How Age and Life Stage Affect Retail Consumer Loyalty

Leverage insights on these key demographics from our 2018 Retail Customer Loyalty Study to help inform your customer retention and relationship strategies.

As a retailer, you may think of consumer age as it relates to your product selection, branding, marketing and possibly store layout. But did you know that age also affects loyalty? In fact, loyalty evolves and changes over the course of a consumer’s life. For instance, consumers aged 35 to 45 tend to shop around. But consumers aged 55 to 65 tend to look for a retailer that satisfies their needs and then stick with them, becoming repeat customers who depend on the retailer as their preferred provider for that product category.

These are among the key findings from customer.com’s breakthrough Retail Customer Loyalty Study, which offers never-before-published statistics. Here, we take a closer look at the ways age and life stage influence the factors most likely to build loyalty among your customer base.

Three Consumer Shopping Personalities

If you were to buy into the prevailing wisdom in the marketplace, you could easily conclude that customer loyalty is dead and that everyone shops around all the time. The customer.com research suggests otherwise, showing that more than one-third of respondents prefer to consistently shop with the same retailer for particular needs.

In fact, our Retail Customer Loyalty Study identified three primary shopping personalities, among which consumers are divided nearly equally:

  • 35 percent are Loyalists who find a go-to retailer for their needs and stick with them
  • 35 percent are Roamers who always shop around before making a purchase
  • 30 percent are Neutrals who tend to have some go-to retailers for particular purchases, but at other times prefer to shop around

Life Stage Strongly Influences Shopping Personality

Not surprisingly, demographics — especially age and life stage — play a role in determining an individual’s shopping personality. Our customer loyalty research suggests that as consumers pass through different life stages, their shopping personalities change over time. This might be based on the circumstances presented at each stage of life, such as starting a family or nearing retirement.

For instance, teens aged 13 to 17 are twice as likely to be uber-Roamers (consumers who ALWAYS shop around), while consumers just a bit older, aged 18 to 24, are twice as likely to be super-Loyalists (consumers who ALWAYS stick with a particular retailer for specific needs). This could be indicative of the lack of time the older group has to shop, since many are attending college and/or starting their careers. The younger cohort has more disposable time, and shopping on their own is a new, novel experience for many of them.

How Consumer Loyalty Personality Changes by Age Group

The customer loyalty statistics from our study show that consumers aged 18 to 25 are at a peak of loyalty that begins to decline when they hit their late 20s and early 30s. By their late 30s and early 40s, consumers become Roamers and are more likely to prefer to shop around, possibly because of greater financial constraints put upon them as their family grows.

Retail loyalty steadily climbs again as consumers approach their 50s and continues to rise until it peaks again between ages 55 and 65 just before retirement years. As consumers settle into retirement, they again return to being Roamers, perhaps shopping around for the best deals to better fit a set income.

By age 75 and older, consumers report a more Neutral shopping personality, shopping around in some categories but also exclusively shopping a few “go to” retailers.

Age Affects Primary Loyalty Factors

The factors driving loyalty also differ from age group to age group. Consumers aged 13 to 44, for instance, were more likely to list Unique Product Selection as a loyalty driver. Meanwhile, consumers aged 13 to 24 were three times more likely to list Status as an important loyalty driver. The following chart shows the loyalty factors most likely to be cited at different ages.

Most Important Factors That Drive Loyalty by Age Group

Top Loyalty Factors: Value and Price

When consumers were asked to rank their top loyalty factors, Good Value and Lowest Price appeared as the top-ranked factors most frequently across all age groups. These factors were tied as the top-ranked factor among consumers aged 13 to 24. But that changed for older respondents, with Lowest Price ranking higher for consumers aged 35 to 54. Interestingly, the older the consumer, the more likely Good Value was to rank number one.

Comparison of Ranking of Factors: Good Value vs. Lowest Price by Age Group

Aside from Good Value and Lowest Price, there were other factors that were more likely to be important loyalty drivers for specific age groups. For instance, consumers aged 13 to 34 were twice as likely to rank Fair Treatment and Caring Staff as number one. Unique Products were more than twice as likely to be ranked first by consumers aged 25 to 34 and 45 to 54. Feeling a Retailer Is Socially Responsible was twice as likely to be ranked first by consumers aged 25 to 44, while Informative Website was three times as likely to be listed first by this same age group.

