From digital immigrants to the onlife generation, consumers are in charge of the transition we are going through. Technology is not upending the world on its own, consumer behaviour it has triggered is the real foundation of the digital retail revolution. For what might be the first time in history, businesses are the ones who are struggling to keep up with what consumers want. Just a few examples:

  • Websites that adapt automatically to the device (smartphone, tablet, laptop)
  • Streaming music, TV or Netflix using high-speed 5G network
  • Augmented and virtual reality enabled on their devices

Digital is everywhere and people of all generations are keen to have technology work for them, in every aspect of their lives. After all, there aren’t really any consumers who don’t want an easier, cheaper, simpler, more personal, more service-minded and reliable shopping experience. It’s what consumers have always wanted and now technology is the way to give ‘em what they want, right?

The generations: digitally savvy or illiterate?

Every generation is a product of its own time, with unique social, economic and technological characteristics. Our generation defines our values, our outlook on life and the world, our behavior and — naturally — the way we shop. To understand the ‘new consumer’, we need to be aware of the different ways people use technology. People who grew up with all things digital are more natural users of tech. There are various ways to divide the generations; I like to describe everyone born after 1980 as a digital native.

This group can be split up into the onlife generation (born after 2007), the iGeneration or Selfie-generation (born after 1995), and Millennials (born in 1980-2000). Education scientist Marc Prensky has described these young people as having a brain that is structured differently. They seem better equipped for multitasking, effortlessly switching between topics and constantly wanting new input. This kind of on-demand culture and mindset of instant gratification are the foundation of new consumer behaviour.

None of these groups are big spenders – yet! – though technology is a way of life for them. Millennials are the first group to start regularly buying goods and services online. The iGeneration will make up 2.5 billion people by 2020. They are going to be the onlife consumers of tomorrow. The onlife generation is going to define what our lives will be like in the future: how do we live, how do we work and how do we shop?

Digital immigrants all remember what life was like before cell phones, before Internet. They can be subdivided into Generation-X (born in 1965-1980), baby boomers (born in 1945-1965) and the so-called silent generation (before 1945).  The over-60s are the fastest-growing age bracket all over the world. These consumers are the biggest group in ageing societies, growing to one-third of the population in Spain, Germany, Japan, Italy and Russia by 2050. Older people are certainly not all technophobes. A large chunk of online consumer spending is accounted for by this group.

More on digital immigrants next week, and on what motivates consumer behaviour.

This is blog 26, based on my book ‘The end of online shopping. The future of retail in an always connected world’, published by Business Contact (Dutch/Flemish editions), Nubiz (English edition) Post & Telecom Publishers, Beijing (Chinese edition). The book will also be translated into Danish, German, Italian and Portuguese in 2018.