Gen X is often forgotten between baby boomers and millennials, but they are a vastly important generation with distinct consumer behaviors and immense buying power. With their annual expenditures averaging over $80,000, Gen Xers comprise a significant market for retailers.
In this guide, we will explore Gen X shopping habits, all backed by studies, as well as how you can adapt your store management and marketing strategies to cater to their preferences and capture their buying potential.
Who Is Gen X?
Gen X is the generation of people born between 1965 to 1980, making them 43 to 58 years old as of this year. They are often known as the latchkey generation, as their generation saw many dual-income households for the first time in such prevalence.
While Gen X is often a forgotten group, they do have important distinguishing characteristics, including a desire for stability as a result of a lifetime wrought with rapid technological, societal, and economic changes, a more capitalist bent, a strong desire for work-life balance, a sense of individualism, a hyper-attentive parenting style, and a cynical, disaffected nature.
Gen X Consumer Behaviors
Gen X consumer behaviors are extremely important for retailers to understand if they want to capture their enormous purchasing power and turn them into brand loyalists. Keep reading for a breakdown of Gen X shopping habits, all backed by timely statistics, so you can understand what makes Gen X tick.
They Spend the Most
According to a study from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Gen X has the highest average annual expenditure, outspending every other generation by at least $20,000 in 2021. This means that Gen X is a generation of spenders (and you should be taking advantage of that).
They Desire Brand Neutrality
Where younger generations have started to demand that brands take ethical stances and adopt a brand ethic, this is not the case with the majority of Gen X. In fact, 38% say companies shouldn’t engage with social issues, 26% aren’t sure, and only 35% believe companies should take a stance on social issues.
Brick and Mortar Is Where Discovery Happens …
While there are disparities in the preferred versus actual channels where Gen X discovers products (as we will look at below), Gen X discovers new products most often in physical retail stores. In fact, in a HubSpot survey, they found that 43% of Gen X reported that they discovered a new product in-store over a three-month period.
… But They Prefer to Find Products via Search
While the actual place that Gen X reported to discover new products was in physical retail stores, 58% said that they prefer to find new products online via search and that is the channel on which they experience product discovery most often. In fact, even when compared to actual channels of product discovery in a three-month period, 40% of Gen X reported they had discovered new products through online search, placing it only three points behind in-store discovery.
At the end of the day, Gen X is a truly omnichannel consumer and they don’t prefer or use a single channel dramatically more than another. To capitalize on all the places they are spending your money, you will need to be an omnichannel retailer with a strong brand presence across the board.
TV Ads Still Hold Sway
Despite television ads falling to the wayside for many groups, they still hold a lot of power among Gen X when it comes to learning about new products. In fact, 41% of Gen X said they had discovered new products through TV ads during a three-month period in 2023. 55% say that television ads are where they discover new products most often, only slightly behind social media and search engines.
They Are Glued to Their Phones
If you can believe it, Gen X is actually one of the generations most glued to their phones, with the average Gen Xer spending three hours every day on their mobile devices. It is unsurprising then that two-thirds of Gen Xers say they use their phone most often to make online purchases They are Heavily Influenced by Social Media compared to a computer or tablet.
Social media is typically associated with younger generations like millennials and Gen Z, but HubSpot found that Gen X spends at least two hours scrolling on social media every day. Nine in 10 of Gen Xers are social media users, with Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube topping the list of most popular platforms.
Not only that, but they put trust in the people and brands that they follow, with 18% of them admitting to having purchased a product through an in-app shop during a three-month period. An additional 18% say the purchase was made based on an influencer recommendation.
In-store > Online
While online is becoming more dominant than brick-and-mortar shopping for other generations, for Gen X, there is still a strong preference to shop in physical retail stores. In fact, 73% of Gen Xers prefer to purchase products in-store, 53% favor online marketplaces like Amazon, and only about one in four like to go directly through a company’s website.
Quality Trumps Price
Even as the economy continues to face uncertainty and inflation rises, Gen X is still prioritizing quality over price in their purchasing decisions. A staggering 82% of the generation placed quality as their most important consideration when deciding if and what to buy.
How to Appeal to Gen X Spending Habits
With an understanding of Gen X spending habits, it’s time to look at how you can adapt your retail business to meet their needs to turn them into customers.
Try Social Media Marketing
As we saw, social media is very powerful in guiding Gen X purchases. Tap into this Gen X online shopping habit by beefing up your social media campaigns and getting on the right platforms.
You should also harness the power of social media influencers with a Gen X follower demographic by reaching out to them to create partnerships. Whether by simply sending them your products and hoping they use and recommend them or creating a formal contract where the influencer makes a product post, getting your products into influencer hands and in front of their audiences will help you appeal to Gen X.
