Challenging age perceptions; why you shouldn’t underestimate the over-50s

Brands that bucket the over-50s and stereotype what those consumers might want, without looking at what that generation are genuinely interested in, risk alienating a group with significant spending power. We uncover why brands should continue to research and understand the over-50s!

A few years ago, I was working in customer experience for a well known high street retailer. At the time they had a range that was for the “over-50s” that seemed largely to consist of comfy slacks, cardigans, polyester blouses – you get the picture. I remember looking around at women I knew who were soon to approach that milestone, clad in clothes from Whistles and TopShop, and thinking, “this retailer really doesn’t get it”.

I can understand how this happened. When I was in my 20s that is how the over 50s dressed*. So I assumed that when I reached that age that’s how I would dress too. Now I am in my 40s I can see that I don’t dress radically different to how I dressed in my 20s. The point is, I am keeping the style I established back then – I am taking that with me (admittedly with a few tweaks on the way).

And that is what happens – we take our tastes and lifestyle with us, through 20s, 30s, 40s and, yes, even 50s. So I won’t be taking up the comfy slacks anytime soon.

The same thing is happening with technology. There is still a perception that the “over-50s” are less likely to have a smartphone/stream TV shows/know how to use Excel/have an Instagram account… I could go on.  Of course, this was the case, but is it still the case now? Mobile phones became an everyday item in the mid-nineties when today’s 55-year-old would have been 30. The precursor to the iPhone, the Blackberry, became popular in 2005 – when our 55-year-old was 40. You see where I am going with this? Technology and its related advances have been part of a 55-year old’s life for long enough now for it to be their rule – not their exception. 

A client recently commented how surprised she was that Facebook advertising contained so many business-related adverts. I asked her to think about it – those who started to use it when they were in their early twenties could now be in their mid-to-late-thirties, and decision makers for their workplaces. Facebook is moving with the generation. (Interestingly, my own teenager tells me Facebook is for “old people” and no self-respecting teenager would use a Facebook account. I wonder whether Facebook will become their equivalent of “comfy slacks”?) 

Of course, each generation has its share of early adopters, laggards and everything in between. However, when thinking about how a demographic group behaves, we cannot fall into the trap that each age range will stay the same as time moves forward. The over 50s are a growing demographic with high spending power and instead of dismissing them as businesses we need to understand them. Instead of making assumptions, researching what this group actually thinks and feels will enable you to challenge your perceptions and find the reality.

*well, some anyway.

Sam Killip

VP Customer Success 

Sam joined Attest in 2019 and leads the Customer Research Team. Sam and her team support brands through their market research journey, helping them carry out effective research and uncover insights to unlock new areas for growth.

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