The Rise of the Silver Surfers

Millennials are often the only target for e-commerce retailers and the stereotype of the older Internet user is far from flattering. After all, Millennials – in their 20s and 30s – are more tech savvy, accustomed to the internet and trust the online shopping process to a greater extent. But what about older generations?

Internet surfers in their 50s and over are often seen as amateurs in tech, with something as simple as navigating a browser seen as a challenge for them, let alone the complexity of online shopping. But in reality, the ‘typical’ e-commerce shopper is older than you might think. According to the Futures Company’s Global MONITOR research, 60% of consumers aged 50+ globally say they 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 50+ age group are slightly more likely than younger consumers to shop online. In the end, it turns out that the generations are more similar than they are different.

That being said, seniors are a lucrative market that e-tailers cannot afford to ignore. The reasons are numerous: the total number of seniors is growing, the percentage of seniors online is growing, and the percentage of online seniors who shop is growing. In fact, this group of shoppers is increasing more than any other group as Internet use is close to saturation among other parts of the population.

A report from Cebr stated that consumer spending among the over 50s in the UK reached £320 billion in 2012 (47.6% of total consumer spend). Yet, according to Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing, they only receive around 10% of the marketing focus. A report from Forrester titled “The Future of Shopping”, also urges retailers in the US to do more to court older shoppers, to reflect the shift in spending power away from millennials.

But before retailers rush to target this growing and relatively untapped opportunity, it makes sense to look at how many older consumers are interested in technology at all. According to Google’s Consumer Barometer 2014, the proportion of those aged over the age of 55 going online daily ranges from 62% in Germany and 63% in the US, to 70% or just over in the UK, Spain and France. Of those markets, the percentage researching or buying online was highest in the UK at 53% and 46% respectively, and then France, at 51% and 34%. In Norway, 10% used tablets to buy goods online, as did 7% in the US and 5% in the UK – although purchases via smartphone fell away, with highs of only 4% in Spain and the US.

Even if so-called “silver surfers” are happier using bigger screens, there’s clearly a demand to take care of which will only grow as people become more confident with e-commerce, and the audience that has grown up with technology ages, too.

But the experts are united in their advice: do not treat the over 50s as if they are all the same. It is a big and complex group, with different interests, different opinions and differing abilities.

There are some defining characteristics though. Statistics from Rakuten’s e-commerce site in Germany, for example, say that the majority seek quality products, seem to be loyal to brands and are not particularly price sensitive. They also have more time to spend on their hobbies and interests.

In the future, it’s going to be increasingly important to consider the older consumer in e-Commerce strategies as there are just going to be more of them. With few exceptions, populations around the world are ageing. By 2050, there will be more people aged over 65 in the world than children under the age of 14. Within the same time frame, the number of people aged 80+ globally will quadruple to 395 million.

What does this all mean for businesses? No matter who your business is targeting today, start thinking about older consumers and how you can meet their changing needs, both on- and offline.

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