Older shoppers can be overlooked by retailers
For the last eight years, Shirley Kotack, 71, has been purchasing more and more items online, rather than in traditional bricks and mortar retail outlets.
“Shopping online is cheaper and easier,” Kotack says. “Plus it saves me from having to go around from store to store to find the products I want. I can do all of that without even leaving my couch, which is great.”
And Kotack isn’t alone. In fact, she’s just one of a growing number of grey-haired Canadian baby boomers embracing the idea of shopping along a digital main street.
Despite this emerging digital audience, many retailers are quick to look past the wants and needs of senior citizens, retail analyst Doug Stephens says.
“It’s a real blind spot,” he says. “Retailers today only seem to see what millennials want, but seniors can’t be discounted because you are seeing more and more seniors become proficient with using technology.”
Indeed, that improved technical literacy is having a wider impact that retailers should be taking note of, Stephens says.
“In the future, older Canadians are going to want more than just vacation services and health-care related items,” he says.
“Overall, the increased digital connectedness of seniors is making shopping habits become less and less predictable.”
That observation is reflected in a recent white paper by the Yellow Pages Group. According to research, older consumers are increasingly “showrooming” products or services.
This means that older Canadians are researching their purchases in a physical store first before purchasing those same goods or services online.
Jeff Novak, the brand director for RedFlagDeals.com, a Canadian bargain hunting and coupon website owned by the Yellow Pages Group, says this practice helps shoppers maintain peace of mind, as they dip their toes into the uncertain waters of online shopping for the first time.
“Showrooming helps older shoppers see the product they want to buy; to touch it and feel it, so they know more about what they are going to get in advance.”
In addition, he says, many retailers specializing in technology and electronics, such as Apple, for example, have begun courting seniors by offering better instruction on how to use their devices.This is a valuable practice for retailers as it helps seniors feel more comfortable, and secure, when operating new technologies.
That’s a sentiment that Kotack can relate to.As she has gained more experience shopping online, the process has become much simpler. That’s gone a long way to help calm any nervousness she once had.
Those seniors who don’t have much working knowledge of computers or mobile purchasing technology, are more likely to be leery of shopping online, particularly given the plethora of online credit card scams, she says.
One way to help dissuade those concerns is better e-commerce technology, says Alan Middleton, the executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University’s school of business.
Over the last two to three years, he says, the progress by Canadian retailers in this space has been remarkable.
“Until recently, there was an easy phrase to describe Canada,” he says. “We were leaders in online investigation and laggards in online buying. But that has changed massively.”
“(In future) retailers who win will do so because they can offer different levels of service for different segments of the population,” adds Michael LeBlanc, senior vice-president, membership, programs and revenue with the Retail Council of Canada.
As more seniors migrate online, LeBlanc believes the opportunity for more types of ‘white glove’ delivery will grow. For example, he says seniors will more likely pay a premium to have new kitchen utensils delivered directly to the shopper’s home.
Moreover, a second area of growth he sees is in replenishment services, such as the shipping of a new supply of vitamins every month.
It’s a view that Kotack believes many shoppers her age will find attractive.
“It’s all about serving the client’s need - and who can fulfil that need that you just can’t get somewhere else,” she says.