WEB MARKETING: Targeting those senior surfers

Mature adults-17% of the online audience – can be easy to woo

Your 65-year-old mother might not be able to program her VCR, but she might nonetheless be a prolific online shopper. In the second quarter of 1999, consumers ages 55 and over accounted for 9% of all e-commerce sales, spending $227 million online, out of $2.56 billion of total consumer e-commerce sales, according to online research firm BizRate.com.

What’s more, a survey by SeniorNet (a San Francisco-based nonprofit group that teaches mature adults to work with computers) and investment brokerage firm Charles Schwab found that the more than 13 million U.S. adults over age 50 with Internet access account for 17% of the total online population. “Older people aren’t necessarily early adopters of technology,” says SeniorNet spokeswoman Laura Fay. “But once computers and online shopping become more common to them, they’re just as likely to take advantage of the medium as any other group.”

Mature adults also tend to be relatively affluent. Research firm @plan found that 45% of consumers ages 55 and over earn more than $75,000 annually, and 50% have investment portfolios worth more than $100,000.

Given these factors, it could be worthwhile to position your Website so that it’s welcoming to seniors. Happily, tweaking the site’s design to appeal to mature adults is simple (see “Design advice,” below right).

It’s the little things

In terms of marketing tactics, “avoid calling this group `seniors.’ They hate being sold to as `old’ or reminded in any way of their infirmities,” says Ann Fishman, president of New Orleans-based market research consultancy Generational Targeted Marketing Corp. Instead, highlight the positive aspects of the product.

And if your site sells gifts, toys, or children’s apparel, play up the grandparent/grandchild relationship. “This group is more likely to buy gifts for their grandkids online than any other,” Fishman notes. “So break out the grandparenting angle, such as incorporating phrases such as `grand gifts,’ but never make it look like you’re going after the senior market.”

Another way to attract older buyers is to establish a partnership with online senior communities. Toys `R’ Us, for example, partnered with Third Age.com to create a Grandparents `R’ Us affinity program. On a more basic level, you could exchange links with an online community such as SeniorCom, GrandTimes, SeniorNet, AARP WebPlace, and Fifty-plus Net.

Even if the “mature market” is not your company’s primary audience, it’s not a bad idea to improve your Website to appeal to senior shoppers. Below, a few design tips for attracting – and keeping – senior buyers.

– Use larger type, both in graphics such as buttons and in HTML. “Bumping up the size of your font is more than an enhancementfor seniors,” says Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing Corp. “All of your Web visitors will appreciate it.”

– Choose colors for type that heighten the contrast with the background. And avoid busy wallpaper, since it makes HTML type less readable.

– Make sure that site structure and navigation are clear and logical, “since the older user will be less familiar with online conventions,” advises Don Hammond, creative services manager/ senior art director at Website developer Fry Multimedia.

– Avoid blinking, rotating, and vibrating graphics. “Often these tools do not heighten comprehension of information but instead contribute to visual confusion,” Hammond says.

– When using animations such as GIF and Flash – technologies that display different messages in sequence – adjust the sequence timing to a slower pace than is customary. “Users with vision problems may have difficulty viewing and processing rapidly sequenced animations,” Hammond says.