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Baby boomers and retail: the need to re-engage the forgotten generation
Over the last few years, advertisers have rushed to woo millennial consumers, leaving their older counterparts feeling overlooked or alienated. According to a recent study by Hitachi Consulting, almost three-quarters (74%) of stores are increasingly focusing their services on 19-38-year-olds, in a bid to capitalize on mobile and digital spending, as well as capturing the long-term loyalty of the next-generation of shoppers. This means that brands and retailers are ignoring or irritating more than a third of the UK population, with more than 23 million people aged over-50 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Retailers and marketers are currently putting all of their eggs in the millennial basket and forgetting that they are not the only generation with money and spending potential.
Thanks to the end of the recent financial turmoil and increased life expectancy, the older generation are rediscovering the joys of their youth. In coming years, the over-55s are expected to represent up to 86% of consumer spending growth and yet 78% feel under-represented, with 49% saying they actively avoid brands and retailers, who are in turn ignoring them (Gransnet and Mumset). These baby boomers are finally buying everything they have always wanted, they have disposable income and they are actively seeking new things, so brands and retailers could be making a grave mistake by forgetting about them and their purchasing power.
So, what do we need to know about this forgotten generation and, more importantly, how can we successfully target them?
Don't believe the stereotypes
Boomers are often stereotyped as a grey-haired generation who are set in their ways, who lead inactive lives and who are technophobes. But it's not fair to group the baby boomer generation as one, considering the age difference spans from 54-years-old to 72-years-old. This is the equivalent of comparing my 70-year-old auntie who cannot work out how to take photos on her phone and would never consider ordering her weekly shop online to my mum, who refuses to mention the dreaded ‘S’ word (she turns sixty next year) and who loves to message me on Whatsapp or scout out the latest online deal.
It’s important to remember that we’re not just talking to the walking-stick-welding cardigan-lovers most imagine, but a generation who over the last decade have increased their consumer spending on an average of 4.4% a year – faster than any other demographic. We are talking to the biggest spenders, the fastest-growing and highest-earning segment of the population, according to ONS, and it’s time we showed them some attention.
Convenience and customer experience is still key
Unlike millennials, baby boomers are more sensitive to negative customer experiences in store, with 54% unlikely to return to a store due to lack of appreciation from sales associates (LoyaltyOne). They still crave a personalised sales experience and they want personalised attention. Stores can help deliver this through new technology available, but retailers also need to consider how they train their staff on how they should communicate with boomers in store.
Boomers are also a convenience-driven demographic. In a recent report by Yes Marketing 30% indicated that convenience is their main brand loyalty driver. This is more than any other generation, so retailers need to take it into consideration. They also need to consider their store’s appearance and how to create a smoother shopper journey, because the same report found that boomers are more likely to return to the store if it is tidy and easy to navigate.
Boomers are not afraid of technology
For those saying baby boomers are resistant to change, don’t forget that just because they weren’t born with technology, that doesn’t mean they haven’t managed to incorporate it into their shopping habits and daily lives. Far from being tech ignorant, they use tech as a primary form of communication with friends and family and are keen to embrace it within their shopping experiences. Findings in a recent Digital Bridge report highlighted how businesses have underestimated the demand for a better shopping experience using the latest technology, and how the older generation are just as eager for the technological revolution of retail as their younger counterparts.
Interestingly, this report also revealed that these consumers are keen to try out visualization technology, which would allow them to preview products at home before committing to purchases either online or in store. Rather than being fearful that technology will only drive consumers online, retailers need to use it to their advantage – it can be a new way to get boomers into their stores. In fact, a staggering 73% of older shoppers said they would be more likely to shop with a retailer that offered these visualization tools. So, retailers could be missing out on a huge opportunity by not capitalizing on this and need to strongly consider implementing tech as part of their consumer offerings.
In summary, brands and retailers need to embrace this older demographic and take their needs and behaviors into consideration in order to give themselves an opportunity to grow. Millennials may represent the bigger long-term opportunity, but baby boomers shouldn’t be alienated. The retail journey needs to be optimized to work for both, add value for both or at least consider both. This increasingly wealthy and growing older generation represents a big opportunity for consumer businesses and retailers, and one they should continue to pursue with interest.
Harriet Miles is an account manager at Haygarth
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