UNH professor studies generation's shopping habits

By Adam J. Babinat
On December 5, 2011


With the holiday shopping season underway, many will be crowding into malls and stores looking for gifts for their loved ones. According to a recent study conducted by the University of New Hampshire's associate professor of hospitality management Nelson Barber, those out shopping who are part of Generation Y (those born between 1978 and 1998) are more likely to receive input from parents, friends and mass media before making their holiday purchase, or any purchase for that matter, than those of Generation X (those born between 1964 and 1977). 

According to a press release, Barber's research revealed that members of Generation X typically go about shopping by using the Internet to search for information that can help them find the best deal. They then use this information as assurance that what they are purchasing is the best deal, and as a way to guarantee that they as consumers are not being taken advantage of by marketers.

For Generation Y, the shopping experience is a bit different, as the members typically make purchases that help them to achieve their goal of fitting in better with social groups that they desire to be a part of. This typically leads Generation Y to make shopping an experience that involves others, such as friends and family, as a way to gain social approval.

The study primarily focuses on how the Internet has allowed Generation Y to make more decisions as a community, and how the different generations use it to make decisions as consumers.

The idea for the study came about after Barber, a baby boomer, noticed that his Generation Y daughter tended to shop a little differently than he was used to. Rather than focusing on comparing the baby boomers and Generation Y, Barber instead decided to look at the one in the middle to see if there were any differences.

"The one in the middle, Gen-X, has always been the forgotten generation," Barber said. "So I said, forget the baby boomers, because it really wouldn't be fair for me to compare my generation against the children we raised. Let's look at the generation that appears to be closer to them, but diametrically opposed."

From there, the study was carried by surveying a group of random members of both generations, which, according to Barber, had questions relating to how much television the participants watched, whether they preferred magazines or newspaper, and questions about how much engagement the participants had with parents and friends during experiences such as shopping. The results did not surprise Barber. 

"I've looked at generational cohorts for a while in different capacities, and obviously being a member of the faculty here at UNH, I have watched the millennial generation march through the classrooms," Barber said. "Each one is a little different than the other, but there is a common thread that runs through them."

Barber has said that technology has gone a long way into helping extend the friend and family connection, citing instances where he will see people in stores taking pictures with their cell phones and sending them to others for input. The connectivity about decision has led Generation Y to make decisions that not only benefit themselves, but rather benefit an entire group as numerous individuals impact a decision.

By Adam J.

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