Understanding Gen X vs Millennials: Buyer Behavior Explained

Jun 13, 2024



What’s the deal with the chatter on Gen Xers vs the Millennial Generation? TikToker @bryaninheelee released a video that’s been stitched so many times by Gen X TikTokers. Bryan starts his video asking, “Who let Gen X off the hook? Why aren’t we talking (expletive) about those guys?” @thedadbodveteran and @therealslimsherri responded with excellent descriptions of the latchkey generation, born between 1965 and 1980. It’s an adult generation that’s used to being left alone and ignored – and would like it to stay that way (if you’re offended by swear words, don’t open the videos!). So, how do we go about understanding Gen X vs Millennials?

Notwithstanding this social media war between the generations, there are marked differences in the spending habits among Generation X vs Millennials. According to this study by the World Economic Forum, these two generations spent the most money in 2021, with Gen X leading the pack at $83,357 per annum, followed by millennials at $69,061 per annum. Top three spending categories are housing, healthcare, and personal insurance. The WEF goes on to posit that Gen Xers spend so much because they are classified as the “sandwich generation” – they support their aging baby boomer parents and children of their own.

In other words, people born between 1965 and 1996 are a prime consumer segment. In this week’s blog, we talk about the differences between Generation X vs Millennial Consumers. What do they buy, why do they buy, how do they buy, and where. Having this data handy will help you guide your marketing strategies and product selection accordingly to appeal to your target consumer.

No, this blog isn’t meant to promote any sort of ageism; on the contrary, we’re here to elucidate the sociological and psychological differences in these consumer segments in order to help you communicate with your demographics better, and appeal to their buying tendencies with more accuracy.

Remember, even though Gen Xers and Millennials have the highest spending statistics across the 4 generations (not counting prior generations to the boomers and Generation Alpha, who are still kids!), their priorities are different, and so too do their consumer habits differ.

Read on to understand Millennials and Gen Xers, and figure out how to change your tactics accordingly.

If this article interests you, you might be interested in How to Market to Gen Z in 2024!

Generation X vs Millennials: Understanding Generational Differences

The Typical Gen X-Ers

In spite of Gen X’s financial spending, it’s actually the smallest demographic. In the United States at the end of 2022, there were only 65 million Gen Xers, as opposed to 72 million millennials and 69 million baby boomers. Like the silent generation before the boomers, they’re the “in between generation” – sandwiched between the Vietnam and Regan eras of American boomers and the Obama era of US millennials. They have lived through the dotcom bust, the financial crisis of 2008, and the Great Recession.

The financial priorities of these “latchkey kids” include supporting aging parents and their kids, who might be as old as young millennials. According to this article by Parents, Gen X parents have moved away from an authoritarian disciplinary parenting style, and try to be more involved in their children’s lives. Holly Schiff, PsyD, says that “(Gen X parents) support their children’s individualism and making their own choices. They encourage their children to be more independent and try new things.” Nevertheless, Gen X parents tend to follow the helicopter approach to parenting, which means their kids often lack emotional resilience and independence.

Perhaps all of this is a function of how Gen X grew up. Britannica writes about the history of the Gen X kid, who was often home alone after school. Both parents worked, and Gen Xers grew up with cable television widely available in every home, which is why they’re also known as the MTV Generation. They experienced a changing world order, with the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s; the end of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; the first successful space shuttle flight in 1981; the US Government’s War on Drugs; and the hike in college tuition rates, which resulted in higher student loan debt than any other generation. Many people in this generation were forced to move back home to live with their parents because of financial difficulties.

They’re often described as slackers and whiners; this Reddit thread describes them as cynical, reclusive, apathetic, sarcastic, and highly independent.

How does this tie in with their buyer behavior? Keep reading; we’ll get to that later in this blog.

The Typical Millennials

Millennials are people born between 1981 and 1996. Their average annual expenditure capped at $69,061 in 2021. Millennials lived through 9/11, the 2008 market crash, and the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve lived through severe real estate and stock market fluctuations, and like Gen X before them, they carry huge student loan debt balances.

First uncovered and identified in the book Generations (1991) by William Strauss and Neil Howe, millennials are the largest demographic in the USA, surpassing even the Baby Boomers. Howe and Strauss noted in their book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation that this age group has “never known a year in which America doesn’t get richer” – a mindset that was put to an abrupt stop with the September 11, 2001 attacks. Add to this the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Great Recession of 2007-2009, and you must admit – millennials have had their foundations shaken quite a bit.

