Generations – Do consumers act their age on the web?

Are Silver Surfers cautious about buying online? Are younger generations more influenced by user-generated content? Or are consumers’ habits completely unpredictable when it comes to online behaviour? Tricia Holly Davis finds out


It will probably come as no surprise to many in the industry that recent research carried out on behalf of Travolution into how different generations interact with the Internet, concluded that online consumer behaviour is evolving at a rapid pace. 


While many elements of the research confirmed anecdotal evidence of consumers’ buying habits, such as the increasing influence of user reviews, other results, such as the importance of price on purchasing decisions, defy conventional wisdom.


A key finding of the research is the increasing influence social networking and user-generated content sites, and the recommendations of friends and family, are having on consumer buying behaviour. Depending on the age group, such recommendations often trump the importance of price.


According to the research, 14% of online consumers, aged 16-24, consult friends, family or social networking sites prior to booking a holiday, while 28% seek advice from user-review sites, such as TripAdvisor. Nearly 20% of this age group say they are “greatly influenced” by online reviews.


Younger people are also much more swayed by recommendations than by price. Some 57% say their purchasing decisions are somewhat influenced by online reviews, while 26% and 38%, respectively, say price somewhat affects their decision on flights and accommodation.


Online holidaymakers aged 55 and over fall on the other end of the spectrum, with just 2% seeking advice from friends, family or social networking sites prior to booking a holiday. Fifteen per cent say online reviews greatly influence their holiday decisions. This group is also more influenced by price than online reviews.


Although 24% of the Silver Surfer generation consult user-review sites before booking a trip, 28% and 31%, respectively, prefer to get advice from a travel agent or family.


The disparity between the online habits of younger and older generations extends to everything from website design to the types of holidays they purchase to how much they are willing to spend online.


Forty six per cent of Silver Surfers who have travelled in the past three years have chosen city breaks, while 45% opted for beach holidays. Surprisingly perhaps, cruise and packaged holidays ranked much lower down the scale, with only 15% and 28%, respectively, choosing these types of holidays.


Beach holidays proved the most popular with youngsters, with 66% hitting the sand over the past three years. Only 5% of those aged 16-24 took a cruise, while an equal percentage opted for an eco-trip.


Another significant difference between the buying habits of these age groups is the impact of website design. The older generation is twice as likely as the younger demographic to leave a website because there isn’t any direct contact information.


Silver Surfers also spend more online than younger people (though this is no doubt influenced by the fact they have more disposable income). The most money the 55+ age group has ever spent online ranges from £1,000-£5,000, while the majority of younger people spent between £500-£1,000.


Interestingly, Silver Surfers spend nearly half as much time than younger people to book a holiday online, with 23% booking a trip in less than two hours, compared with 13% of 16 to 24-year-olds.


However, there are some similarities between these groups. The most notable of which is the time spent researching holidays online before travelling. The majority of both age groups spend between one day and one week researching trips online.


The majority of both age groups also visits an airline’s website first when looking for a flight. But while 59% of younger people search for flights from online travel agencies, such as Expedia and Lastminute.com, these sites attract just one third of older travellers.


There is far less disparity among the online habits of those aged 25-30 and 35-54.


When it comes to the influence of online reviews, for instance, the younger group is only slightly more likely to be greatly influenced by these sites (27% versus 21%). The majority of both groups also spends between one day and one week researching their holidays online.


Likewise, a nearly equal percentage of both groups will first visit an airline’s website when searching for flights, followed by online travel agencies. Meta-search companies win over more people from the younger generation, with 43% of 25-30-year-olds visiting flight comparison sites, compared with 36% of those in the 35-54 age range.


Interestingly, both age groups spend more time online to finalise their plans than younger people and Silver Surfers, with the majority of each group spending between 30 minutes to one hour to book a flight online. 


The most notable similarity among all age groups is the use of the Internet to research local weather and tourist attractions more than any other information and activities, such as fun days out and bars and nightclubs.


The most noticeable difference among the different generations is that, the younger people are, the far more likely they are to share their experiences on a social networking site.


Some 31% of 16-24-year-olds have uploaded pictures of their holiday on to a social networking site since returning from their trip, compared with 15% of those in the 25-30 age range, and 6% of those aged 35-54.


Among the Silver Surfer generation, less than 1% share photos on social networking sites.


However, all age groups seem to have penchant for providing recommendations, be it online or verbally.


In order of the youngest to oldest age group, 58%, 57%, 61%, and 62% of people have provided recommendations to others since returning from their last trip.


It is probably safe to assume, based on the findings, that the younger generations are sharing their advice online, while the older age groups are passing on word-of-mouth recommendations.


But when it comes to consumer behaviour, especially in terms of how people interact online, it’s never a good idea to make assumptions.



Approximately how long do you normally spend researching your holiday before deciding to book?


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Who or what do you normally consult before making a booking?


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Which of the following have you done since you’ve returned from holiday?


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How many search results do you typically browse before changing your search query?


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When looking for flights online, which types of sites do you visit?


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How many websites do you check to feel confident enough to finally book a holiday?


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From the search results that you browse, are they mainly in the….?


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On the results page of a search engine, do you click on the sponsored listings?


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