Commentary: Store retailers need to consider rise of multigenerational families

Tom Schneider
Tom Schneider

The number of Americans living in multigenerational households is at a record high and stretches across all ages. Young adults are now most likely to live with other generations, whereas previously it was adults aged 85 and older. With residences containing a significant span of age groups, smart retailers need to recognize the necessity for a tiered merchandising strategy for consumer products.

The rise of multigenerational households means there are multiple decision-makers with shopping responsibility. This requires retailers to account for differences in generational attitudes regarding brand loyalty, price sensitivity, and perception of value.

Shopping and Decision-Making Habits of Multigenerational Families

Millennial and Generation Z family members are emerging as significant purchasing influencers and decision-makers, often taking over purchasing decisions from household figureheads. They need confidence that their purchase recommendations and decisions will work for all members of the family.

Baby Boomers have the added challenge of supporting aging parents who may not have the same technological savvy and patience. Their view of technology is less forgiving when it comes to expectations and ease of use. According to Pew Research Center, only 26% of internet users over the age of 65 feel very confident when using devices such as computers and smartphones.

The increase of multigenerational households impacts the entire in-store retail experience — everything from parking, lighting, in-store navigation, checkout, in-store pickup, overhead music, rest and community areas, and accessibility.

Because of the rise of online browsing, customer in-store visits have become more focused. To adjust to the quick-stop shopping nature, Target, a client of Harbor Retail, recently expanded to include smaller urban store formats. This change required thoughtful implementation and assessment to ensure these smaller unique spaces would meet their brand promise while providing relevance for a different classification of guests.

Multigenerational Impacts on Merchandising Strategies

Retailers need to consider a few critical elements when designing an effective merchandising strategy that spans generations:

  • When a product represents a new and/or innovative emerging technology or category, will a functional product experience be important? If the answer is yes, this can be the most challenging aspect of creating an effective and sustainable in-store display and needs to be carefully considered.


  • Is this a signature product category, and are you willing to strongly advocate for a particular brand or tech platform? If so, consider melding the two. For example, create an in-store display strategy that leverages the retailer's online and social platforms to deliver trusted reviews.


  • Is the product a part of an ecosystem that already contains mature and well-understood technology? If so, the existing marketing story and history behind the product can play a significant role in shaping the in-store display experience that spans generations.

The Blend of Marketing and Technology

When speaking to these multigenerational audiences, retailers need to incorporate a mix of traditional in-store marketing and technology.  There are three key ways to ensure a successful blend:

1. Give them what they want.

Provide the shopper with the means to access the necessary information to make an informed and confident in-store purchase decision. Consider using displays that encourage consumers to use their own mobile devices to check out promotions, social media, reviews, videos, and any other assets related to the product line. This especially appeals to millennials, as 93% of them own smartphones and 90% research products online.

Gen Zers grew up with the internet, so the platform is the first step of their buying process. Members of this demographic use smartphones to compare prices, look for discounts, check availability, and read reviews in order to make the most informed decision possible — but they prefer to shop in-store because of the social interaction. While in-store tech is helpful for the consideration process, human interaction drives share of wallet for Gen Z.

2. Be a trusted advocate.

Generation Xers, in particular, are wary of flashy marketing tactics and prefer honest descriptions of product usage coupled with explanations of how the product will fit their lifestyle.

Complex product categories require you to take a strong advocacy position that you showcase in marketing and in-store displays. Make the product the hero by connecting the features to the ecosystem and lifestyle to make a particular item the best choice for multigenerational households. An example could be controls that are easily used and read by elderly family members, allowing independence of use.

3. Make the display accessible to all.

It’s not just the product that needs to be accessible. Position the merchandising such that it is effective across the entire age demographic. Don't just meet the minimum federal Americans with Disabilities Act and local requirements for display access — strive to exceed them. This includes physical access to the display and the user interface.

The display, screen fonts, sizes, audio level, and color scheme should all be accessible and easy to digest for the end-user. In fact, a dark display can ruin the entire experience. Any required technology to support the display should incorporate redundancy and timely support to ensure it is always functioning as needed.

Because of this, technology might not always be the best solution, as it might create a barrier to purchase. Carefully consider your potential purchasers and their generational profile. Simplicity may be the best strategy.

The rise in multigenerational households and a 0.6% growth rate in the population of the United States — the lowest rate since 1937 — means the consumer generation gap is narrowing. But multigenerational families and purchase decisions can be a benefit to retailers as they increase their messaging to fit all needs. The key is to take all generational concerns into consideration in your marketing and in-store product displays.

Tom Schneider is an in-store technology strategist at Harbor Retail. Before coming to Harbor, Schneider worked for 13 years at Target and 24 years at Best Buy, bridging the gap between IT and store design.

Schneider created technology experiences for children at Target House, a housing facility associated with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and consulted on the technology platforms to support interactive experiences at Robert J. Ulrich's Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

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