The Do’s and Don’ts of Baby Boomer Retailing

Discussion
Oct 11, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Everyone knows that Baby Boomers (those 45 and up) are a huge consumer market but that’s about as far as most retailers’ understanding of this group goes, according to Patrick Conroy and Bruce Westbrook of Deloitte.


“We’re the forgotten pile of folks, except that we have the biggest checkbooks,” said Mr. Conroy, national managing partner of Deloitte’s consumer business industries.


The reason for this oversight, said Mr. Westbrook, is the nation’s “youth oriented culture.”


Deloitte’s Westbrook pointed out that boomers do not fit neatly into pigeonholes. Economically, as a Chicago Sun-Times report pointed out, there are some within the group with money to burn while others are watching their pennies.


A clearer understanding of boomers and a list of do’s and don’ts is the key to capturing a greater share of this group’s expenditures, according to the analysts.


Among the things on Messrs. Conroy and Westbrook’s to-do list for retailers is to increase the focus on customer service. Baby boomers expect greater levels of service and store personnel that excel in this area should be rewarded for it.


They also recommend appealing to this segment with products that make them feel younger or, at least, less self-conscious. An example, included in the Sun-Times piece, was Chico’s sizing of garments on a zero to three scale rather than traditional sizes from four to 16.


As for things that retailers should avoid doing if they want more boomer business, Deloitte’s Conroy suggested a good place to start. “If you call them ‘seniors’ or ‘older adults,’ you’re on the wrong path already,” he said. 


Moderator’s Comment: Do you agree with the assessment as summarized in the Chicago Sun-Times headline that ‘retailers are missing out on baby
boomers’ bucks’? What is your list of things to do and not do when advertising/merchandising/selling to members of this group? Are there retailers that closely follow your list
of do’s and don’ts in the practice of their business?

George Anderson – Moderator

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14 Comments on "The Do’s and Don’ts of Baby Boomer Retailing"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

Some retailers want everyone to love them: rich and poor; fit and fat; tall and small; young and old. E squared = zero (when you emphasize everything you emphasize nothing, per Herschell Gordon Lewis). Most retailers need to thrill the 20% of their customers that contribute 80% of the profit. Boomers are critical to Barnes and Noble. They can be ignored by Abercrombie & Fitch and most of the other stores highly beloved by the Piper Jaffray teenager survey discussed yesterday. There is an art to making a store appeal to conflicting groups, and sometimes it isn’t reasonable. Sometimes appealing to one group can turn off another group. Boomers are important to Whole Foods, most traditional supermarkets and convenience stores, Sears, Macy’s, and high-end auto dealers. One key turnoff: stores that want boomers should make their ads, including the small print, legible.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 4 months ago
A huge challenge exists in providing for this market at retail. There is no doubt that mass market and department store retail do not have existing dedicated departments and space to merchandise product designed for the +50 year old consumer. The problem is even more distinct in the +65 year old consumer. Examining this in detail is the subject of a workshop, not a quick note. Suffice it to say that the process of merchandise planning and store presentation/POG set do not make addressing entirely new segments easy. Merchandise planning systems and product hierarchies limit the ability to create new space and assortments. Let’s say WM wants to meet the +65 year old need. How? Where? In which departments? Scattered across multiple buyers is the best way to fail. But creating an entirely new space, with all that goes along…that isn’t something you do in your spare time on a Monday. Look at how long it’s taking to set up a SWAS for Dollar items. If any retailer simply tries to add a few items… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 4 months ago
The concentration on a youth-oriented culture began when the boomers were young. The boomers span a number of years so continuing to concentrate on the youth-oriented culture made sense — for a time. A prolonged concentration on the youth-oriented culture created a problem as retailers and manufacturers ignored the demassification of the market. As Mark Lillian remarked, retailers and manufacturers can’t be all things to all people. The aging boomers are in different circumstances: some are retiring early because they can and they can afford to live where and how they want, some are continuing to work because they want to, some are continuing to work because they have to, some are retiring because they have to, some are starting families, some are raising grandchildren, some are having grown children move back home, some are empty nesters, many live alone. The boomer market is still sizeable but it is not one market. “Seniors” doesn’t describe this market. Successful marketers will identify which group of boomers is “their” market. The youth-oriented market includes Gen X, Gen… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

I think retailers of every stripe are doing a bang-up job of separating boomers from their money (look at credit card debt by age cohort). I also think it’s a shame when you reach the age when you realize that there are cohorts that are more exciting. Boomers never want to get old, so it’s no surprise that boomer analysts feel slighted by youth marketers.

Gwen Kelly
Guest
Gwen Kelly
15 years 4 months ago

Camille Schuster has succinctly summarized the challenge. What defines an aging population today is vastly different and has less homogeneity than what was claimed to exist a generation ago. And going forward, this will continue to evolve for many the reasons Camille highlighted. Those retailers who can identify their particular niche or “submarket” within the larger boomer market and then deliver to the consumer’s needs will be successful in capturing the greater share of market in their category.

