In her seminar, Sustainable Futures, Kathleen Jordan, AIA, CID, LEED®, AP – a company principal and designer who leads Gensler’s research on global retail trends – revealed the Index’s conclusions.
The definitions of these evolving groups will help retailers tailor their store experience and marketing messaging to reach these age groups more effectively.
“This age group is so much more empowered than we were at their age,” Jordan noted. “They’re digital natives and curious about the world.” The theme “Adapt Over Replace” sums them up. “We’re getting into the hyper-personalization area,” she said, as technology has become increasingly adept at having a computer predict what’s appropriate for these shoppers, based on past purchases.
Consider it, “the Brand of Me,” Jordan remarked. The average person between the ages of 15 and 35 now has a tremendous influence via social media on what they and their friends are buying. “This peer-to-peer influence replaces traditional advertising,” she affirmed. The popularity of YouTube and Instagram “stars” selling products by the millions without spending one dollar for advertising has pretty much turned traditional Madison Avenue thinking on its head.
What is also at work here is something Jordan calls “Mixed Realities.” This generation makes no distinction between the digital world and physical reality. “We have to speak their language — which is mobile,” she remarked.
The 15- to 35-year-olds who make up this group are as keenly aware of preserving the environment as previous generations, but with a twist. According to Jordan, “There is a reframing of sustainability and repurposing. They are recognizing the familiar in a new way; for example, creating a decorative screen with recycled bottles.”
While the age bracket for this group is 36 to 49, the behavior varies at both ends of the spectrum. “The older half is literally settling down,” Jordon explained. “They vote with their feet; their buying power will align with their beliefs such as humanitarian causes and sustainability.”
Building trust is very much a concern with this demographic. “They want to know how a product came to be and are looking for supply chain transparency,” she stated, including how materials are sourced and the treatment of the labor. “This group will be very loyal to causes,” she affirmed.
On a side note for retailers, Jordan pointed out the growing interest in cyber currency. “I’m hearing about Bitcoin more and more. It’s getting integrated into modern-day businesses and sellers will have to be aware of it,” she cautioned.
The younger half of this demographic gravitates toward a “sharing economy.” Companies such as Everytable (whose business model provides affordable food to “food desert” areas where access to healthy food is limited) and City Bike programs are making a positive impact. “This group is not purchasing ‘new.’ My daughter has discovered Buffalo Exchange (where customers can buy, sell, or trade their clothes for cash on the spot),” she shared. “As we see tariffs impacting imports, it will have an affect on what’s in our closets.”
The younger portion of this demographic is not viewing careers in the same way their parents did. “It’s the era of ‘Be Your Own Boss,’” Jordan remarked. “Our generation is probably the last one that believes in staying with a company for years. The younger ones have a more transient nature when it comes to employment. They value their free time more.”
“This generation of people ages 50 to 65 tends to get lost between the Baby Boomer and Millennial conversation,” Jordan admitted. For members of this demographic, there is a theme of “nostalgic tastes” and a focus on “having experiences.”
Playfully referring to changes in their workplace environment as “Teaching Old Dogs, New Tricks,” Jordan mentioned there is a shift from the large manager desks of the past to “dynamic deskers” (having no desk per se) and to “scrum spaces” that are shared. This group is also willing to give back in the workplace with growing importance on “mentoring up” and “mentoring down.”
For this age group, there is a focus on authenticity and learning more about an item before they purchase it. “They want to know the story behind the product and find out more about the person who crafted it,” she said. Both men and women in this demographic consider “Wellness to be the New Luxury” and are placing emphasis on products and activities that enhance their lifestyles.
OLDER, NOT SLOWER
People between the ages of 66 to 84 are “not going gentle into that good night,” Jordan joked, referencing the Dylan Thomas poem. They still value ownership over a sharing culture, she explained, but added that they have a similar mindset when it comes to eco-consciousness. “For example, they are looking at alternative power resources and smarter homes,” she observed. They like to use technology to help them maintain their independence by performing menial tasks – such as having lights or thermostats turn on and off – and for companionship via voice-activated controls. “This group is looking to be catered to rather than chased after,” she remarked.
