This guest post has been written by David Sinclair, Head of Policy and Research, International Longevity Centre-UK.
We are told that Monday was the busiest day for on-line shopping. BBC reporters were sent out to look at warehouses of goods ready to be sent out for the Christmas rush. But whilst journalists get excited by the Christmas shopping frenzy, it can be easy to forget those for whom the market lets down.
This week, Age UK published a new report by ILC-UK on the older consumer. The report shows that whilst the private sector is vital to our quality of life, far too often it fails the older consumer. The market barriers, from age discrimination to inappropriate advertising, highlight a shopping environment which is obsessed with youth. Large parts of the private sector simply do not understand the wants and needs of the older consumer and some of the barriers to the market are indicative of market failure. This is particularly true given that many of the issues highlighted in the research were raised in the 1960s.
Of course, the one addition to the list of barriers facing the older consumer since the 1960s relates to digital exclusion. The fact that around 6 in 10 older people have never used the internet, creates a major new barrier to the consumer marketplace for older people.
There is of course, no such thing as “the older consumer”. There is a considerable disparity between the income of the poorest and the richest older consumer, for example. Treating all older people the same is a huge mistake. Yet parts of the private sector assume that older people are brand loyal, that they don’t shop around, that they have no money, that they are infirm and not attractive consumers etc.
Some of these may apply to some older consumers (as they do to other age groups) but the moment the assumption is made that an older consumer fits into one of these groups, the advertising and marketing executives decide that this group isn’t a priority. And older consumers find themselves ignored.
For many, Christmas is an important time for families. Estimates suggest that older people buy around a quarter of the toys and confectionery on sale in our shops. Given the over-50s account for 44% of consumer spending, whilst the over 65s spend £100bn a year, the private sector ignores the older consumer at its peril.