Catching the silver surfer wave

Millennials are no longer the future of online retail, with latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showing that internet use among the over 65s has increased sharply in recent years.

While the early adopters of internet shopping were Generation Y, tighter economic times have resulted in them becoming increasingly cash-strapped while their parents (and grandparents), who often have equity in their homes and generous retirement incomes, have more disposable time, and money, to spend on the internet.

Furthermore, populations around the world are ageing. By 2050, it is estimated there will be more people aged over 65 in the world than children under the age of 14. In particular, the number of adults over 80 is expected to quadruple to 395 million.

The idea that the internet and online shopping is alien to this older consumer is outdated. According to the latest ONS data, the number of 55 – 64 year olds who had recently used the internet increased by 12% between 2011 and 2015, from 74.7% to 86.7%, while a rise of almost 20% was seen among 65 – 74 year olds, from 52% to 70.6%. Other research shows that over 50s spend approximately 27 hours per week online and their average internet browsing session lasts a phenomenal 3.5 hours. In terms of social media activity, almost one in five Twitter users is over 50, yet, despite all this evidence, only around 10% of the UK’s marketing budget currently focuses on this lucrative age group.

Commentators believe the baby boomer generation is coming online with growing confidence as concerns about internet security are addressed and the convenience of online shopping becomes ever clearer. They’ve got more disposable income and free time to surf the net and benefit from all the data that is available at the click of a button.

While the most recent ONS insight shows that adults aged 75 years and over are also adopting the internet, the pace is slower, with just four in 10 adults aged 75 and over having used the internet during the last three months. There is still huge scope for more to come on board and a real opportunity to attract, nurture and grow this older segment of silver shoppers.

The baby boom generation is not just surfing the web – according to the Futures Company’s Global MONITOR research, 60% of consumers over 50 globally have purchased a product or service online, compared to 51% of 16-34s, and 56% of 35-49s. This finding is true across most of the world: consumers in the over-50 age group are slightly more likely than younger consumers to shop online.

However, it is not straightforward for online retailers as the over-50s category is incredibly diverse. It is a complex group with different interests, opinions and abilities. There are huge differences between a “young at heart” working 55-year-old; a retired but active 70-year-old and a house-bound elderly 85 year old and yet all have the potential to shop and consume online.

There are some uniting principles however that retailer can capitalise on. Webloyalty’s own research among over 55s in the Netherlands (a relatively advanced internet market) shows that when silver surfers shop online, 91% make use of reviews. When asked about barriers to online shopping, two thirds (65%) cite not being able to feel or see the product; one third (39%) are concerned about the reliability of a shop or site, one third (37%) the obligation to pay in advance and one third (34%) the lack of personal contact. This last factor is particularly striking since only 15% of 18- to 30-year olds give this as a reason for not shopping online.

For the younger generation, factors such as shipping costs are some of the biggest barriers to shopping online – something that does not resonate with silver surfers. In contrast, payment convenience is important to the older generation with three quarters of respondents avoiding websites that do not offer simple payment processes. Older consumers are also more price, than brand, motivated with 60% more likely to shop on the basis of price than brand, compared to 54% of younger consumers.  Silver shoppers are also more comfortable with online stores that are founded in bricks and mortar (e.g. retailers that are both on and offline) revealing genuine potential for omni-channel offerings to target this segment of the market.

Online marketers need to design their websites with this group in mind ensuring products are clearly displayed with as much personalisation as possible; peer reviews are readily available and the payment process is straightforward so that the older, more cautious shopper is reassured. On top of this, according to Webloyalty’s research, most silver surfers browse and purchase through a laptop and only a quarter use their mobile phones. This insight is crucial if online marketers are to convert the cash-rich, silver shopper generation and can help guide retailers as they develop mobile apps and websites, work out their marketing priorities and how divide up their precious marketing spend.

Failing to consider the needs of the silver surfer and ignoring their importance when setting marketing strategies is not only a missed opportunity to get ahead of the competition by attracting this lucrative online audience, but, ultimately, it could have a detrimental impact on a business’ bottom line.

By Guy Chiswick, managing director, Webloyalty Northern Europe

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