Generation Y vs. Baby Boomers: Shopping behavior, buyer involvement
and implications for retailing
Stockholm University School of Business, Stockholm University, Department of Marketing, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Available online 29 January 2013
This paper presents some signiﬁcant empirical ﬁndings about generational cohorts and their shopping
behavior. Marketing has long relied on the use of market segmentation. While birth age has been a
useful way to create groups, it describes segments but does not help to understand segment
motivations. However, environmental events experienced during one’s coming of age create values
that remain relatively unchanged throughout one’s life. Such values provide a common bond for those
in that age group, or generational cohort. Segmenting by ‘coming of age’ age provides a richer
segmentation approach than birth age. This study compares two signiﬁcant cohorts: Baby Boomers and
Generation Y, with respect to their shopping behavior and purchase involvement for food, clothing and
automobiles. For the three types of products, Baby Boomers value the retail experience and in-store
service higher than Generation Y. For Baby Boomers, the purchase process starts with a retailer the
consumer trusts, who gives advice for choosing the right product, while for Generation Y, the purchase
process starts with choosing a product. This study presents implications for retail strategies that have
an appeal to different generational cohorts and considers how retailers should deal with building
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Finding groups or segments of consumers that have strong,
homogeneous bonds is like ﬁnding the ‘Holy Grail’ of marketing.
When such similarities exist, marketers can offer the same or very
similar product, service, distribution, and communications pro-
grams to a large number of potential customers who are more
likely to respond in a homogenous way. Ever since the 1950s,
marketers have sought to serve markets that are internally
consistent on some common ground, yet externally different from
other market segments. Segmentation has thus been the key to
marketing effectiveness and efﬁciency.
Segmentation approaches that have long been known employ
descriptive variables such as demographic and geographic meth-
ods, along with psychographic approaches that attempt to go
beyond the surface of consumers in order to understand buying
motivation among other behavioral issues. The behavioral issue of
‘why consumers buy’ is of great importance in designing and
implementing strategies for retailing. Age has long been used as a
segmentation variable but, as we will see, it does not address the
‘why’s’ of consumption and consumer motivation. Marketing
according to generational cohort delves below the descriptive
surface to understand motivations associated with age (Howe,
2000; Meredith et al., 2002;Zemke et al., 2000;Lancaster and
Stillman, 2002;Parment, 2011).
Consumer motivations and purchase engagement often lie
below the surface of age; we could gain a deeper understanding
by considering generational cohorts. Generational cohorts are
comprised of people who are born during a particular period,
and whose life courses correspond to each other. Generational
cohort marketing has become a useful tool in segmenting markets
since cohort members share similar values (Meredith et al., 2002;
Lyons et al., 2005;Schewe and Noble., 2000). Societal events
which are cataclysmic in nature (assassinations, wars, economic
changes, strong new technological advancements, etc.) have been
found to create values within those coming of age (roughly
between the ages of 17 and 23) and those values have been
found to remain relatively stable throughout the lives of those
within a cohort (Cutler, 1977;Mannheim, 1927;Rentz et al.,
1983;Rogler, 2002;Ryder, 1985 ;Schuman and Scott,
1989). These values are derived from the ‘deﬁning moment’
events that were experienced during this highly impressionable
time of late adolescence/early adulthood. For instance, those US
citizens who came of age during the Great Depression value
ﬁnancial security and still save, even on the verge of death; those
who came of age during World War II were and still are the
most patriotic of Americans today (cf. Meredith et al., 2002).
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Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 20 (2013) 189–199
These cohorts meld age descriptors with behavioral motivations
and values. The Generation Y cohort, sometimes called Millen-
nials, is an important cohort and target audience for retailers and
consumer product companies alike because it is sizeable and has
signiﬁcant purchasing power. The same holds for Baby Boomers,
born approximately between 1945 and 1958.
A few studies have connected the segmentation of genera-
tional cohorts to purchase behavior, more speciﬁcally in the
domains of fashion (Littrell et al., 2005;Pentecost and Andrews,
2010), travel and tourism (Beldona, 2005), wine consumption
(Fountain and Lamb, 2011) and fair-trade consumption (Ma et al.,
2012). These studies deal with specialist products with limited
relevance for a broader understanding of purchase behavior
related to generational cohorts. Moreover, little is being said
about how the backgrounds and values of generational cohorts
inﬂuence purchase behavior, and those studies which do address
these factors do not take a retail perspective.
Generational cohorts have different experiences which inﬂu-
ence their values, preferences and shopping behavior (Parment,
2011), something that has been proven in numerous contexts
(Holbrook and Schindler, 1989,1994;Schindler and Holbrook,
1993;Schuman and Scott, 1989). The existence of cohorts has
been found in numerous developed countries (Meredith et al.,
2002;Schewe and Meredith, 2004;Hung et al., 2007;Dou et al.,
2006;Parment, 2007;Chaston, 2009;Parment, 2009). The differ-
ent experiences and preferences of various generational cohorts
could be assumed to result in differences in purchase behavior
and the level of buyer involvement for distinct types of products.