Millennials came of age during the rise of the Internet; they’re the very first generation that had immediate access to computers, cell phones, and smartphones from a very young age. They’re the first ever digital generation, and highly adaptable to new technologies, as well as the first generation that has received the most formal education. They’re the main drivers of technology; think of famous millennials that have changed the world irrevocably: Mark Zuckerberg, Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mark Krieger, and TikTok developer Zhang Yiming.

Britannica reports that millennials are starting families later in life, and are the most-educated generation. In fact, more millennial women than men have bachelor’s degrees (or even higher) – a trend that began with Gen X, who in 2001 was the first generation to surpass men in educational attainment. The increase in education levels is observed all over the world, and isn’t just an American thing, either.

BuzzFeed released a fun quiz asking millennials if common stereotypes about their generation were true or not. Here are the results:

  • 74% of millennials do want to settle down and get married
  • 76% of millennials can not afford to buy their own homes
  • 66% of millennials love their avocados!
  • 62% of millennials are focused on a fulfilling life outside of work
  • 69% of millennials promise that they could survive a day without their phones
  • 86% of millennials swear they don’t really care about follows and likes on social media
  • 52% of millennials do not live with their parents (although, Pew Research Center reported in July 2020 that 52% of millennials did in fact live at home with their parents)

They also swear that they do work hard and are not lazy (56%), and that they do vote (75%).

Okay, now that we understand the differences between millennials and Generation X, let’s get into what makes their consumer behavior so different.

Gen X-ers vs Millennials: Purchasing Behaviors and Preferences

Research shows that Generation X and millennials are quite different, probably because of how they grew up.

Salsify produced the following statistics about millennial shoppers:

  • Millennials spend less on housing, cars, and retirement compared to previous generations.
  • Their spending focuses on experiences, travel, paying off debt, sustainability-focused businesses, and wellness.
  • The 2008 economic recession, COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and student debt have reduced their financial advantage despite higher education levels.
  • Millennials have less brand loyalty, seeking the best deals and private labels to save money.
  • Financial challenges lead to delaying life milestones like starting a family and purchasing a house.
  • Highlighting product benefits for quality of life and self-care can capture their interest.
    • Sustainable practices, like using eco-friendly ingredients or recycling programs, attract millennial shoppers.
  • Millennials value sustainability and ethical practices in their purchasing decisions.
  • 41% of millennials want companies to take stances on social issues; 42% favor companies treating employees well.

The same report qualifies Gen X buying habits into two main categories, product quality and brand loyalty:

  • Product Quality Importance
    • Gen X values product quality and is willing to pay more for it.
    • 55% of Gen Xers consider product price, while 51% consider product quality.
    • 73% of consumers stay loyal to brands with high-quality products.
    • Emphasize quality with well-designed product pages, lifestyle images, and customer reviews.
  • Fierce Brand Loyalty
    • Gen X is willing to spend extra on trusted brands; 75% are brand loyalists.
    • Create loyalty programs to incentivize repeat purchases.
    • Engage Gen X on Facebook to promote your brand and connect with them.
    • Gen X expects high-quality, seamless experiences; nurturing their loyalty will be rewarding.

Essentially, millennials rely heavily on the opinions of others before making purchase decisions. Gen X also relies heavily on things like UGC, but for different reasons altogether – to make sure they’re not being taken advantage of by marketers, and that they’re getting the best deal possible.

A study done by Tolani, Sao, Bhadade, and Chandak in 2020 for the International Journal of Management summarized the differences as follows:

Aspect Gen X Gen Y
Satisfaction More satisfied with current financial situation Less satisfied, high expectations for income
Investment Higher percentage of gross salary invested, consults financial advisors Lower percentage invested, rarely consults financial advisors
Financial Goals Children’s education and future security Travel, buying cars and electronic items
Spending Priorities Clothing, accessories, and food Travel, electronic gadgets, and weekend activities
Payment Methods Comfortable with both online and offline payments Prefers online payments, frequent use of e-wallets
Credit Card Usage Low usage High usage, over 10% of monthly expenses

Essentially, Gen X-ers are more financially satisfied, cautious, and advisor-reliant. They focus on family security and practical spending. Millennials, or Gen Y, aspire for higher income, and are likely to patronize tech-driven financial solutions. They prefer to buy items that focus on lifestyle and travel.

Where to Find Generation X vs Millennials: Communication and Marketing Channels

So, the research so far shows that Gen X’s priorities revolve around the home, their children, and financial security – probably as a result of coming home after school to an empty house. Millennials meanwhile are more driven by social and political issues, and get a lot of their information from the internet and social media. When you’re thinking about the best way to reach your customers, you have to remember that Gen X-ers grew up in the middle of the internet boom, so they’re not as accustomed to using technology as their millennials friends. Although Gen X households contain all the technological trappings of average Gen Y households, how it’s used can spell the difference between reaching each customer demographic.

