Online, over 60, and out for a bargain


If you flick through the back pages of certain newspaper supplements, you’ll soon conclude that marketing to older people hasn’t much changed over the last few decades. That’s not to say that adverts of happy and healthy pensioners modelling stair lifts, walk-in baths, reclining armchairs, wide-fit shoes and polyester trousers don’t have their audience – they do. But you’d be missing a trick if you hadn’t spotted the growing number of older people who are not only demanding more retail choice, but are looking for it online.

Let’s take a look at some recent facts and figures. This month, Internet marketing firm Nielsen Online reported that, during 2008, Facebook attracted 8.3 million new users aged between 50 and 64. In January, a Microsoft survey of 1,000 PC users in the UK discovered that 95% of the over 55s were using the web on a daily basis – astonishing when you consider that only 85% of 16-24 year olds did the same. Similar research by AXA in February found that four in ten retired people regularly buy online.

On the basis of these figures, I think there are three main factors that Internet marketing specialists in the UK need to concern themselves with. First, and most obviously, web use among the older generation is going to rise further, and quickly – and when it does, this is a demographic that has the potential to spend more time online than any other. The AXA research showed that UK pensioners with Internet access logged on for an average of six hours each week, hot on the heels of their counterparts in Australia and Canada (seven hours) and a little behind the USA (9 hours).

Secondly, the audience will not only rise, but it will be a committed one. Although it’s dangerous to extrapolate from trends in other countries, a recent study in China may yet give us a glimpse of what’s to come. According to this data, collected by Ogilvy Mather, the fourth greatest item of expenditure for over 60s in two major Chinese cities was telecommunications – ranking behind only food, utilities and daily requirements. Again, this ties in with the AXA data, which reveals that 41% of pensioners polled named ‘Internet usage’ as their preferred hobby, outranking DIY & Gardening (at 39%) and – a traditional retirement market – travel (at 28%).

But lastly, and most importantly, the older generation is spending its time and money in new ways – and this is where the savvy marketer will direct their gaze.

Think about it. The people now reaching retirement age belong to the post-war generation – the so-called ‘Baby Boomers’. These are the people who discovered free love in the 60s, thought it was a nifty idea to wear platform shoes as they brought up kids in the 70s, and invested their money in former public utility shares in the 1980s. I generalise, but the wider point is that we’re talking about a generation that has had greater freedom from convention or contstraint than any other than went before it.

This, of course, is brilliant from the marketing perspective. Clever retailers and service providers can now target a growing demographic that:

  • Is not only adopting social media like Facebook at a rapid rate, but lists emailing as its most popular Internet activity
  • Is increasingly adopting web search – 83% of the age group according to AXA
  • Is economically active for longer – not only do over 60s face pressures from the recession, but governments are raising the age at which people become eligible for a state pension: in Australia it will be 67 by 2023, and in the UK it will have risen to 68 by 2050.
  • Can see the web’s potential for a healthy and productive retirement, not only in the choice it offers, but for providing welcome solutions like home delivery
  • Is not afraid to hunt out the best deal: like the rest of us, baby boomers are cutting back on household and luxury expenditure, and increasingly turn to online retailers to slash bills.

More than anything, it’s going to be an interesting few years for online marketing. And the biggest challenge isn’t going to be how to shift those stair lifts and and walk-in baths: it’s going to be making sure that your products and services can be found by a clued-up and newly-influential market. Contact us to find out how we can help you do it.

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