The idea that consumers differ in the amount and type of effort
they put into shopping has long been established within the ﬁeld
of marketing (cf. Katona and Mueller, 1955;Newman and Staelin,
1972;Slama and Tashcian, 1985). Such differences are crucial for
marketers since they inﬂuence consumers’ reactions to marketing
strategies. Assuming that background and experiences of a cohort
have an inﬂuence on the cohort’s values, these factors are also
likely to inﬂuence the level of buyer involvement. It has been
suggested that Generation Y individuals put little effort, emotions
and time into low-involvement decisions, such as the choice of
electricity or home insurance supplier, but a lot of effort, energy
and emotions into high-involvement decisions (Parment, 2011).
Although a comparison of cohorts’ purchase behavior cannot
eliminate the overlap of the cohort effect and the age effect,
it may shed some light upon the purchase behavior of different
cohorts. Several studies indicate that consumers’ spending pat-
terns vary over the course of an individual’s life cycle (Bleichrodt
and Quiggin, 1999;Bodie et al., 2004;Kim et al., 2005;Shepard
and Zeckhauser, 1984). Hence, it could be assumed that prefer-
ences and behavioral traits may develop as an individual goes
through different stages of the life cycle, and, as suggested by
generational cohorts research, different generational cohorts
follow different patterns in developing values, attitudes and
For marketing purposes, it is crucial to develop productive tools
for segmentation, something that applies for producers as well as
retailers. While segmentation for producers already start at the
design stage (cf. O’Neill and Sackett, 1994;Matthyssens and van
den Bulte, 1994;Moorthy, 1984;Wells Jr., 1968), retailers may
draw substantial beneﬁts from knowing more about the prefer-
ences and behavioral traits of different generational cohorts in more
applied respects, such as how customers are dealt within the store.
With the product assortment and consumer offers at hand, custo-
mers can be addressed in a signiﬁcantly better way if more is
known about the customers. Numerous studies deal with segmen-
tation from a retailer perspective (Lumpkin, 1985;Marcus, 1998;
Lee et al., 2006;Boone and Roehm, 2002;Dennis et al., 2001).
Lumpkin (1985) takes a closer look at shopping orientation
segmentation of elderly (65þ) consumers. However, with the
exception of Lumpkin’s paper, there has been little research con-
ducted on segmentation from a perspective based on generational
cohorts that focuses on issues related to purchase behavior and
Another stream of research investigates the rationale for
consumers to buy in a particular store (Bitner et al., 1994;
Erdem et al., 1999;Thang and Tan, 2003). For instance, Thang
and Tan (2003) rank attributes that consumers suggest to be the
most important in choosing a retailer. However, there is reason to
assume that these attributes differ across generational cohorts (cf.
Parment, 2011), which suggests that studying purchasing beha-
vior of generational cohorts could be very beneﬁcial.
Although much of this past research has helped our under-
standing of the inﬂuence of store characteristics and image on
consumer choices, little attempt has been made to examine how
different generational cohorts conduct their choice of store and
the overall purchase process.
As emphasized by Holmes and Crocker (1987),Richins and
Bloch (1986) and Rotschild (1979), the level of purchase involve-
ment, something that appears to differ across product categories,
is crucial in understanding purchase considerations and decisions.
Earlier research suggests the level of involvement to differ across
generational cohorts; for example, Generation Y spends more
effort on high-involvement product decisions than earlier gen-
erations (Parment, 2011). Hence, the level of purchase involve-
ment is important when attempting to understand how purchase
considerations differ across generational cohorts.
This paper delves deeper into generational cohorts and aims at
taking a closer look at two speciﬁc generational cohorts: Genera-
tion Y and Baby Boomers. By contrasting their purchase consid-
erations and behavior based on purchase involvement and
considerations for three types of products —groceries, clothing
and automobiles, thus representing a variety of situations —the
aim of this paper is to generate insights for improving the
segmentation of cohorts with particular focus on issues crucial
The ﬁrst phase of the data collection was characterized by an
exploratory approach. An analysis of Europe’s and Sweden’s
history throughout the 20th century was followed by interviews
and focus groups with individuals belonging to different genera-
tional cohorts in order to identify cataclysmic events and other
circumstances that may have shaped Swedish generational
cohorts, their values and attitudes. Two cohorts, signiﬁcant in
attitudes and values, were chosen: Baby Boomers (born 1945 and
1958) and Generation Y (born 1977 and 1989), for the following
reasons. First, deﬁnitions of cohorts vary, which makes it difﬁcult
to compare two cohorts that follow directly after each other.
Second, Baby Boomers are in many instances parents of Genera-
tion Y individuals, hence the focus group interviews dealt with
the parent–child relationship, something that is likely to enrich
the analysis and further the understanding of the two genera-
tions. Third, a number of studies suggest the two chosen cohorts
to have unique characteristics. Data were collected on the
preferences and attitudes of these cohorts in purchasing three
types of goods: clothing, groceries and automobiles.
