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Gen Z vs. baby boomers: How two generations shop store aisles

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Understanding how different generations navigate the aisles when shopping for groceries provides invaluable insights into shoppers’ evolving preferences. Over the course of two years, we conducted research on how shoppers say they make their way through a grocery store—do they take the time to browse, walk through every aisle or take the quickest route to find what they need?

Analyzing the survey results of two generations at opposite ends of the age spectrum—Generation Z and baby boomers—revealed several notable trends and insights.

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Aisle Navigation

The data shows a decline in Gen Z’s tendency to go up and down every aisle, from 17% in Q1 2022 to 9% in Q4 2023. Going up and down most aisles is a more popular choice, with a peak at 29% in Q3 2022.

Shopping most aisles is even more popular amongst baby boomers as shown in the chart below. Throughout the survey period, the number one and most consistent preference among baby boomers is to go up and down most aisles, with percentages ranging from 30% to 34%.

Takeaway: This could indicate that while Gen Z shoppers may not be thorough aisle-by-aisle shoppers, they have a tendency to explore beyond their immediate shopping list. Similarly, baby boomers prefer a thorough but not exhaustive look through the store, likely targeting aisles that are relevant to their shopping list.

Efficiency versus browsing

From Q1 2022 to Q1 2023, Gen Z’s preference for taking the quickest route through the store steadily increased, before becoming less stable in subsequent quarters and falling to 23% in Q4 last year. Meanwhile, taking the time to browse and see what’s new/interesting has remained relatively consistent as the second-highest preference throughout the entire period with a large uptick in Q4 2023.

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For baby boomers, the second most popular strategy after going up and down most aisles is taking the quickest route through the store to get in and out quickly, with percentages hovering around 24% to 30%. When it comes to browsing, a consistent group (ranging from 13% to 17%) enjoys taking their time to browse the store to see what's new or interesting.

Takeaway: While efficiency is important to Gen Z shoppers, there is a growing interest in taking the time to explore aisles and discover new products in stores. Baby boomers seem to view shopping as a leisure activity, but prioritize taking the quickest route through a store when needed.

For baby boomers, going up and down every aisle is consistently the least preferred method, with percentages ranging from 8% to 11%. The least popular approach among Gen Zers is "dart through the store to find what you need," i.e., moving quickly and actively searching for specific items. This approach consistently has the lowest percentage of Gen Z respondents choosing it across all quarters.

Takeaway: These findings suggest that most baby boomers do not feel the need to explore every part of the store and Gen Zers rarely see a need to actively search for items versus following a predetermined path.

Meet shoppers where they are

While much of the discourse around evolving shopper behavior focuses on digitally-savvy younger consumers, it's important not to overlook the purchasing power of baby boomers. Americans aged 65 and older were responsible for 22% of spending in 2022, the largest share since record-keeping began in 1972, according to the Labor Department’s survey of consumer expenditures. At the same time, Gen Z is starting to become an influential force shaping the future of retail.

Although Gen Zers and baby boomers exhibit a variety of navigation behaviors, both show a tendency to alternate between seeking efficiency and a desire to explore the aisles. Engaging in-store displays and product showcases that enhance the shopping experience are therefore as critical as strategic product placements and clear signage that cater to efficient shoppers. By recognizing and adapting to these diverse aisle navigation preferences, brands and retailers can create a more tailored and satisfying shopping experience for different generations.

Check out our infographic, “Meet the shopper of the future” to learn more about generational grocery shopping patterns.

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