Are digital CX initiatives being lost on Baby Boomers?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
May 16, 2017

MarketingCharts staff

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, which provides up-to-the-minute data and research to marketers.

Generational differences may play a larger role in attitudes toward digital innovations than company executives originally thought, according to research from the IBM Institute for Business Value. Indeed, the data highlights Baby Boomers’ relative lack of interest in embracing new initiatives compared to younger age groups.

Sixty-four percent of Millennials said they are excited to see how companies will use digital customer experience (CX) technologies, compared with 48 percent of Gen Xers and only 39 percent of Baby Boomers.

Boomer apathy shows up in a number of areas where consumers are familiar with CX initiatives but not interested in trying them. For example, eight in 10 Boomers who are familiar with purchasing products or services with a mobile pay app but haven’t done so attributed their non-action to a lack of interest.

Roughly three-quarters of Boomers who are familiar with the following initiatives but haven’t tried them also point to indifference as the cause:

  • Receiving alerts on their mobile device about location-based sales or specials;
  • Locating products with a company’s mobile app while shopping; and,
  • Designing customized versions of products/services using a brand’s mobile app or website.

Not only are Baby Boomers less likely to use technologies that they know about, they are also less likely to be aware of new CX initiatives. For example, half of Boomers reported not knowing that they could interact with a computer, robot or device via voice command, while only about one-quarter of Millennials were in the dark. Additionally, 45 percent of Boomers were unfamiliar with the use of interactive digital displays in companies’ stores, more than twice the share of Millennials (20 percent).

“Age can be a sensitive topic when you’re talking about digital acuity,” IBM wrote in the report. “On one hand, you don’t want to stereotype people based solely on their age; instead, you should treat customers as individuals with the flexibility to engage with you using the channels they like best. On the other hand, it is important to be aware of the different characteristics and needs of each generation.” 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is mobile engagement and commerce being lost on Baby Boomers? How do you determine if different segments within your target market(s) require separate go-to-market strategies?

Braintrust
"A retailer that wants to survive must both adapt new technologies and inspire all shoppers to engage with them."
"While certainly Boomers are slower to adopt technology, I think the thing that is really bedeviling tech adoption in retail is complexity."
"does it really matter if mobile engagement is being lost on Baby Boomers? ...Millennials are now America’s largest generation..."

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21 Comments on "Are digital CX initiatives being lost on Baby Boomers?"

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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

As I wrote in Millennials, He Wrote: How Retailers Are Paying The Price For Ignoring Baby Boomer Customers, there are differences. The opportunity is to not disregard the generation most able to pay the bills and to find what works for them. Too much of marketing and customer experience is focused around solutions looking for problems when Boomers can articulate what bugs them quite clearly — and few retailers work to fix these things, with solutions as easy as a simple greeting or showing they value a customer’s business.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Bob – I don’t disagree with you but I don’t think a simple greeting is a solution for what ails retail.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Ken, let me clarify — we know what Boomers complain about. IBM just released a survey that said 88 percent aren’t greeted. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that this would be the lowest-hanging fruit a retailer could fix. Easy, right? But no. The second most reported pet peeve is shoppers not finding someone to wait on them and the third is the feeling that the retailer doesn’t value their business (which is more complex). There are no easy answers but there are some fairly easy things one could fix if anyone cared to look at what shoppers are really saying.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Historically, older generations don’t embrace new trends that alter their worldview. Nevertheless, a retailer that wants to survive must both adapt new technologies and inspire all shoppers to engage with them.

Smartphones themselves had the same resistance to adoption, yet now 71 percent of U.S. adults have one. It’s completely the store’s responsibility to promote the benefits of the technologies they need to employ to remain relevant/profitable and specifically nudge Baby Boomers to try them. The alternatives are to either ignore technology and surely perish or allow Baby Boomers to fade from their customer base — both avoidable scenarios with a concerted effort.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

While I believe there is some merit to the age argument, the fact is, lots of the new digital technology being deployed hasn’t yet gained traction with any consumers, regardless of age. So I don’t believe that it’s all being lost on Baby Boomers — compelling, effective technology is compelling to everyone. However, it may be that older consumers are less willing to experiment with new technologies and instead wait until a technology is proven/established.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

The survey identifies “indifference” as the reason why Boomers are less engaged with digital experiences and seems to infer that more digitally-savvy generations embrace digital options more eagerly. As a Boomer myself, who is also very tech savvy, I might suggest a slightly different perspective. I believe Boomers’ indifference is a reflection of the fact that, as an industry, we have yet to convince them of the value of such initiatives.