How and Where to Find Gen X

Oberlo reports that Gen X shoppers prefer to buy clothing, shoes, beauty, electronics, entertainment, and groceries. 43% of those interviewed said they bought these items online.

Nevertheless it’s a fact that this generation still likes to shop offline, with groceries leading the way, followed by pharmaceutical products, beauty, clothing, and shoes.

They’re also known for brand loyalty. Once you get the loyalty of Gen X, it’s quite likely you’ll keep it.

How exactly to get their loyalty? Focus on product quality and detailed, accurate information in your product listings. Being skeptical by nature, Gen X shoppers need to know that you’re not out to scam them. They want to believe in your trustworthiness, and that you have their best interests at heart.

This isn’t to disparage Gen X at all; in fact, their skepticism and apathy is probably shaped by the world events that transpired during the 1980s to the late 1990s that formed so much of their psyche, from Reaganomics, to the spread of HIV/AIDS, the birth and spread of the internet, financial difficulties and the advent of dual-income families, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the start of the Middle East War and the end of the Cold War, and the birth of Amazon.com!

Gen X was born in the middle of a massive world shift; they adapted by turning skeptical and apathetic. As long as you’re communicating to this demographic with transparency and a little sensitivity, you should be fine.

How and Where to Find Gen Y – or the Millennials

Millennials are also a product of their times. Born between 1981 and 1996, think about the world events that shaped this generation as it enters adulthood in the early noughties: the age of Google began in 1998, the International Space Station opened in 2000, 9/11 happened in 2001, Facebook began in 2004, the iPhone was born in 2007, the Dow Jones plunged in 2008, and Barack Obama became America’s first African American President in 2009.

Compared to the preceding generation, millennials have grown up in the midst of racial diversity and incredible technology.

Oberlo reports that Millennials buy clothing and shoes online the most, followed by entertainment, beauty, and electronics. In fact, in 2018, 30% of online shoppers were millennials. Perhaps due to their growth around technology, this age or generation is extremely comfortable around technology, and is likely to patronize online shopping.

Millennials aren’t as focused on brand loyalty as their Gen X friends. They do, however, value sustainability and ethical practices.

If you appeal to Gen X through transparency, clarity, and information, then appeal to your Gen Y customers through personalization, excellent product pages, and experiential shopping.

  • Gen X:
    • Effective channels: Email marketing, Facebook, traditional media (TV, print)
    • Messaging: Emphasize product reliability, detailed specifications, and customer reviews
  • Millennials:
    • Effective channels: Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, influencers
    • Messaging: Highlight experiences, social proof, and brand values

Tailoring Your Amazon Listings: Gen X vs Millennials

Now we understand Gen X and Millennials better, let’s get down to the specific tactics you can use to appeal to each demographic better in your Amazon listings.

  • Gen X:
    • Focus on clear, concise product descriptions with technical details
      • Think of an infographic showing your dimensions, materials, and technical specifications (like how long your vacuum flask keeps water cold for)
      • Keep your product listings informative and value-driven
    • High-quality images and comprehensive customer reviews
      • Remember, Gen X consumers had to adapt to technology; they aren’t as savvy at tech as millennials may be. So, don’t use an iPhone to take photographs; at the very least, bring your photos through a professional graphic artist to illustrate a story well. Trust us; those skeptical Gen X customers will probably know if you haven’t put much effort into your photos.
      • Try as hard as you can to reach out to your customers and ask for reviews. Remember, this cynical generation is likely to use reviews as a way to determine if a marketer is trying to scam them, so honest (even neutral!) reviews from their generational cohorts would resonate better with them.
    • Use of loyalty programs and discounts for repeat purchases
      • Don’t forget, Gen X is all about brand loyalty. If they like you, they’ll keep coming back. Reward them through subscribe-and-save options, discounts, and promotions.
  • Millennials:
    • Engaging and visually appealing product listings
      • Looks like every generation places importance on beautiful images. Don’t scrimp on your A+ and infographics; every generation enjoys them!
    • Incorporate user-generated content and influencer endorsements
      • In this sense, millennials are similar to Generation Z. Things like user-generated content, influencer marketing, and social selling greatly influence their purchase decisions when shopping online.
    • Highlight sustainability practices and unique selling points
      • As opposed to older generations, members of generation Y prize sustainability and environmental consciousness. Make sure you incorporate eco-friendliness, biodegradability, sustainability, ethics, and recyclability in your product development, and you’re likely to appeal to the buyer behavior of multiple generations – not just the millennials.

