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WalMart, Baby Boomer Lifestyles & Future Innovations in Retail
Ken Gronbach writes on CNBC.com that “Aging Baby Boomers Could Be Big Trouble for WalMart.” If true, it’s truly disruptive demographics as the world’s largest company is thought to be stumbling because its baby boomer customer is aging.
Gronbach notes that despite WalMart’s (NYSE:WMT) strategy to be more efficient (by adjusting its world-renowned supply chain strategy), more customer-centric with its Project Impact initiative, more top-of-mind with an expenditure of 1.6 billion dollars in advertising, which makes it the 5th advertiser, the distribution giant achieved less than 2% growth over the last three quarters of 2009. Why? Gronbach suggests it’s because WalMart is chasing a declining market – that of baby boomers. Older and consuming less, the baby-boomer consumer who made WalMart successful is perhaps its Achilles’ heel today. He hypothesizes that trying to retain baby boomers is diverting WalMart’s attention from the future – younger consumers of Generations X and Y.
Shopper and shopping cart evolution
Demography is more than numbers – behind curves and projections, there are lifestyles and behaviors. Before WalMart or anyone else throws the baby boomers out with the bathwater, a few demographic realities need to be considered:
Mind the Gap – baby boomers coined the generation gap to emphasize how different they were from their parents. Today, the gap between parent and child is less than we think. Baby boomer parents are more likely to be “friends” with their children. Mother-daughter shopping teams scour malls and stores for styles and great buys. Despite the economic downturn, baby boomers, albeit older, remain in charge of most of the country’s income and are key influencers on how their parents and older children shop.
Alone at home – the composition of the household determines consumption. The fastest growing household in America no longer consists of more than 2 children, two parents, a dog and a van. America is increasingly an experience of solitude. According to Pew Research, only 5% of Americans lived alone in 1950 – today that percentage has tripled to around 15%. Nearly one in five baby boomer households has one. And, for those over 65, 30% live alone. But wait — while age may be correlated with living alone, even the youngest Americans between the ages of 30 and 49, in prime viewing and consumer times, report an unprecedented rate of around 10% living alone. . Smaller households mean smaller buying behaviors. Lifestyle, not life stage, can tell us more about what is happening in retail. Buying in bulk for a one-person table makes little sense at any age.
Boomerang Love – as with most socio-economic trends, a number of conflicting factors appear simultaneously. The country’s economic slide may temper the extent to which young consumers are drifting away from their baby boomer parents. Pew Research reports that 13% of parents of adult children hear the sound of large adult feet in the home. The number of 18-29 year olds ‘going home’ has increased – their baby boomer parents are unlikely to make them shop alone if they cannot afford to live on their own.
Overview and Innovations
While demographics are said to be fate, consumers no longer behave according to the life stage models that many businesses rely on. Research conducted at MIT AgeLab indicates that traditional approaches to generational marketing need to be tempered with an understanding of the changing context of life, new technologies, and the realization that consumer attitudes and expectations remain dynamic throughout life. life. AgeLab’s research on consumer engagement and retail suggests that the future will be different and likely to be smaller as well. Smaller households may force product manufacturers and retailers to rethink package sizes, reconsider the new definition of convenience for home-alone households, and rethink the store experience and formats for home-alone households. shopping safari consumers of a mother or an adult boomer daughter.
WalMart’s gigantic market size has been achieved because it is a learning organization. Elephants are intelligent creatures and sometimes when they have to please a crowd they have been known to dance. Don’t discount WalMart – or baby boomers – just yet.
Coughlin, J. “Disruptive Demographics, Design & the Future of Everyday Environments,” Design Management Review, Spring 2007.
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