January 05, 2016

Ecommerce Chart: How millennials and baby boomers want you to improve the shopping experience


What changes could you make to the shopping experience to raise your odds of having customers buy from you instead of the competition?

Previously we shared data from our 2015 survey that asked 2,021 customers this question. Today, we take a closer look at the most popular product discovery pathways for the 733 respondents who were 18-34 or 65+ (broken down by gender) to explore the biggest variations in customer preference.

by Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content

The massive holiday shopping season is over. The new year is upon us, and it is time to make New Year’s resolutions. And, as a marketer, what better resolution to make than to improve your shoppers’ experience to better serve them and win more sales?

To help you do that, in today’s MarketingSherpa Chart of the Week we share data from an online survey we commissioned that was fielded August 20-24, 2015, with a nationally representative sample of 2,021 U.S. consumers.

In which of the following ways, if any, can retailers improve your shopping experience? Please select all that apply.

View Chart Online

Click here to see a printable version of this chart

We published the overall data from all consumers’ responses to this question in December, and you can see the chart here — Ecommerce Chart: The most important ways to improve customers' shopping experiences.

But we also wanted to share a closer look at the data based on different types of consumers. After looking at the deeper demographic data, I thought this was the most interesting segmented data to share — taking a look at how male and female millennials and baby boomers want you to improve the shopping experience.

Free shipping is huge … but it isn’t everything

To prepare for MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 in Las Vegas, we also asked marketers the same question. We were curious about where there were disconnects between marketers and customers. Only 18% of the 455 marketers surveyed said they provide free shipping — tied for the ninth most frequent response. (You can see the full data in this Chart of the Week article — Ecommerce Chart: How brands try to improve customers’ shopping experience.)

I can understand why marketers are skeptical. If we asked shoppers if they wanted free llamas, they probably would have said “yes” to that as well. As everyone in marketing knows, free is one of those magic words that draws in customers.

And, like lunch, there is no such thing as free shipping. It is an incentive that lowers your profit margin. So the question you really have to ask yourself is this — Is free shipping the most effective incentive I can use?

Women 65 and older most likely to want free shipping

From looking at the data, if your audience skews older and female, free shipping becomes almost a must-have. While in the unsegmented data 74% of all Americans said “provide free shipping” was a way retailers could improve the shopping experience, an almost universal 85% of women 65 and over want free shipping.

However, younger male customers were significantly less interested in free shipping. While it was still the most popular option for males 18-34, a comparatively low 61% chose that option. That is still the majority of this demographic, but it means that 39% of young men are not lured in by this siren call of ecommerce.

Why does free shipping preference skew older?

There is a significant difference between preferences for free shipping among men — 26% more older men preferred free shipping (that’s the relative difference, which factors in the size of the difference relative to the base number).

The numbers are much closer for women but, still, older women are more likely than younger women to prefer free shipping.

One reason may not only be cost but perception as well. Older Americans started their shopping lives buying products in brick-and-mortar stores, where they are not paying extra to receive a product on top of the cost of the product itself. The cost of shipping may be a tipping point that convinces them not to buy.

However, millennials came of age in a time when ecommerce was a part of life. They may have normalized the idea of paying not just for a product, but to receive the product as well.

These observations relate to the strengths of preferences in certain age groups. However, the majority of every demographic group did show a clear preference for free shipping. Just make sure you test how strong of a factor that is with your own unique customers. If you’re targeting older women, you should test it as a much more prominently featured incentive than if you were targeting younger men (if you use it at all).

Other noteworthy differences between demographics

  • Young women are more likely to want fast shipping and real-time delivery tracking

  • Older shoppers are more likely to prefer an easy return process

  • High-quality customer service is more important to older men

  • Young men are much more likely to want websites and emails tailored to their preferences (46% of young men expressed this preference compared to only 16% of older shoppers)

And now for a caveat about generation definitions

For those readers interested in exact definitions, let me clarify the terms. I chose millennials and baby boomers because they are terms that resonate with a key marketer pain point. To put it less artfully — How do I market to young people when they’re so different? How do I market to old people? Do they even want to buy online?

However, according to researchers William Strauss and Neil Howe, millennials are 12 to 34 years old, so today’s data does not incorporate millennials who are minors.

According to the Census Bureau, baby boomers are 52 to 70 years old. So this data includes some baby boomers and a lot of people who would be considered the Greatest Generation (according to Tom Brokaw).

While none of these definitions are official, I base them off of the best explanation I’ve read of the beginning and terminus of what are, essentially, generation brands (Here Is When Each Generation Begins and Ends, According to Facts by Philip Bump in The Atlantic).

Related Resources

Subscribe to MarketingSherpa Chart of the Week — Receive data and insights to help you better serve customers and improve results

Shipping Charges — How to Use Shipping Charges as a Marketing Tactic (classic research from the MarketingExperiments research directory)

MarketingSherpa Consumer Purchase Preference Survey: Why customers follow brands’ social accounts

MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 — At the Bellagio in Las Vegas, February 22-24







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