Image: Dame Helen Mirren for L’Oréal

Trend Special: Silver Shoppers

As record numbers of older people are embracing e-commerce, we chart the ways in which “pro-age” products and messaging are good for business, innovation and wider society.

The world’s population is living longer than ever. By 2050, there will be a predicted 2 billion of us aged 60 years and older. This writer hopes to be one of them. Yet major new research from Age UK shows that, in wider society, we often have negative associations with ageing and “damaging” misconceptions about older people.

In 2016, McKinsey warned that this demographic’s motivations are often misunderstood, and called for more research. Sadly, Age UK found that many older people in 2020 feel misrepresented by the media and homogenized.

This risks stoking intergenerational tension, as well as excluding two lucrative market segments: the midlife Generation X (aged 40–55) and older-age Boomers (56+).

Seniors’ moment

Raised in pre-digital times, older people are generally known to prefer in-person connection and bricks-and-mortar retail. Even in the face of a global pandemic and the higher risk of contracting serious health issues connected to it, some of these behaviours proved harder to shift.

But sales of tablets and voice-activated devices were already strong among older age groups going into 2020. Advice for this group to stay indoors and to limit in-person social contact has been a gateway to further tech adoption, with global internet companies reporting a wave of first-time, older-age customers.

“Silver surfers” are now becoming “silver shoppers”, and shaking up global markets. Since the pandemic began, Chinese seniors have been making over half of their clothing purchases online. First-time purchases by older people based in rural areas helped this year’s Singles’ Day and Black Friday reach record sales.

Image: BOOM! By Cindy Joseph

Respecting elders

Several cosmetics brands have ditched “anti-ageing” in favour of “pro-age” products and messaging. Boom! and SeeMe are designed for mature skin. Launched earlier this year, State Of has blazed a trail in the emerging menopausal wellness market. A high-profile campaign from L’Oréal, fronted by brand ambassadors Dame Helen Mirren and Viola Davis, was widely praised.

With new services, some retailers are setting new standards of customer service — and safety. Sam’s Club shopping app enables staff to deliver orders directly to elderly customers’ cars. For the less tech-savvy, BestBuy offered a concierge service by phone. In China, shielding seniors began to place grocery orders via WeChat.

Scientists are busy innovating, too. There are new markets for “ambient” spaces and “smart” wheelchairs, which can monitor and learn from the behaviour of at-risk older people, and alert authorities as needed.

Senior-focused solutions can benefit society at large, by driving innovation in other areas. Because UK supermarkets had experience of offering “quieter hours” for vulnerable customers, they already had the infrastructure to offer special shopping slots in the early throes of the pandemic. Increased online shopping activity by elderly customers has also been cited as a key factor in the recent boom in autonomous vehicles and drones.

Golden years

For the most diverse, active and multicultural older generation in history, many lucrative markets remain untapped. With cash circulation decreasing, user-friendly fintech for older people could have a huge impact on markets — and wellbeing. CBD products could transform personal healthcare for the elderly, if companies can get across the potential health benefits effectively.

Age UK recently promoted online art classes, teaching older people vital digital skills while connecting them with like minded individuals. This is a pitch-perfect and beneficial way to engage older people, who are at much higher risk of loneliness and losing support networks due to COVID-19.

Mirren had choice words for a journalist who asked for her stance on anti-ageing products: “You can’t avoid ageing. The way I see it, you have two choices in life: You can either get older, or die. And I want to continue to see what life has in store.”

Ensuring that the older people around us feel connected and protected is in everyone’s interest — for us, them and businesses. After all, with any luck, you and I will be in their shoes one day.

Image: BOOM! By Cindy Joseph



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Karl Finn

Writer in London. Currently run events at Google, formerly V&A and Sotheby’s. Founder of Predictedit, a newsletter bringing together trends, research and ideas.