In April, Amazon announced the launch of its 50+ Active and Healthy Living Store. This area of the site is devoted to "baby boomers," that storied generation born between 1946 and 1964.
"Our goal is to offer great prices on a vast selection of items and a robust resource center filled with tips on everything from boosting brain power to care giving," says Chance Wales, director of Beauty, Health and Personal Care for Amazon.com. The Amazon store will be open to third-party sellers who see opportunities within this particular market demographic.
"Opportunity" is what this particular age cohort has always been about. Baby boomers started to arrive just after the troops returned home from the devastating experiences of World War II. They came to their families in large numbers, bringing hope, life, happiness and optimism about the future.
Their families responded in kind. Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock (the pediatrician, not the Vulcan) wrote a parenting guide for these parents, filled with optimism and happiness, and offering advice that would make these bursting families happier and healthier than ever—and just in time for their little boomers.
Baby boomers spend 50 percent of all consumer packaged goods dollars, even though less than 5 percent of advertising is aimed at them
Well, it all started in those early years, and ever since that auspicious beginning, baby boomers have been driving our culture, and sometimes driving it crazy! Parents made sure to build new schools for this horde. They made sure they had enough playgrounds and TVs at home so they could watch others just like themselves growing up in TV "reality." They did this so well that it surprised them a bit when these same children turned into angry teens, who, as you might recall, changed the way things happened in the 1960s.
'The most valuable generation'
Yes, the boomers have been booming through life and, now that the first of them will soon be turning 70, it seems even Amazon has created a space for them, and with good reason.
According to a recent report by Nielsen, the official counter of all things American, in just five years, 50 percent of the U.S. population will be over the age of 50. Even now these consumers spend 50 percent of all consumer packaged goods dollars, even though less than 5 percent of advertising is aimed at them. This has resulted in a new label for our boomers: The most valuable generation.
Amazon has loaded its store with all the things most of us would think boomers want. You know, there are areas of products for Nutrition & Wellness, Exercise & Fitness, Medical Supplies, other areas of personal body maintenance, and they threw in one for Travel & Leisure.
We can expect this crowd to control 70 percent of the disposable income within the next five years, too. Many of them are facing inheritances that will come to nearly $15 trillion in the next 20 years. About 33 percent of them are heavy Internet users, and more than twice that number say they plan to spend more time on their hobbies and interests, while moving from a life dedicated to making money to one that is directed toward spending money.
Sounds like just the right kind of crowd for any merchant to pursue.
With Amazon's new store open to third-party sellers, we went looking for e-commerce merchants to speak with. We wanted to see what they have done to respond and adapt to this huge, retiring and likely-to-buy demographic.
How boomers shop online
Some of the merchants who spoke with us had some pretty good tips about making sure your processes are easy to navigate if you want this group to shop with you.
The over-50 crowd interacts with websites very differently than the younger folks, who grew up wired for apps, profiles and tech lingo
"The over-50 crowd interacts with websites very differently than the younger folks, who grew up wired for apps, profiles and tech lingo," says Pinny Cohen, an online consumer behavior expert. Cohen recommends that, if you are planning to market specifically to people over the age of 50, you understand how they shop online. He shared some of these issues with us:
Readability: The over-50 crowd appreciates navigation icons that can be recognized quickly, and in larger and clear fonts on very light backgrounds. Dark background or small fonts challenge their eyes.
Building trust: These online shoppers are naturally more suspicious of giving over personal information, like credit card numbers. Offer many different payment methods and make those choices clear. Include PayPal for extra security your 50+ customers will recognize. It's important to have and display trust indicators on the site such as SSL and Bonded, and guarantees are also very helpful. Have multiple and easy ways for your customers to contact you—live help, a prominent toll-free phone number displayed, a short contact form—to convince the older shopper your site is safe and professional.
Easy to use: Your product descriptions should be very visible on your product pages. This crowd grew up learning by reading text, not text messages. They'll want more written information. Your website navigation should be consistent, simple and use terminology that older customers recognize.
Simple checkout: Your checkout system really matters to this group—and Cohen recommends one-page checkouts. According to him, these shoppers think long and hard before making a purchase online. "They're likely to change their minds on a gut feeling," he says. So make it quick and painless, so they click before their guts start to speak!
Think outside the medicine bottle
One of the things we've always wondered about is the quick attention to certain product areas, beyond which most merchants don't even think of these powerhouse shoppers.
"About the only things that are targeted for us are vitamins and erectile dysfunction drugs," says JoFlora, an online merchant. Drew Friedman, of whitemoutaintrading.com, gave an even dimmer look at online marketing.
I'm 59. I have money, and will spend it. Find me something different, unusual, unique and having nothing to do with sex to spend it on
"I swear, there is nobody targeting me online," he says. "By virtue of some of the categories I'm in, I attract buyers in that group with disposable income and interests similar to mine."
JoFlora agrees. "I'm 59. I have money, and will spend it," the seller says. "Find me something different, unusual, unique and having nothing to do with sex to spend it on."
We found there are merchants who have already noticed the boomers' shopping habits and the stereotypes so many online merchants still hold about this group. Yes, there were responses from sellers offering financial software services to "seniors" and baby boomer online dating sites. But we also found products that, in their sellers' opinions, would be just right for arthritic hands.
The most successful merchants we spoke with seemed to understand this cohort and how to serve it.
Enjoying the fruits
Brenda Sanford, owner of The Crabby Nook, for example, recognizes boomers may be downsizing from the big houses in which they raised their boomlets, but that doesn't mean they still don't want to buy nice things, especially now that more of their income is disposable.
"I do find the over-50 crowd will spend a higher amount for the perfect home décor accessory," she reports. "I have a lot of over-50 customers who like hand-carved stone bridges and large stone sculptures for their gardens."
Sanford recognizes that these clients are likely to be entertaining successful friends who have also begun to enjoy the fruits of their lifetimes at work. "I find my over-50 customers just want to be surrounded by upscale, authentic art and décor, and they are not willing to settle for cheap replicas," she says.
So if you are thinking of ways to tap into the boomer economic boom, it seems important to recognize that this group does have its issues that distinguish it from your other customers, but don't let those issues confuse you. These are demographically proven, educated, well experienced, successful people with lots of extra money to use and enjoy. They may want to set out to build an organic farm, or they may want to live an urbane and sophisticated city life for a while.
In other words, they are as different and unique as they've ever been. They may share certain quirks your younger shoppers don't understand, but they've got a lot more money to spend. Figure out what you sell that might appeal to this enormous group of individuals, and you could see some very nice profits.