Understanding Generations of your Employees and their Effect on Retail Sales

generationsThere is no question that each new generation operates from a different mindset than all others. Economy, environment, and expectation all play roles in how we operate in the world. When it comes to retail, this generation gap is actually stifling premium brand sales. There is a disconnect between the salesperson’s and customer’s approach to buying, and it creates a lot of missed opportunities.

To understand this, let’s look at a brief description of the generations in question:

  • Silent Generation: 1925-1945. Those who grew up during the Great Depression know what it’s like to worry about money. Parents of this generation had to make the most out of every piece of clothing, food, and any other purchase or handmade piece. Retail was born from this era. Premium brands surfaced during this time, and people understood that premium = best. People scrimped and saved to afford luxury purchases. The brands themselves had to convince thrifty customers to buy their products. This generation came to understand that more money equaled better value and quality.
  • Baby Boomers: 1946-1964. This generation has worked hard their whole lives and is taking longer to retire. Their parents came from nothing, so Baby Boomers strive to have more than their parents. They also invented “Keeping up with the Joneses.” This generation truly identifies good, better, and best, and is most interested in the best.
  • Generation X: 1965 – 1979. This generation has been exposed to marketing since it was born, and it has an extremely opposite view of buying from Baby Boomers. When watching commercials, this generation focuses more on deconstructing marketing techniques than on the product. Experiences rank higher in value than tangible goods. These folks don’t trust claims about goods or services and in fact avoid premium brands. What captures the hearts and loyalty of this group are price promotions, not brands.
  • Generation Y/Millenials: 1980 – 2000. The idea of good, better, and best has fallen away with this generation. Nike isn’t “the best” brand of shoes – it’s just shoes. They aren’t choosing premium coffee, they just get coffee from Caribou. Furthermore, impersonal – or even poor – service isn’t an issue. This generation finds store brands to be of excellent quality, and they buy it for the price. Some even look down on premium brands because they see them as marked-up items of equal quality to less expensive options.

Why this Matters
So how does all of this contribute to retail sales? Let’s say a Baby Boomer comes into a store looking to buy a winter coat. The Millenial salesperson – who buys disposable fashion, can’t afford quality, and is content with the illusion of quality – points the customer towards the sales rack. The Boomer could care less about price; she wants the best. The Millenial is not adept at one-on-one conversation because he grew up with texting and instant messaging. So rather than ask the customer what she is looking for (the best), the salesperson assumes the customer makes decisions the same way he does.

Similarly, if a Boomer is trying to sell a Gen Xer a radio, he assumes the premium brand speaks for itself. The customer, however, needs to be convinced of the value – she needs to know that in the end, radio A is less expensive than radio B because overall, it will last longer and work better.

Premium brands are being undersold because different generations have separate understandings of what “premium” means. The younger your salesperson, the less likely he or she is to engage in a real conversation about what the customer wants. This will also come across as poor service to the “older” customers. They are the very ones who care about good service and they have the means to upgrade.

Fixing it
Fortunately, this can be solved with good training. Understand where your salespeople are coming from. What can they afford? Are they and their friends living on their own or with their parents? Do they have kids? Find what motivates their buying decisions. Engage them in training on good, better, and best. If they can understand why the premium item is the highest quality, they can sell it better. If they understand that the cheap jacket will fall apart after three months, but the more expensive jacket will last three years, they can see the latter is actually the better deal.

Of course, you also want to get everyone on the same page when it comes to customer service. Be specific about what this entails. Give clear examples of questions they need to be asking and how to determine what the customer wants. In some cases, you may have to literally teach them how to have a conversation that is professional and productive.

With a clear understanding of what they are selling, who they are selling to, and how the premium brand will fit each generation’s needs, your salespeople will be able to move those higher-ticket products off your shelves.

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The information in this article was derived from Bob Phibb’s “The Retail Generation Gap – Why Premium Brands are Stuck.”