With the literature on generational cohorts as starting point,
34 in-depth interviews were carried out with Generation Y
individuals from 10 countries. Themes related to consumption
patterns were discussed. Twenty in-depth interviews with Baby
Boomers were conducted. Three focus groups were run and, based
on the results, an online survey was designed and sent to both the
A. Parment / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 20 (2013) 189–199190
Generation Y and the Baby Boomer cohorts in Sweden, with the
latter cohort also being researched through 20 in-depth inter-
views. Three hundred ﬁfty-two surveys were completed by baby
boomer individuals while 1,425 surveys were completed by
Generation Y individuals.
The interviews were based on interactivity between the
researchers and participants in which both parts performed their
stories, negotiated their identities, and constructed meaning
through interpersonal processes (Holstein and Gubrium, 1995),
thus they were collaborative, communicative events in which
social interactions are structured by researchers and interviewees
(cf. Hammersley and Atkinson, 1996). Understanding a genera-
tion’s coming-of-age experiences is a tricky endeavor. Insights
from anthropology suggest that one’s position within or outside
the deﬁned boundary of an experience will impact the interview
process and outcome. Insider knowledge is likely to be different
from that which is available to the outsider (cf. McGinn, 2005;
Tashakkori and Teddlie, 2003).
3. Theoretical assumptions
3.1. Segmentation of generational cohorts
This paper’s starting point in understanding markets and deﬁning
segments is generational cohorts who have experienced similar key
events in their lives during their late adolescent/early adulthood
years, typically during the coming-of-age years, 17–24 years of age.
These ‘deﬁning moments’ inﬂuence their values, preferences, atti-
tudes, and buying behavior in ways that remain with them for their
entire lifetime (Meredith and Schewe, 1994;Ryder, 1985 ;
Mannheim, 1927;Cutler, 1977;Parment, 2011; Rentz et al., 1983;
Rogler, 2002). Shared experiences during the highly impressionable
coming-of-age years embed these values, or cohort effects. Research
has shown that they remain relatively unchanged throughout life
(Hill, 1970;Rogler and Cooney, 1984).
Generational cohorts are not the same as generations
(Markert, 2004). Each generation is deﬁned by its years of birth;
while a generation typically is 20–25 years in length, or roughly
the time it takes a person to grow up and have children, a cohort
can be as long or short as the external events which deﬁne it.
Rather than using time of birth to determine different genera-
tions, generational cohorts are set apart by cataclysmic events
that produce a change in the values, attitudes, and predispositions
in a society. These events create a discontinuous historical time-
line; such secular change events can be characterized as a ‘sense
of rupture with the past’ (Wohl, 1979, p. 210).
3.2. We are what we experience when coming of age
The notion of cohorts rests on the assumption that individuals
are inﬂuenced by events occurring during their coming-of-age
years. This has been proved in several studies. Schuman and Scott
(1989) asked 1410 Americans to recall three national and world
events over the past 50 years that were especially important to
them and tell why they were important. World War II and the
Vietnam War were mentioned most frequently by all age groups.
An interesting pattern occurred: individuals who were between
16 and 24 years old during World War II (1941–1945) and 15–27
years old during the Vietnam War (1965–1973) were signiﬁcantly
more likely to recall these events as being especially important to
them. Schuman and Scott also found that individuals who
experienced these events during their formative coming-of-age
years were able to cite personal experiences as reasons why these
events were inﬂuential to them. Individuals who did not come of
age during World War II or Vietnam were unable to give these
kinds of accounts. Instead, they cited less personal reasons for the
importance of these events; it is therefore unlikely that their
values, attitudes, and behaviors were strongly inﬂuenced by the
Similar patterns emerged in Schuman and Scott’s (1989) study
on individuals’ recollections of the depression, advances in com-
munication and transportation, John F. Kennedy’s assassination,
terrorism, and nuclear weapons. Individuals who would have
been in their teens and early to mid-20s when Kennedy was
assassinated in 1963 were the most likely to mention this event
as inﬂuential. Thus, Schuman and Scott (1989) clearly demon-
strated that individuals in certain generational cohorts have
similar memories. These memories are recalled predominantly
from adolescence and young adulthood. Additionally, individuals
appear to have personal experiences with the events that they
cited, suggesting that these events are likely to inﬂuence them in
Similarly, Holbrook and Schindler (1989,1994) suggest that
experiences in young adulthood inﬂuence consumers well into
their adulthood; consumers are most prone to the socialization
from music, movie stars and preferences for apparel in the years
between 14 and 23. When asked to rate their preferences for
photographs exemplifying various types of women’s apparel over
the decades, men showed the most preference for apparel that
women were wearing at the time when they (the men) were
around 24 years of age (Schindler and Holbrook, 1993).
A Swedish study on individuals born in the 1980s (S¨
2010) suggests that one event has a unique position in shaping
Generation Y: the 9–11 terror attack in New York. The second
most important event to which participants referred varies with
the age of the interviewees: those born in the early 1980s refer to
the sinking of the Estonia ferry in September 1994, which claimed
852 lives and was the single deadliest shipwreck disaster in
peacetime to have occurred in the Baltic Sea in recorded history
(Joint Accident Investigation Commission, 1997). Those born in
the late 1980s recall December 2004 when Thailand’s western
coast was struck by the Boxing Day tsunami caused by the 2004
Indian Ocean earthquake, and they claim this to be inﬂuential to
them. The waves killed 543 Swedes and approximately 225,000
people in total.
