Talking 'Bout My Generation

Decoding today's shopper at the SymphonyIRI Group Summit

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Kids these days--and their parents and grandparents--are tech-savvy, cautious consumers who are demanding more from manufacturers and retailers. It is not enough to target one generation any more. Companies must understand the nuances within each age group to garner loyal customers. The 2011 SymphonyIRI Group Summit, held March 28-30 in Miami Beach, Fla., featured a "Multigenerational Consumer Panel" of bloggers and consultants. Moderator Thom Blishok, global president of innovation and strategy for SymphonyIRI, asked them what they look for in a brand and [image-nocss] a shopping experience.

Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender (pictured), consultants representing baby boomers, told the audience that retailers are not prepared for the aging population. Shiny white floors, too-bright or too-dark light leads to a scary experience in a store, as does small print on labels and signs.

They pointed to CVS's addition of carpeting to stores and just-right lighting, and Safeway's nutritional labeling that can still be read "if I don't have my reading glasses," said Kizer.

At the same time, said Bender, retailers need to make adjustments subtly and tactfully so as not to make the demographic feel self-conscious.

A CSP Daily News Poll last week asked, "Are you adjusting your stores to better cater to the aging population?" Of the more than 80 votes at press time, more than 70% said "no"; nearly 15% said "yes, we're adjusting layout/design and product mix"; about 6% said "yes, we're adjusting product mix" and a little more than 1% said "yes, we're adjusting layout/design."

Furthermore, the boomer generation is made up of a broad range of ages, so companies should not paint them with broad strokes. The 47-year-old boomer has very different needs than the 64-year-old boomer.

Likewise, Isabel Villegas, director of Jack Morton Latino and representing the Hispanic shopper, advised retailers and manufacturers to understand the differences between acculturated and non-acculturated Hispanics, and that the Hispanic experience in, say, Chicago, is different even from the experience for Hispanics in Los Angeles. Understanding the nuances of the markets is crucial to resonating with the demographic.

For Alma Klein, blogger for Social Media Moms and representative of Generation X, raising small children today can be scary. So she buys from companies that help leave the environment and community a better place, be it through sustainable packaging or cause marketing.

Sasha Muradali, millennial blogger at Little Pink Blog, said she wants the shopping experience to be quick, efficient and easy. While she willingly engages in brands on Twitter, she does not on Facebook, which she sees as more of a private space.

All panelists agreed they are increasingly wary of "natural" claims on packaging. "I take it with a grain of salt because I know you're trying to sell to me," said Bender.

"It doesn't matter what else is on the box, because I'll read the ingredients," added Muradali.

As far as special deals and promotions go, the preferences vary through the generations. Marketers tend to think that because they are getting older, they will spend less, said Kizer of his generation. But if there is value, he will pay for it.

Hispanic shoppers will likely partake in deals for personal care items, but they are less likely to do so for foods, said Villegas. The demographic tends to just buy what food they need, so two-for or buy-one-get-one offers are less appealing.

Click here for details on SymphonyIRI Group's listing of the most successful food and beverage and non-foods consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands of 2010.

Abbie Westra, CSP/Winsight By Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP
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