Here's a look at how four major generations differ in their approach to consumer activism, which ones care the most about how closely a brand aligns with their personal values and how it impacts their online shopping habits. Here’s what online retailers need to note.

Sarah Title, content marketing manager at Resonate

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of ecommerce channels, even among older generations that have proven most reluctant to transition from physical to online retail. At the same time, we’re seeing a wave of consumer activism sweep the country, in which a growing group of consumers is deciding which brands deserve their money based on the values they demonstrate as companies. At the intersection of these two trends, online and multichannel retailers are completely reworking their consumer segmenting and targeting strategies to reflect the new reality.

With that said, as ecommerce brands shift to accommodate older generations of online shoppers, they will do well to not broadly overlay their newfound consumer activist insights on all segments. After all, not every U.S. consumer is a consumer activist; the need for a company’s values to align with their own varies among generations. At Resonate, we recently looked at how four major generations differ in their approach to consumer activism and which ones care the most about how closely a brand aligns with their own personal values. Here’s what online retailers need to note.

Baby Boomers, ages 54-72

Many shoppers today consider their purchases to be an extension of their views, beliefs and lifestyles, but according to our analysis, baby boomers don’t necessarily feel that way. For many baby boomers, brands exist only to sell products and services they need. Buying from them is nothing deeper than a surface-level transaction.

Boomers prefer companies that price products fairly and provide safe products. They’re 34% less likely than the average consumer to seek out companies that reduce energy use, 29% less likely to prefer companies that donate to charities, and 23% less likely to prefer companies that listen to the public.

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Baby boomers won’t pay more based on an important issue, share their opinion of a company or engage in a company’s societal program. They’re 18% less likely to care about a brand’s reputation, 30% less likely to criticize a company for not doing enough for the environment and are admittedly unengaged in advocacy issues. Brand value alignment is not a top priority for them when it comes to making purchase decisions. Therefore, when boomers are your target audience, you might want to hold back on pledging allegiance to a specific cause and put your efforts and resources toward creating a cost-effective and safe product.

Gen X, ages 38-53

Gen Xers grew up long before the rise of the purpose-led brand and were largely detached from the internet and social media when they formed their shopping habits. They don’t expect much from companies besides the product or service they’re paying for and don’t see buying or not buying from a company as a political or social statement.

Gen Xers prefer companies that price products fairly, but don’t particularly care if companies donate to charities, reduce energy use or listen to the public. Gen Xers download apps from brands and follow them on social media, but only 12% of Gen Xers will pay more based on an important issue. They prefer products that are family-friendly and don’t care whether they’re produced sustainably. They’re also 16% less likely to care about a brand’s reputation. When Gen X is your target demographic, it’s important to note that this segment probably isn’t concerned whether their personal values align with your brand, so it shouldn’t be a major part of your marketing strategy.

Millennials, ages 21-37

The millennial generation is the most racially and ethnically diverse in the nation’s history and came of age during the internet explosion. This generation is passionate about holding brands accountable for their positions on social and political issues, and social media has given them a platform to share their stories and enlist the help of the public to bring attention to a brand’s purpose and values.

Millennials’ top factor in deciding where to shop is based on a brand’s reputation. They’re 32% more likely to prefer companies that reduce energy use, 30% more likely to prefer ones that donate to charity, 22% more likely to prefer ones that reduce packaging and 20% more likely to prefer companies that listen to the public. Millennials are highly willing to participate in a brand’s societal program and pay more based on a specific issue. They’re 40% more likely to research companies to find out about their contribution to green initiatives and 27% more likely to criticize companies that aren’t “green” enough.

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The charitable causes millennials care most about are at-risk youth, climate change and poverty. You can find them on Reddit, Snapchat and Instagram and streaming YouTube Premium, Disney+ and HBO Now. Consider highlighting any support you’ve given to the causes they’re passionate about or highlight the ways in which you’ve contributed to improving green efforts in order to entice and retain millennial consumers, especially since 81% of millennials want the companies they buy from to practice business sustainably and ethically.

Gen Z, ages 18-20

Resonate only focuses on the U.S. adult population, so our insights do not include the younger portion of Gen Z. But for that portion we do cover, we find that this generation has the highest expectations when it comes to brands; 87% of Gen Zers say they expect more from brands than just products. Gen Z is highly engaged with advocacy issues, but 54% less likely to be politically engaged. Clearly, this group is more concerned with the social issues affecting our country over political ones.

If Gen Z is your target audience, you might want to consider avoiding political stances and stick to social issues. They’re 43% more likely to support companies that reduce their energy use, 40% more likely to support ones that reduce packaging and 36% more likely to support those that donate to charities. Their top charitable issues are climate change, at-risk youth and natural resource preservation. They’re 39% more likely than the average U.S. consumer to engage in a company’s societal program and 91% more likely to decide where to shop based on a brand’s reputation.

Resonate is a research firm and consultancy that analyzes U.S. consumer data. 

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