Here are some resources to help you get started harnessing the power of influencer marketing to appeal to Gen X:
- Influencer Marketing Campaigns for Small Business Promotion
- Social Media Marketing Statistics to Power Your Strategy
Boost Your SEO
Search engines are also an incredibly popular avenue for Gen X to discover new products or brands and make purchases. In order to make your brand and products findable in search engines like Google, you will need to boost your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. This comes down to optimized product descriptions and photos as well as the language and design you use throughout your site.
Use our SEO resources to get started:
- SEO for Ecommerce Websites: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide
- How to Create an SEO Content Marketing Plan
- How to Rank Higher on Google: Small Business Strategies
Look to local SEO practices if you want your immediate community to be able to find you and make visits to your store. For a brick-and-mortar-loving generation like Gen X, focusing on local SEO will be especially effective.
Place Local Television Ads
While many have completely stopped watching ads as streaming services have taken hold of the entertainment market, Gen X has not and television advertisements remain a key area where they learn about new products. If you are trying to get your product in front of Gen X, consider advertising it on a television ad.
Get started creating and getting your ad on television with our guides to TV advertising:
- Everything You Need to Know About TV Advertising Costs
- How to Get a Commercial on TV for Your Business
- Best TV Commercials & Why They Work
Improve Your Mobile Shop
As we saw, phones trump computers and tablets when it comes to where Gen X makes online purchases. With that in mind, you should really focus on how your ecommerce shop looks and performs on mobile phones. Many of the top ecommerce platforms will let you view your shop on mobile so you can experiment with it and edit it for ease of use.
Things you should look out for when optimizing for mcommerce are:
- Checkout optimization
- Product image sizing
- Menu options formatting
- Overall ease of use
- Loading speeds
- Visibility of search bar/menu bar
Learn more about mcommerce and its rising influence with our guides:
- Top Ecommerce Trends
- Checkout Optimization Tips for Small Businesses
- Omnichannel Statistics for Retailers
Enhance Your In-store Merchandising
In-store shopping is still the most common way that Gen X discovers new products. Make it easy for them to find products in your store by enhancing your merchandising with product displays, a great store layout, and other visual merchandising techniques that you can explore in our comprehensive set of merchandising guides:
- What Is Merchandising? Definition, Benefits & Cost (+ Video Guide)
- Visual Merchandising Strategies to Improve Your Store
- What Is Cross Merchandising? Techniques & Examples
- Tips & Ideas for Your Retail Store Window Displays
- Planning Your Retail Store Layout
Improve Your In-store Experience
Along with boosting product visibility with great merchandising, you should capitalize on Gen X’s in-store shopping preferences by providing an engaging in-store experience. This means offering great customer service, incorporating new retail technologies, and managing your store so that it is always staffed, stocked, and clean.
Learn more about how you can improve your in-store experience with our guides:
- Great Fitting Room Design Tips
- Retail Customer Service Tips & Examples
- Store Management: Managing a Retail Shop for Success
- Retail Customer Experience Trends
Focus on Unique, Quality Sourcing
Interestingly enough, quality is the top factor in Gen X purchasing decisions. This means that if you are trying to appeal to this generation, you will also need to make quality your top factor when sourcing products. While you don’t want to throw price to the wind (it is still an important consideration for Gen Xers) if you can choose a slightly more expensive product that has higher quality, you should.
You might even consider creating a private label line to cut down on costs and have more control over quality decisions in product development.
Get connected with suppliers and learn more about how to source the best products for your business with our product sourcing guides:
- The Ultimate Guide to Product Sourcing
- Best Wholesale Suppliers to Source Products
- How to Find Wholesale Suppliers for Your Retail Business
Gen X Consumer Behaviors Frequently Asked Questions
Click through the questions below to get answers to some of your most frequently asked Gen X shopping habits questions.
Some top Gen X shopping habits are their continued preference for shopping in-store despite their increasing use of social commerce and web searches, the power of television ads, their desire for quality (even over price), and their overall high spending compared to other generations.
Some common Gen X stereotypes include their self-reliance and ensuing capitalist sensibilities, a desire for stability, and their high-earner status.
Focusing on enhancing our in-store experience, improving your SEO so you are discoverable in searches, working with influencers, and sourcing for quality over price are all going to be marketing strategies that appeal to Gen X.
The majority of Gen X wants brands to remain neutral rather than pushing an ethical narrative, they want to be able to find them and their products in search, and they want an engaging in-store experience (think: strong merchandising, good customer service, and in-store tech).
While Gen X doesn’t get as much attention as boomers and millennials, they are an extremely important group that retailers need to account for if they want to stay competitive and capitalize on their tremendous spending power. With the Gen X shopping habits outlined above—including everything from shopping channels to how they choose between brands—plus our tips on how you can appeal to these habits, you have all the tools you need to turn Gen X into customers.