Generation Y individuals came of age during a period of economic
growth, a strong emergence of social media and reality television, and
the disappearance of modernist values, supported by internationali-
zation and strong inﬂuences from popular culture (Parment, 2011),
Many individuals in the Generation Y cohort show strong feelings for
Berlin, a strong representation of the end of the Cold War and the
emergence of a united Europe. One-third of Swedes born in the 1980s
have a foreign background, meaning one or both parents were born in
countries other than Sweden, which contributes to making this
generational cohort more integrative and international than earlier
generations (S ¨
The existence of cohorts has been found in numerous devel-
oped countries (Chaston, 2009;Meredith et al., 2002;Parment,
2007,2011;Hung et al., 2007;Dou et al., 2006). Yet it is the
nature of the deﬁning moments within a culture that deﬁnes the
topography of the cohort terrain. Different deﬁning moments
create cohorts with different dates, different lengths, and different
values. While some events cover numerous countries and regions,
others are local by nature.
4. A generational cohorts perspective on purchase behavior
This empirical section of the paper presents the ﬁndings on
purchase behavior for the two generational cohorts investigated.
A. Parment / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 20 (2013) 189–199 191
Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1955 and are
characterized by a revolutionary outlook, ignited by the 1968
student revolt in Paris, France, and by the war in Vietnam. Charter
travel to new and distant countries took off during their coming-
of-age years, as did internationalization of trade, food and culture.
Hence, this group values mobility in one’s life. Baby Boomers
traveled more than older cohorts; they have seen more and have
high aspirations for the future. Marketers can reﬂect this inter-
national tone in advertising and marketing campaigns; it will
resonate well with this target group. Large movements and
integration of immigrants occurred across European countries
which makes cultural diversity somewhat natural for this cohort,
something that can be and is depicted in promotional campaigns.
The technological feat of the United States’ landing on the moon
suggested to Baby Boomers that ‘anything is possible’. This cohort
ﬁnds Bob Dylan and the Beatles to be iconic heroes; they would
resonate well with this group as marketing symbols.
Generation Y individuals were born between 1977 and 1990,
and they came of age between the late 1990s until recently. The
ﬁnancial turbulence of the early 1990s affected early members of
this cohort, something that suggests a loss in feelings of security.
One has to be one’s own manager and explore the increasing
number of opportunities that come in increasingly deregulated
states supported by the internationalization of trade and new
information technologies. Intense internationalization of trade
during Generation Y’s coming-of-age years dissolved their
belief in national solutions to social and economic problems.
Consequently, this cohort is deeply engaged in (for or against)
globalization. Generation Y does not want to take over perspec-
tives provided by authorities without adding some of its own
reﬂections, something that explains the loss of power for unions,
churches and political parties.
The constant and overwhelming ﬂow of information has
become the rule for this cohort. They are multi-taskers who use
their mobile phones for just about anything: social networking,
to ﬁnd a job, and to get grassroots-generated information about
products, services, schools, employers and travel destinations.
Clearly this cohort offers substantial opportunities for marketing
through the Internet and through other technologies as they
become available. However, Generation Y wants to decide when,
where and how companies communicate with them, and because
they are used to information overload, they are not as stressed by
the information ﬂow as older generations. Brands such as Apple
and Spotify that help Generation Y realize want-satisfying oppor-
tunities can become engaging icons.
During Generation Y’s coming-of-age years, many more life-
styles became accepted, supported by events in popular culture,
and a multitude of television programs, such as Sex and the City,
(Pop/American)Idol and Desperate Housewives. The acceptance of
new family structures, high mortgages to realize one’s desire for a
great home, and odd consumption patterns increased substan-
tially. The parents of Generation Y became party to this develop-
ment and supported it. Thus, Generation Y has become more a
cohort of ‘free agents’ and ﬁnds itself more self-sufﬁcient than
other older cohorts. This group can be expected to appreciate
independence and not relying on others in their lifestyles.
Depicting such contexts or suggesting such themes when market-
ing should resonate well with this cohort.
In general for all generational cohorts, marketing practitioners
can be successful in targeting different cohorts by appealing to
the values and icons that made deep life-long impressions on
each cohort as they were coming of age.
4.1. Generational cohorts and purchase behavior
This section will deal with the purchase behavior of Baby
Boomers and Generation Y for three types of consumer products:
groceries, clothing and automobiles, thus representing a variety of
An important concept in understanding consumer purchase
behavior is the level of buying involvement in a purchase situation;
hence, products are often categorized as high-involvement or low-
involvement products (Holmes and Crocker, 1987;Richins and
Bloch (1986);Rotschild, 1979).
Fig. 1. The inﬂuence of a high price and the consumer’s ﬁnancial status on the
level of purchase involvement.