How many times have we all struggled with voice commands on iOS and Android? Alexa is getting better, but still not a slam dunk for any generation. Are mobile payments an interesting option? Maybe. Do they significantly impact my shopping experience enough to spur me into investigating how to set them up? Maybe not. Does the value proposition overcome my security concerns? Again, maybe not so much.

So before we blame Boomers’ indifference on perceived technology “limitations,” maybe we should first look into delivering more compelling value propositions from our digital CX investments.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Why should we be surprised that different market segments require different go-to-market strategies? It’s always been this way. Use of mobile devices is no different. Retailers need to devise strategies to attract and interact with targeted customer segments if they are going to drive sales, just as they use different advertising vehicles to get consumers into their stores.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

CX is not synonymous with mobile, but mobile can be a tactic for improved CX. Success lies in defining the tactics that most engage and influence target audiences and with good investment assessment, the tactic will have broadest relevance. Mobile is a hammer always looking for a nail, as can be other technology tools, (such as dynamic signage, RFID, analytics, etc). The hammer and the nail need to relatively be suited to each other and respect that the nail can change from time to time. For example, a privacy breach will make consumers reluctant to engage with their personal device. One useful strategy is to link various devices in order to develop greater engagement. Promoting a website on a display sign, offering a coupon based on near-field communications or enabling a cell phone in the proximity to influence display content increases the comfort with and value of each communications device.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I can answer from the perspective of the Baby Boomer that I am or as the retail consultant that I am. I am personally not attracted to most CX attempts because I think they are not relevant to me, as I only shop when I need something. I don’t believe that Baby Boomers can be easily coaxed into shopping for things they don’t need by a pleasant customer experience. Conversely, I am impressed by those ease-of-use experiences once I have made a decision to shop (digital coupons from Bed, Bath & Beyond, digital commuter railroad tickets, purchasing with Apple Pay, etc.).

As a consultant, I see that the younger generations will be the majority someday in the not-too-distant future, and so CX is definitely not wasted on them. Retailers whose product categories may appeal to a wide spectrum of age groups definitely have to keep the generational differences in mind when marketing to the wider audience. Not easy!

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

An interesting question would be to analyze age difference across different time periods in retail. When paying by credit card was early in its life cycle, I’m quite sure that there were major differences in opinions and adoption rates.

What is so often missed in the context of mobile engagement and e-commerce is that the total worldwide online purchases account for less than 15 percent of retail. And mobile e-commerce is a fraction of that. Which means that more than 80 percent are purchasing in stores.

As a Baby Boomer I can testify that my shopping has become situational. I prefer seeing “important stuff” in person in-store. But when pressed for time, there is no hesitation about using my phone (or Alexa) to order from Amazon Prime.

Why has Amazon gotten so successful with Baby Boomers? It’s all about the ease of use and the quality of the experiences that meet the needs of the customer regardless of age.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

While some Boomers (myself not included) may not be interested in the newfangled technology and such, the important thing is that it does not turn them off. I have plenty of friends and family who simply use their phones to talk and, now, text their grandchildren. They don’t have any apps except maybe to see the weather. They don’t price search while shopping and they wrinkled their noses at the Amazon Go store because of their lack of trust in technology to get it right. As long as this generation still owns a good bit of the market share, we need to make sure they are comfortable with the shopping environment. Technology is natural to the younger generations so they will try anything. Boomers just want to be able to shop, buy and take it home without having to learn new tricks. Let’s keep that in mind in retail.

For my 2 cents.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Mark Ryski has it exactly right. Just because more Millennials than Baby Boomers are aware of digital technologies doesn’t mean they use them. It may be that Millennials have also experimented with them and found them lacking.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

While mobile engagement and commerce isn’t totally lost on Baby Boomers, our demographic remembers the Beatles, The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds) and rotary dial telephones. We’re not digital natives and as such have seen far too many technologies being touted as solutions to problems we never had.

We’re living during an evolutionary period where the thumb is replacing the pointing finger. I’ll give brands and retailers a pass on getting mobile right for me. They should concentrate on getting mobile right for Millennials and Gen Z shoppers. My Millennial son just bought his first home and we’re doing extensive DIY remodeling. He does almost everything via his phone — from search to education, shopping, ordering, etc. — and both Big Box DIY retail market leaders fall completely flat with their in-store customer service and support. Wake up! You’re driving shoppers to online!

Stefan Weitz
BrainTrust

While certainly Boomers are slower to adopt technology, I think the thing that is really bedeviling tech adoption in retail is complexity. Poorly-designed apps that do too much, a lack of a solid value proposition as to why one would use the technology and a mismatch between online and offline experiences drive people away. I read a stat recently that said 28 percent of U.S. adults online check into a location-based app with their phone every time they enter a store — so there is clearly appetite there.

