It is a deep irony that at a time when the affluent grey market in the UK leads consumer spending by a country mile, Google ‘products for 50+’ and you will find the vast majority of the 33 million research results relate to anti-ageing cosmetic creams and skincare tips to stop the natural consequences of advancing years. Fine, the beauty industry is capitalising on Baby Boomers coming of age, but doesn’t anyone else want to play?
Dig a little deeper with Google to search ‘activities for 50+’ and you find some interest from financial services, healthcare, retirement homes and online dating. In the latter area, you’ll find tips about how not to embarrass yourself. Surely there is more to look forward to?
After all, Baby Boomers are the largest, healthiest and longest-living generation of consumers the Western world has ever seen. Back in 2012, the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) found that over 50s in the UK held 47.6% of all UK household expenditure and it was projected to grow. They are now responsible for over 60% of spend on healthcare, and 50% of spend on food and drink, alcohol and tobacco, household goods, and recreation and lifestyle interests. Yet, a recent poll by the Boston Consulting Group found only 31% of firms focus on increased longevity in their sales and marketing.
“There is no more predictable market force than this age wave,” says Ken Dychtwald, an American gerontologist, who has spent his entire career working in the ‘age space’. “Yet the Longevity Economy is a brand new phenomenon. Most older adults approaching 50 haven’t a clue what they are supposed to be doing with the rest of their lives. They have worked hard, amassed a good deal of wealth and now they want to have fun and fulfil new dreams. No supplier market has had such a sales opportunity.”
Some winners will be products and services that meet the predictable, irreversible consequences of advancing years. As noted, the beauty sector, promoted with slogans such as “say goodbye to ageing skin” is booming. And it will grow even further, as the average 50-year old woman is predicted to spend more than £46,000 on cosmetic products in her next 2 decades.
Healthcare, mobility devices, special needs housing are all good markets to exploit. But don’t just think stair lifts and care homes. Gil Summers, a social entrepreneur is co-founder of a tourist community of 220 properties in Lanzarote, for people who are looking for a place in the sun, without the hassles of home ownership. “When people retire,” says Summers, “their lives and purpose change. We have created a safe and stimulating environment, where people discover the beginning of a new stage in life that is built around personal freedom.” This is not a residential home in the sun, but a vibrant community that is also open to all ages and income brackets, with a minimum rent that two people on two state pensions can afford. “We have designed it to be financially diverse. The real currency is not the ability to pay but the ability to make the community work.” Sun Park has a small number of core service providers on site to ensure the smooth running and daily needs of the property, but other facilities and entertainments are created and self-run by the residents. There is a café and a bar, and all-age families and visitors are welcome on the site. Summers believes there is an exciting opportunity for other entrepreneurs to create self-maintaining tourist communities or “home from homes” like Sun Park, where everything is done for the benefit of all.
Closer to home, there is vast potential for financial services, not just pensions, but more critically, financial planning tools and consumer advice for people. The food and drinks market is growing in segments that supply healthier options including vitamins, supplements, low-caffeine drinks, low-salt snacks, and wholly balanced ready-meals.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Coinciding with the ageing population, is a growing global trend towards healthy living and healthy lifestyle choices, leading to a boom in wellbeing and fitness markets. Huge revenue potential lies in providing products to people who are simply enjoying a longer, healthier life; and in markets where increasing leisure time is spent in the pursuit of interests that have nothing to do with age. Cars, motorbikes, fashion, sports, entertainment, travel and leisure sectors are major beneficiaries.
However, approach the iceberg with care. All-age experts advise that the over 50 market has a rich diversity of interests and needs, and is not a homogenous group. Targeting people by age in markets defined by fitness, adventure and vitality will definitely kill their passion.
Companies that successfully extend their appeal across age groups have upheld their brand values and concentrated on customers’ common interests. Harley Davidson, a stereotypically middle-aged motorcycle brand, launched a 3-wheeled motorcycle in 2009, to appeal to the 70-year old rider on the basis of comfort and safety. “Roaring like a road warrior”, the bike maintained all the hallmarks of a 2-wheeler that appealed to existing customers, and it has since become one of the company’s best-sellers.
Adopting an all-age approach to product design has paid dividends to the Ford Motor Company, who pioneered a ‘third age suit’ to give their engineers a taste of mobility issues associated with ageing. The suit added bulk and restricted movement on key joints, spurring on the design of a car that has more headroom and is easier to get in and out of. Rather than appealing exclusively to older drivers, the resulting Ford Focus has become a comfortable car for everyone and has since become a long-running best-selling hatchback in the UK.
As highlighted in research presented at the recent Age Does Not Matter festival, all ages demand similar qualities from the products they buy. Whether they are 25 or 75, they want products that work well and look good. Products like Apple and Sonos that are equally appealing across all age groups for their innovation, great design and accessibility.
Says The Age of No Retirement co-founder, Jonathan Collie: “What will set smart companies apart is a design-led, all-age approach to everything they do. By focussing on everybody, they shatter the stereotypical approach to age. Rather than pigeon-hole their audiences, they seek to understand them and deliver better products for all.”
By Sheila Parry, founder and chair of theblueballroom