Conclusion of the interviews and focus groups.
Generation Y Baby Boomers
Great product supply/many market
An opportunity and source of inspiration Somewhat frustrating
Large supply of information OK to deal with, know how to navigate the information
Stressful, takes time to deal with
Purchase criteria emphasis Emotional Rational
Main risks Social risk Physical and ﬁnancial risk
Choice of product Emotional Rational
Choice of retailer Rational Emotional
Retailer loyalty Low High
Attractive products Innovative: early adoption Mature: late adoption
Social inﬂuence on purchase decisions High Limited
Source of social inﬂuence Well-known and inﬂuential people, friends Experts and close friends—but they hesitate to
Main role of the brand Image, social proﬁling and quality Quality
A. Parment / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 20 (2013) 189–199192
A number of themes related to consumption patterns, the
values behind them, and how the values, cultural settings,
coming-of-age experiences and attitudes in a broad sense are
manifested in concrete purchase situations were discussed during
the interviews and focus groups.
The outcome of the interviews and focus groups is concluded
in Fig. 1 (Table 1).
4.1.1. Buyer involvement: Baby Boomers and Generation Y
Based on the focus group interviews, we can identify three
factors that inﬂuence buyer involvement: the product’s impact on
the consumer’s ﬁnancial situation; the consumer’s interest in the
product; and the product’s impact on how the consumer is
perceived by the social environment.
The level of purchase involvement is highly affected by the
extent to which the product’s expense inﬂuences the buyer’s
ﬁnancial situation. In this respect, only minor differences between
Boomers and Generation Y were found (Fig. 1). The consumer’s
interest in the product has a higher average inﬂuence on Genera-
tion Y’s degree of purchase involvement, which may reﬂect a
higher degree of emotional involvement in choosing and purchas-
ing (Fig. 2).
Generation Y individuals worry much more than Baby Boom-
ers about how others perceive them as consumers and the
products they are buying (Fig. 3). This very clear tendency,
however, could not be explained solely by the cohort effect. It is
likely that young individuals, regardless of which cohort they
belong to, are more worried about how others perceive them.
Boomers support this argument by responding that they get
‘more relaxed’ or ‘care less about what others think and say’ as
they get older.
4.1.2. Purchase involvement for different product categories
Boomers show a higher degree of buyer involvement for
groceries, something that might be explained by more purchase
power and, as some interviewees expressed, higher demands that
come with increasing age: ‘As a student I could eat anything. Now
I’m 60 plus and I deserve great food’ (Fig. 4).
The degree of purchase involvement for clothing (Fig. 5)is
tricky to understand. On the one hand, young individuals are
more interested in clothing. On the other hand, Boomers pay
more attention to ‘optimizing’ purchase decisions, for example, by
avoiding poor quality pieces of clothing and by making sure
different elements of the wardrobe ﬁt together. As a 65-year-old
female replied: ‘‘In the store, I start thinking about what my
wardrobe looks like and how I can ﬁnd something that ﬁts with
the clothes I already have.yNew pieces should ﬁt to make sure
they could be used in at least 10 combinations.’’
Fig. 2. The inﬂuence of a consumer’s interest in the product on the level of
Fig. 3. The inﬂuence of how others perceive the consumer on the level of purchase
Fig. 4. Purchase involvement for groceries.
Fig. 5. Purchase involvement for clothing.
A. Parment / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 20 (2013) 189–199 193
In the case of automobiles, the trend among younger indivi-
duals to put less emphasis on the car as a product is mirrored in
the considerably lower purchase involvement for Generation Y
individuals (Fig. 6). In many Western countries, the percentage of
driver’s license holders has declined and the role of the car as a
status symbol has been challenged by an increased interest for
other products. When Generation Yers came of age, the car had
already been questioned for its impact on the physical environ-
ment, its contribution to trafﬁc congestions, and the high costs it
incurs for its owners. Hence, the car never reached the same level
of iconic status as it did for Baby Boomers. Furthermore, con-
sumers are more likely to search for and be better informed about
durable goods than about non-durable goods (Tellis and
Wernerfelt, 1987). Consequently, the purchase decision for a
durable good, such as a car, is more likely to be rational;
functional aspects, such as price and quality, as opposed to social
and emotional aspects, are likely to be the major considerations in
assessing product utility (cf. Holbrook et al., 1986). The tendency
among Generation Y is to see cars as less important than earlier
generations, which signiﬁes a declining interest in automobiles
4.1.3. Manufacturer vs. store brand
The interviews clearly suggest that Generation Yers emphasize
the product in the ﬁrst place, and, after the product choice has
been made, the choice of channel, meaning how to get the
product delivered in the most cost-efﬁcient way. Boomers trust
their local dealers and tend to be loyal to one retailer —whether
Fig. 6. Purchase involvement for automobiles.
Fig. 7. The importance of the store brand and the manufacturer brand.
Fig. 8. Importance of a having a relationship with the store for groceries.
Fig. 9. Importance of having a relationship with the store for clothing.
Fig. 10. Importance of having a relationship with the store for automobiles.
