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A 'contagion effect' spreads millennial shopping habits across generations, consumer expert says

Max Zahn

Forever 21 made a bet that the latest in fashion could appeal to customers of all ages. Fitting then that the company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sunday, was cut down by a trend that has grown among every age group: Online shopping.

The shift from mall to web browsers began largely with millennials but has spread to friends and relatives in other generations, Denise Dahlhoff, senior researcher for consumer research at The Conference Board, told Yahoo Finance.

“There’s a contagion effect,” says Dahlhoff. “Online shopping has been rising across generations.”

“For millennials, because they grew up with it, that’s stronger,” she adds. “But when you see people around you adopting certain habits, you become more familiar with them and adopt them.”

Millennials make three in five of their purchases online, and 36% of their purchases on a mobile device, according to a survey in March of 1,002 millennials by CouponFollow, a digital coupon company. Plus, they carry significant influence as a consumer demographic, making up 28% of all daily per-person consumer spending, a share that could increase to as much as 35% by 2030, CouponFollow says.

“Millennials are the biggest consumer population in the U.S. and that gives them a lot of clout obviously with brands and retailers,” Dahlhoff says.

“This generation is very used to using online and specifically mobile to satisfy all their needs, including shopping,” she adds. “That has obviously huge implications for brands and retailers. It offers a lot of opportunities but also puts more pressure on companies to cater to those needs.”

People walk by empty retail space in lower Manhattan on April 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

That trend has led to increased rates of online shopping among Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. Forty-one percent of those in the three generations — millennials, Gen-Xers, and Baby Boomers — said they’re more likely to examine products at brick-and-mortar stores and purchase them online than they were a year ago, said a 2013 study of generational consumer habits from Accenture, a global consulting firm.

Meanwhile, 36% of those in the three generations said they’ll go online to buy a product if the nearby retail store is closed, the study found.

The growth in online shopping also owes to the fact that Gen-X and Baby Boomers are simply online more than they used to be. A Pew survey released this month found that 76% of Gen-Xers and 59% of Baby Boomers use social media, an increase of 12% and 19% respectively since 2012.

“Millennials are not only transforming their own shopping behaviors but those of their parents, who are increasingly mimicking the demands of their children for seamlessness as they climb the digital learning curve,” the Accenture study says.

Yahoo Finance

Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit in New York City on Oct. 10 will explore generational opportunities; what divides and unites generations in the workplace, across politics, and how collaboration across generations can change business. Understanding and managing generational change is essential for businesses and leaders, as the implications on all constituencies, including investors, customers and employees is critical.

On a panel entitled, “Next-Gen Economy,” Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland will speak with Siemens U.S.A. CEO Barbara Humpton and Deloitte U.S. CEO Joe Ucuzoglu about how businesses can benefit from the new world of digital disruption.

Dahloff, the consumer expert, says the the rise of online shopping impacts industries well-beyond the realm of retail.

“Who wants to wait at doctor’s office anymore?”

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.

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