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.

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