Generation X Is Not as Invisible as You Think

by | 22 May 2019

Gen-X represents a unique prospect for brands and retailers; we’re fierce brand loyalists with money to spend. I know what you’re thinking, another voice adding to the swirl around Gen-Xers, and it’s true, it seems almost everything associated with the 1980s is celebrating an anniversary of some kind. Brands like Trivial Pursuit (1979) first released by Hasbro Gaming, the Energizer Bunny, Nintendo’s Game Boy (1989), and even Lexus, Toyota’s luxury line, all celebrate a birthday this year. There was also a New York Times article that dropped earlier this month debunking myths about what it means to be a Gen-Xer and its effect on societal norms. Folks have been quick to dismiss this middle generation, sandwiched between the much talked about boomers and millennials. We’ve been branded slackers, the lost generation and to some, we’re just plain invisible. I’m sure most Gen-Xers would be happy to fly below the radar and deflect all the attention about our so-called demography.

As a Gen-Xer myself, I’d like to think of us as the stealth generation. The folks that stepped off the societal grid to focus on ourselves. After all, that’s exactly what we were told to do starting at a very young age. The most defining moment in a Gen-X childhood was the introduction of the dual income household. Moms everywhere hung up their aprons in exchange for a business suit, to alleviate the costs of raising and supporting a family. For Gen-Xers, this was the first taste, if only for a few hours each day, of independence. Left to our own devices, and I don’t mean on a phone, we were exposed to the outside world through that wonderful box with the rabbit ears. A world that included serial soap operas, MTV and some of the most iconic commercials made from brands like Coca-Cola and Apple.

Most Gen-Xers were raised in a hybrid household of “silent traditionalists” and boomers. From the hard-working ethics of grandparents recovering from the Great Depression to the wildly ambitious goals of workaholic parents trying to beat the Great Recession, Gen-Xers received a wide spectrum of life lessons on how to save and spend money. These are key influences that have taught this generation of 65 million consumers how to play the long game when it comes to managing finances.

Gen-Xers are the only generation of households to recover the wealth lost during the Great Recession, and as we take care of aging boomer parents, while simultaneously tending to our millennial children, we definitely have our hands full. This is where being adaptable and self-sufficient becomes our greatest asset, and contrary to popular belief we aren’t slackers, we are resourceful. With an all hands on deck approach to problem-solving, experts speculate that we may very well be the most financially savvy generation yet.

Pull Yourself Up by the Bootstraps

Although each generation has its quirks, Gen-Xers have built their identity with unapologetic self-resilience. My experience was a little bit different than most. My parents were first-generation immigrants from Tanzania, East Africa when we dropped into sunny Southern California in the 1980s. I used to think my social upbringing was at the core of my identity but the more I connect with fellow Gen-Xers, the more I am certain that ‘when I grew up’ was also an influencing factor.

The ‘when’ for Gen-Xers has been strategically mapped out our entire life — and whether we knew it or not, we have been reinventing the rules and resetting expectations for what success looks like. While everyone’s been solely focused on boomers and millennials, Gen-X has spawned a whole generation of innovators, including Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX; Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva; Blake Mycoskie, entrepreneur and Chief Shoe Giver at TOMS; Julia Hartz, president, and co-founder of EventBrite; and yes, even Jeff Bezos, the founder, and CEO of Amazon. And that’s not all when you consider that 35% of the Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019 are Gen-X, too. Celebrities like Regina King and Dwayne Johnson, creative directors like Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino and Pat McGrath, and activists like Desmond Meade and Menaka Guruswamy. This list represents only a fraction of Gen-X’s cultural influence and buying power.

Right Here, Right Now

 Pew Research projects that Gen-X will outnumber the boomer population by 2028, with most of us on the fast-approach to our prime wage-earning years. The median net worth of a typical Gen-X household (as reported in 2016) showed an income increase at an average of 20%, roughly estimated at $73,200.  Although we may have less wealth than our parents did at the same age, we represent a source of untapped revenue potential and purchasing power (31% of U.S. income and 25%of the population). And yet we are one of the most overlooked generations by retailers and marketers alike, targeted by less than 30% of global advertising budgets. 

Here’s the thing about Gen-X: we don’t brazenly flaunt what and where we spend our money. Our approach to shopping takes into consideration the overall financial impact on our household, whether that involves a family of four, or two. We tend to do extensive research before purchasing a product, that includes reading online reviews, accessing comparison sites, in-store browsing and searching social media. Want to know a secret? We spend an average of 32 hours a week consuming all media, one-fourth of that time on social media alone. According to eMarketer, brand loyalty is highest among Gen-X consumers. Once we find a brand we like, one that we can trust, we are in it for the long haul. We’re willing to pay a premium for the products we love. And that includes travel. Gen-Xers represent 51 million yearly travelers, many of who want to explore as much of the world as is possible in this lifetime. I am definitely one of them.

Some may feel that as a generation, we’ve been overlooked by advertisers and retailers, but I think differently. Gen-X represents a unique prospect for brands and retailers, embodying the ideal consumer attribute they strive for: committed brand loyalty. Consumer brand loyalty can be achieved by those brands that provide value, great customer service and a quality product. According to ICSC’s recent report, Customer Services: A Key Part of the Retail Renaissance, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen-X consumers cited good customer service as a reason for spending more with the retailer.

While at ICSC RECon 2019, I’ll be exploring conversations with my fellow Gen-Xers to see how they really feel about these stats and observations. If you’re a Gen-Xer who wants to weigh in, or you want to learn more about Gen-X, find me at booth number S236Q. Follow me on Twitter @anjeesolankiCRE to hear what ICSC RECon Gen-Xers have to say.

 Anjee continues to be an insatiable enthusiast of all things retail. She’s a student of culture with a pulse on future shoppers and the fleeting trends constantly changing the retail landscape…driving retailers, landlords and developers crazy! Tweet @anjeesolankiCRE #colliersretail

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