November 4, 2004, 12:00 AM

Retailers ignore online senior citizen holiday shoppers at their own risk

Analysts still aren’t breaking out forecasts on how much seniors spend online during the holiday shopping season. But it is clear their ranks are growing, says comScore Networks Inc. and other research firms.

As web retailers gear up in earnest for the all-important holiday shopping season, they shouldn’t ignore a growing audience of shoppers with the key ingredients of both time and money: senior citizens.

Research from consultants and analysts already states that the typical online holiday shopper is 42 and makes $64,500 a year. But senior citizens are becoming more active in using the Internet – and in making holiday purchases online.

“Senior citizens are getting more comfortable with both e-mail and technology,” says Ken Cassar, director of strategic analysis, Nielsen/Net Ratings. “The first wave of Baby Boomers who grew comfortable with personal computers and e-mail at work are retiring and they will be doing more online shopping and product research.”

According to Third Age, an online media and direct marketing company focused on adults in their 40s, 50s and 60s, online shoppers and consumers over 50 use the Internet between 11 and 20 hours per week, forward information they find to others and search the Internet on behalf of older family and friends who may still be uncomfortable using computers.

Of key interest to multi-channel retailers, according to Third Age, is the fact that within four years the number of Internet users over age 50 could reach 51.7 million.

Older Internet users are more than twice as likely to have a broadband connection and use the Internet for product research. For web retailers, using their web site and merchandising strategy to deliver more online information to senior citizens may result in more multi-channel sales.

Seniors may be uncomfortable placing an online transaction because of worries over security and identity theft. But analysts say that 66% of all senior citizens with an Internet connection have used the web to conduct product research. Senior web users are also likely to use the web to look for coupons and other bargains.

Analysts still aren’t breaking out forecasts on how much seniors will spend online during the holiday shopping season. But it is clear their ranks are growing. For instance, comScore Networks Inc. says that Internet users over the age of 55 number about 22.2 million, which represents around 14% of the Internet population.

As a group, senior Internet users visit a retailing site at least once per month. Among their favorite categories, comScore says, are gift sites, TV-related sites such as HSN.com or QVC.com and apparel retailers such as LandsEnd.com.

“They are a fast-growing shopping segment and they will be making purchases this holiday season,” a comScore spokesman says. “Users over 55 spent 18% more time at retail sites this September compared to last September.”

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