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Social Commerce + Comfort: A Cross-Generation Roundtable

Revolution Digital discusses social commerce benefits and pitfalls with three generations of consumers.

Revolution Digital  |  July 19, 2021
Social Commerce + Comfort: A Cross-Generation Roundtable

We’ve seen through compelling research that one of the biggest factors in driving success of social commerce is comfort. But comfort is personal, and tensions don’t always cross generation. So, our Rev-D i team tapped into 3 core generations to see how exactly comfort plays a role in their decision to social shop, and how e-commerce may have paved the way for future success.

So, let’s start with e-commerce.

QUESTION: What was the process like when you started to include online shopping into your common practices.

Gen X: I have been shopping online for many years and was definitely an early adopter. I do recall at one point only purchasing goods like books, games or other items that I knew exactly what I was getting. It took several years for me to become comfortable purchasing things like clothing, shoes or makeup online. But retailers have advanced so much and provide a higher level of detail about these items now than they did in the beginning. Returns are generally also easy, so if something isn’t what it seemed it is fairly simple to send it back.

Older Millennial: I think it started with a pair of Nikes I couldn’t find in stores near me. I ordered them online and loved how quick and easy it was. I buy most of my clothing online directly from my favorite clothing brands.

Younger Millennial: I was completely fine with it (I was told back in the day as long the website had https it was a secure purchase).

Gen Z: It seemed like the more I started online shopping, the more other types of shopping became less appealing. Having said this, it became a habit that of mine that hasn’t changed.

What makes you buy a product online vs. in-store?

Gen X: The only thing that really drives me in store is urgency. So, if I have a last-minute event and I need the right outfit for it, I am not going to risk buying it online. That really applies to anything I might need last minute. Sometimes you just can’t wait 2 days for Prime.

Older Millennial: Certain things I want to see in-person like a TV, couch or suit. If I really wanted one of those things the same-day, then I would buy it in-store, but it is likely that I just go take a look at it and then make the purchase on-line after I’ve researched it and thought about it a bit.

Younger Millennial: I prefer to purchase clothing, home décor, or big furniture pieces in-store. Also prefer in-store browsing (i.e., HomeGoods, Target, etc.)

Gen Z: I typically prefer online shopping all around because it’s easier and delivered right to my door. I find the whole process to be more pleasant, especially post-pandemic as I got very used to not going to stores.

How do you typically discover new products that ultimately drive you to online purchase portals?

Gen X: I would say most products I discover either via word of mouth or online ads.

Older Millennial: I’ll either read about it or more likely I’ll get an update from one of the brands I follow. Sometimes through their apps and sometimes through e-mail or targeted ads.

Younger Millennial: Instagram ads or emails

Gen Z: Lately, it’s mainly been TikToks (not particularly ads on there, but actual videos of people using certain products) or Instagram ads.

Have you had any horror stories that made you re-think the practice of shopping online?

Gen X: I have had a few purchases gone bad. The one that sticks out to me the most was a furniture purchase that came in 2 boxes and the pieces were 2 different colors. Because the items were packed in the wrong boxes, the retailer tried to refuse my return and convince me that the items were right. In the end, after weeks of frustration I was able to make the return. I can’t say that made me rethink online shopping, but I don’t shop at that retailer anymore.

Older Millennial: A couple of times things like furniture or t-shirts got lost or stuck in shipping but I don’t order anymore from sites or brands I’ve never heard of.

Younger Millennial: Not really, if anything arrives defective the customer service team has been fantastic with most companies

Gen Z: I’ve had a couple of instances where I received the wrong products, then had a difficult time getting in touch with the right customer service person to help solve the issue. Although this was frustrating, I still eventually would go back to online shopping.

And now, onto social commerce.

Have you ever purchased something directly through a social platform? How did you feel about making that purchase?

Gen X: While I haven’t made a purchase yet, I am certainly not opposed to it. I am not necessarily an impulse buyer and while I have definitely been interested in items I have seen on social, I don’t in general buy something unless I am looking for it. I will say that in a few cases, I have seen a social commerce ad, clicked it and then purchased it at a later time.

Older Millennial: Yes, I purchased 3 different reproduced vintage t-shirts. I was targeted on Instagram because I had been searching for one days before going to a concert. I saw two other tee’s that I thought were cool, so I purchased them as well. It all went down in the middle of the night while scrolling through posts. One of the t-shirts never came because it got lost in shipping. The second shirt was very poorly made, and I would never wear it and the third was pretty perfect. One out of three ain’t great. I’ve never purchased anything through a social platform since, but I probably still would if the product appealed to me enough.

Younger Millennial: I have not! I usually end up visiting the company website

Gen Z: Yes, I’ve purchased through the Instagram app. It felt a bit odd at first, but the process was simple, and it ended up being a convenient purchase.

So, are you comfortable with the practice of social commerce?

Gen X: I am not uncomfortable with the purchase experience. In fact, I don’t find it any riskier than a purchase on a trusted ecommerce website. As a rule of thumb, I only purchase from reputable retailers whose shipping and return policies are comfortable to me, so if I were to make a social commerce purchase, I would do the same.

Older Millennial: If the risk was low. My experience was a moment of weakness. I thought that it would be cool to own, and it didn’t seem too expensive.

Younger Millennial: Depends on the brand – if it’s well-known I’m fine with making the purchase but I’ve heard a lot of negative stories about purchasing from random brands through Instagram. Maybe some reviews? I’d just rather go to the company website to see if there’s anything else I need to purchase, if there’s a free shipping offer, etc.

Gen Z: If I see a product I like on a certain social platform, it just makes sense to be able to directly purchase through that platform. It’s simpler, saves time, and more convenient, which is important to me.

Overall, across all three generations you see two consistent themes as it relates to the concept of comfort. First, traditional e-commerce has opened the door to social commerce consideration, making it feel more approachable. Second, social commerce action requires a balance between potential risk and brand trust. So, if the brand is reputable and offers social commerce, our focus group is likely willing to go through with the purchase out of convenience. But if the brand isn’t well-known, it’s a matter of risk primarily associated with cost.

So, as the new frontier of social commerce expands, we look forward to seeing generational acceptance expand as well. Meanwhile, Rev-d will be along for the journey, always thinking of new ways to adapt creative message and mechanisms to meet the moment.

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