A. Parment / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 20 (2013) 189–199194
for clothing, groceries, cars, cheese or outdoors equipment —who
will give the Boomers advice that they can trust in purchase
considerations. Hence, one could assume the manufacturer brand
to be stronger for Generation Yers and the store brand to be
stronger for Boomers. The survey data are very unclear on this
matter (Fig. 7); however, the strong tendency to make a rational
choice when choosing product (Generation Y) or retailer (Baby
Boomers) may dominate over branding issues in this case.
Boomers emphasize how important the retailer is to them
when they were asked about their relationship to certain stores.
For all three types of products (Figs. 8–10), in particular for
groceries and automobiles, Boomers are signiﬁcantly more keen
on having a relationship with the store, something that gives
them a source of getting information and advice, and makes them
feel secure when shopping. Generation Y are more keen on
shopping around and looking for the best deal when the decision
on which product to buy has been made.
A similar pattern emerges when assessing how often Generation
Yers and Boomers ask for assistance in the store. All three types of
products follow the same pattern: Boomers are signiﬁcantly keener
on asking for assistance than Generation Yers (Figs. 11–13).
This section presents some insights from the empirical results,
and relates them to earlier studies on purchase behavior. Based
on the exploratory study presented in this paper, only tentative
conclusions can be made. Hence, further studies will in many
instances be required to get a richer picture of how consumers’
cohort membership inﬂuences different aspects of purchase
The analysis will follow a typical purchase process, thus
starting with consumer considerations before deciding on product
and retailer. Research suggests that most shoppers purchase on a
portfolio basis, switching from store to store at will (Kau and
Ehrenberg, 1984). There would seem to be very few shoppers that
remain loyal to both brands and stores, and these are generally
light shoppers (Ehrenberg, 1993). However, how this differs
across generations is unclear. The results indicate that by apply-
ing a perspective based on generational cohorts, a pattern appears
in which the Baby Boomer cohort is more likely to build relation-
ships with stores, to be more loyal to stores, and to shop in fewer
5.1. The importance of retailer–customer relationships
A large amount of research suggests customer relationships to
be crucial in convincing customers (Berry, 1995;Dwyer et al.,
1987;Fontenot and Wilson, 1997;Gwinner et al., 1998;Juttner
and Wehrli, 1994;Wray et al., 1994), something that has been
emphasized in very competitive retail environments, particularly
where a strong consumer value orientation is necessary to stay
competitive. As stated by Davis (1997), p. 32, ‘the philosophical
shift toward retail relationship marketing is fueled not only by
reduced customer loyalty, but also by escalating consumer
demands for value’.
De Wulf and Odekerken-Schr ¨
oder (2003) suggest, based on a
study on customer loyalty to apparel retailers, that the retailer’s
commitment to the relationship shows a strong positive correla-
tion with the consumer’s familiarity with a particular retailer, the
distance to a retailer and competing retailers, or the existence of a
monopoly (the latter is in most markets unlikely for the products
discussed in this paper). Hence, efforts to improve the consumer
relationships are likely to bear fruit if the consumer is familiar
with the retailer, and lives, works or stays close to the retailer.
However, this effect appears to be signiﬁcantly stronger for Baby
Boomers than for Generation Y, the latter cohort being more
ﬂexible and less loyal in terms of the choice of retailer, and they
are in less need of help from store personnel when buying.
Fig. 11. How often do you ask for assistance in the grocery store?
Fig. 12. How often do you ask for assistance in the clothing store?
Fig. 13. How often do you ask for assistance at the automobile dealership?
A. Parment / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 20 (2013) 189–199 195
5.1.1. Relations and loyalty
Rewarding regular and, hopefully, proﬁtable (this is a tricky
issue, cf. Kumar and Shah, 2004) customers in order to secure
their loyalty is a way of building relations with customers. Several
scholars warn that tangible rewards generally do not lead to
sustainable competitive advantages since price is the most easily
imitated element of the marketing mix. Hence, some customers
may react opportunistically, and customers who are already loyal
can be ‘unnecessarily’ rewarded (Berry, 1995;Christy et al., 1996;
Dowling and Uncles, 1997;O’Brien and Jones, 1995). O’Brien and
Jones (1995) argue that rewarding strategies can lead to sustain-
able competitive advantages if they are planned and implemented
parts of a larger loyalty-management strategy. However, our
current study on purchase behavior from a perspective based on
generational cohorts provides doubt about the potential for
building customer loyalty purely through rewarding loyal clients.
Something that came out of the interviews and focus groups
was that members of Generation Y have a very limited loyalty to
retailers, unless they provide superior customer value or any
other advantage, such as price. While Baby Boomers argue that
they enjoy shopping in one store as much as possible, something
that is seen as convenient and easy, Generation Yers are basing
their choice of retailer either on the lowest price or on conve-
nience attributes, such as buying groceries in a store that they
pass by on the way home from work.
Manufacturers of fast-moving consumer goods have long been
aware of the importance of customer loyalty, something that has
been the focus of numerous academic and business models since
the 1950s. Links between brand loyalty and indicators of market
performance have been established (Ehrenberg et al., 1990).
