As a Baby Boomer, I am accustomed to feeling important, which is why it bothers me that I will soon become invisible. All my life, I’ve been courted for my influence and my buying power. Once I reach 65, my opinions won’t be worth squat. In survey after survey, I’ll be lumped into an “over 65” category that assumes I think and purchase just like an 85 year old. And I don’t like it.
Companies want to know how old you are so they can understand differences in priorities and spending habits. Once you reach 65, however, you lose the preferences that define you as an individual or a cohort. You become part of a group whose members presumably all think alike – the old.
The 65+ population has significant spending power, so you would think companies would want to know a lot about them, but apparently not. This is more than dumb marketing; it’s ageist. Though seemingly innocuous, these surveys perpetuate stereotypes and marginalize older people. They influence the young, and, even worse, they influence older adults who may adopt these beliefs themselves.
I tried being devil’s advocate. Maybe it’s because the surveys are mostly online, I suggested, and people 65+ aren’t online. That’s not true. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 54% of people over 65 use the Internet (up from 13% in 2000). One third of people over 75 are Internet users, and twelve percent of people over 75 use tablets. Use of technology by seniors may not be as high as with younger age groups, but if you want data about how people 65+ think and spend money, there are plenty of senior Internet users to provide answers. Of course, that is not the impression surveys give.
Next, I tried another argument. Maybe 65+ individuals aren’t major consumers of consumer products and services. As a Senior Move Manager who spends most of her time in the homes of people 65+, I can assure you they are still big consumers, although what they spend money on may change.
I admit, for companies like Urban Outfitters and H&M, segmenting age beyond 65 may not be important. But how does that explain this Chicos customer satisfaction survey:
- Under 25
- 25 – 34
- 35 – 44
- 45 – 54
- 55 – 64
- 65 or older
- I prefer not to answer
Chicos seems to think that the under 25 year old group has different opinions than the 25-34 year old group, but that everyone over 65 thinks alike. That’s odd, because I spend a lot of time in Chicos, and I’ve never seen anyone under 35, yet alone under 25. But I’ve seen a lot of people 65 and older.
What’s even more insidious is that this value system is the standard in survey creation. Grapevine Surveys and Constant Contact, two email marketing platforms, both illustrate age segmentation with age brackets that end with “65 or older.” Users who plan to design their own surveys assume this is what they are supposed to do, too.
Fortunately, some organizations get it. In a report entitled Is “Seniors”‘ One Demographic Group? ESRI, a reserch organization, concludes:
“Seniors” represents a large and diverse consumer market that will continue to grow. It has previously been under served and has significant wealth and money to spend. In the past, product manufacturers have focused on trendy products to catch the eye of young consumers while creating one-size-fits-all solutions for seniors. But seniors aren’t just one group.
Knowing the customer is key to success with seniors, just as it is with the population overall. …Companies that address seniors as discrete segments with unique needs can position themselves for success in this growing and increasingly profitable market.”
I am happy to report that some companies do see the light. Last week, I received a survey with age segmentation that went to 85. I wondered what forward-thinking group realized that seniors are not all alike. It was from a funeral home.