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GUEST COMMENT Targeting the over 50s: Why retailers need to re-think their approach to shopper groups

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For many years, demographic factors were the most sophisticated means retailers had of tailoring and targeting their marketing strategy. But we now live in the age of the individual, and broad brush insights feel outdated, even alienating, to consumers.

Relying too much on demographics can quickly lead to diverse groups of consumers being lumped together in a stereotypical fashion, based purely on factors such as their age, gender or location. This is bad news for retailers wanting to demonstrate that they understand customers and prospects.

The over 50s have suffered particularly badly at the hands of demographic targeting, with retailers often failing to engage and inspire them. This is in spite of the UK’s over 50s making up more than a third of the total population, possessing a high disposable income and becoming increasingly time-rich. According to a recent survey from Age UK, a staggering two thirds of the UK’s over 50s believe that advertising in its current state portrays them in a negative manner.

We used our data to explore the attitudes and behaviours of the over 50s, and found that brands pigeonhole this important shopper group at their peril.

Embrace the cross-channel approach

Thanks to the boom in e-commerce, over recent years shopping has become truly omnipresent; connected devices mean shoppers can make purchases whenever and wherever they choose, and social networks have transformed the way retailers engage with consumers. But retailers often assume that it’s only the so-called “digital natives” – millennials and generations X, Y and X – that are operating in this connected world. In fact, just like their younger counterparts, the over 50s are becoming increasingly digitally agile.

The “baby boomer” generation – those aged between 51 and 69 – do still have an affiliation with more traditional media, but they are the fastest growing adopters of digital channels. According to our findings, two thirds of over 50s in the UK access the internet more than once a day, 63% own a smartphone and more than half (53%) a tablet.

By branching out and engaging with audiences of all ages online, ensuring they have the appropriate cross-channel measurement in place, retailers can immediately start reaping the rewards of a much larger shopper pool.

Abandon the stereotypes

Not only are the over 50s as a whole becoming increasingly digitally-agile, our findings also uncovered a sub-segment of consumers who exhibit markedly different attributes to the average person within their age bracket. With behaviours aligning closely with the younger generations, we’ve dubbed this consumer group the “young at heart” boomers.

These individuals are even more engaged with digital channels than the average over 50-year-old and are much more likely to spend their disposable income on technology, cultural experiences and overseas travel. When it comes to purchasing clothing, this consumer sub-segment is 45% more likely than the average person in their age bracket to place a high importance on their budget. They are also 68% more likely to frequently visit restaurants and 28% more likely to have used air travel in the last 12 months.

As well as engaging with these consumers across multiple devices and channels, retailers need to be refining the messages they’re sharing with this valuable group to ensure they’re engaging in the right ways. Not only are the “young at heart” a group of consumers who are more digitally adept, but they also care about feeling and looking young, they enjoy taking risks and living a more challenging lifestyle. By default, these shoppers are more likely to spend their disposable income and could prove to be an incredibly lucrative market for retailers able to tap into their specific needs and interests, rather than pigeonholing them with the ‘average’ person in their age group.

The power of time and place

Aside from establishing the brand messages best placed to engage different consumer groups, retailers need to remember that having these conversations in the right place at the right time is also crucial. As the bonus season looms closer, retailers need to think about re-engaging their consumers whatever their age in a way that feels really relevant to them.

By ditching the pre-conceptions and looking at the ways these consumers truly think and act – whether it’s more engagement on digital platforms, taking more holidays or buying more fashion and beauty products – retailers will be able to quickly strike up valuable conversations and build a larger, more loyal customer base.

Anne Benoist is group director of Kantar Media’s Insights Solutions

Data sourced from Kantar Media’s TGI data, Great Britain, Q4 2016

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