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Channel Surfing: Boomer Buying Habits

Channel Surfing: Boomer Buying Habits
]> Boomers and adults under age 40 shop alike and make similar choices. By 2007, Baby Boomers will range in age from 43 to 61, with the potential to spend


Boomers and adults under age 40 shop alike and make similar choices.

By 2007, Baby Boomers will range in age from 43 to 61, with the potential to spend $2.7 trillion, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Despite Boomers' enormous spending power, particularly when it comes to catalogs (think L.L. Bean) and the Internet, marketers and retailers historically have shied away from aligning themselves with aging consumers. But with Boomers representing nearly one-third of the U.S. population, this demographic shift will affect purchasing habits more than the aging of any previous generation.

Marketers need look no further than Paul McCartney when it comes to understanding how to attract Boomer consumers, says WSL Strategic Retail Principal Candace Corlett. "At age 63, Sir Paul is rallying Boomers in his new hit album to 'Never Stop Doing What You Love,' whether your call is to write music, finally build your dream kitchen, or replace the Harley-Davidson that had to go when the second baby arrived," she says. "Given the composition of our population, there is no choice between the youth market and the older consumer. Rather, success demands that you have them both."

All too often, though, companies glaze over the population statistics on the aging of America. "What does it mean to your business that 76.9 million Baby Boomers—comprising a quarter of the nation's population—control half of the nation's consumer spending for a total of $2 trillion?" asks Corlett. "And, just as important, how do you translate this information into sales opportunities?" The solution, she says, is to focus less on the differences between the demographics and more on the similar benefits these consumers expect from your product. "Specialty stores for clothing and beauty need shoppers of all ages," says Corlett. "Even if the merchandise is not right for everyone, it can be a source of gifts for others. Think of all the middle-aged shoppers perusing the racks at Abercrombie & Fitch."

As many Boomers reach their 50s and 60s, there is a very real risk that avoiding these consumers will lead them to reduce their spending in a particular category or retail establishment, explains Corlett. "There is no age associated with the desire to create a dream kitchen, have fuller hair, turn soup into a quick meal, or find the lowest prices." Age, she affirms, does not define the desire to be a smart shopper. "In our 'How America Shops' research, we interview 6,000 shoppers each year and have looked hard to find the differences between Boomers versus adults under age 40. For the most part, they shop alike, make similar choices, and are equally enticed to try new products," says Corlett. "Differences appear where you would expect: in categories driven by aging bodies."

As a result, retailers must research the attributes that are most important to Boomers, such as a wide selection of personal-care products, wide aisles, good lighting, and readable signage.

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