Localization Strategies for Gen X vs Millennials in International Markets

Localizing to new cultures is already a large task; now you have to localize per demographic, as well? Take it easy; it’s easier than it sounds.

Although there are cultural nuances between Gen X vs Millennials in different cultures, you could employ the following best practices to appeal to your customers in each demographic across the globe.

Localizing to Gen X

  • Adapt Marketing Messages to Reflect Local Culture and Values
    • Tailor your marketing messages to resonate with the cultural nuances and values of each region. This includes understanding local traditions, beliefs, and social norms to create content that feels authentic and relatable to Gen X consumers in different countries.
  • Use Region-Specific Testimonials and Case Studies
    • Incorporate testimonials and case studies from local Gen X customers to build trust and credibility. Highlight success stories from individuals or businesses within the region to show how your product or service meets the specific needs and preferences of Gen X in that area.
  • Ensure Customer Service is Tailored to Local Expectations
    • Customize your customer service approach to align with the expectations and preferences of Gen X in each market. This might involve offering support in the local language, understanding local etiquette, and providing solutions that cater to regional customer service norms.
  • How to Optimize Listings for Search Visibility
    • Optimize your product listings with region-specific keywords and phrases to improve search visibility. Research popular search terms used by Gen X in each market and incorporate them into your listings. Ensure your product descriptions, titles, and tags are relevant and localized to increase discoverability. Remember, it’s crucial to generate new keywords for every region you expand to. Translating keywords from one region to the other just won’t do the trick.
  • Best Practices for Customer Service and Follow-Up
    • Implement best practices for customer service and follow-up that are tailored to the Gen X demographic. Provide prompt and personalized responses, follow up on purchases with localized content, and offer solutions that address common concerns and preferences of Gen X consumers in different regions. Ensure your communication is clear, respectful, and considerate of the local context.

Localizing to Millennials

  • Leverage Local Influencers and Social Media Trends
    • Collaborate with local influencers who resonate with Millennials in each market. Identify influencers who understand the preferences and values of your target audience and can effectively promote your products within their communities. Stay updated with local social media trends to ensure your campaigns are relevant and engaging.
    • Employ innovative influencer marketing tactics to captivate Millennials. This could involve organizing virtual events, exclusive product unboxings, or behind-the-scenes content. Encourage influencers to share personal stories or experiences with your products, making the promotion feel more authentic and relatable. Consider creating collaborative content such as joint giveaways or challenges to enhance engagement.
  • Customize Content to Reflect Local Language Nuances and Cultural References
    • Create content that reflects the local language and cultural nuances. This involves using region-specific slang, idioms, and references that Millennials will relate to. Localized content makes your brand appear more genuine and attentive to the specific cultural context of each market.
  • Highlight Global and Local Sustainability Efforts
    • Showcase your commitment to sustainability by highlighting both global and local initiatives. Share stories of how your brand is making a positive impact on the environment and communities worldwide, as well as specific efforts within each region. Millennials value sustainability, and this approach can build trust and loyalty.
  • How to Leverage Social Media for Product Launches
    • Utilize social media platforms to create buzz around new product launches. Develop a strategic plan that includes teaser campaigns, countdowns, and exclusive previews to build anticipation. Engage with your audience through interactive posts, live sessions, and localized ads to maximize reach and impact.

Here’s something interesting. Gen X feels underrepresented in ads and images. 42% of Gen X women said they want to see people of their age and life stage represented in advertising and other communications. Gen X and older demographics are severely under-represented, with only 24% of TV ads featuring individuals over 50. It gets worse; 79% of consumers aged 55 and above reported that they don’t see themselves in advertisements.

So, although millennials are more likely to follow an influencer than a Gen X-er, perhaps user-generated content is the way to the hearts of both these demographics. These consumers want to feel heard and represented by people that look and sound like them, and as our TikTok example in the introduction proved, they will rally behind a cause they deem important.

Enough About Gen X vs Millennials; What About the Baby Boomer and Gen Z?

What about the differences between boomers and millennials? Or the iGeneration (aka Gen Z)? What about these Xennials, or the Alpha Generation?

