Bridging the generation gap in Retail

Article - Retail
By Colin Cosell|4th October 2023

In the fast-paced world of retail where trends and consumer preferences shift rapidly, adapting to the changing landscape is essential for success. As different generations coexist as both employees and customers, understanding and addressing the generation gap becomes a crucial aspect of retail strategy. At a recent GDS Group Retail Summit we had the privilege to interview Sharalyn Orr, a seasoned executive from Estée Lauder. She explored how to navigate the intersection of people, culture, and retail. Just ahead, we’ll focus on Sharalyn’s insights on how retailers can approach the generation gap and foster intergenerational connections within their organizations and with the customers.

In brief:

  • Next generation gype
  • Workforce education
  • Intergenerational connections

Day 2 closing keynote speaker Sharalyn Orr of Estée Lauder on a recent GDS Retail Summit

The hype around the next generation

In the ever-evolving retail industry, there is a tendency for organizations to become hyper-focused on the newest generation entering the market and the workforce. Ten years ago, the buzz was all about millennials, who were perceived as the driving force behind significant shifts in consumer behavior and expectations. Today, it’s all about Gen Z, the latest cohort to take center stage. These shifts in generational focus are often accompanied by excitement and apprehension, as each new generation is seen as a game-changer in the industry. With a hint of levity Sharalyn explains, “organizations get really, really hyper-focused on who the young people are. Like ten years ago it was millennials. They’re changing everything. They’re so obnoxious, right? And then now everybody’s like, Gen-Z, Gen-Z, Gen-Z, Gen-Z.”

While it’s undeniable that younger generations bring fresh perspectives and digital savvy to the table, it’s essential to avoid tunnel vision and ensure that the spotlight isn’t solely on them. Sharalyn highlights that the excitement about new generations should be balanced with an understanding of the generations that preceded them.

GDS Retail Summit host Stephanie Garey

The importance of educating the workforce

A common strategy for retailers is to educate their current workforce about the characteristics, preferences, and behaviors of the newest generation of consumers. This approach aims to equip employees with the knowledge needed to serve these customers effectively. While this is undoubtedly valuable, it can often be easier said than done. According to Sharalyn, “we’ll usually spend a lot of time educating our current workforce, like who are these new people coming in? And that’s great and it’s wonderful,” adding, “I just think keeping people engaged right now is challenging.”

To truly bridge the generation gap, it’s equally essential to educate and engage younger and newer employees about the generations already present within and outside of the organization and their unique life experiences. Understanding the values, work ethics, and perspectives of older generations can help facilitate smoother intergenerational interactions, both among employees and with customers.

Summit host Stephanie Garey interviewing Sharalyn Orr of Estée Lauder

Fostering intergenerational connections

In the pursuit of retail success, it’s easy to overlook the immense potential that lies in fostering intergenerational connections within the workforce. In fact, with the focus on the next generation of shoppers, it’s even easier to overlook the older generations and their shopping habits and preferences. The synergy between different age groups can be a powerful force that propels a retail brand forward. Understanding this, Sharalyn Orr emphasizes the need to focus on building bridges between generations saying, “what’s also really an important missing link is helping our younger and newer employees understand who’s already there and what those connection points are and what their unique life experience has been. And so, I think you really have to have a focus on that intergenerational connection.” In doing so, you will not only enhance the employee experience but the customer as well, thus building loyalty on both sides of the register.

In conclusion

In the world of retail, where generational shifts can shape market trends, it’s crucial for organizations to maintain a balanced perspective. While it’s essential to adapt to the evolving preferences and traits of younger generations like Gen Z, it’s equally important not to overlook the valuable contributions of older generations like Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. Just don’t tell the Millennials that you consider them “older.”

GDS Summits are tailored 3-day virtual event conferences that bring together business leaders and solution providers to accelerate sales cycles, industry conversations and outcomes. Regarding the NG Retail Digital Summits 83% of Solution Providers said the overall experience of the Digital Summit they attended was Above Average or Excellent and 83% of Solution Providers said they would be interested in sponsoring future events.

For more, click here to hear from attendees on how GDS has helped them to achieve their business outcomes.

Continue the debate at GDS’ NG Retail Digital Summits where we bring together senior retail executives who are actively seeking to share, learn, engage, and find the best solutions.

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