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Why Retailers Should Stop Focusing On Millennials

Tuesday, March 20, 2018  
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PYMNTS | March 16, 2018

Remember the baby boomers?

It seems that retailers and marketers don’t. Some experts would go so far as to call boomers “the forgotten generation.” With marketers clamoring to attract the fleeting attention of millennial and Gen Z shoppers, the older demographic (roughly between the ages of 53 and 71) is often overlooked.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, told USA Today that advertisers are mistaken to put all their eggs in the millennial basket. Nor should they assume that millennial-focused ads will trigger boomers’ desire for perennial youth. Different generations have different needs, he said, and advertisers must create different campaigns to reach them.

On top of that, many boomers started working during the 1970s and 1980s, when the economy was robust. So, they started out with good jobs and advanced quickly through their careers, leaving many with a nice nest egg, even factoring in the Great Recession of the late 2000s.

Millennials haven’t been so lucky, with many just beginning their careers when the Great Recession hit. Retailers want them to spend money, but many millennials are staring at their banking apps asking, “What money?”

There are a few standout brands that have cottoned on to this trend and the well of opportunity it has created among older shoppers. Last fall, T-Mobile unveiled a phone plan just for users over 55, noting the common perception that smartphones are too smart for boomers is straight-up false and unfair.

According to T-Mobile CEO John Legere, catering to boomers doesn’t mean bigger buttons, phone call minutes and old-school flip phones. He said many boomers — far from being disinterested in or fearful of the latest tech — instead see it as the best way to connect with family and friends, particularly their children and grandchildren who see smartphones as the prime means of communication.

“This generation deserves a little respect!” Legere said in a video rant posted on Twitter, criticizing T-Mobile’s competitors for painting boomers as “too old” and “stuck in the past.”

Marketing to boomers goes beyond consumer electronics, however — they have buying power in all retail categories and will direct that power to the brands that attract their attention with relevant marketing.

USA Today noted there’s particular potential in categories such as healthcare, travel and entertainment, whereas this generation is less likely to buy cars, apparel or television sets. Consumers over 50 drove 57 percent of hotel credit spending in 2016, according to Visa.

With Americans living longer, healthier lives, this demographic keeps growing (up from 21 percent of the population in 2000 to 28 percent last year). There are now more than 90 million of them, making this generation at least as large as the millennial population on which retailers seem to be so fixated.

On top of that, the people in this generation are working longer, often into their 60s and 70s. When they’re not working, boomers have a unique set of shopping habits.

Forbes illustrated this with the story of “Mary,” an average 54-year-old woman who checks email on her phone while watching DVR-ed TV shows. Mary skips the ads on her DVR. What she doesn’t skip are the promotional emails informing her of an annual sale at a retailer she likes — a sale that ends at midnight. Mary jumps on the opportunity to save, and, in doing so, she spends.

Around a quarter of online shoppers are in Mary’s age group — between 45 and 54 — even though that age group represents less than 20 percent of the population. They’re similarly overrepresented in mobile shopping. Millennials actually spend less time online, Forbes noted, and consider shopping one of the less important activities they can do online, whereas boomers put it in their top three.

Millennials may be the future, but boomers have discretionary income now, spare time to spend shopping online and a stronger tendency to remain loyal once they find a brand they like. Plus, there are just as many of them as there are millennials. Retailers who overlook them do a disservice not only to their older (potential) customers, but to themselves.


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