Research and the older consumer

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Our recently launched report (The Golden Economy) for Age UK investigates the issues faced by the older consumer.

The report highlights that the 60+ consumer market is expected to grow by 81 per cent from 2005 to 2030 while the 18-59 year old market will only increase 7 per cent.

Age is a divider which is often used to segment the consumer world, but how much do we really know about the ‘older consumers’? One of the key findings from “The Golden Economy” is that there are huge gaps and conflicting arguments in the research in this area.

Whilst some researchers highlight the importance of age as a factor in the consumer marketplace, others disagree, arguing that age is almost irrelevant as a spending factor. These researchers argue that differences in consumer behaviour are more likely to be due to factors such as income than age.

There are differences of opinion among researchers in terms of the older people and technology. Some reports argue that older shoppers are savvier shoppers, taking their time to research different deals on the internet and scrutinise for the best deal. Others claim that older people’s digital exclusion, alongside too much choice, means too many older people are missing out on bargain hunting and end up paying too much, or risk being exploited.

What is probably true is that poor segmenting means that the researchers are talking about different segments of the older population.

Certainly, many older consumers are not being targeted or are being targeted badly. Again, researchers disagree as to what is the best way of reaching and communicating with the older consumer.  Researchers and marketeers agree to disagree on everything from the use of celebrity in adverts through to the whether or not older people are brand loyal.

One of the few areas of consensus is that this is a consumer group we don’t understand well enough.

The Golden Economy highlights major research gaps; from almost no research on the small business sector and the older consumer, through to limited understanding of issues around ethics and the older consumer. There is also limited work on the role and impact of grandparents to the economy; gender, age and consumption; the older housebound consumer; older people and shopping around; and the reasons for expenditure poverty amongst the older population.

So one of the biggest challenges which emerges from this work is to engage research funders and researchers to do more work to find out if there is such any such thing as ‘an older consumer’ and if so, what makes this untapped group tick. Given the projected consumer market of these ‘golden’ older people, this is an issue we can’t afford to ignore.

Jessica Watson

The report from the ILC-UK on the Older Consumer was published by Age UK on 1st December. It is available here

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