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The Next Generations

Well, now it is official. I am old. I have come to this conclusion because in the last year phrases like “back when I was young,” “time goes by so fast,” and “the young people today” have rolled out of my mouth. This realization presented itself in full last month when I wrote “Build a Door” and used “the evolving profile of customers” as an example for reaching goals. That’s when it hit me that some of my friends now have grandchildren and many are looking forward to retirement. As my mother used to say, “Where has the time gone?” I used to roll my eyes when she said it (behind her back, of course), but now I understand.

The Next Generations

Learn the ABCs of Generations X, Y, and Z to Capture Sales


(Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Recognition Review.)

Well, now it is official. I am old. I have come to this conclusion because in the last year phrases like “back when I was young,” “time goes by so fast,” and “the young people today” have rolled out of my mouth. This realization presented itself in full last month when I wrote “Build a Door” and used “the evolving profile of customers” as an example for reaching goals. That’s when it hit me that some of my friends now have grandchildren and many are looking forward to retirement. As my mother used to say, “Where has the time gone?” I used to roll my eyes when she said it (behind her back, of course), but now I understand.

How have things changed? A Generation X niece of mine purchased all-new appliances for her kitchen recently. She researched the products online; found a local retailer online; ordered the appliances, sight unseen, online; and arranged for delivery online. She never walked into a store. A Generation Y niece of mine remarked over the holidays that she had not gotten an invitation to our annual holiday party. I apologized, gave her the details and said I had mailed the invitations a couple of weeks before. Her reply was that she doesn’t check her physical mailbox, as she does everything online. My 15-year-old neighbor recently spent a family vacation in London and had to have international calling added to her cell phone so she could keep up with her friends while she was gone. Today, you meet your future spouse online, shop for groceries without ever leaving your home, and have lots of “friends” that you have never met. Yes, I am old.

Old I may be, but I’m smart enough to realize that retailers everywhere must change their ways of marketing, of selling merchandise, of dealing effectively with a new generation of customers, if we want to continue to grow and expand our businesses. To be successful in our quest to convert these younger consumers into loyal customers, we need to know exactly who they are. So, here goes.


GENERATION X: According to, this label applies to those born during the 1960s and 1970s. The Harvard Center uses 1965–1977 to define this group while Urban Dictionary uses the years 1965–1977. The Pew Research Center says this consumer group “currently ranges in age from 34-49.”

The U. S. Census Bureau estimates there are 62 million adults in this demographic. Although many retailers are more interested in Generation Y and baby boomer consumers, 62 million consumers seems like a lot of potential customers, don’t you think? So, let’s look at a few more statistics about this group of consumers.

  • The median family income is $71,000 (Pew Charitable Trust)
  • The best educated generation, with 29% holding at least a bachelor’s degree (The Social Librarian)
  • Their rate of volunteerism is the highest of generations at 29.4% (Corporation for National and Community Service)
  • 22% of those in the United States identify themselves as immigrants (Pew Research Center)
  • Only 9% identify as “soccer moms” (Karen Klein)
  • 39% do not expect to retire until after age 66 and 10% do not expect to ever retire (Gallup Poll)
  • 81% of Generation X members have a Facebook account, 57% have a Google+ account, and 48% have a Twitter account (The Statistics Portal, as of 1st quarter 2014)
  • If your business is difficult to locate online, these consumers will be skeptical of doing business with you (Penny Fox)
  • “They’re the most loyal of all the generations. It’s an extraordinary amount of work, but once you get them, they tend to stick around.” (Cam Marston of Generational Insight)

GENERATION Y: Here’s a surprise—Generation Y consumers were born after Generation X consumers. According to researcher Neil Howe, the group—also called Millennials—is defined “as those born in 1984 and approximately the 20 years thereafter.” The U. S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation defines this group as being born between 1980 and 1999, which would make them 16–35 years of age.

It is estimated that there are 80-plus million Millennials in the United States alone. “Millennials account for $1.3 trillion of consumer spending,” according to Barron’s, and researcher Jayne O’Donnell believes these consumers “will have more spending power than any other group by 2017. This is an audience we need to understand and recruit as our customers!

