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Study: E-services Should Approach Baby Boomers, Millennials Differently to Gain Trust

October 27th, 2012

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Though consumers’ choice of online vendor is influenced by trust, the millennial generation bases its trust upon very different aspects of vendors’ websites than do baby boomers, a Temple University Fox School of Business study finds.

The research, authored by marketing doctoral student Michael Obal, suggests that online vendors targeting millennials build trust through robust customer feedback mechanisms, clear navigation cues and quality vendor advice, while vendors targeting baby boomers build trust by highlighting customers’ privacy. Baby boomers are identified as those born between 1946 and 1964 and millennials as those born between 1979 and 1994.

“These ideas provide guidelines to marketing and web development practitioners on how to reach baby boomers and millennials through their websites,” Obal said. For example, Obal suggests that women’s clothing store Talbots, which caters to baby boomers, highlight a concise and easy-to-find privacy policy and disclose memberships with reputable organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.

On the other hand, the study states that American Eagle Outfitters, which targets millennials, should foster clear navigation using easily identifiable drop-down menus, search bars and purchase pages; provide easy access to vendor advice such as product recommendations and warranties; and facilitate robust customer feedback by encouraging customer reviews, rating systems and blogs.

The study connects the differing sources of millennials’ and baby boomers’ trust with their status as “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” respectively. As digital immigrants, baby boomers did not grow up in millennials’ highly socially connected society, hence why baby boomers place a higher value on privacy.

“Having grown up with e-commerce, millennials seem to be unconcerned with privacy issues and focus more on functionality and information gathering,” Obal said. “Baby boomers do not appear to be so nonchalant about their personal information.”

Millennials’ early acclimation to the web and mobile devices deepened their reliance on the advice of peers, hence why millennials value customer feedback mechanisms. Finally, the fast pace of millennials’ digital world increased their expectations for prompt vendor responses as well as speedily accessible information, which is why millennials value vendor advice and navigation cues more highly.

The study, titled “Trust Development in e-Services: A Cohort Analysis of Millennials and Baby Boomers,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Service Management.

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