If your business has been struggling in the recession, you might have been dreaming of a huge group of customers, with lots of disposable income, who are immune to the recession and even – you can always dream, right? – promising huge growth in years to come. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Well, it turns out these ideal consumers actually exist. They’re called “the over 50s”.
These people often have paid off their mortgage (there is research showing that 63% of 55-70 year-olds are in owner-occupied homes without a mortgage) and might have put their children through college already.
They are looking forward to retirement or are already retired, so their income (pension) is not at risk. And the “granny boom” is far from over. Baby boomers are here to stay – for a long while, at least.
Imagine: 75% of the EU’s wealth is held by the over-50s. The over-50 age group is responsible for the majority of household expenditure (54%) in the US and half of consumer spending across the EU. According to research compiled by The Business of Ageing Partnership, those aged over 65 in Ireland have a declared income of €6.6 billion.
So what is the business community doing to serve this growing, enthusiastic, willing-to-spend market? At best, very little. At worst, insulting them and forgetting they exist.
Taking all this in consideration, how can we as businesses serve them better? And what do we need to know to adapt?
The retail experience
So what can we do to accommodate the more senior demographic in their customer experience?
First, if you have a shop, is that shop welcoming to older customers? Or is there loud techno music blaring and flashy neon coloured walls at every turn? What kind of retail experience do you offer?
Too often, people over 50 or over 60 are disregarded or patronised. And it’s also in the little details: are there comfy chairs for customers to sit down while they’re waiting to get into the changing rooms? Older customers also use cheques more often than younger groups: do you accept them?
The marketing approach
An obvious step would also be to include senior citizens in ads, just like Specsavers did in a very clever way with their “rollercoaster” ad.
According to the Business of Ageing Partnership, very little marketing spend (only 10%) is directed at the over 50s. And research by advertising agency McCann Erickson in Dublin also found that most of this is often either completely off, advertising brands and services this demographic has no interest in, or it’s downright insulting.
There’s a huge amount of marketing aimed at the young thirty-something, sashaying her way down the street loaded with shopping bags. Needless to say, that kind of ad will do little to attract an older demographic.
Besides, the young thirty something is most likely contending with many financial demands on her salary and has a lot less disposable income than her older female counterparts. She has many, many things on her mind other than shopping, yet the vast majority of marketing campaigns are aimed at her, and not her mother!
Too often, businesses forget the over 50s are a sophisticated demographic
But it goes beyond tokenism: imagine you could poach a wonderful senior consultant with 40 years’ experience from a rival company. How much would that be worth to you?
Now imagine you don’t even have to poach them, as they’re retired. They have (almost) all the time in the world and can bring their immense expertise to your business.
So why not simply ask a person with all of this knowledge and wisdom for feedback? Too often, businesses forget that this is a sophisticated group, who not only has time to devote to consulting and the like, but also possesses the irreplaceable experience that comes from having spent decades in the workforce.
And even thinking in terms of “the over 50s” or “the over 60s” might be completely mistaken. After all, good marketing is all about a finer-grained approach to other age groups: taking the example of women again, there’s the professional, the student, the traveler, the business woman, the housewife, the part-time worker, the mother with toddlers or the mother with teenagers, the single parent, and so many other categories, subcategories and categories that cross over.
It is certainly the case that the retired professional and the housewife over 50 have wildly different interests, concerns, needs and financial means. Lumping everybody together just by age might be yet another mistake due to the same mindset that businesses don’t really need to make an effort for older people.
Everything you thought you knew about the over 50s
There are many prejudices that businesses need to rid themselves of, before they approach this demographic. Take the widely held view that people over 50 have a hard time with technology: tiny buttons, small screens, these are only small barriers compared to the fact that most of the technology that is available today didn’t even exist when they were growing up.
Contrary to today’s digitally native generation, it takes – or so goes the accepted wisdom – much more of a cognitive leap for over 50s to get to grips with technology.
Only this is not the case at all. Senior citizens are embracing technology en masse and are more and more social-media savvy.
More than a quarter of the nation’s over 50s say they own a smartphone, iPad or other tablet computer. More than one in two mobiles bought by over 50s in the past 12 weeks were smartphones. Online purchases by the over 50s are up by a quarter since 2010 and now account for £1 in every £8 spent. This is compared to £1 in every £13 only two years ago.
As for Facebook, between 2009 and 2011 the number of 50-64 year olds visiting the social networking site rose by 84%. The number of over 65s visiting the site increased by 81% across the same period.
And Twitter is super-popular, too: there was also a 65% increase in the numbers of men aged between 50-64 visiting the site, while the number of women aged over 65 grew by a whopping 96% over the same period.
Think outside of all the boxes
And let’s not stop there. These people have whole families (who knew, right?!), children and grandchildren for whom they are buying presents and whom they might be helping in many ways.
Take the example of a business selling baby items: contrary to what many will think, their primary target market is NOT young parents who’ve just had a baby.
Young parents are wandering about in a sleep-deprived haze, trying to juggle their existing commitments with the new arrival and 2am feeds. Once again, they have many things on their minds other than going on a shopping spree looking for cute baby clothes. Doting grandmothers, on the other hand…
And imagine you are shopping with your parents or grandparents: what will you think of a shop assistant who ignores or patronises them? How many times have you witnessed that scene: an older person asks a question and the shop assistant looks right past them and talks to their child or grandchild? How insulting is that? If you were the child or grandchild, would you shop there again? You might think older customers are not your core market anyway, but alienating them might backfire in ways you didn’t expect.
If you want to avoid being unhelpful or unwittingly rude to your customers, taking the time and making the effort to truly serve older people is not just a way to “get at their money” – it’s good business practice, period.
Now let’s take it one step further. Those people who are young today will age. The number of people in the world over the age of 50 will have doubled by 2050 ; most children born today in the developed world will live to be 100. By 2045, there will be more people in the world over the age of 60 than under the age of five – for the first time ever.
It’s essential that businesses learn to deal respectfully and efficiently with the requests of older customers, because this is their key growing market.
Also make sure to look at what your business is already doing, that older people would appreciate. Helpful, patient customer reps? Shops designed to be a quiet haven in the middle of a busy mall? If you don’t know the questions to ask yourself, never mind the answer, ask somebody of an older generation for their help and expertise.
If you were thinking you needed to try harder to appeal to a young demographic, run in the other direction: your “less” might be much, much more when it comes to an older age group.
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