We have monitored the findings of several recent studies of online shopping behavior only to note that there is a clear tendency to focus on millennials – people 18 to 34 years of age – because they are of the generation for whom online shopping has been a natural pattern. While there is certainly much to learn from these studies, millennials simply are not the whole story of online shopping behavior. In fact, understanding the online shopping behavior of the generations older than millennials might be more profitable for businesses.

Romeo and Gram, littleblackdogsocialmedia

Romeo, the little black dog, loves his Gram, and she teaches him many things

In January 2013 the ad agency DDB Worldwide surveyed American web users regarding ecommerce. When eMarketer.com reported on the findings under the headline, “How Millennials Shop Online,” the tendency to focus on millennials was quite clear. Their explanation was “The millennial demographic has grown up embracing the deep discounts and convenience offered by online shopping. “ Is the quest for deep discounts and convenience unique to online shopping? We think not. In fact, it was the parents and grandparents of millennials that utilized available technology to develop discount shopping to an art form. Yet, this DDB Worldwide study views millennials as one group and everyone 35 – 64 as the second group.

The following chart summarizes the findings of the DDB Worldwide study. It is not surprising that millennials were more likely to “engage in nearly every online shopping activity” than the Baby Boomer or Senior generations. What we found surprising was the relatively small difference between millennials and the older generations engaging in these activities. A second surprising fact (to many) is that more men reported engaging in these shopping activities than women with the exception of identifying themselves as “extreme couponers.”

Attitudes toward ecommerce US Internet Users Jan 2013

Based on figures from the 2010 Census, there are roughly twice as many people aged 35 – 64 than there are people aged 18-34. Further, the median income for people aged 35 to 64 is significantly higher than for people aged 18-34. In addition, the older age group tends to have more income available for discretionary spending than the younger group. The point is that the population segment aged 35-64 is a statistically larger population with higher incomes and more disposable income. Ignoring this group or assuming that the shopping behaviors of the older group somehow echo the shopping behavior of the millennials could lead business owners to underestimate or ignore the sales potential of this group. Understanding their online shopping behavior actually seems more important than the behavior of millennials for many industries or product types.

To understand how the older population group utilizes the Internet for shopping it is necessary to evaluate the findings of another study. In March 2013, Ipsos and Google analyzed web usage by baby boomers (defined as persons between the ages of 45 and 65) and seniors (persons aged 65 and older). They learned that boomers spent more time on the Internet than engaging with any other media channel, including TV. Senior spent only 30 minutes more watching TV than they spent online.

When asked about their use of the Internet in relation to shopping, 57 percent said they went online to research information related to shopping, and 45 percent searching for coupons, daily deals or other discounts. Compared to the data in the chart above, these behaviors are very similar to those of millennials. The only gap between the two age groups relates to use of smartphones, and in this case, boomers are not as far behind millennials as some might believe. The next chart represents the activities of boomers and seniors related to online shopping:

Actions taken by boomers and seniors related to shopping

While it is important to understand the online shopping behaviors of millennials, it might be equally important to understand the online behaviors of baby boomers and seniors, particularly because they are a statistically more significant customer base for many businesses. Clearly, millennials are not the whole story of online shopping. For more information about these studies: http://www.emarketer.com/Article/How-Millennials-Shop-Online/1010031; and http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Boomers-Seniors-Favor-Web/1010037.