By  on June 15, 1994

WASHINGTON -- The 50-plus crowd represents a big market with a lot of disposable income, but many retailers don't seem to know how to get their attention.

This was among the findings of a research project commissioned by the International Mass Retail Association, focusing on shopping habits of older consumers.

The study aimed to find out whether mass retailers and suppliers understand the needs of the 50-plus customer. It revealed that there are some big gaps in the perceptions among retailers and suppliers of the older consumer's buying habits.

"In 1996, the oldest of the baby boomers turns 50, and every 7 1/2 seconds, somebody turns 50 from that point on," said Ken Dychtwald, president and chief executive officer of Age Wave, a firm specializing in research on older Americans.

Age Wave conducted the survey for IMRA by polling 1,000 manufacturers and suppliers and surveying 500 people over 50 in shopping malls. Dychtwald revealed the results at IMRA's annual convention here last month.

Dychtwald said there are 65 million Americans over 50 -- more than twice the population of Canada -- and they spend 40 percent of all consumer dollars.

Dychtwald offered these statistics about older consumers:

  • People 50 and older control 77 percent of all financial assets in the U.S.
  • They control 80 percent of the money in savings and financial institutions.
  • Sixty-seven percent own their homes free and clear.
  • They control 50 percent of all discretionary income.
  • They buy 67 percent of all prescription drugs and 51 percent of over-the-counter drugs.
  • They buy 25 percent of all toys -- there are 55 million grandparents over 50.
  • They buy 48 percent of all luxury cars, and 80 percent of luxury travel.
"The group coming up is very different from those they are replacing," Dychtwald said. "They tend to feel 10 to 15 years younger than their actual age, but they've been marketed to as if they were 10 to 15 years older."

For example, when asked whether health problems have changed the lifestyle of the 50-plus customer, 68 percent of retailers said yes, while only 53 percent of consumers said yes.

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