NEW YORK — It’s a mistake for marketers to paint Baby Boomers with too broad a brush, a reality evident in new findings that divide the generation into three psychographic groups — each of which prefers to shop in different kinds of stores.

Marketers, including those in the fashion sector, have traditionally focused on the generation’s size — about 80 million, ages 40 to 60 — and its discretionary income, the country’s highest ever. Average annual income averages $64,080 among Boomers ages 45 to 54, topping all age groups; $58,275 among the generation’s members in the 35- to 44-year-old cohort, and $55,844 for Boomers who fall in the 55- to 64-year-old group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2003 Consumer Expenditures Survey.

But as Craig Wood, a group president at Chapel Hill, N.C.-based market researcher Yankelovich Inc., observed, “Baby Boomers are a complex generation with a varied mind-set.”

In creating eight psychographic segments that describe the attitudes and values of U.S. consumers, Yankelovich came up with three ways to delineate and appeal to Baby Boomers: down-to-earth, representing 12.8 percent of the country’s adults ages 18 and up; sophisticated, 11.8 percent, and rock steady, 11.3 percent. Boomers account for about 80 percent of those groups, with Gen-Xers and Millennials making up the rest, Wood explained.

The down-to-earth crowd prefers to shop at middle-of-the-road stores such as Macy’s, Marshalls and Belk, as well as apparel specialists that focuses on value-priced, designer-inspired fashion such as Banana Republic. Members of that group, with a median age of 44 and a median annual income of $55,000, said they like to stretch themselves to try new things, enjoy having friends with different points of view, don’t feel they have to do things because they are “mainstream” and relax during evenings and weekends.

The sophisticated contingent showed a stronger preference for fashion specialists, as Nordstrom and Ann Taylor accounted for two of their three favorite shopping destinations; Kohl’s was the third. The sophisticates were slightly older and more affluent than their down-to-earth counterparts, with a median age of 48 and a median annual income of $61,000. They described themselves as valuing integrity, working to reduce stress in their lives and reveling in enriching experiences. They also wanted to be seen as role models in the workplace.

This story first appeared in the June 1, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

By comparison, the consumers dubbed rock steady were most inclined to head to mass chains and value-driven stores, listing T.J. Maxx, Old Navy, Sears, J.C. Penney and Gap as their top choices. With a median age of 45 and a median annual income of $67,000, the rock-steady set comprises easygoing rule-followers who trust their instincts and are happily married. In fact, 80 percent of this psychographic is married, compared with 64 percent of the down-to-earth group and 59 percent of the sophisticates.

Those shopping profiles are based on three questions. The responses were collected last year in nationwide door-to-door interviews and follow-up diaries, online surveys and phone surveys, for the Yankelovich MindBase marketing project that was completed in December and disclosed in May. The questions were: Where do you like to shop? Where have you shopped in the last six months? Where have you made purchases in the past 12 months?

When it comes to fashion, most broadly, Wood noted, the down-to-earth consumers were the most brand-loyal, yet were relaxed in their style; the sophisticates were most demanding and were willing to sacrifice being trendy for high quality, and the rock-steady crowd was most price-conscious and wanted to look younger.

Baby Boomers’ Average Annual Income and Spending
(Consumer Expenditure Survey: 2003)
All Consumers
Annual Pretax Income
Annual Posttax Income
Annual Spending
Annual Spending on Apparel Goods and Services
Annual Spending on Women’s Apparel Goods and Services
Note: Baby Boomers are now ages 40-60. The groups above include some Gen-Xers, ages 35-39, and some Silent Generation members, 61-64.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2003
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