Here’s a helpful summary:

Aspect Boomers Gen X Millennials Gen Z
Years Born 1946-1964 1965-1980 1981-1996 1997-2012
Buying Behavior Prefer in-store shopping, brand loyalty, focus on quality and service Balance between in-store and online, brand loyalty, quality, and convenience Predominantly shop online, value experiences and sustainability, less brand loyalty Shop primarily online, influenced by social media and peers, value convenience and instant gratification
Communication Style Prefer face-to-face and phone communication, formal Direct and independent, use email and phone, value concise and relevant information Prefer digital communication, especially social media and instant messaging, value authenticity Communicate via social media, prefer visual and short-form content, value transparency and engagement
Disposable Income High, many are retired or nearing retirement with significant savings Moderate to high, peak earning years, financially cautious Moderate, burdened by student debt and economic challenges, focus on experiences Low to moderate, many are students or early in their careers, prioritize affordability
What They Shop For Health products, travel, home improvement, premium goods Home goods, technology, quality clothing, family-related products Experiences (travel, dining), tech gadgets, wellness and fitness products, unique and trendy items Electronics, fashion, entertainment, digital products and services, sustainable brands

Now for the similarities:

  • All generations value quality and reliability in products
  • All generations appreciate clear and relevant information
  • Although there are differences in their disposable income, they are all willing to spend on products that offer good value, and are all interested in new technology and gadgets

Wait a Second…Who’s Gen Alpha?

Generation Alpha meanwhile refers to those born (or who will be born) between 2010 and 2025 (although these ranges differ per researcher). They’re likely to be spending the next few years studying and coming into their own; it’s also reported to become one of the largest generations in the history of the world, with 2.8 million people born weekly (it looks like another baby boom, doesn’t it?).

They’re supposedly the most technologically aware generation, having grown up in digital classrooms, owning iPads of their own, and witness to the birth of Instagram and when “app” became the word of the year in 2010. These kids are socially aware and vocal, and have influenced their parents’ buying decisions towards a more sustainable future. It looks like they’re starting to influence buyer behavior even before they can purchase things themselves.

Perhaps due to their wanderlust millennial and Gen Z parents, Gen Alpha children are very well traveled, with early exposure to diverse cultures and increasing globalization. It looks like localization will increase in importance as these kids reach maturity, since it’s so important for brands to recognize the ties that bind – and those that make us unique.

Furthermore, to nobody’s surprise, these kids prefer visual content – 51% first discover brands through YouTube videos. Last but not least, 8 out of 10 Gen Alpha favorite brands overlap with those of Gen Z, which indicates that the kids are growing up faster with incredible maturity.

Last But Not Least…What’s an Xennial?

Many younger Gen Xers and older millennials will claim that the research doesn’t apply to them. So much happened between 1975 and 1985 that this decade produced a micro-generation of its own, blending the characteristics of Gen X and millennial consumers.

Not to tip the apple cart, but here’s a quick peek into this tiny demographic:

  • Born between the mid-1970s and early 1980s, blending traits of Generation X and Millennials.
  • The term was introduced by writer Sarah Stankorb in a 2014 GOOD magazine article.
  • Xennials serve as a bridge between Gen X’s disaffection and Millennials’ optimism.
  • They grew up in an analog world and transitioned into digital adulthood.
  • Xennials are considered the youngest digital immigrants.
  • They entered the workforce during the Great Recession; their early adulthood was impacted by 9/11 and the Iraq War.
  • They value both traditional and digital communication methods.
  • They remember their pre-digital childhood; formed relationships before social media.
  • Sociologist Dan Woodman notes they often feel left out by traditional generational labels but resonate with the crossover of analog and digital eras.
  • Their experiences provide a unique perspective on both analog and digital worlds.

So, if you notice that your millennial product, with its eco-friendly and sustainable badge, appeals to a customer born in 1977, you’re probably dealing with an Xennial.

Conclusion: Gen X vs Millennials and How to Sell to Each Demographic

These observations aren’t an exact science. Although we’ve scattered in a lot of sociological and psychological research here to help you understand the different generations – and if you’re really intent on understanding the generations, go read novels written by Douglas Coupland on each generation – the biggest key to success on eCommerce is to listen. To test. To ask questions, reach out to your customers, and find out what makes them tick.

Understanding the nuances between Gen X and Millennial buyers can significantly enhance your marketing strategies. Gen X, often labeled the “latchkey generation,” values product quality, brand loyalty, and detailed information due to their experiences growing up with economic instability and technological shifts. On the other hand, Millennials prioritize experiences, sustainability, and value-driven purchases influenced by the economic recessions and digital revolutions they witnessed.

Both generations, despite their differences, are significant consumer segments with distinct preferences and behaviors. Gen X tends to spend more on family and quality products, while Millennials focus on cost-effective, sustainable, and tech-driven solutions. By tailoring your approach to address these unique needs, you can better connect with and appeal to each demographic, ultimately boosting your eCommerce success.

For more information on localizing your listings effectively to accommodate target demographics in each region, reach out to YLT Translations for our expert observations!