Neil Thall
Guest
Neil Thall
15 years 4 months ago
Generally retailers pay less attention to adults in favor of youth, and as such are missing the huge baby boomer market. In an earlier RetailWire article (Marshall Field’s becoming Macy’s), we discussed differentiation as a way to counteract the boredom of cookie cutter malls and improve bottom lines by competing on more than price. Another obvious way is to tap the adult market. Differentiation includes higher levels of customer service, but it requires more. Adults have fueled the demand for second vacation homes, which they generally furnish immediately, compared to younger buyers who tend to furnish first homes over a longer time period. Adults buy less, but more expensive clothing, seeing it as investment spending rather than mere fashion. The working adult market has more discretionary income than the youth market. As to making adults feel younger, this is unnecessary; this generation of adults is more active, vital, and wealthier than our predecessors. “If you call them ‘seniors’ or ‘older adults,’ you’re on the wrong path already,” Conroy said in this article. Not only do… Read more »
Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 4 months ago

I’m with Ryan: Boomers invented the American obsession with youth and I hardly think they are over it, if the number of cosmetic surgery procedures and sexual enhancement aids is any indication. I’m not sure how boomers could possibly have been “forgotten” by marketers. At least the younger half of that group are still the primary economic engine — all those teens are spending Boomer money on clothes and shoes.

Today’s marketer’s learned their craft marketing to Boomers and I doubt they’ve forgotten who this group is — they are we, so to speak.

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
15 years 4 months ago

While research about broad categories like Baby Boomers or Millennia’s is interesting and eminently publishable, I doubt its value. Retailing is about finding your specific niche of customers and relentlessly focusing on them. Some boomers are early adaptors, some still don’t have email. Trying to appeal equally to a group that large and diverse is bound to fail.

Defining your customer niche based on behaviors and attitudes is far more effective than based on traditional demographics such as generation, gender or ethnic group. It is more important to know that your business focuses on intellectual early adaptors vs. Luddite traditionalists than how it appeals to a broad demographic group.

While early adaptors may not be equally distributed among various demographic groups, they appear in all demographic groups. A marketing campaign based on appealing to early adaptors will connect to many more people than a campaign based on appealing to a demographic that has a large number of early adaptors.

Randall White
Guest
Randall White
15 years 4 months ago

By casting past the Boomer generation and going for the quick, shallow dollar of younger populations, what the retail community is missing most is sustainability.

The older consumer is not as easily swayed by trends, peers and advertising, and their buying response is not as immediate. They also require… no, make that INSIST upon a level of customer service about which X’ers and Y’ers are clueless.

Short term? The younger consumer is easier to get with hip advertising and flash-heavy Web sites. But, they’re also fickle and will drop you like last month’s Latina pop starlet.

Boomer Buyers have resources, make deliberate decisions, can be evasive, and — once engaged — require more attention…

…but if you can connect with them, they are yours for life and yield a much higher and more reliable long-term return.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

A couple things seem off the mark in the Sun-Times article:

1) Higher net worth of individuals over 50 may largely reflect the equity in their homes – value that is not accessible to retailers. A better statistic would reveal their spending power.

2) Consumers have enough problems with size non-uniformity as it is. Retailers who use unique sizing schemes may tick off as many as they satisfy.

But the author’s core point is worth taking: Former boomers do continue to represent an important (if fragmented) target market. Are marketers overlooking this segment in favor of easier-to-pigeonhole youth? Perhaps. It certainly appears the broadcast television networks do this.

Reaching out to boomers requires the marketer to ask the questions: “Which boomers?” and “What need state does my product/service satisfy?” For most offerings, targeting must follow.

Franklin Benson
Guest
Franklin Benson
15 years 4 months ago

“”We’re the forgotten pile of folks, except that we have the biggest checkbooks,” said Mr. Conroy, national managing partner of Deloitte’s consumer business industries.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. Try being Generation X… everything is marketed to Gen Y or to boomers.

If anyone out there has some true Gen X brands or retailers or products to prove me wrong I’d love to hear about them. Most times we just get lumped in with Gen Y, because they are so much more numerous than Gen X.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

If the first rule of marketing is to “know your market,” then the first-and-a-half rule should be to recognize when a “market” is largely an artificial construct: the so called “Baby Boomer Generation” covers both genders, a [nearly] two-decade age range, and all races, wealth/income levels, political beliefs, etc.

The folly of believing that this group is homogeneous enough that it can be targeted is exceeded only by the one that it is somehow being ignored.

John Rand
Guest
John Rand
15 years 4 months ago

I have two reactions to this discussion:

1. This is exactly why shopper data is so critical to the future of retailers, since it allows marketing based on observed purchase behavior rather than on vague geo-demographic groupings or “cohort” definitions that are too generalized. Of course, this will significantly change the power balance for some retailer-supplier relationships, as the information will be coming from retailers to suppliers instead of the other way around.

2. As a baby boomer myself, my personal reaction is that it would be lovely to have marketers “ignore” me. I am so tired of being bombarded with pointless, off-center messaging every place I look and listen. Someday soon I will have disposable income again (when the last college tuition payment is made) and I would be thrilled to think I could decide how, or even whether, to spend it without all the hucksterism trying to influence my decisions.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 4 months ago

How old are the authors of this article? 30 something?

Ryan M. is absolutely right on. The boomers are spending, and maybe not on the trendy cloths anymore… on fashions that fit accordingly, and ‘make them feel good’! Boomingdale’s, N-M, Talbot, Brooks Bros., LL Bean and other catalogs are all Boomer
targets!!!!!!!!!!!

Wake up and smell the opportunity. The boomers are understood by key retailers, and we are not seniors!

The one correct fact in this weak article is that X and Y generations are getting the press… for they are buying trendy and non establishment wear!!! How old are these so called authors? Two? Hmmmmmmmmmm

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