OPINION16 November 2015

How digital devices are changing the path to purchase

Opinion Technology

Digital ease may vary across the generations but it is altering the way in which products are bought across every age group says SSI’s Pete Cape.


We are all digital communicators. Yet a new SSI study on today’s digital citizen reveals distinct differences in how generations live their lives in a digital world and the impact of these changes on the consumer path to purchase. The study reports on three distinct digital generations:

  1. Baby Boomers or Digital Immigrants had to learn to be digital as adults
  2. GenX or Digital Pioneers grew up learning each new technology as it came on the market
  3. Millennials or Digital Natives have never known anything else but a digital world.

Differences in the generations were obvious in almost every aspect of the SSI study. For example, 80% of Boomers say they keep in touch with friends online, a percentage that increases through the generations. One in three Millennials say the only way they communicate with friends and family is online.

The difference in generations becomes even starker when we look at meeting new people. Only 4% of Boomers say the only way they meet new people is online, but 21% of Millennials say this is the case. To a Boomer Airbnb may mean bed and breakfast, but to a Millennial it’s a way to make a new friend.

Our practical life is online as well. We do our grocery shopping online ( 30% of Boomers do this, 41% of Millennials), our banking online (over 80% in every generation say they do this). More and more aspects of our lives are becoming contactless: contactless shopping, banking, even entertainment. Forty-two percent of Boomers say they watch live sports online and 58% of Millennials say they do this.

One-to-one communication is being replaced with one-to-many as we relentlessly share experiences and take in advice and opinions.

How do these changes impact the consumer path to purchase?

If we consider the path to purchase as having four distinct stages – information gathering, brand shortlisting, the purchase itself and then post-purchase rationalising – results from the Digital Citizen Study show that mobile devices impact every stage.

When the purchase item is fashion clothing for example, the Web is a major source of information for every generation, but predominantly so for Millennials.  And their means to access that information is mobile, with 72% of Millennials saying they use a mobile device to gather information and we see the same pattern at each stage of the path to purchase.

What does this mean for retailers?

Increasingly retailers are leveraging the power of mobile in the buying experience.  For example, in the H&M clothing store in Times Square, New York, it is now possible to make a purchase directly from the changing room. With an understanding of how people reach out for opinions and affirmation of a purchase decision from friends via mobile devices while trying on clothes, it makes sense to close the timing gap between the consumer’s decision to buy and closing the sale. H&M’s changing room sales are in line with today’s digital behaviour – the purchase follows intense advice and opinion-sharing, but the point of purchase is contactless (entirely digital) and immediate.

Retail is just one of many industries for which the path to purchase is being impacted by changing consumer habits and the move to mobile.  There are huge challenges and huge opportunities for marketers to come to grips with the way generations communicate today and what that means for the consumer’s purchase journey.

Note: approximately 6170 people in six countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany and Japan) were interviewed online in September 2015 using SSI online sample for the Digital Citizen Study.

Pete Cape is director, Global Knowledge Management, at SSI


8 years ago

What blunt generalisations. So "Baby Boomers or Digital Immigrants had to learn to be digital as adults". Here was I thinking that people like Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, Donald Davies et. al. were Baby Boomers and sort of knew a thing or two about digital. I must be mistaken. As Vint Cerf famously said at a conference, when an unknowing attendee challenged his credential for talking about the digital world due to his age, and after Vint had briefly discussed the role his generation have had in basically creating the building block of the digital ecosystem ... 'and in our spare time we put a man on the moon, so you had better get a hurry on!'.

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8 years ago | 1 like

It’s great to see real research behind generational retail attitudes, rather than speculation. As the CEO of a leading EMEA marketing network, I see successful brands moving to embrace new technology to provide multiple routes to information and purchase, as well as shifting from ‘push’ marketing to providing advice along the journey guiding people to make the right purchasing decision.

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