Zoomers surf and spend online

Have you started thinking about your Christmas shopping yet? You can bet retailers are already gearing up for the busy holiday season, and online shopping will play a large role in consumer spending. Even in the off-season, online shopping is on the rise as more and more people turn to the internet to research product information, compare prices, book travel arrangements and purchase goods and services.

In Canada, the numbers look promising despite the industry’s lag behind the
U.S. market. According to a report from research firm Nielson, the Canadian
public spent over $4.7 billion shopping online in 2006 (the latest data available).
Nearly 80 per cent of Canadians have made at least one purchase online during
their lifetime, and a full 90 per cent use the internet to search for product
information whether they purchase online or offline. Books, music, DVDs, videos,
airline reservations and event tickets are among the most frequently purchased
items, and nearly a third of Canadians book travel online.

How does this compare to our U.S. neighbours? Last year, Americans spent an
estimated $29 billion online during the holiday season alone — nearly 20 per cent
more than 2006.

But how do Zoomers — who make up a significant portion of the population and
who hold a tremendous share of the spending power — fit into this equation?

Those surfing and shopping Zoomers…

Is there such a thing as the “average” web surfer and online shopper?
Hardly. Internet users are far more diverse than many assume, and Zoomers have
a significant presence. In fact, Canadian
Business Online
reports that online Canadians 50 and over currently add
up to 5.2 million — a number which is rapidly growing, and at a rate faster
than other demographic groups. The article reports that they use the internet
an average of about 25 days out of every month, totalling more than 33 hours online.

Statistics for Canadian Zoomers and online shopping are harder to come by,
but we can learn a lot from our southern neighbours when it comes to attitudes
and habits. According to a 2008 report from the Pew Internet & American
Life Project, Zoomers play a significant role in the online marketplace. Consider:

– Online shoppers aren’t necessarily as young as people think: 29 per cent of
people who have made at least one online purchase are over the age of 50. The
18-29 group accounts for another 26 per cent, but it’s the 30-49 group who dominates
the demographics with a 46 per cent share.

– When it comes to online shopping-related activities for the 50-64 age group,
24 per cent of respondents researched a product, 26 per cent purchased travel-related
services or made a reservation, 22 per cent participated in an online auction,
19 per cent paid to download digital content, and 27 per cent bought or sold stocks
online. With the exception of downloading digital content, these numbers are
similar to the trends reported by the 18-29 demographic.

– One fifth of the people who have used online classified ads were between
the ages of 50-64. Only three per cent were 65 or over.

– Zoomers are voicing their opinions online: About 27 per cent of users between
the ages of 50-64 and 18 per cent of the 65+ group have commented about a product
online, compared to the overall average of 30 per cent. Likewise, 29 per cent
of 50-64 year olds and 20 per cent of people over 65 have rated a product, person
or service.

Overall, the study found that age, income, education and high-speed internet
access were all factors affecting online shopping habits. (Read the full report

Another survey conducted by media and marketing firms ThirdAge and JWTBOOM
fills in some of the gaps with a report for the 55+ demographic. Their findings
showed that:

– 80 per cent of respondents report having broadband internet access at home.

– 88 per cent research products online before making an offline purchase, and
78 per cent shop online.

(See the press
from Reuters for more information).

The not-so-good news

Despite the increasing number of Zoomers online, and their well-noted spending
power, many online marketers and retailers simply aren’t meeting the needs of
this demographic. Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that nearly
one third of internet users between the ages 50-64 (30 per cent) and people 65
and over (34 per cent) feel that online shopping is complicated. The study found
that it younger generations were more likely to find online shopping convenient,
and they felt more comfortable giving out their credit card or personal information

Is it simply a matter of younger generations being more “tech-savvy?”
Not so, according a survey conducted by Burst Media. Web design, content and
navigation play a significant role, and many websites make the mistake of focussing
on younger demographics.

According to their report, roughly three quarters of 18-24 and 25-34 year olds
feel online content is geared towards their age group. However, the majority
of Zoomers don’t think the internet is meeting their needs. Only a third of
45-54 year olds felt content was focussed on people their own age, and this
number drops as age increases — to 23 per cent for 55-64 year olds and as little
as 12 per cent for those 65 and over.

When it comes to design and navigation, the numbers aren’t much better. Only
one fifth of respondents aged 55 and over feel that websites are designed for
people their age. This number is important because frustrated customers who
can’t find what they need will leave without making a purchase.

And not even the advertisers can get it right. A staggering 72.5 per cent of
45-54 year olds and 83 per cent of users age 55 and older feel that online advertising
is geared towards younger audiences.

(For more information, download the report here).

In Canada, only about four per cent of online advertising is directed towards
Zoomers. That’s a dangerously low statistic considering the Interactive Advertising
Bureau of Canada recently announced that last year’s online ad revenues totalled
more than $1.2 billion. That’s a growth of 38 per cent from 2006, and a quadrupling
of revenue in the last five years. This number is expected to hit $1.5 billion
in 2008. (Click
for the news release). The largest part of the population is getting
the least amount of attention.

The Big Picture (or the Big Problem)

Admittedly, the statistics are often confusing, incomplete and constantly changing,
but the message is still the same: the internet isn’t just a medium for younger
generations, and companies had better get wise to the trends. After all, what
business can afford to underestimate a group that makes up one third of Canada’s
population and controls an estimated 77 per cent of the country’s wealth? Not
to mention the fact that the internet is an international medium, and the baby
boomer generation is a force to be reckoned with in many countries.

The bottom line: There’s plenty of room for growth and development with this
demographic, but only if content, advertising, design and services can meet
its needs. More research and a better understanding of this diverse age group
will no doubt benefit online marketers moving forwards. After all, happy customers
will be returning customers. Frustrated ones will simply go elsewhere.

Got a gripe or a suggestion about online shopping? Share your thoughts in the
comments below.