Marketing to boomers and beyond could reap big bucks

Worldwide spending among mature consumers is projected to reach $15 trillion annually by the end of this decade, according to A.T. Kearney, creating tremendous opportunity for industries, service providers and retailers able to meet their needs and fulfill their wishes. But browse the window displays in an American shopping center and it can seem everyone in the nation is a teen, a Millennial, or a soccer mom, with the majority of retailers offering youthful clothing, trendy accessories and baby gear.

Seniors are overlooked by advertisers and virtually invisible in major ad campaigns, and they’d spend more if they felt valued and welcomed.

And sure, there are products in the marketplace for the senior consumer: Motorized scooters. Emergency alert systems in case you fall and can’t get up. Pocket light-up magnifiers to help you read the small type on menus in dark restaurants. We’ve all seen the late night television ads.

Surely these consumers want more.

Take, for example, something as simple and fundamental as food. The grocery cart filled by a senior shopping for herself and perhaps a partner is significantly different than the cart she once filled when she had a full household to feed. She may have specialized nutritional needs now, and she’s seeking smaller portion and packaging sizes.

Yet according to Nielsen, the global surveying and information company, half of the seniors surveyed said they have trouble finding packages with labels they can easily see and read. A whopping 45 percent struggle to find foods that comply with their special diet, such as gluten free, sodium free or low cholesterol. Upwards of 40 percent complained they had trouble finding food packaged in small portions, and 43 percent can’t find packages that open easily.

Meanwhile, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day for the next 19 years in the US, according to the Pew Research Center. Right now, about 13 percent of Americans are 65 or older; by 2030, 18 percent will be at least that old, creating a mature consumer population with the potential to rival the spending power as the coveted and much-courted 18-34 crowd. And this is not just a trendline we see in the US; countries across the globe are experiencing the same aging patterns.

It’s an agequake. And retailers have yet to notice the tremors.

For some older consumers it all comes down to the buttons. The modern senior citizen is living longer, and baby boomers are more active than their own aging parents and grandparents ever were. But no one can escape the effects of time, and even the most robust boomer will experience changes in vision, mobility and dexterity.

Everything from magazines to the warning labels on over-the-counter medications are often printed in frustratingly-tiny type; eateries and retailers neglect to consider the navigational needs of customers who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes, and major clothing retailers would do well to recognize a mature market starved for fashionable, quality garments designed for adults whose hands may not be as nimble as they once were. Zipper-less knits that can be slipped on, age-appropriate but stylish professional clothing, garments constructed without pesky, unmanageable buttons are a challenge to find.

Some have discovered the opportunities.

Buck and Buck, a Seattle, WA-based online clothing retailer, serves a growing niche of adults in their 80s, 90s and older. They offer dresses with extra-long zippers are so they slip over the head easily, men’s dress shirts that fasten with hidden Velcro, and cardigans boast extra large buttons. Personal shoppers will even help coordinate ensembles.

Mom’s Meals, a meal delivery service, specializes in meeting the nutritional need of senior citizens. Fresh meals are prepared and delivered, ensuring those who can’t ­— or simply don’t want to — cook for themselves always eat well. Heart friendly, gluten free, vegetarian and general wellness are amongst the menu choices, and the service can help seniors maintain their nutritional health and their independence.

There was a time when older consumers were hesitant to adopt new technologies. The stereotype sticks — you know, grandma pointing the mouse at the computer, remote-control-style. But people age 55 and older are the fastest-growing group on the Internet. They’re also among the most enthusiastic of online shoppers, appreciative of home delivery, choice, and the ability to easily research and price compare items, and opportunity to tap into their buying power is ripe in the virtual world.

They’re also just as eager as everyone else to embrace and purchase, computers, cell phones, tablets and other electronics that offer a solution or a useful innovation. They’d likely buy more of it, too, if the buttons were a little bigger.

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