let that sink in for a minute. While most retailers are hyper-focused on using the right hashtags and influencer marketing to attract millennial shoppers, they’re letting an (equally significant) demographic slip right through their fingertips–and it’s all because unintentional bias causes retailers to discredit more mature consumers.
The Silent Generation deserves more attention than they’re getting from advertisers. The upside is that savvy retailers can easily recruit Silents by taking their purchasing behaviors and preferences into account. And there’s already a lot of data available about how the Silent Generation likes to do their holiday shopping (unlike Generation Z consumers, who are just getting their own credit cards). Price, quality, and in-store customer service are the name of the game with Silent-gen consumers. But don’t take this to mean that they aren’t doing online product research to ensure that they get the best deals on gifts for their friends and family. They weren’t born yesterday.
Generational Stereotypes Don’t Reflect Their Reality
Boomers may have more disposable income than any other generation, but The Silent Generation commands nearly $24 trillion in wealth and, unlike with brand-conscious Boomers, Silents’ holiday market share is here for the taking. While retail analysts are still trying to predict the impact of higher employment rate/higher wages versus the impact of tariffs on 2019 holiday spending, most Silent generation consumers are on fixed incomes or living off of their investments. And this is a customer demographic that does their research before they make a purchase. If you thought Silents were immune to omnichannel marketing, think again. Sure, they prefer face-to-face customer service over chatbots and SMS messaging, but the Silent Generation responds to email above all other forms of communication, followed by retailer websites and then telephone marketing (as in phone calls, not social media).
While their shopping journey will be informed by online sources, they will still convert in brick-and-mortar stores. Remember: this is the generation that’s hyper-focused on the face-to-face retail experience – they want to be greeted and they want to be guided – any retailer with an in-store experience that falls short risks losing these customers on the essential last leg of their holiday shopping journey. Four out of ten Silent Generation consumers in the plan to start shopping late, so those last-minute sales in physical stores will be a big margin-builder; but they start doing their holiday purchasing research early, so retailers should share detailed teasers of future in-store sales on their websites and through physical mailers.
Holiday Shopping Behavior Predictions for 2019
Some of the Silent Generation’s top shopping priorities aren’t unlike those of Generation Z: product value, product purpose, and product quality mean more to Silents than tawdry marketing initiatives. Like the youngest generation, philanthropy plays a factor in consumers purchasing decisions as they age and Silents love donating to charities over the holiday season. In fact, AARP reports that older members of the Silent Generation contributed an estimated $29 billion last year to charity (this factors out to an average of $1,235 per person!) and the Silent Generation as a whole donates 20 percent of all charitable donations. Unlike their grandchildren, however, Silent Generation consumers are rarely accused of being fickly consumers. It’s the retailers that build relationships year-round through consistent email marketing and in-store customer service that will benefit from Silents’ holiday spend.
Members of the Silent Generation grew up in the Golden Era of department stores, so they still romanticize the experience of shopping at physical retailers over the holiday season. Silents are more likely to visit just one retailer for all of their holiday shopping needs–obviously, health and mobility also play a factor in this choice. In this way the Silent Generation is the opposite of Millennials and Gen Z, who shop with multiple retailers across multiple channels to get their gifts. This is why it’s so important for retailers to understand their target demographic well before the holiday season. While retailers need to specialize in a specific niche to attract Millennials and Gen Z, Silent Generation consumers still long for that one retailer that does it all, with strong enough in-store customer service to keep them coming back.