'Older consumers' - How adjusting our perceptions opens up new horizons

The other day I was in a meeting, where someone said, ‘oh yes, M&Co, you know them, they’re the clothes brand for older women” in a slightly dismissive way. It raised the question in my mind whether the brand was being denigrated because of its image or just because it targets an older consumer.  

The fact is, this Scottish retailer is proving very successful and experiencing great growth; it recently posted its best profits in five years, through successfully tapping into the older consumer demographic. Despite this, it may not seem exciting or interesting as a brand to many in the marketing community.I think this is the challenge for marketers and researchers today. Logic tells us that ‘the older adult consumer’ is a huge growth market which is full of aspirational consumers with credible disposable incomes.  

“Those over 60 constitute the fastest-growing group in the populations of rich countries, with their number set to increase by more than a third by 2030, from 164m to 222m. Older consumers are also the richest thanks to house-price inflation and generous pensions. The over-60s currently spend some $4 trillion a year and that number will only grow.” (Economist - April 2016)

And whilst data analysis tells us that this market is not homogeneous – it is as varied and complex as the younger demographic - at a subliminal level, stereo-typical beliefs about what these people are like are so ingrained in our consumer culture, it can colour our judgement. Even marketers, it would appear, struggle to be non-judgmental about age, and can tend to see a younger consumer as more enticing and exciting to target. 

Yet our research amongst this segment reinforces understanding that consumers aged 60+ don’t expect to be pigeon-holed, patronised or denigrated as purchasers of second-rate brands.  In so many ways, older people are the same as younger people – they want to shop brands they believe in, have positive retail experiences, and buy products and services that they like.  Sometimes what they want from a brand, a shopping experience or a leisure activity is the same as younger consumers – and sometimes it’s not.

But what’s important is understanding where the differences lie, how to communicate with older consumers in a credible and engaging way, and what sort of buying experience the target audience is looking for. A brand which engages and sells successfully to the 50+ and 60+ should stand tall and be revered – and not be regarded as second tier. It is perhaps no surprise that the likes of John Lewis and Waitrose do so well amongst this target audience: respectful and helpful service that is flexible to the needs of different consumers and passionate about quality whilst embracing innovation.  

Recent data showed that men aged 65 and older spent more on Apple devices than any other demographic group in the United States (Slice Intelligence).

It is heartening to see that Apple has embraced this older demographic; many older consumers are as strong brand advocates as the younger generation.  Apple’s focus on simplicity, quality and beautiful presentation coupled with its respectful, knowledgeable staff who can adapt their approach to fit with the different consumers, leaves the older generation impressed and empowered. And this is exactly what the older consumer is after. 

Our research with the older consumer shows that anything that encourages and respects their desire for independence, empowers them to make great consumer choices, and doesn’t make them feel ‘old’, is at the top of their wish list.

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