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How Does Online Spending Vary By Generation?

May 16, 2022 4 Minute Read


Buying power and shopping habits can vary greatly by generation. Though online shopping is popular across all adult age groups in the U.S., differences in how age groups engage with digital channels are an important focus for omnichannel brands and their marketing and sales platforms. Below is a sampling of data on key spending and digital trends by generation.

Figure 1: U.S. Population by Generation


Source: Oxford Economics, CBRE Research.

Though definitions and age ranges can vary by source, Figure 1 shows a commonly accepted breakdown of the U.S. population by generational age groups.

Millennials are now the largest cohort by generation (73 million). Much attention is paid to millennials, because they are in their prime working age and will drive most of the retail spending in the next decade.

Spending Power

Figure 2: Spending by Generation


Source: BLS, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Just as important as the size of each generation is the spending associated with each. Average household expenditure (Figure 2) peaks for Gen X and Millennials, which also tends to be the period of peak earnings for many adults of that age range. Overall spending remains highest for the Baby Boomer population and the Gen X population. However, Millennials are set to show the most growth in spending. As older generations leave the workforce and Millennials advance in their careers, spending power for the Millennial cohort is expected to overtake both Gen X and Baby Boomers within the next 10 years.

Social Buyer Penetration

E-commerce growth has transcended generations, with all age groups 14 and older showing rapid adoption of digital channels in their shopping behavior. In 2022, 18- to 24-year-olds, the Gen Z cohort, had the highest percentage of social buyers (internet users who made at least one purchase via social network channels during the calendar year), while the lowest penetration was seen among the youngest and oldest groups.

Different Spending Habits

In addition to differences in population size and spending power, different generations tend to display different lifestyle patterns and preferences that translate into distinct shopping behaviors. Below is a sampling of characteristics that impact each generation’s shopping preferences:

Gen Z:

  • Account for an estimated $44 billion in buying power.1
  • Short attention spans; the average online attention span of a Gen Zer is eight seconds.1
  • 78% of teenagers check their devices at least hourly.1
  • 52% feel they spend too much time on their mobile devices.1


  • Account for 30% of total retail sales.1
  • Believe that user-generated content is 50% more trustworthy than branded imagery.1
  • 62% are more likely to become a loyal customer when a brand engages them on social networks.1
  • 72% are more likely to purchase based on photos from others who have used a product.1

Gen Xers

  • 40% prefer viewing online content on laptops.1
  • 44% use in-store pickup or home-delivery services when available.1
  • Over 10% less likely to make impulse buys while using in-store pickup of goods than millennials or boomers.1

Baby Boomers

  • 49% spend at least 11 hours a week online.1
  • 84% prefer to shop in-store.1
  • 82% use social media.1

CBRE Research.

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