‘Baby Boomers' are generally referred to as the generation born between 1946 and 1964 (The Guardian). Their high net worth and buying power makes them one of the most significant segments in the modern automotive market. Named after the booming birth rate in the post-war period, their development has been the focus of much attention. Cultural shifts such as the invention of the teenage consumer and the rise of youth culture (The Guardian) which was inextricably linked with cars (Washington Post), were key moments in the demographic's lifetime.
Boomers are the automotive industry's dream customer, perceiving practical and emotional value in vehicle ownership alongside a familiarity with the traditional auto retail model. More importantly, boomers have accumulated wealth and currently lead consumer spending (Bank of America Merrill Lynch). Such purchase power is recognised by the industry, with US focussed National Automobile Dealers Association stating it currently takes 4 Millennials to replace a Boomer in terms of economic impact (Automotive News). What's more, 1 in 3 US Boomers plan to buy a car in the next three years (AARP). In 2011, the 55-64-year-old segment overtook 35-44 year olds to become the group most likely to buy a car (University of Michigan Transport Research Institute).
More than other generations, cars define Baby Boomers (Bloomberg). Cars were seen as a symbol of self-expression as well as one of status and freedom (Bloomberg). The car had its own cultural meaning and significance in the 20th Century which still holds true for Boomers (Washington Post, Bloomberg) who spent the majority of their lives in that century. This is reflected in the fact that new vehicle sales amongst Boomers' have consistently been much higher than either Gen X or Gen Y (City Lab). Boomers are also more enamoured with the current car retailing model than other generations. Research has found that the over 50's favour the personal touch that dealerships offer and that they appreciate dealers more than younger buyers (Capgemini). In this respect, Boomers can be seen as ‘classic' customers, well-accustomed to the traditional retail model.
Conversely, research also suggests that as this generation get older they are spending more time online, leading to a change in preferences made possible through technology that wasn't available during their youth. The Pew Research Center finds that nearly 80% of Boomers are internet users (Pew Research Center) and it is estimated that they spend 11 hours online daily (JD Power). Boomers in Europe are progressively shopping more online, as are all generations, with 55% of internet-using Boomers shopping online in 2015 (EuroStat). What's more, it has been found that Boomers are less satisfied with car manufacturers' websites than Millennials (JD Power); this is important when one takes into account that greater satisfaction in website experience increases the likelihood of a customer then asking for a test drive (JD Power). If 97% of consumers research their car online (Car Keys), there is a case for a more engaging experience and greater satisfaction for consumers online, even for the classic Boomer car-buyer.
Although Boomers are more comfortable with dealerships and are well accustomed to the traditional retailing model, they are not exempt from displaying more contemporary preferences. 60% of older (50+) consumers would consider an alternative test drive location away from the dealership (Capgemini). Whilst not be as great as Gen Y's 84% (Capgemini), it is still a significant proportion of such an influential and wealthy segment. Additionally, Boomers are displaying interest in alternatives to car ownership, with 43% of the 50+ age group citing perceived lower financial burden and greater flexibility as the main reason (Capgemini).
As leaders in consumer spending with a greater inclination to buy cars, Boomers will remain be an important segment for years to come. With more time spent online, a higher propensity for e-commerce, consideration of activities away from the dealership and an interest in alternative car ownership schemes, there is common ground between both older and newer car buyers. This highlights the potential for consumer-centric retail amongst both the wealthiest and largest segments of the car market. With that in mind, Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicts that there will be a ‘Great Transfer' of $40 trillion worth of assets from Boomers to Millennials over the next generation (Bank of America Merrill Lynch). Therefore, the industry needs to cater to Boomers with an eye on Millennials for the long-term sustainability of the industry. One way to do so would be to utilise new technologies that appeal to the shared preferences of both demographics. Methods include embracing digitalisation throughout the customer journey, optimising online (and offline) touch points for greater consumer engagement. Such an investment would drive value in both the contemporary and future marketplace.