Lastly, Easy Purchases were twice as likely and Customer Service was four times as likely to be top-ranked by consumers aged 75 and older.

All Things Equal

Many retailers today find themselves in a near-commodity environment with little differentiation from competitors. The study asked respondents which factors would prompt them to select one retailer over another if both offered identical products, prices and access. Once again, consumer response on which factors would drive loyalty, “all things being equal,” varied depending on age of the respondent.

For instance, consumers aged 13 to 24 were three times as likely to list Shopping the Retailer Is a Status Symbol as a “tie-breaking” factor that would induce loyalty.

Factors Most Likely to Prompt Consumer to Select One Retailer Over Another When Price, Product and Access Are Equal

The study identified two main categories of loyalty factors:

  • Passion Factors, which are more intangible, such as Trust, Status Symbol or Perception of a Caring Staff
  • Practical Factors, which tend to be more tangible, such as Ability to Look Up Past Transactions, Make an Easy Purchase or Easy Returns.

In general, Loyalists tended to put more preference toward Passion Factors, while Roamers leaned more heavily toward Practical Factors. In looking at the results from a life stage perspective, it appears that respondents tended to prefer a combination of both Passion and Practical Factors regardless of age.

Is it generational or life stage?

It’s not clear from the baseline study whether the differences in loyalty among different age groups are generational or life stage. In other words, is a customer’s shopping personality driven by whether they are, for instance, a millennial or baby boomer? Or is it driven more by  the typical circumstances and life events that tend to occur within certain age groups. The truth is likely some combination of both. As the study continues year over year, generational differences over time will be tracked.

Different Retailers Earn More Loyalty at Each Age

Survey respondents were asked to name the retailers that they exclusively shopped for particular needs. Surprisingly, many of the retailers listed were the same across multiple age groups, with Walmart, Amazon and Target most often listed across all ages. There was one notable exception: Costco replaced Target in the top three retailers for consumers aged 75 and older. Costco made the top 10 for all age groups, while Macy’s and eBay also ranked high for all age groups.

JCPenney was in the top 10 for consumers aged 35 and older. For younger consumers under age 24, Nike and American Eagle appeared in the top 10. But these two retailers didn’t appear in the top 10 or even top 20 for the older age categories.

Among grocers, Kroger ranked high for consumers aged 13 to 54, Aldi ranked in the top 10 for consumers aged 25 to 34, and Safeway ranked high for consumers 65 and older.

The Top 10 Retailers to Which Consumers Are Most Loyal, by Age

What These Customer Loyalty Statistics Mean for Retailers

The factors that build customer loyalty and drive engagement among different age groups are varied and require support from all areas of the business. Retail loyalty programs that sit solely in Marketing and focus on points and prizes will move the dial with some customers, but fail to address the bigger picture of what will drive loyalty among different customer segments. The whole enterprise must be focused on delivering on the factors that drive loyalty to build truly authentic customer loyalty.

Retailers that have found themselves with a customer base whose median age has grown older over time will need to discern the specific loyalty drivers of their aspirational audiences and deploy strategies to deliver on them if they are to attract younger audiences. By the same token, retailers who want to expand into older customer segments must learn and act upon what is important to those segments if they are to effectively attract them.

For more details on factors driving customer loyalty, get a free download of the first release from customer.com’s 2018 Retail Customer Loyalty Study. 

We’re excited to share results from our new Retail Customer Loyalty Study. However, helping retailers build customer loyalty is nothing new to CCG. For more than 40 years, our guiding mission has been to help our clients build longer, stronger, more profitable customer relationships. Whether your goal is to build a loyalty program, crunch data to better understand your audience, develop compelling creative or find innovative ways to drive retention and revenue, we have retail marketing solutions to fit your needs. Schedule a free meeting with one of our retail marketing consultants today to learn more.