Retailers, on the other hand, have traditionally placed less
strategic importance on customer loyalty (Wrigley and Dunn,
1984). The present study suggests the Generation Y cohort to
purchase on a portfolio basis, switching from store to store at will,
a tendency described long ago by Kau and Ehrenberg (1984).As
later suggested by Ehrenberg (1993), there would seem to be very
few shoppers that remain brand and store loyal, and these are
generally light shoppers. How this differs across generations is
unclear but the tendency among young individuals is to be less
loyal to stores. Retailers’ attempts to make customers loyal may
hence be ineffective.
Knox and Denison (2000) compared loyalty levels across retail
sectors in the UK and disaggregated the data by loyalty types. An
interesting result emerged: while loyal shoppers tend to have
smaller monthly budgets than those who frequently switch
stores, they spend double the amount in their ‘ﬁrst choice’ store.
However, this is again more likely to happen with Baby Boomer
customers than with Generation Y customers.
5.2. Cohort effects on buying behavior
Knox and Denison’s (2000) study suggests that while consu-
mer behavior with confectionary/food shows the lowest store
loyalty, clothing enjoys high store loyalty. In buying clothing,
however, the difference in purchase behavior between Baby
Boomers and Generation Y is very signiﬁcant. While Baby Boom-
ers argue that they buy on quality, strive for the opportunity to
combine pieces of clothing, look for classical, timeless designs and
only visit one (males) or a few (females) clothing stores, Genera-
tion Y shows an entirely different shopping pattern. They are very
ﬂexible in terms of buying expensive and cheap products (some-
thing heavily promoted in fashion magazines), they regularly visit
numerous (typically 5–20) stores, they put much effort into
staying in tune with what is ‘in’ at the moment, and they often
visit clothing stores without having a pronounced need, or an
intention, to buy. They just want to see whether there is
something that might ﬁt and look great for a reasonable price.
Hence, the Generation Y cohort manifests a strong tendency to
apply variety-seeking purchase behavior, which mirrors a more
general tendency in marketing: variety-seeking purchase beha-
vior has increased over time (cf. Kahn, 1995).
5.2.1. Manufacturer vs. store brand
A manufacturer’s brand will often outperform a store brand in
product categories where risk of public exposure of the product is
an important issue (Semeijn et al., 2004). This is deﬁnitely the
case with clothing. Dhar and Hoch (1997) as well as Semeijn et al.
(2004) point to the fact that retailers can take the lead in
establishing store brands by developing, nourishing and sustain-
ing a store image, thus achieving differentiation and positioning
relative to other chains. How this works with the different
generational cohorts is unclear. On the one hand, Baby Boomers
put a lot of emphasis on the store atmosphere and environment.
On the other hand, Generation Y is signiﬁcantly more interested
in clothing, and the success of retail chains such as Hennes &
Mauritz and Zara are largely based on sales to younger customers.
In fact, a number of Baby Boomers explicitly stated that they
avoid these brands, something that Generation Yers did not
report. Semeijn et al.’s (2004) suggestion to focus on store
environment, merchandise quality and value, and customer
service is likely to be more successful with Baby Boomers than
with Generation Y consumers. However, further studies are
necessary to understand this.
Quelch and Harding (1996),Dunne and Narasimhan (1999),
and Apelbaum et al. (2003) suggest that the objective quality
differential between supplier and retailer brands is decreasing; in
fact, the quality of some store brands is even superior. This
applies to groceries and clothing but hardly to automobiles since
they never bear the retail brand solely.
Davies and Brito (2004) performed blind tests, presenting
consumers four categories of food products. Most of the con-
sumers in the study’s sample reported that they usually pur-
chased a name brand in the product category under evaluation.
Yet, only a small proportion of these consumers chose the name
brand in the blind test. And very few of those who chose the name
brand did so again once they knew the price at which it was being
sold to the public. Apparently in many cases, the brand image is
the only explanation for the premium paid by consumers when
they purchase a manufacturer brand, which is something crucial
in order to understand consumer buying patterns.
Generation Y show a high degree of image-awareness, which
could be expected to be translated into a strong reason for
Generation Y to prefer manufacturer brands over retail brands.
However, they also show a strong tendency to avoid paying more
than necessary for products that are not very interesting for them.
Hence, store brands that provide strong value for the price are
likely to be successful in appealing to Generation Y. Baby Boomers
are more reluctant to take in new products, and they show a
higher degree of skepticism for unknown products, such as value-
priced import products.
5.2.2. Buying behavior: customer store preferences
Thang and Tan (2003) developed and tested customer store
preferences through post-visit ranking of the stores. The results
identiﬁed the following attributes as signiﬁcantly inﬂuencing
consumer preference: merchandising/store location, accessibility,
reputation, in-store service and store atmosphere. As Thang and
Tan emphasize, merchandising, accessibility and in-store service
are elements that save time for the consumer. Although the
present study suggests in-store service to be less important for
A. Parment / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 20 (2013) 189–199196
Generation Y than for Baby Boomers, further studies are required
on the matter.
