Future watch: The changing face of the
10 December 2008
We are pleased to introduce the second in a series of new 'Future watch' pieces: comment pieces with even more of a
slant on what will be. While all our trends pieces are about where we (consumers) are going, some topics really lend
themselves to this future watch treatment. Older consumers' lifestyles in the near and more distant future and how
their attitudes are evolving with the times is one of these.
The golden years may be considered a time for leaving the rat race and the hustle and bustle of the hectic world
behind. While some may still follow that pattern obediently, many are defying the trend by staying active and being
part of this ever-changing world, increasingly online and refusing to be left behind. The attitudes of older consumers
are well and truly evolving – and it is not just affluent baby boomers we are talking about, but those well into their
70s and 80s too.
• Making their mark in the virtual world;
• Increasing credit card debts;
• More older consumers staying economically active;
• Cutting back on holidays;
• More wanting pensioner-friendly stores;
• More looking for companionship.
New business openings
• If you are running an online business, establishing credibility is particularly important if you wish to attract
your site is secure;
• One way to target older consumers with online marketing is via social networking. According to industry
magazine Web-User editor, Benn Camm-Jones, social networking sites are now becoming an accepted way for
older generations to interact;
• When targeting older consumers, give the impression you have singled them out for special treatment.
Something as simple as "special offers for seniors" should be sufficient as they do look out for this kind of
The new context
Some say 40 is the new 20 when it comes to age. So how about saying 70 is the new 40? While most think that the
internet is strictly a domain for the younger generations, many older consumers are actually jumping onto the online
bandwagon. According to the European Interactive Advertising Association , more and more older consumers
across Europe are also logging on and exploring the internet, with nearly three-quarters of them having shopped
online, buying an average of seven items and spending €830 (US$1045.80), which is €80 (US$100.80) more than the
average European online shopper. The research also revealed that broadband adoption among silver surfers (26%) is
growing faster than that of average European internet users, increasing at 14%.
Many older consumers are not just sitting around but are making the most of their golden years too. Ms. Bremner, an
accounts manager in the UK, remarked, “My dad, 68, plays hockey for Scottish veterans and has just played in the
Great Grand Masters tournament, part of the Beijing Olympics! His hockey team is always jetting off round the
world, taking their wives with them. A colleague of Caroline, added, “Thinking about it, my father-in-law plays in a
jazz band – he's 81! And my mother-in-law started a new job this year – at 76!”
Indeed, many retirees are returning to work. According to America's Bureau of Labour Statistics, close to a quarter
of adults 65-74 years of age are in the workforce, up from 19% in 2000. 56 year-old Josie Graham, of Arizona,
retired from her full-time job as a director of human resources in 2002 to spend more time with her sick husband. A
year later, she decided to start working again to cope with the bills. "At first I was a bit apprehensive about returning
to the workforce, but reality bites. I made up my mind that if Madonna and Cher could reinvent themselves, so could
I," Josie said.
Over in Asia, hiring older workers beyond the age of 62 will become part of Singapore's employment laws within
the next five years. “This is a welcome change. I want to be financially independent and not rely too much on my
children. I still love to shop. I'm thinking of making coffee at the local coffee shop,” said 58 year-old Singaporean
grandmother of two Madam Tay.
Making their mark in the virtual world
A report from the Office of Communications in the UK found that an increasing number of those over 65 are
accessing the internet and are spending an average of 42 hours online each month, blowing preconceptions that the
web is dominated by the young. The report also estimates that a quarter of all internet users are over the age of 50.
The UK payments association APACS has found that the total of older users of online banking services has also
increased dramatically. Over the last six years the numbers have risen by 174%, which includes an increase of 350%
among the over 50s. Sandra Quinn, director of communications at APACS said, "Our research shows that the
greatest proportion of new internet bankers are over 55.”
According to EIAA, 38% of older consumers use price comparison sites and nearly three-quarters have shopped
online. They are also embracing Web 2.0, with the number of them signing up to forums increasing 113% in the last
two years. 18% frequent social networking sites, such as Bebo and MySpace, at least once a month.
Increasing credit card debts
While older consumers still tend to accumulate less credit card debt than younger consumers, the elders are catching
up, a report by America's National Consumer Law Centre (NCLC) warns. In rapidly increasing numbers, older
consumers are using credit to pay for necessities like groceries, prescription drugs, and urgent house repairs. Others
fall into traps set by credit card companies and do not always know that they are borrowing at an unaffordable pace.
