Seniors who surf the Web have money and want to spend it.
The number of seniors surfing the Internet and spending online is growing, says eMarketer, which estimates that the number of Internet-using seniors aged 62 and over will grow to 25.4 million by the year 2011, up from 17.6 million in 2006. With an expected 7.6 percent average growth rate, more than double the 3.1 percent growth rate of the whole U.S. Internet population, this makes seniors the fastest growing online demographic in the country.
Despite their strong Internet presence, seniors are “underserved,” says the report, which is especially surprising considering online seniors have double the money to spend than their offline peers, according to a Focalyst and Dynamic Logic demographic report on seniors. Furthermore, 44 percent of seniors (those polled aged 55 and over) use the Web to shop and obtain product information, following those using the Internet to read about news and world events (55.9 percent).
Companies who ignore the potential of senior online shoppers are making a “big mistake,” says Thomas Harpointner, CEO of Atlanta, GA-based AIS Media, a leading e-business solutions provider. The reasons some companies miss this demographic, Harpointner says, is “because of the mistaken belief that seniors don’t make a good market because they are less tech-savvy, are slower to make decisions, and that younger people are lower hanging fruit because they are quicker to convert and easier to sell.”
Lisa Joy Rosner, vice president of marketing at MyBuys, a company helping online retailers individually target product recommendations to consumers, agrees. “There is a perception that the younger crowd is more ‘tech-savvy.’ They have grown up with the Internet and spend a significant portion of their time surfing the Web,” Rosner explains. “Interestingly enough however, the younger shopper does not have the same amount of money to buy as much online, while the senior shopper has amassed more funds and has more time to spend online shopping.”
However, Harpointner says, there is a “right way and a wrong way to market to seniors. While it is true that seniors weren’t fastest adopters of the Internet, it has been around long enough now seniors have migrated to the Web. They are more computer-savvy than most marketers believe.”
“We see these images of helpless confused geriatrics, but these aren’t yesterday’s seniors, they are not the seniors of ten, twenty, thirty years ago; some are very Internet-savvy,” says Jane Roper, senior copywriter at PARTNERS+simons, a marketing services firm specializing in technology, healthcare, life sciences, and financial services.
The key to reaching seniors online, Roper maintains, is respect. “Don’t treat them like they’re old. Nobody thinks of themselves as old. Whenever you have a diverse audience, you need to make an emotional connection. Appeal to their emotional needs and wants, whatever the product may be,” she advises.
Roper predicts that the image of seniors on the Internet will improve with time. “The assumption that seniors aren’t comfortable with the Web will be changing a lot. It is becoming a way to connect with people," she says. "Seniors keep in touch with their family, they see grandkids on YouTube.”
Harpointner says that as companies become more aware that seniors are indeed tech-savvy, they will realize the value of this older demographic. That initial resistance to change that seniors are famous for actually makes them a boon to companies, he says. “Seniors make a lucrative market because they resist change; yes, they were slow to adapt to the idea of shopping online, but once they become comfortable with a vendor they stick with it,” Harpointner explains. “Seniors make much more loyal customers than younger customers, who will likely leave a vendor to save five bucks at another site.”
Loyal customers, as most companies know, are more desirable than newly acquired, easily wooed consumers, who may be just as quickly seduced by competitors. “Older customers are more likely to be long-term customers, and it is more cost-effective to sell to existing customers than to acquire new customers,” he maintains. “Once you have them, and keep them happy, they stick around, and they don’t want to change new vendors, because they go with what they know.”
Rosner says the key to fostering loyalty with senior consumers is personalization. “MyBuys and the e-tailing group recently partnered to conduct a survey of consumers on the topic of personalization. This survey showed that consumers want online retailers to do more to personalize the online shopping experience, and that consumers are loyal to retailers who ‘know them’ and make relevant product recommendations based on their past purchases and behavior.”
Online retailers must avoid making the mistake of viewing all seniors as alike, as the majority of shoppers (89 percent) surveyed felt that products suggested on Websites are only specifically tailored to them “some of the time” or “once in a while.” Three quarter of consumers are willing to provide some personal information in order to enjoy more personalized online shopping, the report reveals.
“Despite this shocking statistic, the number one challenge when approaching seniors is that they do, in fact have security concerns,” Rosner says. “The way to overcome this is through communication with the shopper, letting them know that their data is safe and by building a trusting online relationship with them. Serving them well makes a big difference with loyalty.”
What do seniors want? They don’t want to be stereotyped, Rosner warns. “The term ‘seniors’ is broad. Just like any other demographic, what resonates with one shopper may not resonate with another. What seniors want are targeted product recommendations based on their behavior as individuals. The bottom line,” Rosner says, “is that online retailers need to adopt strategies that enable them to merchandise to individuals, not broad categories of shoppers.”
As the price of gas skyrockets, and as seniors face issues with their health and mobility, having a relationship with a favorite online retailer becomes increasingly likely for many older consumers. “Online shopping is more convenient than driving to a store; that is one reason that so many seniors, especially those who are elderly and can no longer drive to a mall and walk around from store to store, are relying on this channel. They order online and the merchandise is brought directly to their home,” Rosner explains.
Harpointner concurs that convenience is a major advantage for seniors. “Delivery is a key factor, especially for a larger or heavy product, that UPS will deliver right to the front door,” he says. “Any company that sells products that tend to be harder to handle or heavier, needs to know that seniors are a very good target audience.”
Further physical concerns must be addressed with online retailers, Harpointner says, as seniors may have other ailments or conditions that affect their shopping experiences. “To a senior, small fonts are difficult to read, and a confused customer is not going to buy from that site. Sometimes a senior may be confused by navigation, and have a difficult user experience,” he explains. “When we design a website for Baby Boomers and senior citizens, we use larger fonts and a basic Times New Roman or an Arial font, no fancy small fonts.”
Clear color choices are also a consideration. “Distinguishing certain colors can be a problem for older people," he adds. "Yellow, green and blue, if used together, can be difficult to discriminate, because those colors appear to bleed together.”
And that can be irritating, he says. “When that happens, it can be aggravating to a senior citizen, who may not consciously realize why, but will not like the site and will navigate away from it,” Harpointner warns.
“Some senior citizens tend to have hand tremors or suffer from arthritis, so we keep navigation and things that need to be clicked to a minimum,” he adds. “We have a three-click rule,” he explains, saying that user should have to click no more than three times to get to where they want to go. Otherwise, Harpointner says, “People tend to get aggravated.”
And having an aggravated customer simply does not pay.
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