Age Matters with Digital Shoppers

Age Matters with Digital Shoppers

E-commerce is growing around the world. In fact, global online purchase intention rates doubled—in some cases tripled—between 2011 and 2014 across more than half of 22 categories measured by Nielsen. But not all age groups are shopping online to the same degree. And the age group that has grown up in the digital era—Millennials (age 21-34)—is leading the way.

Millennials comprise at least half of all respondents who plan to make an online purchase across every product category measured in Nielsen’s Global Survey of E-commerce. Baby supplies, personal care items, toys/dolls and alcoholic drinks garner the most significant share of Millennial online purchase intenders.

Millennials Comprise More than Half of All Respondents Who Plan to Make an Online Purchase in the Next Six Months

Category Percent Category Percent
Baby Supplies 63% Car/Motorcycle Accessory 53%
Personal Care 57% Event Tickets 53%
Toys/Dolls 57% Hardcopy Books 52%
Alcoholic Drinks 57% eBooks 52%
Cosmetics 56% Music (not downloaded) 52%
Groceries 56% Clothing/Accessories/Shoes 52%
Mobile Phone 56% Electronic Equipment 52%
Sporting Goods 55% Flowers 52%
Pet Products 54% Tours/Hotel Reservations 51%
Videos/DVDs/Games (not downloaded) 53% Computer Hardware 50%
Computer Software 53% Airline ticket/reservation 50%
Source: Nielsen

Older Generations Shop, Too

But don’t count older generations out. They represent a sizeable 40% share of online purchase intenders. But reaching the older age set is much more fragmented territory than with their younger counterparts. As can be expected, the older the age, the greater the decline in online shopping intent. Globally, Generation X (age 35-49) respondents comprise about 28% of those willing to make a purchase online, and Baby Boomers (age 50-64) make up about 10%. The Silent Generation (age 65+) contributes roughly 2%. The youngest age group, Generation Z (under age 20), represents about 7% of those who intend to purchase online.

“While the generational mix of online shoppers currently skew younger, attention to the needs of all segments should be considered when developing outreach plans,” said John Burbank, president of strategic initiatives, Nielsen. “Tomorrow’s highest purchase-power consumers are ones who skew much higher for digital shopping. As the population ages, greater percentages of consumers will be connected and online prominence will continue to grow. Building trust at the onset is the foundation for sustaining lifetime loyalty among shoppers.”

Device Differential

Beyond the generational breakdown of who’s shopping online, brands should also consider the devices consumers use to shop. With a plethora of Internet-connected devices to choose from, there’s no shortage of ways for consumers to browse and buy online. And the device of choice is decidedly different around the world.

Computers are the largely favored device for online browsing and buying among respondents in all regions, but mobile phones are a close second pick for respondents in the Middle East/Africa region and growing in prominence in Asia-Pacific and Latin America. In developing markets, mobile is often the first-access device to the Internet. Tablets—which have become more popular since the 2010 introduction of Apple’s iPad—are used by nearly one-third (31%) of global respondents for online shopping. While tablets are currently less popular than other devices for shopping online, their portability and large-screen features are conducive to E-commerce. As penetration of these devices continues to grow, so too will online shopping usage.

The report also discusses:

  • Online browsing vs. buying intentions.
  • A look at which product categories are growing in online purchase intent.
  • A classification of online consumers and how to effectively reach them.

For more detail and insight, download Nielsen’s Global Survey of E-commerce.


The findings in this survey are based on respondents with online access across 60 countries. While an online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides a perspective only on the habits of existing Internet users, not total populations. In developing markets where online penetration has not reached majority potential, audiences may be younger and more affluent than the general population of that country. Additionally, survey responses are based on claimed behavior, rather than actual metered data.