PROSPECTING: Searching for more seniors

Sep 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

More catalogers are anxious to market to this booming segment

The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that the percentage of the U.S. population over 54 years old will grow from 21% in 2000 to 28% by 2015, representing an increase from about 59 million to more than 85 million people. The Census Bureau’s projection exceeds 100 million people by the year 2025. Likewise, the Administration on Aging projects a more than 50% increase in the number of Americans 65 years and older over the next 20 years (see chart below).

There’s no doubt that the “mature market” (consumers over age 50) is booming. They’re also buying by catalog: According to Catalog Age’s 1999 Consumer Catalog Shopping Survey, 35% of those consumers who purchase by catalog are over 50 years old (the second-largest group when looked at by groupings of 18-25, 26-35, 36-50, and 51+ years of age.) As a result, a number of list companies are reporting an increase in catalogers looking to rent lists of older Americans.

“I’ve seen tremendous growth in this area,” says Uni-Mail List Management senior vice president Carolyn Woodruff. “I do a lot of work in the geriatric market, and some of our clients are finding impressive success there.” In particular, Woodruff says healthcare and vitamin marketers are seeking the names of older prospects. “There’s also been an increase in the number of apparel and general merchandise catalogers trying to get into the market, such as Arizona Mail Order and Fingerhut.” Overall, Woodruff estimates a 20% increase in demand for senior lists just during the past year.

But some catalogers say they are struggling to find names in this increasingly valuable demographic group. Sheila Garelik, president of New York-based multititle mailer Brylane, says she relies on exchanges with other catalogers more than on outside list providers for names of older prospects. (Brylane’s specialty-size apparel catalogs, Lane Bryant, Roaman’s, and Jessica London, target women in their 50s.) “From our point of view, there are very few sources of older names out there,” she says. “The number is growing, but it’s still very limited. There are more segmentations available, but we very rarely use outside lists.” (A search of the SRDS Online Direct Marketing List Source produced 265 “Senior Citizen” lists.)

Garelik also notes, however, that while she is experiencing more competition for these customers than ever before, Brylane’s sales to the older market have jumped an estimated 5%-8% over the past year.

Colchester, CT-based crafts and recreational products cataloger S&S Worldwide has been having better luck finding outside lists, according to circulation manager Tracy Driscoll. “We’ve definitely become aware of more senior lists on the market, and the quantities of names have gone up,” she says. “We also find much better segmentation than a few years ago.”

At Boardroom Books, a Greenwich, CT-based publisher of general-interest consumer books and newsletters, rentals of its customer list – which includes approximately 1 million buyers over the age of 54 – have definitely increased in the past year, says production manager Amy Altmann.

And although Kevin Muth, vice president of sales at Boca Raton, FL-based Advanced Business Compilation, hasn’t seen a significant increase in demand for his company’s Well-to-do Senior Citizens list, he says the file is well used. “There are certain times of year when it gets tremendous activity, especially for political campaigns that affect seniors, like social security issues. Plus, the 50-59 segments get offers for retirement.”

But the senior market demands more than retirement condos and vitamins. The Department of Labor’s latest Consumer Expenditure Survey shows people aged 55-64 outspend all others when it comes to gift items such as toys, games, and hobbies. And this segment spends at above-average rates on entertainment and household furnishings as well.