Back in the day, retailers knew how people shopped. They knew how people spent, who people were, and gave them generational monikers. So said Lee Peterson, EVP of brand, strategy and design with WD Partners, during a Retail’s BIG Show session on “The DNA of the Digital Native Audience.”
“But we started thinking that there was something else going on, something bigger,” he said. “And it has a lot more to do with the way you think as a retailer, and how the customer thinks, and the difference between the two.”
Sharing the results of a recent consumer survey, Peterson began by briefly touching on game changers like Amazon, Uber, drones, emojis and texting, and new consumer mentalities.
“People act differently than they used to,” he said. “A lot differently.”
At least, some of them do. It all comes down to the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants. Age certainly plays a part; it’s the leading disparity in the way people view and accept technology, but it’s about more than life stage. Digital immigrants, born before the widespread use of technology, generally lack the ability to think and move quickly. It’s not so much a generation as it is a population — and a mindset.
“As retailers, we have to deal with that, understand how these consumers are thinking, and react to it,” he said. The challenge is that many retailers are still acting like digital immigrants themselves, marked by how slowly they adapt.
Things began changing in 1995, first with Amazon, then eBay, Fast Company, Craigslist, Match.com and the Netscape IPO. The next inflection point was when 50 percent of Americans had a PC. All of these things dramatically changed the way people live — and those born in that era or later have no idea what things were like before.
Will people born in 2025 know anything of cash, offices, checks, traffic lights, banks, maps, catalogs, malls or stores?
As for people born in 2025, will they know anything of cash, offices, checks, traffic lights, banks, maps, catalogs, malls or stores? Implantable mobile devices, driverless autos, clothing connected to the Internet and AI on company boards of directors may be the norm instead.
But back to the present day: The recent WD Partners survey first divided groups by age, with digital immigrants as those over 45 (though certainly, there are those older who think more like natives, Peterson admitted) and digital natives as under 30.
It set out to explore what these two groups actually wanted from a checkout experience, and what technological innovations at checkout they would be most likely to adopt. The list included advances like buy online, pickup in-store via drive-through, combined retailer pick-up areas at malls, fingerprint scans, self-serve lockers and the like. And digital natives were far more likely to take an “open to that” approach overall.
That said, they’re ready for these changes now, and they have increased expectations for service, thanks to the on-demand economy. One more thing: Digital natives have a bit of disdain for digital immigrants. As such, if a retailer’s target audience is in the native group — which is increasingly the case — it’s past time to move.