Every two weeks, Salesforce Research is surveying the general population to discover how consumers and the workforce are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, we break down our latest survey results and share what retailers can learn from each generation. We’re posting the insights we’ve found, and tips on what businesses can do in response. Click here to explore data across demographics and geographies.

A Gen Zer, Millennial, Gen Xer, and Baby Boomer walk into a store. Or do they? This may sound like the set up to a cheesy joke, but it’s a question many retailers are asking themselves. COVID-19 has been a menace to people of all walks of life, but older adults have proven to be amongst the most vulnerable. As retailers scramble to revamp and revive operations, one of their biggest challenges is to overhaul their physical locations to accommodate this at-risk demographic that's less likely to migrate to digital channels.

At the same time, younger consumers also under shelter in place orders are increasingly turning to a host of innovative online retail channels, prompting retailers to simultaneously innovate their digital presence.

Salesforce conducted a study of consumers to provide retailers with these dual mandates — and scarce resources to fulfill them — with insights on what shoppers of different generations need now, and in the future.


Lessons from Baby Boomers and Gen X: Shoppers won’t wait for a vaccine – mandatory social distancing and PPE are keys to earning shopper trust

With Baby Boomers and Gen X at higher risk than Millennials or Gen Zers, it’s especially important to understand their concerns when reopening brick and mortar. What do Baby Boomers and Gen Xers expect as doors open back up?


Shoppers demand distancing and PPE to feel at ease

Our survey found that most U.S. Baby Boomers aren’t waiting for government assurance, vaccines, or even testing to head back to shops. Making them comfortable enough to return, as it turns out, is largely within retailers’ hands. Shoppers of all generations – particularly those in the 40+ group – expect stores to enforce mandatory social distancing and PPE policies. Best Buy is a great example of a brand that has put safety and empathy front and center of its reopening strategy. The company offers visits by appointment only and mandates masks and gloves for employees (Source: Best Buy).


Employee health and wellness are top of mind

The pandemic has stressed the importance of health and wellness for consumers — and not just for themselves. When asked which qualities most heavily influence purchase decisions and loyalty, U.S. consumers across all generations cited “support of employee health and wellness” as their top consideration after “discounts.” Be sure to keep your frontlines protected like supermarket chain, H-E-B, who added a coronavirus hotline specifically for employees, extended its sick leave policy, and provided raises to acknowledge the added risk of coming in to work (Source: H-E-B).


Lessons from Millennials and Gen Z: It’s time to master new channels and tactics

New Salesforce data shows that American consumers between the ages of 18-39 – Gen Z and Millennials – are avidly adopting new means of shopping. With Millennials overtaking Baby Boomers as the largest living adult population in the U.S., it pays to take note. So how are their purchasing habits evolving? And how can retailers adapt? 


63% of U.S. Millennials say they’ve made a purchase over social media since the onset of the pandemic. Click-to-Tweet


Virtual shopping and services are a real hit

It’s no surprise the generations raised on social media have increasingly turned to platforms like TikTok and Instagram while quarantined. Yet younger consumers are doing more than just browsing: 63% of U.S. Millennials say they’ve made a purchase over social media since the onset of the pandemic. Platforms, themselves, have been fueling the fire by expanding or updating in-app capabilities. TikTok, for one, has added in-feed ads featuring a “Shop Now” call to action that have been embraced by retailers like Levi’s. Facebook and Instagram recently announced a new feature, “Shops,” to make  browsing and buying items in-app as easy as clicking “like.” These are just a few examples of how brands and retailers can double down on their digital presences to remain on top of consumers’ distracted minds.

69% of U.S. Gen Zers say they’re likely to pay for a virtual version of a traditionally in-person product or experience. Click-to-Tweet


Virtualized services are winning over 18-39 year olds

New methods of buying existing products aren't the only examples of retail innovation. Virtual products and services, like a live-streamed gym class or a FaceTime stylist appointment are taking off as well. In fact, 69% of U.S. Gen Zers say they’re likely to pay for a virtual version of a traditionally in-person product or experience.  Some retailers, like Net-a-porter, are leading the charge by selling virtual outfits from spring and summer collections on popular video game, Animal Crossing. Of course, you can choose to match your avatar's look and order the real collection for yourself.


Consumers are embracing contactless methods 

While consumers of all ages adapt to newer, safer ways of shopping, those under 40 are especially keen on adopting new tactics like contactless deliveries and payments. Our survey found roughly eight in 10 American Gen Zers and Millennials using contactless delivery over the past two weeks compared to only 48% of Baby Boomers. Nearly as many U.S. Millennials reported using contactless payments during the same period. For inspiration on how to do both, check out Domino’s Pizza. Their app now features a contactless delivery option (with orders dropped off on a pizza pedestal to ensure a clean surface) as well as prepayment and pre-tipping options to keep transactions safe and efficient.


Putting it into action

We’ve seen how COVID has impacted each generation’s shopping behaviors. Now, here’s what retailers can do about it.


Double down on digital and contactless engagement

Retailers have an opportunity to try less traditional approaches with their youngest customers — who are far more willing to try new channels/shopping tactics — and determine how to engage them not just now, but after the pandemic loosens its grip. With increasingly sophisticated purchasing functions and growing daily active users, platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest are increasingly becoming the shopping malls of the future. With 96M consumers between the ages of 18-39 in the United States, these behavioral shifts are critical to consider. Here’s what to do next:

  • Build a following. Acquire customers via social channels like Twitch, Instagram, and TikTok.

  • Personalize. Leverage data for automation, convenience, subscriptions, and augmented reality.

  • Reduce returns. Enhance reviews, shopper pictures, and videos for the right item the first time. 

  • Design for contactless browsing. Reimagine store layout, changing rooms, traffic thresholds, and protective equipment.

  • Contactless browsing. Enable mobile wallets, self checkout, and prepayments.

  • Contactless fulfillment. Spin up same-day delivery, curbside, drive-through, and entryway pickup options. 


Respond with empathy and creativity

Let’s be frank: these “unprecedented times” are also pretty scary times. In addition to addressing consumer fears in brand communications, it’s also important to recognize and address concerns in your operations. Retailers have the means to put shoppers at ease by providing social distancing and personal protective equipment to both associates and guests. Many are getting creative with their solutions. Here’s what to do next:

  • Put safety first. Sanitization is a must for shoppers to feel comfortable returning to stores, particularly Baby Boomers.

  • Provide protection. Provide PPE for employees and shoppers.

  • Regulate traffic. Get creative with social distancing — encourage virtual appointments, extend hours for at-risk shoppers, and employees.

Meet your clients online with this quick start commerce solution kit. For other best practices, check out more content in our Leading Through Change series.

Check out our interactive Tableau Public dashboard to explore our survey results yourself.