The Covid-19 pandemic may well be the defining moment of how Gen Z views the world. But it has also impacted every other generation, from millennials to Gen X to baby boomers, forever changing our behaviors and interactions both online and off.
Remember when strolling into a grocery store and helping yourself to samples was normal? When people went into an actual office five days a week? When happy hours were in person instead of on Zoom? Despite all the disruption, we were able to adapt and embrace living online to connect with the outside world. From the way we communicate to how we shop, the expectations and preferences we’ve developed since Covid will have lasting consequences going forward.
The fourth annual study examining cross-generational digital trends, commissioned by WP Engine and conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK), was released this week. The global survey, aptly titled “Generation Resilience: How the Pandemic Changed Digital for Everyone,” provides insights into evolving trends and the multiple factors driving them.
First, the facts
- In 2020, global internet use shot up to more than 30%. (Comcast)
- 65% of all generations rely on technology now more than ever before.
- Almost one-third of all businesses increased their use of digital technologies to respond to higher consumer demand. (Brookings)
- Over 60% of Gen Z and millennials plan to continue using the digital channels they adopted or increasingly used during the pandemic.
- 70% of Gen Zers increased their use of streaming video services during the pandemic.
- 48% of Gen Z, 65% of millennials and 54% of Gen X would prefer to continue working remotely.
- Website ownership has increased more than 300% over the past two years across every generation.
Three key areas emerged during the study which provided distinctive lenses on how to view the impact of the pandemic across all age groups: Resilience, Rebuilding and Rising Higher.
Resilience: Connecting a Locked Down Generation
Lockdowns and quarantines. Face masks and social distancing. Canceled vacations and delayed family reunions. But despite the pandemic, the internet helped us stay connected, managing to facilitate everyday tasks, business workflow, professional and personal relationships—practically every aspect of our lives.
Digital trends that were only beginning to emerge pre-pandemic rapidly accelerated during the pandemic: online classes, remote learning, and tele-health, to name a few. In fact, 25% of boomers say they’ll stick with the convenience of virtual medical appointments, highlighting just one change that will potentially remain going forward.
While the new-found reliance on the internet during the pandemic was unprecedented, its overall use remained relatively stable. Meanwhile the dependence on technology, from smart devices to mobiles to tablets, was markedly higher. A majority (65%) say they rely on technology more than ever before, especially millennials at 72%.
Not surprisingly, despite the increased reliance on the internet across each generation, Gen Z remains the most internet-dependent. This younger generation favors video over other all other types of content, watching an average of 68 videos per day, mostly on YouTube. Interestingly YouTube is also the most used social media platform for boomers. (Finally, something you have in common with your grandparents.)
Meanwhile TikTok exploded 180% among Gen Z in 2020, reinforcing that video content is their preferred source of entertainment. In addition, 84% of teens say that YouTube allows them to decompress when feeling “overwhelmed” and “stressed” by remote learning.
With the inability to head to the movie theaters, video streaming markedly increased across generations. Streaming services including Netflix and Hulu grew to over 1 billion subscriptions in 2020.
Rebuilding: Digital Habits are Forever Changed
Digital trends are no longer just something you read about in marketing listicles. As “Generation Resilience” notes, they’ve become our daily routines. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rapid evolution of e-commerce.
The more things change, the more things…change. A report from Ernst & Young, for example, found that 42% of consumers plan to fundamentally change the way they shop as a result of Covid-19.
U.S. e-commerce sales grew 44% in 2020, which translated into higher revenues for many businesses. And it shows no sign of slowing down, especially in everyday necessities such as grocery shopping. (Think about it. How many times had you bought groceries online and picked them up curbside prior to the lockdown?) An impressive 62% of shoppers reported shopping online more often during the pandemic. As a result, one out of four businesses say they will increase marketing activities to maintain their online presence.
Hey, Big Spenders
Once more, the attention is on Gen Z and its $143 billion in spending power. Although older generations have increased their online shopping and become more skilled in the way of e-commerce, there was no such digital learning curve for Gen Z. Meanwhile, baby boomers have increasingly engaged in e-commerce activity as well during the pandemic albeit with a healthy dose of frustration.
Gen Xers (which account for 31% of the total U.S. income) and millennials are instrumental in the-commerce industry. They’re not just shopping and spending for themselves; they’re also likely taking care of kids and aging parents.
With the growing expectations for the consummate personalized experience, consumer trends that seemed novel prior to the pandemic have caught up, becoming the industry standard.
Brands Doing Good
As evidenced many times in the past, Gen Zers feel most strongly about the causes important to them. A vast majority (77%) of Gen Z has taken action for a cause they believe in; 23% have boycotted a brand they disagreed with.
The sheer magnitude of Covid-19 only amplified Gen Z’s need for brand purpose and values, even a genuine emotional connection with the brand itself. Younger generations not only expect to know where companies stand on various social issues—they demand it.
The Office and the Classroom
Not everyone was miserable learning or working remotely. Over half of millennials (57%) and 45% of Gen Zers found virtual learning to be more conducive to their education. On the flip side, however, it can also be isolating, even for people who seemed to live their lives online before the pandemic.
That said, 48% of Gen Z, 65% of millennials and 54% of Gen X say they would prefer to continue working remotely indefinitely, giving up the conference room for the living room. Fifty-nine percent of millennials and 49% of Gen Zers said their work-life balance had actually improved while working from home.
Rising Higher: A New Digital Paradigm
Each generation surveyed was more entrepreneurial than the generation that preceded them, with (of course) Gen Z leading the pack. In fact, 61% of Gen Zers say they plan to start their own business sometime in the future, followed by 58% of millennials. Only 27% of Gen Xers say they have plans for a future business venture. In other words, the younger age groups are interested more in building something new than rebuilding something old.
Similar to the increased entrepreneurial spirit, website ownership over the past two years has exploded to over 300%. Half of millennials now own their own website, as do 37% of Gen Zers.
The digital behaviors and habits that emerged from the global pandemic will dictate how each generation moves forward. Some behaviors are no doubt here to stay while others may be more fluid. As “Generation Resilience” notes, the online acceleration that was evident during the pandemic has blurred the digital and human experiences more than ever before.
The internet and related technologies kept everything going during a veritable standstill, fostering a new and increased dependence across all generations. Life will definitely look different on the other side—and way more digital.
Download your copy of Generation Resilience: How the Pandemic Changed Digital for Everyone.