Shop around

Baby boomer John Goodman remembers his first major purchase with remarkable detail, despite his parents placing the order for him in the 1950s.

Ordered through a print catalog, his coveted tennis shoes arrived via the postal carrier and were stuffed into the mailbox. He went running later that same day with the newly acquired merchandise.

“Before, you would get a catalog that you had put away in a drawer, look through it, and order what you wanted or needed at the time,” says Goodman (BS Business Administration/Accounting ’67). “Now you do the same thing, but you do it online.

“That’s the catalog of today,” adds Goodman, 73, a highly decorated, retired U.S. Marine Corps three-star general and former ASU quarterback. “The only thing that’s really changed is the vehicle for doing it.”

No more Sears, Roebuck and Co. and J.C. Penney catalogs of yesteryear: Amazon and others have found a solid place in the hearts and minds of shoppers across a wide swath of generations. But by no means is the brick-and-mortar store ready to be buried in concrete yet, according to a new research study by Salesforce.

The 2019 “Shopper-First Retailing” report shows that physical retail stores remain a more likely place to shop for all generations. Brick-and-mortar stores are also the choice of baby boomers and traditionalists when it comes to resolving any service issues, with millennials evenly splitting their communication among computers, phones, and stores.

A store’s values also are paramount in the retail game these days. The survey says that 55% of millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z) are more likely to pick a place where a charitable donation is tagged to the buy. Those figures are 42% for Generation X (Gen X) and 31% for boomers and traditionalists.

The results were collected from a survey of 6,000 people worldwide, in combination with data compiled from shopper activity and mystery shopping at stores in New York, London, and San Francisco. The company canvassed millennials and Gen Z (those born from 1981 to 1999), Gen X (born from 1965 to 1980), and baby boomers and traditionalists (born before 1965).

Experts say the retail landscape has been altered dramatically, with outlets fading away and brands consolidating as new generations use more technologies designed to improve the shopping experience. But the choice to buy seems to be just as specific to an individual as its ties to a specific generation. That’s at least what five graduates say about their spending habits as it pertains to a wide variety of items. They also report that online shopping does not always necessarily compute.

The group of surveyed ASU alums includes:

  • A Gen X executive of a Paris-based global food and beverage company.
  • A pair of millennials who operate a multimillion-dollar company in Tempe that buys and sells old high-end cellphones and other electronics.
  • A recent W. P. Carey graduate and fresh-faced Gen Zer who’s starting out in the investment banking world from the 33rd floor of a building in Century City, California, learning what it takes to make his way.
  • And Goodman, a well-traveled military veteran who still works for the government, helping with the Afghanistan reconstruction program.

Different people, from different generations, who shop very differently.

Gen X: The hybrid consumer

Like many of his fellow Gen Xers, Scott Moffitt says he grew up in the shadow of the baby boomers at a time when the internet was coming of age and his peers began their shopping pursuits early on.

But Moffitt (BS Finance ’88) says that lead-up to adulthood doesn’t mean you’ll find him most often pressing an online “Buy” button for his retail purchases.

The 54-year-old Boston resident says he goes online to research prices to determine where he’d be able to buy it at lowest cost. Not all of his online buys are instant-gratification whim purchases, either; he also picks up items he knows he’ll need down the road, such as a piece of recreational gear needed for an outing the following week.

He much prefers stores for his consumer purchases to better ensure he gets the right item and satisfy his social sensibilities.

“I’ve found that if I can touch it, feel it, and assess the color, quality, and fit, I’ll have fewer purchasing regrets,” says Moffitt, president of a $1.58 billion division of Danone. “We’ve all had those experiences where you buy it online and it’s not quite the same color, or the quality is different than expected.”

Sustainability also is a major factor driving Moffitt to buy in stores, as is his desire to be part of a certain type of community in the future. “I feel guilty buying online because of the cardboard waste it generates,” says Moffitt, who refers to some of those who have shifted to online-only buyers as “the polluting masses.”

“I like having a sporting goods store, a bookstore out there. There is a big part of me that wants to support these businesses so they don’t go away. I think it would be a depressing place to be if that happened.”

Moffitt, who has spent his career in the consumer goods industry, says retailers such as Crate & Barrel have upped their game in recent years, drawing people into their stores by dispensing helpful information and offering a better shopping experience that amounts to “retail-tainment.”

