Middle-class shoppers spend more, but retailers fall short

grocery shopper
Middle-class customers expect more from retailers.

Despite higher spending levels, a new survey reveals virtually all middle-class consumers think retailers aren’t doing enough to meet their needs.

According to the "State of the Middle-Class Shopper" survey from tech-focused financial services company Bread Financial, 50% of surveyed middle-class consumers say they are spending more than they were last year, with 91% saying they at least somewhat agree they are focused more on their needs than their wants. 

However, 98% of respondents believe retailers could be doing more to better meet their needs. This ranges from offering better prices (58%) to offering more sales and promotions (47%).

[Read more: Online retailers disappoint customers – here’s how]

Beyond incentives, respondents also ranked improving or starting a loyalty program (37%) and better customer service (37%) as top priorities. 

Middle-class purchase drivers

Close to half (47%) of respondents said brand loyalty motivates purchases, but the survey also uncovered generational differences in purchase drivers:

Millennial (26%) and Gen Z (26%) respondents are more than twice as likely as baby boomer respondents (11%) to say they want brands to offer a mobile app or improve the app currently available.

A leading one-in-five (19%) Gen Z respondents want brands to increase social media giveaways and promotions, while 17% say brands can improve their overall social media content. 

Younger generations also want more options across the board: Millennial (16%) and Gen Z (17%) respondents are four times as likely as baby boomer respondents (4%) to want additional payment options, such as a store credit card or buy now, pay later (BNPL). 

Millennial (20%) and Gen Z (22%) respondents are also twice as likely as surveyed baby boomers (11%) to want more specialty services, like personal shopping or buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS). 

"Middle class shoppers across generations all share a desire for better service, better deals and better loyalty programs," said Nick Antonelli, chief marketing officer at Bread Financial. "Looking at the rising generations of the middle-class shopper, if Gen Z and millennials are in your customer base, meet them where they are, with attainable – yet aspirational – products, payment options and engaging digital experiences." 

The study included two phases of quantitative research. Phase 1 leveraged Bread Financial’s proprietary consumer tracking study, which is fielded monthly to 2,000 U.S. consumers, with quotas on age and gender to reflect the general population. The study leveraged aggregated data from October, November and December 2023 and included 5,819 consumers. 

The Phase 2 quantitative survey was fielded on Jan. 15-26, 2024 to 2,289 consumers with quotas on age, gender and income. 

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