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Baby Boomers and Gen Z Stand at Opposite Ends of This Spectrum

The gap between generations seems as wide as ever and on one key issue, there’s a stark difference between the priorities of Gen Z and Baby Boomers when it comes to retail.

Exact definitions of what range of years constitute each generation vary, but one thing is clear: older Gen Zers are aging into the workforce and have become a prime cohort of consumers for brands of all kinds. However, what they demand as consumers can be drastically different than older generations.

According to a new survey published by consumer insight platform First Insight, “The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainable Retail,” brands may have a hard time attracting Gen Z while adhering to the policies familiar to their forebears.

For example, more than any generation, Baby Boomers are less receptive to sustainable messaging. Only 39 percent of those polled in the December 2019 study of more than 1,000 consumers agreed that they prefer to buy their products from sustainable brands. Compare that to millennials and Gen Z, which recorded 62 percent agreement to the same sentiment.

In fact, even the Silent Generation, whose oldest members predate Baby Boomers by two decades, favored sustainable brands more than Baby Boomers, at 44 percent.

However, according to First Insight CEO Greg Petro, that doesn’t mean that sustainability shouldn’t play a larger part in every brand’s business plan going forward—even those that cater to Baby Boomers.

“While Baby Boomers seem to be the holdouts when it comes to expecting more sustainable practices within retail overall, the research shows that with every generation, sustainability is becoming further embedded in purchase decisions,” Petro said. “It’s incredibly important that retailers and brands continue to follow the voices of their customers.”

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To that point, the vast majority of Gen Z (73 percent) is willing to pay more for a sustainably made product, followed by millennials at 68 percent and Generation X at 55 percent. Again, the Silent Generation showed itself to be open to sustainability, with 50 percent expressing acceptance of higher prices in favor of sustainabilitycompared to just 42 percent of Baby Boomers.

Regardless of generation, a majority of all consumers do expect brands and retailers to become more sustainable, however. Gen X leads the way in this category, with 84 percent expecting sustainable action at the business level, followed by millennials (78 percent) and the Silent Generation (68 percent).

This is the one area in which Gen Z and Baby Boomers agree, with 73 percent of both demographics expecting brands and retailers to pick up the slack in sustainability.

“With Generation Z on track to becoming the largest generation of consumers this year, retailers and brands must start supercharging sustainability practices now if they are to keep pace with expectations around sustainability for these next-generation consumers, whether it is through consignment, upcycling, or even gifting around major holidays,” Petro added.

The influence of sustainability in retail may be most clearly seen in the rise of resale platforms and the “recommerce” economy. Although traditionally thought of as a space that caters to young people, resale is popular with every generation. No generation expressed an approval rate of this new model lower than 52 percent, which came from Baby Boomers.