For the first time in history, there are five generations of luxury customers and four generations of sales advisors. Age diversity to this extent has never been as prevalent, and it is creating not only a generational gap, but also a relationship gap. If success in luxury retail is about connecting authentically with customers, a gap of this magnitude is a liability to luxury brands unless action is taken to bridge the gap.

While culture is democratic, every generation rejects the interests and passions of the previous generations and creates their own identity in music, fashion, hairstyles, and yes, even brands. The advisor holds an incredible amount of influence over whether the brand is perceived as relevant by the varied generations, which makes investing in their development critical to future success.

What’s at the heart of generational challenges?

People often feel the most comfortable with people like themselves and avoid the discomfort of understanding those who are different. Sometimes the discomfort is so extreme we actually avoid the relationship.

If it weren’t for our families, many of us would not experience time spent with those at the other end of the age spectrum – yet that is precisely what is being asked of our sales advisors. Advisors in their 20’s may be close to their grandparents but don’t typically socialize with people of their grandparent’s generation. This poses a unique challenge because we learn the most about others when we spend time with them.

Advisors are keenly aware they need support to navigate the complexity of the generational differences. In our work with luxury brands, we are frequently asked by long tenured, high performing advisors … “can you help me attract younger customers”, or by advisors just starting out in luxury… “can you help me attract clients who are more established”?  The answer is of course, yes, and like all learning, advisors will need to do something different. It happens so frequently, I thought this would be a timely focus of our second Relationship FIRST® Newsletter.

You can’t solve what you don’t see

In today’s current business trend, many luxury retailers are doing so well that sales missed due to generational nuances go unnoticed. There is no exit interview to know what customers are really thinking and the majority of customers won’t say outright… “you don’t relate to me”. Instead, they smile, say thank you, and walk away. What’s at stake are missed relationships that lead to future sales.

Retailers can look at this as a challenge or an opportunity

The gap may be big, and yet the opportunity is bigger. At Shanker Inc., our experience in the trenches shows us that there are opportunities throughout the multi-generational spectrum. Younger generations today have quicker access to wealth — whether it be digital careers or Crypto investments — and the phenomenal transfer of wealth from older generations will continue. While generations that are now retiring are spending more on themselves and their families than at any time in history.

 What will close the generational gap?

1.      Put Your Book to the Test

Before the pandemic, the customer could choose the sales advisor they were most drawn to in-store. In most cases, in the current environment of appointments and up-systems, they cannot, and that is likely to continue. This creates a need for enhanced generational acumen as sales advisors are more likely to find themselves helping clients across a wider spectrum.

A key indicator of your sales team’s ability to adapt and be successful can be discovered by examining the generational diversity of their book of business. If you find that they are helping a wide spectrum but only developing Clienteling relationships with their own generation, then it’s imperative to invest in developing them with advanced interpersonal skills.

2.     Sweat the small stuff

Brands are spending marketing dollars to understand generational nuances, yet advisors are not being developed to deliver on insights, and in some cases are not being given the information at all. Advisors who are prepared with the knowledge and skills to adapt to each generation’s motivation will have the tools needed stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment.

3.   Don’t Sell to Yourself

Your customers’ purchase motivation may not be yours. Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes is not as easy as it sounds when it comes to generational differences. Deep empathy is further challenged by falling into the trap of thinking others are motivated by the same things we are. That could not be farther from reality when comparing the purchase motivation of younger to older generations.

 Younger generations today are purchasing luxury to be worn more casually and less for the social status that drove older generations. Understanding customers’ motivational differences informs advisors on how to create desire through different wording, stories, and references.

Flexing is the new black and requires observing and listening to customers with a new lens. It’s the advisor’s responsibility to not assume, and instead discover each individual’s motivation from “belonging” to “exclusivity” or somewhere in between.

Become a generational Ninja

While challenges to supply chain, pricing, staffing, and operational issues require so much focus in today’s environment, we invite you to explore this untapped opportunity as way to build the strength of your brand. Advisors hold the key to relationships, which are the life blood of luxury retail. Ensuring they can relate across generations will safeguard the strength of your client relationships and your brand’s future.

 Contact us to learn about our cross-generational development programs.

 Martin Shanker is founder and president of Shanker Inc., a New York-based global consultancy deploying its Relationship FIRST® Method for luxury retailers and brands to develop their sales teams with a focus on neurosciences, emotional intelligence, and behavior-based training. Clients include Burberry, Cartier, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, LVMH, Lane Crawford, Tod’s and Van Cleef & Arpels. Reach him at