ECommerce Redefines The Digital Divide

Having spent the last five years working with the 50+ market, I've experienced both the upside and the downside of 50+ marketing. I've witnessed smart marketers generate revenue and increase share by directly and intelligently targeting older consumers, and I've also heard a variety of excuses for ignoring this market. The most recent one goes something like this: "We're using digital media, and we can't reach older consumers online. Those who are online don't know what they're doing beyond email." 

Something about that doesn’t make sense. How can marketers be both obsessed with digital media and unaware that more than 70% of people 50+ are online, that they go online roughly 29 days per month, and that they account for more than 40% of all online activity? It would be unreasonable to deny generational differences in online behavior, but it’s absurd to suggest that the older population is only online to send and receive emails. 



While younger users often go online as a leisure activity, the driving force behind older Americans' use of the Internet is a sense of purpose. I see evidence of this daily. Visitors to our website have increased by more than 2 million in less than a year, and these visitors spend nearly half an hour on the site per visit. They are looking for information, guidance, tools to manage their daily lives and their futures, entertainment and mental stimulation.

Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram have not yet caught the eye of the mainstream online Boomer+ crowd, but other networking avenues are becoming well-traveled by these consumers. 

  • Internet users age 50-64 are nearly 40% more likely than those age 18-29 to use LinkedIn

  • 56% of Internet users age 50-64 and 40% of those age 65+ use Facebook

  • Internet users age 65+ are more likely than those age 30-49 and 50-64 to use Twitter

You can, in fact, reach the Boomer and older population online, and there’s good reason to do so — making purchases is one of their top three online activities. They are responsible for roughly 40% of all online spending, and Boomers spend more than any other generation online.  

Average amount spent online in the last three months:

Younger Boomers $647

Older Boomers $638

Gen X $581

Seniors $489

Gen Y $425

It turns out that those who are most likely to be early adopters of new technology — Millennials —are the least likely to spend online. They also spend less offline. The most recent spending data released by the U.S. Census reveals that the 50+ demographic is responsible for 47% of all consumer expenditures, and that in the last three years, 50+ consumer expenditures increased by $99 billion, while 18-49 spending dropped $238 billion.

There’s a simple explanation for this: financial stability. Seniors have high accumulated wealth. Gen Xers have high household income. Boomers have both. Millennials have neither.

In light of this evidence, the notion that 50+ are less digitally savvy becomes a weak argument for ignoring them online. Targeting them becomes an even more attractive proposition when we dig a little deeper into online user data. Nearly all higher income Boomers are online, including 92% of Boomers with HHI $60,000+ and 96% of Boomers with HHI $100,000+. 

This overlooked online consumer is in need of, and more receptive to, marketing messages specifically tailored to meet their needs and interests. In tough economic times when marketing budgets have been slashed, our website has experienced double-digit revenue growth as more and more advertisers take aim at Boomer and older consumers.

Advertisers who make the investment to reach the online Boomer audience through a combination of robust content, effective creative and targeting will reap the rewards of engaging this powerful audience.

3 comments about "ECommerce Redefines The Digital Divide ".
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  1. Joshua Iverson from iMediaSalesTeam, October 4, 2012 at 10:24 a.m.

    Excellent facts! but where did you get them Mark? Many of our boomer sites are ecommerce sites (users are he because they already paid for something online via credit card) -- so I've long held that boomers are spending online across the board but I haven't found supporting third party data to back up our internal data. Is this from AARP media or a third party?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 4, 2012 at 11:47 a.m.

    Blinders and ego-centric whippersnappers with jackass media habits who have been malleable -ized by Neilsen's way too small sampling just about rounds it out....

  3. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age, October 4, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.

    Mark has articulately made the compelling case for not ignoring boomers online. Our assessment of available research supports his numbers. However valuable numbers may be to convince company leaders of opportunities in these markets, Mark’s point that "This overlooked online consumer is in need of, and more receptive to, marketing messages specifically tailored to meet their needs and interests." is, in our opinion, the crux of the matter. Perhaps it’s because too often marketers don't take the time to understand the purchase motivators and values of boomer and older populations in their fall and winter of life. Until that happens, marketers will continue to believe the myths of aging and continue to formulate their online and traditional approach/campaigns based upon their frame of reference failing to connect with these lucrative populations and missing significant opportunities.

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