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Shopper generational divide presents new challenges to retailers

  • Young shoppers show surprising preference for town centre shopping
  • Older generation less open to paying for items with ethical credentials/product provenance
  • Growing generation of online food shoppers poses challenge for supermarkets
  • Young shoppers receptive to buying groceries from
  • Amazon Prime Shoppers name ASOS as the online brand they would most like to see take High Street stores

 New research reveals fundamental differences of attitudes among UK shoppers of different ages which do not conform to conventional stereotypes.

Leading property consultancy, Colliers International, commissioned research from YouGov to track the shopping habits and preferences among 3,000 shoppers aged from “18 to 80”.

Colliers Head of UK Retail, Mark Phillipson, reports: “These findings confound a lot of the stereotypical attitudes we have about shoppers of different generations.

“For example, we may think young people are all avidly shopping online but they are actually some of the strongest supporters of the town centre shopping experience."

Carried out as part of the firm's annual Midsummer Retail Report, the survey asked people to name their preferred shopping environment and 78% of 18-24 year-olds named the town centre - well ahead of the 55% of over-45s who find going into town appealing.

Phillipson comments: “Whatever challenges that our town centres currently face, it's clear that if they can get their offer right then there will be no shortage of willing shoppers."

The research also looked at attitudes to online food shopping. At present, 26% of over 45s buy groceries online but this jumps to 42% among 35-44 year-olds.

The growing proportion who will in future do their food shopping online is, Phillipson says, “a major headache for the supermarket operators" because at present it is not a profit-making area of their business.

He comments: “As people who are currently in their teens, grow up, settle down and start a family they will have a much greater propensity to get their food online than thirtysomethings currently do.

"The supermarket chains need to find a way to make this part of their business more profitable. We could see higher delivery charges but which operator is going to blink first and surrender competitive advantage to its rivals?"

The dominant supermarket operators may also face new competition. Of the 18-34 year-olds canvassed, 54% said they found attractive the prospect of sourcing their food shopping through Amazon Prime.

The debate about single-use plastic and more recently concerns over the integrity of ready-made vegan/vegetarian meals ingredients has put ethical credentials and product provenance centre stage in the retail and food sectors.

The survey asked people if they would pay more for goods that had validated ethical credentials and/or a clear provenance. This produced the starkest generational split in responses. Among the 18-34-year-old group, 64% said they would be prepared to pay more for these credentials but that proportion falls to 47% among the over-45s.

Phillipson observes: “People of over 35 may have grown up with David Attenborough on the TV but his environmental message does not seem to have influenced them as much as the younger generation.

“However, this trend may present an opportunity for retailers particularly as those who wanted this assurance said they'd pay 5-20% more to get it. Retailers are used to prices being forced down but this may be one instance where they have scope to rise.”

The research also highlights the increased integration of online and physical shopping offers. People were asked which online brand they would most like to open physical stores. Responses from the 18-34-year-old segment dominated the feedback to this question with ASOS being named as the offer that 35% of respondents would like to see on their High Street followed by Amazon (26%) and Boohoo (22%).

Matthew Thompson, Head of Retail Strategy, “The research – of which these findings are just a snapshot – has provided fascinating insights into shopper attitudes and how they are likely to influence the retail sector over time. 

“Of course, our attitudes change depending on our ‘age and stage’ but this illustrates that successful retailing is very much a moving target which we all must track.”

Related Experts

Mark Phillipson


Retail Capital Markets

London - West End

Mark is the former Head of Colliers International's UK Retail Division and also a Director in the UK Investment Team.

He has around 30 years' experience in the sector covering retail agency, development and investment.

Colliers Retail Agency, Investment, and Lease Advisory teams advise a wide range of occupiers and investors, High Street shops, shopping centres, superstores, retail warehousing, and leisure property throughout central London and the UK.   

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