Older consumers learned new tricks during the pandemic
BABY BOOMERS, aged 57 to 75, are, as the name suggests, numerous. Healthier and more adventurous than cohorts of the same age in the past, since 2018, those over 65 outnumber those under five. They are also richer. US households headed by baby boomers spend $ 64,000 per year, nearly twice as much as those headed by youth born from 1997 onwards. With the previous “silent” generation, they account for two-fifths of household spending. American consumption. Yet brands and retailers have long left older shoppers aside, focusing most of their attention on wrinkle-free products. As with many things, the pandemic demands an overhaul.
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On the one hand, the fear of covid-19, more deadly for the elderly, has ushered in the old ones online. Last year, Britons over 65 accounted for 30% of online consumer goods purchases, up from 20% in 2019. In August, the UK Office for National Statistics reported that 65% of them had shopped online in the past 12 months, up from 54%. the year before. Americans over 65 spent 53% more on internet shopping than the previous year, according to NielsenIQ, a research firm (see graph).
Hinge, an e-commerce consultancy, says sales of products disproportionately purchased by seniors, from meal replacements to adult diapers, have jumped 50% or more, surpassing overall sales. Companies that cater to older consumers are adapting. GoGoGrandparent’s staple was helping graying North American technophobes book rideshare services over the phone. With social distancing, this business has shrunk, explains Justin Boogaard, its co-founder. In April 2020, the business branched out into delivering food to seniors with dietary restrictions; these have increased by 300% since then, he says.
It is not just products specifically aimed at the elderly that the elderly are sweeping the internet. Their online alcohol spending has almost quadrupled in America, says NielsenIQ. SilverSingles, a dating site, reports healthy growth in the number of new monthly users. The first virtual meetings with wine tasting, food deliveries and movie streaming are all the rage, offering brands the possibility of offering their products to alumni who have signed up.
Brands are also trying to appeal to the elderly through products such as “healthy aging” products, which the pandemic has turned into a craze. Nestlé, a Swiss consumer goods giant, has launched a milk drink in China that is supposed to promote mobility. British rival Reckitt Benckiser markets one that targets immunity. Danone, a French yogurt maker, is investing in the development of similar products. Companies are also considering spending more on anti-wrinkle ads; only 3% of US ad spend goes to people over 50, says Joseph Coughlin, who heads AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Some innovations that are welcome during a pandemic may be less so once it has passed, especially for retailers. Maintaining priority slots for online deliveries to seniors, and not charging them delivery fees on what tend to be small orders shipped at a loss, is going to get expensive, warns a supermarket boss. Still, businesses will face pressures to stay personalized, especially with more physical stores shutting down for good.
They may also need to make online shopping easier than they already have. This could mean fewer forms that seniors (and everyone else) find difficult, and more options as to how and when to pay, to reassure older buyers who are afraid to share their credit card details. . After teaching alumni new tricks during the pandemic, companies now need to learn a few for themselves. ■
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This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Le boom des boomers”