  • The ages of these consumers today makes it clear that some are potential customers while others are future potential customers not yet looking for the products we sell.
  • According to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 80% sleep with their cell phones next to the bed, 65% get their news from television and 59% get it from the Internet (59%), and 75% have a current profile on a social networking site.
  • 45% have more than 200 Facebook friends (Barkley US)
  • By 2025, three of four workers globally will be Millennials (Time)
  • 41% have made purchases with their smartphones (Edelman Digital). “If your website is not mobile ready, good riddance.” (Ryan Jenkins)
  • 36% will go online to buy from a retailer’s website if they want something when a retailer is closed.
  • This consumer group writes half of all online product reviews (GenBuy)

GENERATION Z: The children of Generation X and Generation Y number 23 million. The oldest are only 14 years old, but it is important to know that this group already has influence over their parents’ buying decisions.


One thing should be very, very clear at this point: All consumers agree that access to social media is extremely important. In many ways, it defines who they interact with, how they spend their time, and which retailers they do business with. For these groups, technology is king. But aside from that one important part of their lives, the two generations are very different.

Generation X makes up 44% of the current workforce and are fans of flexible work schedules. They will be promoted into positions of power quickly as baby boomers retire. They are the new athletic directors, new corporate human resource directors, new nonprofit executive directors, and new business managers. They are price-conscious shoppers and prefer straightforward facts over slick marketing campaigns. They believe companies are only interested in collecting followers and don’t care about working to build a community of followers. These consumers do not want to feel pressured to buy and want retailers to give them a clear understanding of what is in it for them. The payback for courting these consumers is that, according to Cam Marston, “they’re the most loyal of all generations.”

Generation Y consumers tend to be less loyal and rely more on where their online friends are shopping. Half of them like to purchase from retailers that support causes and charities. They want to communicate by text (or e-mail if necessary) and view calls from businesses as an invasion of privacy. According to GenBuy, this generation has grown up using technology for everything, but “65% say they love to shop in actual stores.” They like to see and touch the merchandise and want store experiences that involve sales associates who are friendly and helpful. According to Accenture, “they want to be treated like valued customers.”


As retailers, it is our job to understand what these consumers want and make sure we provide it better than anyone else. It would be a mistake to assume the customer experience that baby boomers have enjoyed in your business is what Generations X and Y want. What can your business do to appeal to these new potential customers? Here are five suggestions to get your brainstorming started:

  1. Rethink everything. Invite a Generation X social club or a Generation Y collegiate group into your store and provide refreshments and door prizes. Ask each to fill out a questionnaire about your brick and mortar store. What do they like, what seems outdated, what would appeal to them more? Ask them to be brutally honest, so that you can learn and see what these consumers are seeing. Keep an open mind and don’t take the suggestions as attacks, but rather as helpful ways to improve your company. The authors of the book GenBuy say that if you want to attract younger, more diverse customers, you should consider the following: update your merchandise selections, change your décor, copromote with retailers that already do business with these consumers, and rethink your policies.
  2. Reallocate your resources. These consumers have very different views on marketing than the baby boomers. They don’t like or trust out-of-date social media sites and websites. These consumers are immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches. Ask a professor at a local college to have a marketing class critique your website. Hire a young professional to give you tips about online marketing and how to set up a marketing plan for social media. Rethink the dollars you are spending with outdated modes of advertising, such as print newspapers, directories, and direct mailings.
  3. Testimonials matter. If the testimonials are recent and include reviews by their X and Y peers, these consumers will notice. According to the book Selling to Brands, “Generations X and Y are more likely to rely on peers for recommendations.” These consumers want to hear about real-life examples and will be much more likely to seek out word-of-mouse reviews from online friends rather than relying on word of mouth. Do you know what they are saying about your business?
  4. Reset your schedule. Generation X consumers, even more so Generation Y consumers, live in a world of instant gratification. Why would they wait 2 weeks for your store to complete their order when an Internet competitor promises to ship within 24 hours? They want what they want when they want it—not when your policies dictate. Take a look at your production schedule and look for ways to meet the demands of the “I want it now” generations.
  5. Rethink simple policies. Our policy has always been to ask customers if they would like us to call or e-mail when their order is ready. But now we know that members of Generation Y prefer to communicate by text, so the policy has changed to include a text as an option. Review all policies that were designed for service and see if they still apply to doing business with younger consumers.
  6. The world of retailing has changed and will continue to change at warp speed. We must quickly identify what these new generations of shoppers want, what services they expect, and what we must do to capture their business. We can do it with a little time and research—and a willingness to embrace change. Go get them!

Fran Carville, CRM, is an ARA past president, ARA educational speaker, 2008 Speaker of the Year, a member of the ARA Hall of Fame, and winner of an Award of Excellence from the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Fran and her husband, Tom Carville, CRM, own Carco Awards in Baton Rouge, LA.

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