Practical Ecommerce

Ecommerce Merchants Should Not Ignore Older Shoppers

Conventional wisdom suggests that when seeking customers, ecommerce merchants should pursue teens and people in their twenties. These are the people who own the most electronic devices, are the most comfortable with technology, and do the most online buying. However, you may be overlooking a large and neglected segment of the U.S. population that is eager to spend money online — people over 50.

Advertisers ignore them, concentrating mainly on the 18 to 34 age group. Nielsen, the research firm, estimates that only about 5 percent of advertising dollars are directed at seniors. Merchants too tend to offer products that appeal only to younger shoppers. Marketing efforts are directed mainly at this group.

Myths about seniors abound. Among them are that most seniors are poor, they don’t shop online, and they only buy necessities. Yet statistics show that this overlooked segment of our society has money to spend. Ecommerce vendors that can reach out to older Americans can be richly rewarded.

Why Target People Over 50?

Quite simply there are a lot of them and they have money. Nevertheless, brands focus on the under 50 age group. Yet the almost 78 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are fairly affluent, well educated, comfortable with technology, and willing to try new products. They were raised in a spending-driven economy, unlike their parents who grew up during the Depression.

Yet the almost 78 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are fairly affluent, well educated, comfortable with technology, and willing to try new products

Indeed, according to Nielsen, Boomers’ online habits are similar to those of the 18 to 34 age cohort. Boomers represent 38.5 percent of all consumer packaged goods expenditures. Research firm Ipsos, in cooperation with Google, conducted interviews with 5,100 Boomers and seniors in April 2013 and found that while the most common reason to use the Internet was to find out about the news and weather, 57 percent shopped online in the prior month and 45 percent looked for coupons or daily deals.

As a society, we tend to stereotype seniors. The only advertising directed at them emphasizes physical infirmity. But older people do buy things other than pharmaceuticals, adult diapers, and scooters. Even those who are retired have disposable income. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Bankrate, a financial services company, Americans over 50 account for 77 percent of all financial assets, and 54 percent of total consumer demand. They comprise 47 percent of all car sales and 80 percent of luxury travel purchases. They also buy toys, games and electronics for their grandchildren.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 51.6 million Americans aged 60 to 84 comprising 16.6 percent of the population and 41.9 million between 50 and 59 years of age. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that approximately 18.5 percent of Americans age 65 and over were working in 2012. This percentage will likely increase in future because of erosion in traditional pension plans, a decrease in the value of financial assets, and the uncertainty of 401K plans. Working people need clothing, cars, and electronics.

The results of the 2012 Pew Internet & American Life Project Survey showed that over half of those 65 and older are online and 70 percent use the Internet on a daily basis. However, persons over 75 do not use the Internet very much. But the age group right behind them is comfortable with the Internet and when they reach 75 they will likely continue to use the Internet for email, research, and shopping.

Thirty-four percent of those over 65 visit social networking sites, while 86 percent use email.

Is Millennial Purchasing Power Overestimated?

Merchants who target people in their teens and 20s may be overestimating the purchasing power of this segment of the population. A substantial number of them are living with their parents, are underemployed or unemployed and don’t have a great deal of discretionary income. In 2012, 36 percent of the country’s young adults ages 18 to 31— the Millennial generation — were living in their parents’ home, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Of those still living with parents, only 29 percent were employed. Millennials may actually have considerably less purchasing power than Baby Boomers and seniors.

What do Older Shoppers Look For Online

U.K. research firm Shoppercentric advises that seniors look for quality and value over bargains when shopping. However, they do tend to use coupons and discounts.

Seniors have the inclination and time to perform extensive research before making a purchase decision. Be sure to provide detailed information about your products and services. Visuals are helpful too. Seniors like to do online research on hobbies, vacation destinations, auto, and appliance purchases. They also rely on the Internet for health information.

Seniors are receptive to email marketing. They are more likely to respond to that than other online forms of communication.

In most cases, it’s not necessary to change your website or your product offerings to attract seniors. It is simply a matter of letting them know that you are interested in their business. Many online businesses find that partnering with organizations such as AARP and offering a discount is a good first step in attracting older customers.

Marcia Kaplan
Marcia Kaplan
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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Elizabeth Ball December 16, 2013 Reply

    Great article Marcia! This is an overdue look at an underrated, undervalued, wealthy chunk of society.

    I’d add that online retailers design their pages with larger font size to make it easy to read and don’t use light type on coloured backgrounds – which is hard for me to read, let alone those over 50!

    They might also want to stress security (safe to shop etc), returns policy (in case their (grand)kids don’t like it), and clear contact details.

  2. Sherika Stevens January 7, 2014 Reply

    I was trained in research so when I started my business I did a lot of research on my customers and I found that a good 30-40% of my customers were over 50 years old some even over 70! I sell grocery items so I expected a fairly even spread or a large middle-aged customer base but I was definitely wrong. I’m glad I found this out early on in my business so whenever I do anything I think about all these older folk who shop with me. Oh, and they spend a lot more than those in their 20’s and 30’s for sure (at least in my grocery niche)

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