Forget about surrendering to the aging process. The Older, Not Slower members are interested in capturing the point where Health Meets Beauty. She pointed to the decision made at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship in New York City to devote the entire first floor to the beauty category as proof. “It’s become like a mani-pedi spa with in-store treatments all geared toward providing a luxury spa experience that enhances people’s lifestyles.” “This is a wellness-focused demographic,” Jordan observed. “They’re looking for skin protection and enhancements rather than cosmetic products.”
The Index Results
Retailers and space planners have discovered that designing spaces has become more complex. “Products were selling themselves in the 1980s and ’90s,” she commented. Now, customers are expecting more of an entertainment experience when they visit a store. “I’m always asked by clients about ROI,” Jordan stated. “For example, Selfridges of London tells us that when they do an event, the store is crowded; and to them, a crowded store is good for business.” Gensler’s Experience Index was a way to “create a framework” for evaluating shopping habits.
“We know that 49 percent of people’s mindsets when they are shopping is in task mode,” Jordan recounted. “So how can we capture these other modes, especially when everyone is empowered by their handheld devices? How do you move people away from that laser focus? Well, let’s look at the 51 percent of shoppers who are not in task mode.”
For starters, apparently no one is truly shopping “alone” anymore. “They’re all on a device, and there could be 12 to 15 people involved on their shopping trip,” Jordan commented. They’re sharing what they see in the stores and seeking opinions. “We’ve seen girls laying out clothes in the fitting rooms and taking photos to post,” she said. Sharing one’s “haul” – as in, “I got all this for X amount of dollars” – is a popular theme on Instagram. “The currency lies in the number of ‘Likes’ that these kids get,” Jordan stated.
For demographics of all ages, the sense of Discovery is important in retailing today. “Entice people through the store through visual merchandising,” Jordan advised. “When it is invested in properly, visual merchandising raises foot traffic.”
Holding an in-store activity is another successful method for increasing the body count. “Add events that bring value to customers and make them feel it was worth the trip to come in. You want them to leave your store feeling good,” she said.
Continuing the message that “retail spaces are for more than just selling,” Jordan suggested ways to attract more people to your location. Upgrading the restaurant choices nearby is one option for strip mall and large shopping center owners. “Dining out has become more important in Europe, and it’s starting to bring in traffic here in the U.S.,” she noted. “The food and beverage component in the average mall used to be 15 to 20 percent, but this concept of ‘elevated dining’ – having restaurants featuring unique cuisine or aligned with a celebrity chef – is increasing those numbers.”
Referencing local sporting events and teams is “another way to piggyback onto the synergy of the area your store is in,” Jordan said, adding, “Become embedded in the community. Even department stores need to become embedded in the neighborhoods they serve. I’m not saying that retail flagships in New York City will be doing this, but how about in second- and third-tier cities? Retailers have a unique opportunity to bring different types of events into their communities.”
The last trend Jordan has observed gaining traction is what she called, “Dynamic Retail.” She pointed to the emergence of Starbuck’s Reserve® Roastery & Tasting Room – which has opened in locations as diverse as Seattle, Shanghai, and Milan – as an example. According to the Starbucks Reserve Web site, “It is a place where you can experience coffee from the unroasted bean to your cup of coffee. You can watch it being roasted. You’ll see the burlap sacks it comes in. You can watch it being loaded into the green coffee loading pit. You can buy it scooped at the coffee scoop bar. You can experience your coffee as a pour over, siphon-brewed, clover-brewed, with a shot of espresso, and more.”
“They’ve super-sized the coffee experience and made it like the Willy Wonka of coffee,” she remarked. “Dynamic retail is sort of a flexible eco-system that brings together brand, data, and space to engender loyalty.”
Those retailers who adapt to these new ways of selling experience are the ones who have the greatest chance of success against online competition and shrinking margins.