Lesley Everett
BrainTrust

The marketing challenge for retailers has always been how to appeal to different demographics. Mobile engagement is here to stay for a while and many Baby Boomers will embrace this too. However most people, especially Baby Boomers, will react positively to feeling valued as a customer and to convenience, so focus should continue to be put on areas such as employee interaction with customers and ease of access to a real person when buying online. Therefore, does it really matter if mobile engagement is being lost on Baby Boomers? We still need to use it and Millennials are now America’s largest generation.

Dave Nixon
Guest
Dave Nixon
5 months 3 days ago

The customer experience needs to be seamless and transparent. Having digital touch points will not alienate Boomers, but they will benefit on some level from the digital approach retailers are taking. They alienate themselves when it comes to things that are new, a change from the norm or things that are progressive they might not easily and quickly understand. They will be slow adopters. But they will adopt. Some. There is a business case for different digital experiences for the different segments and audiences. It is possible to embrace them both. Seek to understand the profile of your core users of certain channels and focus more of the UX on those critical users than trying to be “mobile first” or “seamless omnichannel across all touchpoints … ” If your audience doesn’t use all of your tools, why design them all the same?

Pavlo Khliust
BrainTrust

Millennials grew up in a more computerized environment, thus making their learning curve much less steep when it comes to mastering new technologies. Boomers, on the other hand, are using more of a classic approach looking for things that are proven to be secure and functional. They won’t chase a trend unless it proves its value. It takes a reliable, practical and easy-to-use solution to get them interested. Retailers should keep it in mind when coming up with their go-to-market strategy. Boomers possess more purchasing power, making them too valuable a group to disregard.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Are we Boomers slower to adopt new technologies than younger people? Yep! However, we’re NOT all alike! Some of us (not necessarily me) are actually fairly adept at mobile apps for retail. I think my generation is more hit-and-miss than younger ones. The study mentioned in the article confirms some of these suspicions and it makes me realize that go-to-market strategies need to be tailored to the audience even more than ever. Retailers and CPG brands can leverage some of the newest tools available today and learn from some great innovators that are making it work. Boomers may not have as much of a desire to immerse themselves in tech overall in comparison to their children, but that does not imply that we haven’t made huge strides in adoption and I have faith that we’ll get even better as retailers make it easier to become tech-savvy.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

One point being missed buy this survey is that technology alone is not a replacement for great customer service. Boomers are perceived as valuing customer service more so than millennials, but that doesn’t mean EVERYONE doesn’t appreciate a friendly store associate, knowledgeable enough to help you find the right product and complete your purchase.

One reason we can’t point to too much adoption of tech-based customer experiences (with any age group) is because the implementations are still more about showing off the technology than seamlessly integrating into the overall experience. In fact, the best implementation will be so seamless that it completely disappears into the experience. Indifference to the technology just tells us it isn’t compelling enough to be bothered with, because the perceived experience it will bring does not appear to be any greater than the “normal” non-tech based experience.

Early adoption is a different matter and it may be that younger generations are more inclined to experiment early simply for the sake of experimenting. The real question is will they repeatedly use the technology or revert back to the original experience. That’s a survey I’d like to see!

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

While many Baby Boomers are slower to adopt new technologies than Millennials, there are some segments that are engaging with digital innovations such as mobile pay and AI services like Siri and Alexa. As their peers and children socialize the benefits of digital engagement, more Boomers will eventually jump on the bandwagon.

However, in the meantime, retailers need to understand their customers and offer multiple engagement paths to accommodate their customer preferences.

Scott Magids
BrainTrust
5 months 10 hours ago

Mobile engagement is not lost on Baby Boomers, but smart marketers realize that it’s never a one-size-fits-all proposition. If Boomers are slower on the uptake for digital CX initiatives, maybe the reason isn’t because they lack the technical skills but, rather, that the marketer is trying to put all age demographics into a Millennial box. The use of big data and analytics — and understanding the emotional motivators that drive buying behavior on the part of each age group — will help determine go-to-market strategies and how to subdivide those strategies to take better advantage of what motivates each group. The IBM study showed what Boomers don’t care about, such as using a mobile app while shopping, but we need to dig deeper and understand what they do care about and factor that into the digital CX campaign.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"A retailer that wants to survive must both adapt new technologies and inspire all shoppers to engage with them."
"While certainly Boomers are slower to adopt technology, I think the thing that is really bedeviling tech adoption in retail is complexity."
"does it really matter if mobile engagement is being lost on Baby Boomers? ...Millennials are now America’s largest generation..."

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