5.3. Generation Y and the social risk of buying
The product’s impact on how the consumer is perceived by the
social environment, meaning the social risk of how certain
consumption patterns inﬂuence peers’ perception of the consu-
mer, is more important for Generation Y, something that might be
explained by this generational cohort’s strong tendency to proﬁle
themselves and express their desired views of self through the
way they consume (cf. Parment, 2011). Hence, the social environ-
ment’s reaction to a Generation Y individual’s consumption is
crucial to how the person succeeds in proﬁling himself in the
5.3.1. Generation Y: social risk and the purchase of clothing
The inability to physically examine apparel products when
shopping online increases the risk perceptions associated with
online shopping as consumers cannot touch, feel, or try on
products before purchase. It is clear that consumers often use
product brand name (Dawar and Parker, 1994;Greatorex and
Mitchell, 1994) and store name (Bolton and Drew, 1991;Teas and
Agarwal, 2000) as a surrogate for product quality in order to
reduce their risks and simplify their purchase decision, especially
when shopping online, where many product attributes cannot be
The present study emphasizes another type of risk which
primarily applies to younger consumers, in this case Generation
Y: social risk. As young individuals generally put more effort into
their appearance than older individuals, it is difﬁcult at this stage
to assess to what extent the social risk is a generational cohort
phenomenon and to what extent it is likely to disappear as
individuals get older. It is well-known that buying clothing or
apparel include inherits risks, but it has thus far been deﬁned as
product risk associated with shopping for apparel, and in the case
of online buying and shopping, as suggested by Aghekyan-
Simonian et al. (2012).
A few authors (Liljander et al., 2009) emphasize social risk;
however, clothes are visible and used to express one’s self-
identity, which makes the social risk larger than for products that
are not seen by others. However, more generic pieces of clothing,
such as men’s shirts (often worn under a coat or suit), can be
expected to be less sensitive to social risk than many other
clothing items for which the brand is more visible to others.
5.4. The persistence of cohort effects
Cohort effects appear to be life-long effects, and the results
presented in this paper indicate that many issues related to
designing and implementing retail strategies are better understood
and implemented by taking into account a perspective based on
generational cohorts. In many cases, similarities within a cohort
provide the communality for each cohort being targeted as a
separate market segment. Since these cohorts can be described by
the ages of their constituents, they offer an especially rich vehicle for
marketing campaigns. The values can be reﬂected in creative
communications which then resonate strongly with the targeted
The tentative conclusions that might be drawn from this
exploratory study on generational cohorts and their purchase
patterns strongly support the contention that different cohorts
have different values, attitudes and preferences that signiﬁcantly
inﬂuence their purchase patterns.
The tentative results are thus promising and provide an
avenue for a number of future research possibilities. Future
research needs to integrate the generational cohort perspective
more extensively in order to understand different aspects of
consumer behavior, purchase patterns and how marketers can
design and implement strategies effectively and efﬁciently.
A more reﬁned conceptualization and measurement of consumer
buying patterns based on theories related to consumer behavior
and purchase behavior would be required in future research.
The study was conducted with an exploratory approach, starting
with interviews and focus groups, and then continued with a
survey. Clearly, this is not optimal for modeling causal relation-
ships. However, to capture the differences between generational
cohorts, something that has been the major focus in this research,
the method worked well, and this study reveals some cohort effects,
along with a number of important practical implications.
In some instances, the segmentation of cohorts may be a more
effective technique than employing other segmentation techni-
ques. In general, consumers have high demands; they often
require personal attention and products that suit their lifestyle.
They do not want to be encumbered with mistargeted or
misguided products and promotions. Generational cohort analysis
can provide a sense of familiarity and personal appeal to these
savvy consumers, bringing them one step closer to making a
purchase and providing the groundwork for building long-term
Generational cohort analysis may also be helpful in bolstering
communication with customers, both when designing commu-
nication campaigns and during personal interactions. Determin-
ing music, movie stars, or icons that cohorts identiﬁed with
during their coming-of-age years can be an effective means of
speaking to a given cohort. These tactics work because they rely
on nostalgia marketing, which means reminding individuals of
their good old days. Consumers readily recognize that the
marketer is talking directly to them. Reﬂecting a generational
cohort’s values in the copy of an advertisement immediately tells
the cohort members that you understand them and their inner
feelings. Such an execution of marketing is likely to resonate well
with cohort members. Finally, as cohorts age and enter new life-
stages, they bring their coming-of-age cohort value systems,
wants, and needs with them. Cohort analysis can help track and
forecast changes that will take place. Considering the increasing
percentage of purchase decisions being made in the store —76%
in 2012 compared to 70% in 1995 in the case of groceries (Popai,
2012)—and ﬁgures from the automobile industry indicating that
as much as 70% of customers showing up in a showroom are
never addressed by salesmen (Parment, 2009), it is more impor-
tant than ever to take care of the customers when they enter the
store, and to have a strategy behind this interaction to do it in a
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