Research by the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) in the UK also shows that the financial problems of
the over 60s have increased at a faster rate than any other age group, with the number reporting financial trouble
increasing by about 2%. Of consumers seeking help for debt problems, people between 40 and 59 reported the
highest levels of debt, owing on average of £322,886 (US$505,250).
More older consumers staying economically active
American Dorothy Evans, 92, is not a great believer in sitting at home, watching television or, for that matter,
retirement. The spry former restaurant owner works 20 hours a week at McDonald's making fries, sundaes, salads
and anything else her manager, who is about 50 years younger, throws her way. Mrs. Evans does not have to work,
but she likes the extra money and the feeling of being productive. "I don't do very well just sitting around," she said
with a shy smile. "I have always said that rocking chairs cause people to get old.” While Mrs. Evans may not be the
quintessential older worker, she represents a growing number of people working beyond the age of 65 who are
redefining the meaning of retirement. With the high cost of health insurance these days and often-paltry retirement
savings, many are staying on the job for economic reasons, while others keep working because they can and want to.
In California last year, people aged 65- 69 accounted for 26.5% of the workforce, up 19.6% on a decade ago,
according to the California Budget Project.
Cutting back on holidays
When Lynda and Don Perdew retired, they sold their home in Southern California and used the money to buy a 37-
foot recreational vehicle for touring the country. That was 10 years ago, and the Perdews are still on the road, but
now they are taking shorter trips and staying
longer in each place. "We're sitting with a calculator in one hand and a map in the other, trying to figure out how far
we're going to get when with the gas and food prices nowadays," says Lynda Perdew, 61. Like the Perdews, other
older Americans are shelving their holiday plans. With food and health care costs surging, many retirees have been
forced to downsize their dreams of travel. A survey the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that
more than half of Americans aged 55-64 have postponed plans to travel because of the economic slowdown. 21% of
affluent 60-year-olds are cancelling or shortening a vacation because of the economy.
More wanting pensioner-friendly stores
In Germany, older shoppers have expressed delight after visiting a supermarket for older people. The pioneering
Kaiser's store, in Friedrichshain, features anti-slip flooring, wider aisles for easy manoeuvring and shopping trolleys
with magnifying glasses and seats for rest breaks. Elsie Richardson, vice-chairman of Newcastle's Years Ahead
project, said it had changed her experience of shopping. “It very much lived up to my expectations. There are things
that make life more convenient and comfortable for older people. I'm 82 and only 4ft 10”, so I can't reach the top
shelves or bend down to those on the bottom. Here you can reach everything; you can step on to a step as well as
reaching those lower down.” Professor Jim Edwardson, founder of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle
University, who was amongst those who visited the store, said: “Almost everything about supermarket shopping in
the UK is wrong for elderly customers, from shelving that is too high to reach or too low to get to. Tesco, the UK's
largest retailer, now appears set to follow the successful of Kaiser's, with the introduction of Britain's first pensioner-
friendly store on the horizon.
More looking for companionship
Canadian Seymour Hersch has been dating the same woman for five years. He thinks she would love to get married,
but marriage would only cramp his style, as he would have to drop the other three women he has been seeing. He
met some of his girlfriends through friends and family, others through an online dating service. Seymour said, “I
make it very clear I'm not interested in getting married.” Just another commitment-shy bachelor – except Mr. Hersch
is 77 and lives in a retirement home. They may move more slowly than they did in their prime, but old people have
still got moves. The number of Canadians 65 and older is set to double over the next three decades, and people are
living longer and staying fit longer than ever before.
In Japan, dating website Match.com began targeting the mature market after seeing the fastest growth in membership
among the over-50 set, an age group once thought over the hill when it came to romance. "It used to be considered
that people aged 50 and over didn't talk about love. People would say, 'No way, you're too old'," said Match.com
Japan President Katsuki Kuwano. "These days, it has become acceptable for people in this age group to talk about
marriage and love,” Kuwano added
Older consumers grew up on technological changes and are still open to new advances. From transistors to personal
computers to iPods, they have made the leap from one new innovation to another. More of them will be going online
to shop especially during the upcoming Christmas shopping season. According to the Pew Internet and American
Life Project, 70% of adults age 50 to 64 are online, and the majority of those are likely to continue using the net to
gather consumer information and to make purchases. These numbers will continue to swell as the youngest of the
baby boomers turn 50 in 2014.
Alison Fennah of the European Interactive Advertising Association says “It will be interesting to see how the effect
that increased broadband penetration has on silver surfers communicating and spending their leisure time. There is a
huge growth in usage of online tools made popular by Web 2.0 and we expect this exponential growth to continue as
the internet plays an even bigger part in the daily lives of this slightly older demographic."