Catching the silver surfer wave

Millennials are no longer the future of online retail. While they were early adopters of the channel, tighter economic times across the globe have resulted in Generation Y becoming increasingly cash strapped while their parents (and grandparents) who often have equity in their homes and generous retirement incomes have more disposable cash and time to spend on the internet.

Furthermore, populations around the world are ageing. By 2050, it is estimated there will be more people aged over 65 in the world than children under the age of 14. In particular, the number of adults over 80 is expected to quadruple to 395 million.

The idea that the internet and online shopping is alien to this older consumer is outdated. According to recent research, over 50s spend approximately 27 hours per week online and their average internet browsing session lasts a phenomenal 3.5 hours. In terms of social media activity, one in five Twitter users is over 50 and yet despite all this evidence, only around 10 per cent of marketing budgets currently focuses on this lucrative age group.

Commentators believe the baby boomer generation is coming online with growing confidence as concerns about internet security are addressed and the convenience of online shopping becomes ever clearer. They’ve got more disposable income and free time to surf the net and benefit from all the data that is available at the click of button.

While there’s no doubt silver surfers in general are embracing the web, the picture across the globe is mixed. According to Google’s Consumer Barometer 2014, 63 per cent of over 55s in the Netherlands access the internet daily (compared to 82 per cent of Dutch consumers of any age). Whereas in Turkey, only 10 per cent of over 55s access the internet daily (national average of 51%) and in Brazil, only 14 per cent of over 55s go online daily (national average of 43%). This demonstrates how varied internet usage is across the globe and how retailers in Turkey and Brazil have a real opportunity to get ahead of the competition by nurturing and growing the “silver surfer” consumer.

More established markets like UK, Ireland, Australia and the Netherlands show strong saturation and demonstrate that the over 55s are already an online force to be reckoned with. These silver surfers are not just browsing – according to the Futures Company’s Global MONITOR research, 60 per cent of consumers over 50 globally have purchased a product or service online, compared to 51 per cent of 16-34s, and 56 per cent of 35-49s. This finding is true across most of the world: consumers in the over 50 age group are slightly more likely than younger consumers to shop online.

However, it is not straight forward for online retailers as the over 50s category is incredibly diverse. It is a complex group with different interests, opinions and abilities. There are huge differences between a “young at heart” working 55 year old; a retired but active 70 year old and a house-bound elderly 85 year old and yet all have potential to shop and consume online.

There are some uniting principles however that retailers can capitalise on. Webloyalty’s own research amongst over 55s in the Netherlands (a relatively advanced internet market) shows that when silver surfers shop online, 91 percent make use of reviews. When asked about barriers to online shopping, two thirds (65%) cite not being able to feel or see the product; one third (39%) concerns about the reliability of a shop or site, one third (37%) the obligation to pay in advance and one third (34%) the lack of personal contact. This last factor is particularly striking, since only 15 per cent of 18- to 30-year olds give this as a reason for not shopping online.

For the younger generation, factors such as shipping costs are some of the biggest barriers to shopping online – something that does not resonate with silver surfers. In contrast, payment convenience is important to the older generation with three quarters of respondents avoiding websites that do not offer simple payment processes. Older consumers are also more price, than brand, motivated with 60 per cent more likely to shop on the basis of price than brand, compared to 54 per cent of younger consumers.  Silver surfers are also more comfortable with web shops that are founded in bricks and mortar (e.g. retailers that are both on and offline) revealing genuine potential for omni-channel offerings to target this segment of the market.

Online marketers need to design their websites with this group in mind ensuring products are clearly displayed with as much personalisation as possible; peer reviews are readily available and the payment process is straight forward so that the older, more cautious shopper is reassured. On top of this, according to Webloyalty’s research, most silver surfers browse and purchase through a laptop and only a quarter use their mobile phones. This insight is crucial if online marketers are to convert the cash-rich, silver surfer generation and can help guide retailers as they develop mobile apps and websites, work out their marketing priorities and how to divide up their precious marketing spend.

Failing to consider the needs of the silver surfer and ignoring their importance when setting marketing strategies is not only a missed opportunity to get ahead of the competition by attracting this lucrative online audience, but, ultimately, it could have a detrimental impact on a business’ bottom line.