Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

From Slacker to Power Shopper: Gen X is direct-to-consumer ecommerce’s stealth demographic

Gen X consumers, the demographic aged between 41-56, are increasingly shopping direct-to-consumer (DTC) and cross-border online, making them a key audience for brands and retailers looking to reach consumers primed to purchase, according to ESW’s ‘Global Voices: 2022’.

Often overlooked in favour of the digitally native Millennial and Gen Z consumers, research in the US revealed Gen X are the second highest annual spenders (US$357B), second only to Baby Boomers. This spending power is borne out by ESW’s research of more than 14,000 consumers across fourteen countries which reveals in 2021 Gen X represented 21% of its ‘Power Shopper’ cohort – a high value group of consumers who purchased 11 or more times from another country – an increase of 24% year-on-year (YOY) from 2020.

Millennial shoppers make up the majority (55%) of Power Shoppers with Gen Z in third place at 15%.   Geographically, the markets with the highest number of Gen X Power Shoppers are the UAE (53%), India (42%), China (38%), the UK (27%) and the US (26%).

During the same time, online purchasing via marketplaces by Gen X consumers (73%) dropped by -6% YOY in comparison to 2020.  40% of Gen X respondents reported shopping direct with multi-brand or single-brand retailers, making them an important audience for DTC brands to target.  Indeed, Gen X show some of the highest preference rates (37%) for online vs. in-store shopping – second only to Millennials (39%) and higher than both Gen Z and Baby Boomers (both 30%).

Gen X shoppers were also revealed to be the highest in-market online purchasers of clothing from domestic brands and retailers, with 69% of respondents having made a clothing purchase in 2021.  A family lifestyle may influence the higher purchasing rate in this key vertical with Gen Xers, now well in the middle of their lives, potentially shopping for themselves, their children and possibly parents.

And while pester-power from brand-conscious children and teens may drive some of these purchasing decisions, to capitalise on the significant spending power of Gen X consumers, retailers must recognise this audience values different aspects of the online shopping experience than younger demographics.

Gen X explained

Having experienced the full force of the 2008 recession, a third (30%) of Gen X respondents report becoming more fiscally conservative as a result of the pandemic with 29% highlighting the desire to find the lowest possible price as their motivation for shopping cross-border.  This translates to a need on behalf of retailers to highlight value and provide transparency around costs, including taxes and shipping to convert Gen X shoppers.

While Gen X consumers prefer more traditional payment types like credit cards (49%) and Paypal (45%), many are adopting digital technologies faster, like mobile and digital wallets (14%) and Buy Now Pay Later (11%).  Capitalising on the purchasing power for these consumers means being cognisant of their openness to technology and their payment preferences through different purchasing paths.

From a technology standpoint, Gen Xers were at the forefront of the transition from analogue to digital and while excessive internet use is typically attributed to younger generations, Gen Xers are well-versed in using social channels to research and discover new products.  YouTube (47%), Facebook (46%) and Instagram (30%) are the most popular channels over more traditional outlets, such as television (21%) or newspapers and magazines (15%), a shift brands and retailers must consider when developing content and customer engagement strategies for the Gen X demographic.

Martim Avillez Oliveira, Chief Commercial Officer, EMEA at ESW, said: “Understandably, many retailers and brands prioritise younger demographics building marketing and selling strategies to suit their digital-first tastes.  However, our data shows that Gen X are increasingly participating in both international and domestic ecommerce and bringing significant spending power with them. To capitalise on this increase retailers and brands must recognise this demographic place importance on different aspects of the shopping experience than their younger counterparts.

“Shoppers in this age group still gravitate to online marketplaces, so retailers and brands seeking to reach them directly need to make sure their shopping experience presents clear evidence of value alongside the convenience of tracked shipping, clear refund policies and easy in-market returns. Being aware of these generational differences and offering Gen X an ecommerce experience that caters to their specific preferences ensures that brands can create long-lasting, relationships that bring significant life-time value.”