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Generations 101

Different strokes (and strategies) for different folks.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (September 5, 2011)

When did you last take a close look at your customers and make changes in your business based on their needs? Today you work with four very different generations: Generation Z (16 and younger); Millennials (17 – 30); Generation X (31 – 46); and the 50+ Zoomers, a combination of the Baby Boomers (47 – 65) and the group we’ve coined the LOMLOTs (Lots Of Money, Lots Of Time -- people of retirement age and better). Each group expects different very things in a service experience, both in-store and online. Know what else? What works with one generation is Kryptonite to another. Let’s meet each one:

Generation Z: The Zeds

The kids of Generation Z – “Zeds” for short – are the first 21st Century generation, and although they may resemble the kids of our past, they are very different. The oldest Zeds are 16; the youngest are yet to be born. They come from families with younger parents who want their kids to experience it all – according to all reports, the Zeds will be the most empowered generation ever.

We're seeing an erosion of childhood – this is a generation of little adults. Marketers call it KYOG: Kids Getting Older Younger: Six is the new sixteen. Zeds left the womb knowing how to work a computer/cellphone/iPad and never looked back – they have no past memory of life without technology.

Zeds live on the Internet – they’re highly connected little guys. Kids in grade school create avatars and play on Whyville.net; their older siblings hang out on Facebook. And they all love YouTube. As they grow, expect technology to be important in every area of their lives.

When it comes to service, Zeds are accustomed to being the most important person in the room; smart retailers understand this. Zeds don’t like to be followed around, they hate to be asked if they need help over and over, and they don’t appreciate associates who treat them like, well… kids. What they like is to be welcomed by friendly faces who treat them with respect. Great customer service knows no age.

The Millennials

This is the generation that used to be kids; today the youngest Millennials are still in high school, but their elder statesmen are 30 years old with families of their own. Before the Zeds showed up, the Millennials were said to be the most beloved and doted upon children ever to walk the face of the Earth.

A Millennials world goes 24/7 – this means your store needs a 24/7 presence. What’s your website like? Is it merely a place to get basic information about your product, classes and services, or is it a living, breathing, ever-changing entity? Millennials like to play, and in fact will spend hours on websites that they enjoy.

Millennials have a “pack” mentality; they tend to do things in groups. Remember when you had to have a date for Homecoming? That’s like, so 1970. Being exposed to so many group activities as little kids has created a generation that likes to hang out together. If your store does not currently offer classes and/or in-store activities for this age group, it might be a good thing to add. Try a “Girls Night Out” event for moms who need a little time off, and “Mommy/Daddy and Me” classes for parents who want to learn with their kids.

Growing up shopping in stores that catered solely to them has produced a generation that expects personal attention; they seek places that are willing to provide it. They are also brand conscious – the Millennial in perusing your fabric may have a purse from Target but she wants a Louis Vuitton.

Sometimes it seems like Millennials can’t breathe without their cellphones -- texting, not talking. They process information quickly and prefer to communicate in sound bites. Fashion your email blasts as "20-second" reads – more photos than copy. Millennials consider email passé, however – and that’s a BIG however, they prefer to receive offers and coupons via email. Unless they specifically sign-up to receive your messages, texting is still just for family and friends.

Millennials take technology for granted, spending more time on the Internet than watching TV; in fact, a big percentage of them prefer to watch their favorite shows online. Like the Zeds, Millennials grew up on interactive websites and blogs. Ninety-six percent of them are on Facebook. They'll "like" your page if you offer quality information peppered with cool offers and lots of photos. And if they comment on your wall, you need to respond within 24 hours – social medias are meant to act like online cocktail parties. Communication goes both ways.

Generation X

Generation X may be the smallest generation, but they are mighty consumers. There are just 40 million of them, so they tend to be under-represented and over-looked by marketers. Big mistake.

Generation Xers are smart, well-educated and savvy consumers. They have money and are quite willing to spend it if they deem your store worthy of their business. They grew up in a time when self-service was king: standing on line at Wal-Mart and Kmart was a cool, new shopping experience. Now when they discover personal service they embrace it.

Unlike Baby Boomers who live to work, Gen Xers work to live; they enjoy spending time with family and friends. They’re in their peak earning years and they’re raising families; two things that make them time-starved and stressed-out. Both parents are over-committed, impatient shoppers who are looking for solutions. And, unlike other generations, Gen Xers are not necessarily brand loyal.

Xers are tech-savvy and impatient, independent thinkers. Don’t waste their time with long newsletters or detailed copy – get to the point! In a sales conversation, it’s better to be a partner, than an authority. Xers also rely heavily on the opinions of people they like and respect; online review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor prove that. To attract Xers, your marketing efforts should include customer testimonials – a customer testimonial is 10 to 20 times more believable than what you say about yourself.

50+ Zoomers

People over 50 aren't old; they’re in the prime of their lives. They’re healthy and happy, and far richer than any other generation that spends money in your spa. According to Ken Dychtwald, PhD, founder and president of Age Wave, as the Baby Boomers pass through their middle years, and on to maturity (the oldest Boomers turn 65 this year), several key factors will reshape consumer supply and demand. These factors include a concern about the onset of chronic disease, their desire to postpone physical aging, and entry into new adult life stages.

The good news is that Zoomers consider middle-age to be 55, and don’t even think about calling them "Seniors" until they hit their mid-70s. The bad news is that even thought they don’t feel any older, your store has to be ready to help in areas where they won't ask for it. Consider the following:

• Product needs to be placed at an easily reachable height. If you have tall fixtures, instruct staff to be on the lookout for customers trying to get at product they can't reach, and help them accordingly.

• Presbyopia, a disease that affects our ability to see clearly up close, kicks in at around age 40. (Sorry, Gen X!) Zoomers looking at all your fabulous merchandise may be missing key product detail. Why not place a basket of reading glasses in various magnifications at your front counter for use on the honor system?

• Pump up the type size used on signing, brochures, on-line communications, and other point-of-purchase (POP) materials. These materials are designed to help customers make good purchasing decisions when there is no store associate around to help out. If they can’t read the materials, no one wins. You may also want to offer visitors the ability to increase font size on your website should they so desire.

• As we age, it gets harder to adapt to different lighting. This makes it tough for anyone to see the merchandise, and tougher still for aging eyes that need 2–3 times more light to see as clearly as younger eyes. Yet, a space that’s too bright can also cause problems. If you’re not sure where you stand lumen-wise, consider calling in a lighting professional to help you out.

• We all love shiny floors, but shiny floors are scary to older customers who do not want to risk a fall on what appears to be a slippery surface. When it comes time to replace your flooring, consider one made from non-slip material.

• Heavy doors are a problem, so are doorknobs. A high percentage of Zoomers will have some sort of arthritis; it's much easier for them to operate a handle versus a knob.

Making your store comfortable for all generations means throwing away the stereotypes. And it requires more than a "build it and they will come" mentality. Today's consumers prefer to do business with retailers who create and nourish collaborative customer experiences. In other words, they want to be as important to your store as you are to them.  Isn’t that what you want, too?


KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

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