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Don't Box Boomers In
Baby Boomers have a strong online customer presence, but companies must pay attention to factors aside from age to get the full picture of this cohort.
Posted Nov 20, 2006
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Baby Boomers are making a splash on the Web, comprising the largest segment of the online population. However, not all Internet-bound Boomers act alike, according to a new report from Jupiter Research. "Demographic Profile: Baby Boomers Online," finds that income level, age, and health status are all differentiators when it comes to Web activity. The study isolated income level to be the most important factor in determining online behavior in all channels except healthcare, for which health status was found to be the greatest driver. It is crucial to companies targeting Boomers that they do not view this population as homogenous, but that they pay attention to more granular segmentation. "Any company that is online is by definition probably interacting with the Baby Boomer population," says Mark Best, analyst at Jupiter Research and author of the study. However, Best argues that many are not taking full advantage of these interactions. "We don't see many companies following what we would suggest." The study found the online use of Baby Boomers to be nearly identical to that of non-Boomers. They reportedly spend a median of 15 hours per week online, an hour less than the rest of the population. Additionally, Boomers actively use online search, purchasing and researching products and services to the same extent as non-Boomers. For example, 88 percent of Boomers reported that they have sent a recent email inquiry as compared to 86 percent of non-Boomers, and 64 percent of both Boomers and non-Boomers recently researched products and services online. Within the Boomer population, affluence makes a big difference in online use and activities, according to the study. Sixty-nine percent of Boomers with a household income of over $75,000 were found to research products online, but only 61 percent of those with an income of less than$75,000 interact with companies in this way. Travel arrangements are made online by 47 percent of the more affluent segment, as compared to 25 percent of the less affluent set. Higher income Boomers were also found to buy more products and services on the Web, use email more frequently, and use a search engine at a higher rate. Some activities were more common to less affluent Boomers, such as sending electronic greetings and playing action games online. Best explains that this separation could be chalked up to a number of factors including broadband access and education level.
Health status, not affluence, was found to be the propulsive factor in online healthcare activities. Higher- and lower-income Boomers in good health reported spending equal amounts of time searching health information online and preparing for doctor visits. However, 60 percent of Boomers who described themselves as in bad health said that they find information on chronic problems online. Less than one-third of Boomers in good health search this information. Likewise, only four percent of Boomers in good health engage in online healthcare activities daily, in contrast with seven percent of those in bad health. Best says that that companies must look at age in conjunction with other demographic elements to most successfully target customers. When companies do so thoroughly, there may be some surprises. Best reports that female Boomers are one of the largest populations of online gamers, yet are a segment largely untapped by advertisers. Best says companies should take advantage of these more surprising demographics. "It seems it would be pretty strange for Martha Stewart to have lots of video games out there, but that actually might work out." Related articles: Wild & Crazy Bye-Bye Boomers, Welcome Yers Companies? Listen Up!
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