Digital Allegiance: Almost A Third Of Consumers Put Online First

We’ve all heard about digital natives. Now there’s a new demographic: the "Digital First." 

That’s the tag being applied to shoppers who prefer digital over any other form of engagement. They make up 34% of the the U.S. population, according to "What It Means To Be Digital First," a study spanning 2,000 consumers and 40 brands by Alliance Data's Analytics and Insights Institute. Alliance Data is a provider of branded credit cards and loyalty and marketing insights. 

Don’t be scared: These consumers are digital enthusiasts. And they want to interact with you.

Of those polled, 71% shop online multiple times per month. And 68% say they have a “love” relationship with their favorite retailer. 

Moreover, 63% are open to trying any form of retail technology simply because it’s interesting, and they’re 70% more likely than others to engage with online-only events. 

Sixty percent are willing to allow brands to access their locations in return for relevant content.



The methodology is unclear. But let’s put these folks in their proper buckets. The study describes three groups of people. In contrast to the Digital Firsts, the Digitally Proficient group -- said to be 64% of the U.S. population -- shops online a couple of times a year or more.

But the study notes that everyone is at least somewhat digitally proficient, and that 73% shop online even if they don’t fit into either of the above groups.

So who are they? 

Unlike Digital Natives, who grew up with the computer and are in Gen Z or Y, Digital First shoppers can be found in all age groups. Here are the percentages by generation:

  • Gen Z — 38%
  • Millennials — 41%
  • Gen X — 34%
  • Baby boomers — 27%

How do they keep up with retailers? Websites are first, chosen by 73% (compared to 44% of all consumers).

Email is second, cited by 48%. In contrast, 36% of the broader audience chooses email. For 20%, email is the primary way.

Mobile apps are third (35%) and stores come in fourth (19%). 

But those email lovers have expectations: 84% want personalized sales, discounts and promotions tailored to their interests and needs. And 25% prefer digital coupons over paper.

But don’t flood them with emails: 73% demand control over email frequency, and 71% want the ability to opt in or out of specific content.

The study notes that email to this group should deliver relevant, data-driven personalization.  

If you want to engage this group with email, first identify them. Watch out for those who:

  • Shop multiple channels, frequently online
  • Subscribe to your emails
  • Opt in to SMS messaging
  • Follow your brand on social media
  • Have downloaded your mobile app.

Next, tailor your emails for this group. As the study advises: “Develop and test email opt-in strategies for the frequency and specific topics of communications (e.g., style tips, categories of merchandise, lifestyle content): brands can also survey consumers to see what content they find most valuable and use that data to tailor their content strategies.”

Alliance Data surveyed 2,515 consumers online, and also polled 200 retail marketers. In addition, it gathered qualitative feed back from 47 consumers in two online discussion boards.  

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