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Silver Surfers: A Growing Market Full of Digital Opportunities

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The Silver Surfer is not a new trend. Internet use by the over-65s has been growing for years but digital services and products aimed at the elderly market are becoming more visible, such as Barclays Digital Eagles. How can companies target the spectrum of pension-age internet users and non-users?

The Internet-Inexperienced - helping silver surfers become web-savvy is a successful ecommerce strategy

Although internet use is growing, five million older people in the UK have still never used the internet. With services from government to banking to some age charities migrating online, that’s a large section of society being left out in the cold.

This is where businesses can be savvy. Pensioners have recently enjoyed a growth in disposable income, with the average retired household having between £18,000 and £19,000 disposable income a year to spend. Any company that invests in helping pensioners get online can generate brand loyalty from this growing market.

Step in Barclays. We’ve all seen the TV ads helping older people get on to Facebook and the like, and it has been something of a stroke of genius from Barclays. They offer downloadable guides, as well as Tea and Teach sessions up and down the country where people can learn new skills for free, all over a nice brew.

Not only is it a great PR coup - turning the nasty bank into a friendly, selfless educator - it also paints Barclays as the only bank that cares about the elderly. No other bank is offering this, and it gives Barclays the opportunity to teach five million people how to do online banking, with Barclays. A few extra training courses and an hour out of staff’s time could potentially generate millions for the bank.

New technology products are also helping older people get online. Age UK has developed a modified Samsung tablet called the Breezie that simplifies apps and operating systems customised to the specific interests of the owner. The Doro Liberto 810 smartphone is another product aimed at the elderly, simplifying the phone to include only the basics of what someone may need. 

A market of 5 million people is not to be sniffed at, especially one with a growing disposable income that is generally ignored by most businesses. To encourage brand loyalty and get some good PR there are lots of ways to engage older people in digital; whether reconnecting old friends through social media, recreating old memories using products found on online auction sites or offering tutorials a la Barclays.

Ecommerce Marketing for the Web-Savvy Silver Surfer Customer

However, most older people today have embraced digital technology. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that internet use of the over-65s more than tripled between 2006 and 2013, while 25% of over-55s own a smartphone. Competence obviously varies, from those who can go online to check opening times or football scores, through to those who use social networks with family abroad and who see devices like the Breezie as a little patronising. Any strategy aimed at digital-literate pensioners must therefore tread a careful path.

The categories preferred by older people include automotive, travel, finance, telecommunications and gambling, showing that older consumers use the internet for a mix of practical and pleasure. 

Travel companies may be the ones really missing a trick. Pensioners have plenty of free time and can be more flexible than those who only have a certain amount of holiday allowance or are dictated to by school timetables. However, travel for the over-65s is often seen as a choice between cruises, SAGA and cream teas. Travel companies should reach out to older people. They could help older people craft their dream trip using digital tools or share pictures through social media, thereby encouraging them to become brand advocates and repeat customers.

The same is true of gambling. Bingo sites advertise on daytime television and encourage a sense of community that will appeal to older people. However, sports gambling sites are almost universally loutish and aimed at twenty-somethings; a strategy potentially alienating to those used to the football pools and a flutter down the bookies. A site based on traditional gambling habits with an easy to use interface and less laddy promotion may help to tap into this ready market.

Conclusion - Why Digital Marketing & Ecommerce Should Remember Older Consumers

It is easy to see digital as a playground for younger generations and to write off those of pension age. Yet it is a foolish marketer who sees age groups as a statistic and not as a spectrum of individuals. Over 65s are no less nuanced than the over 25s, and they represent an influential, flexible and potentially lucrative market. Look at the opportunities this market could give your business; the chances are that the techniques for attracting them will not only be easy and cheap, but also mutually beneficial.


Barclays The Guardian Statista The Telegraph


(Published 2015)

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