Generational Mix Reveals Shopping Similarities and Differences

While The Research Brief has been looking at Boomers and Millenials in the last two weeks, Todd Hale, Senior Vice President, Nielsen has assembled an overview of the shopping and media habits of the last four generations, helping marketers fill in the gaps. This recent Nielsen analysis of the four key generations revealed generationally consistent shopping habits that reflect diverse lifestyle preferences and economic habits.

Always helpful in considering groups is a refresher on the group definitions. The report assists by noting that a "Generation" is a group of contemporaries; all of the people who were born during the same period, considered as a group, having shared interests and attitudes:

  • Greatest Generation: born prior to 1946 (64 + years of age in 2009)
  • Boomers: 1946 - 1964 (ages 45 to 63)
  • Gen X: 1965 - 1976 (33 to 44)
  • Millennials: 1977 - 1994 (15 to 32)

The Greatest Generation members, shaped by the Great Depression and World War II frugality, are the most frequent shoppers and more deal prone than other age segments. High-earning Boomers have the largest annual dollar spend per household of any group, followed by GenX. Millennials don't like to waste time in-store, shopping less often than other age cohorts but buying more per trip as a result:

  • Millennial and Gen X shoppers favor mass supercenters and mass merchandisers over more traditional formats like grocery or drug stores, which remain a draw for the Greatest Generation and Boomers.
  • Millennials topped the basket value list at grocery stores and mass supercenters
  • Gen X takes top spending honors at mass merchandisers and drug stores.
  • Millennials represent the largest population segment at 76 million, slightly larger in number than the Boomer segment. The two groups together represent half of the U.S. population.

Certain store banners hold a unique appeal, and Target is at the head of that retailing class for the younger generations, with a hip, trendy image, a strong value message, whimsical advertising; strong, pop art in-store merchandising and a roster of high profile designers, says the report.

Gen X and Millennials both patronize Target more often than other age cohorts, but also outspend them at Target, as well as at competitive mass merchandisers like Kmart and Walmart.

An analysis of a selected sample of categories where there were big differences in annual spend across the generations showed significant gaps between the gaps. For these selected categories, Boomers spent the most on pet food, followed by carbonated beverages and wine. Pet food also topped the list for Gen X, with carbonated beverages a close second, and baby food in third position. Millennials and their young families placed baby food in the top spot, followed by carbonated beverages and pet food.

Selected "Big Gap" Annual Spending Categories (Annual Dollars Per Household)


Greatest Generation


Gen X


Baby food





Carbonated beverages















Hair care





Ice cream





Pet food















Source: The Nielsen Company

The Greatest Generation is less likely to enjoy shopping than any other age cohort, with the most respondents rating shopping as a chore, and yet also the most likely to walk up and down each aisle on a shopping trip, extending their time in-store.

Conversely, the Millennial generation, who makes the fewest trips to virtually any format, really likes shopping. On a typical mission, they know how to find what they need and are less likely to shop the entire store. Engaging this "in and out" shopper could extend their time in stores and get them to shop more aisles.

The study determined that shoppers in these economic times are proving to be rational consumers with more than half relying on shopping lists and consistently comparing the unit price for a product. Other ways consumers attempt to eke value out of a shopping trip include using the store circular to identify sale items and redeeming coupons.

While Gen X and Millennials claimed the highest coupon redemption rates and were among the most likely to use shopping lists for most trips, they also admitted to making the most unplanned purchases on their shopping excursions. Younger shoppers tended to bring children with them more often than others, were less likely to ask for advice from meat or produce department personnel and, in the case of Millennials, very likely to bring another adult along on most outings.

When asked how the economic downturn had impacted meal time, more than 40% of respondents mentioned consuming fewer carry-out or home-delivered meals, or increasing the use of private label foods. One-third or more of those surveyed now incorporate more basic ingredients in meals and buy the produce that is in season, fresher and less expensive.

Consistently across the generations, people turned to cookbooks, the Internet and television for recipe ideas and less expensive in-home entertainment as budget-conserving options. Millennials were the most wired into the Internet, while Gen X favored cooking programs and the Greatest Generation paged through cookbooks.

On average, the typical American consumes more than 35 hours of media per week across TV, Internet and mobile. As smartphones redefine customer media interaction, they present enormous potential for generating buzz around products, delivering timely product info and coupon codes, and building community through brand advocacy, concludes the report.

For more from the study, including charts and graphs, please visit the NielsenWire here.

1 comment about "Generational Mix Reveals Shopping Similarities and Differences".
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  1. Phil Goodman from Western Media Corp., March 29, 2010 at 3:04 p.m.

    I found this article to be very interesting except their is a major error in it. The Greatest Generation isn't everyone born before 1946. There is a separate generation between the Seniors and the Boomers, these are th 28 million people born between 1936 through 1945. Half out of the depression and the other half out of World War 2. They are called the Forgotten or Silent generation.

    The oldest one was 5 years old when the secord world war broke out, and 14 years old when the Korean war started. How could they be possibilty be part of the Greatest Generation when half of them where the children of the war?

    Remember no generation folows another in mindset based upon the social circumstances they were raised with in their youth. A generation is difined by the rise and fall of birth rates. Go to and see for yourself.

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