In addition, the ability to buy online and then pick up at a store has helped attract members of his generation and those from others.

If I need to see it, feel it, or touch it, I go to a store. If I know what I want and I can find it online, I get it there. It’s that simple.

—John Goodman (BS Business Administration/Accounting ’67)

Millennials: The green generation

Millennials and two-time Sun Devil 100 honorees Carrie Dougher and Jack Wight, who run the online company Buyback Boss, may have been born just one month apart, but their shopping experiences couldn’t vary more.

Dougher (BS Computer Information Systems ’15) is an unabashed shopper deeply into clothing and fashion who prides herself on patiently scouring the bargain racks to score eye-popping buys, like a $250 Theory dress she snagged for $20.

Wight (BS Marketing ’15), meanwhile, admits he’s not much of a shopper and that he’d never be caught at a mall if he could help it. He says he rarely buys clothing — or much of anything else, for that matter.

Dougher, the company’s chief operating officer, got an early start as a shopper using her babysitting money and continued to stretch her dollars at discount brick-and-mortar stores like Ross and T.J. Maxx.

These days, the professional says her in-store buys constitute about 25% of her purchases, with online sales ringing up the remaining share. She still seeks that great buy no matter the medium.

“It’s almost relaxing for me if I have a few hours to just go out and see what I can find, even if I don’t buy something,” says Dougher, a regular Black Friday shopper. “And to me, the resale market has always been a lot more fun.”

When her buying takes her online, she points her browser to Target, Zara, and H&M, although she admits that it’s becoming harder to find bargains that way.

And now that there are more dollars to spend as her career progresses, she has become more aware of the companies she buys from and behaves accordingly — a frequent sentiment expressed by her generational peers.

“In this day and age of social responsibility, you pay attention to where your money is going and what [merchants] stand for.”

Wight, the company’s chief executive, agrees that the sustainability issue looms large in what merchandise he chooses to buy and why he favors second hand outlets like Goodwill.

He adds that fellow millennials are much like him.

“A good amount of my friends care about it,” says Wight, who is based in North Carolina. “It’s definitely a big factor in their overall mindset.”

Gen Z: Experience is key

Gen Z member Eli Schifman (BS Economics/Finance ’19) has shopping down to a science — at least when it comes to clothing.

A self-acknowledged tough fit, Schifman usually goes into a Bonobos store to try on dress and other clothing, and once he sees what fits, he knows what he can confidently purchase online later, when the time is right.

He says he’s done it so often that store employees recognize him and his family members, and there’s no disappointment when the merchandise is delivered to his front door.

The 22-year-old says he is not averse to using online retailers like Amazon for certain one-off purchases. But he admits he probably does not use these companies like others in his generation do: He’s never purchased a computer or other electronic item from an online outlet, preferring the in-store experience.

“I go online to make it easier for me, but I still go in person to make sure it’s a good fit or the right product,” says Schifman, an investment banking analyst for Credit Suisse. “I’m kind of traditional but know how to use the technology, which my parents probably don’t and won’t.”

He says his friends are a generational mixed bag, with one receiving an Amazon box daily and another shopping so infrequently there that he asks to borrow Schifman’s account.

As for food buys, Schifman says he generally will call the restaurant to order, but will then pick it up himself to save the delivery fee.

“If you have a car, there’s really no point in spending money for food delivery when you can do it yourself,” says Schifman, who is W. P. Carey’s Outstanding Graduating Senior for spring 2019.

For Goodman, not much has changed when it comes to his approach to buying: Get the job done in the best way possible.

Boomers and beyond: Coupons, bargains, and sales rule

“We haven’t changed our shopping one bit, other than it being a little faster now,” says Goodman, a Mesa resident who sits on several ASU advisory boards. “If I need to see it, feel it, or touch it, I go to a store. If I know what I want and I can find it online, I get it there. It’s that simple.”

His house is filled with items collected over a career of travels, plucked from visits to the bazaars and shops where he was stationed. He says visitors to his home liken the place to a museum.

Like other boomers, Goodman says his shopping habits were partly forged by people who lived through the Great Recession. The lesson was to be prepared in case something catastrophic happens.

And there’s absolutely no buying from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, or Syria: Goodman shops local first, regional next, and then the rest of the U.S. and allied nations. No exceptions made.

“I was taught to think like an American, act like an American, and buy American products because it mattered, and I have not changed,” he says.

By David Schwartz
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