Business development 2 June 2016

Top tips for attracting silver surfers to your small digital business

silver surfers
Older customers prefer desktop over mobile browsing
Conventional wisdom in the ecommerce space holds that millennials are the ultimate target market ? they are tech savvy, accustomed to the internet and trust the online shopping process. But older customers could be even more important to your micro business, as Rakuten?s Patrick Kelly explains.

The over-50s are often assumed to be amateurs in tech ?even something as seemingly simple as navigating a browser is taken to be a challenge, never mind the complexity of online shopping. But is that really the case?

According to the Futures Company?s Global MONITOR research, 60 per cent of consumers aged 50+ say they have purchased a product or service online, compared to 51 per cent of 16-34s, and 56 per cent of 35-49s. These findings are true across most of the world. Although it may be surprising, it seems that consumers in the 50+ age group are slightly more likely to shop online than their younger counterparts. Perhaps attitudes to online among the generations are more similar than we may have thought.

In the future, it?s going to be increasingly important to consider the older consumer in ecommerce strategies as there are just going to be more of them. With few exceptions, populations around the world are ageing. By 2050, there will be more people aged over 65 than children under the age of 14. Within the same time frame, the number of people aged 80+ globally will quadruple to 395 million. Therefore, the over-50s are a lucrative market that micro business owners cannot afford to ignore.

An untapped demographic

A report from CEBR stated that consumer spending among the over 50s in the UK reached??320 billion in 2012. Yet, according to Newcastle University?s Institute for Ageing, they only receive around ten per cent of the marketing focus. A report from Forrester titled ?The Future of Shopping? urges retailers in the US to do more to court older shoppers, reflecting the shift in spending power away from millennials.

Before small online retailers rush to target this growing and relatively untapped opportunity, though, it makes sense to look at how many older consumers are interested in technology at all. According to Google?s Consumer Barometer 2014, the UK had the highest percentage of over-55s researching or buying online at 53 per cent and 46 per cent respectively ? and five per cent used tablets to buy goods online.

So even if so-called ?silver surfers? are happier using bigger screens, there?s clearly a demand for ecommerce ? something which will only grow as people become more confident with technology, and as those who have grown up as digital natives age too.

Seizing the opportunity

Experts are united in their advice: do not treat the over-50s as if they are all the same. This is a big and complex group, with different interests, different opinions and differing abilities. However, the group does have some defining characteristics. Statistics from Rakuten?s ecommerce site in Germany, for example, show that the majority seek quality products, seem to be loyal to brands and are not particularly price sensitive. They also have more time to spend on their hobbies and interests.

Here are three tips for small online retailers to attract the ?silver surfer? demographic:

(1) Usability

Ensure your website is easily accessible, regardless of a person?s capability. This includes making content accessible through keyboard use and ensuring that font types, colour and backgrounds make text clear and easy for all to read.

(2)?Easy navigation

Easy navigation: Keep your website simple and easy to navigate. Everyone prefers websites that are intuitive; older customers in particular will find a confused or cluttered site a challenge.

(3) Excellent customer service

Excellent customer service: customer service is key and older consumers in particular value a good customer experience.? Ensure you are providing it by making customer support available to answer any enquires and do have an easy goods return process.

The silver surfer shopping demographic is increasing more than any other group ? internet use is close to saturation among other parts of the population. What does this mean for businesses? No matter who your business is targeting today, start thinking about older consumers and how you can meet their changing needs.

Patrick Kelly is UK marketplace country manager at online marketplace Rakuten.

Image: Shutterstock

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