The popular belief that the "net" is reserved for the younger generations may have been true a few years ago, but no more. Survey data shows that more and more older Americans are flocking to the internet and the proliferation of websites dedicated to senior citizens are evidence that they represent an important target audience for online marketers.
The fifty plus age group currently makes up approximately 30% of the population in the U.S. This group represents three "generations"; the GI Generation (1901 - 1924), the Silent Generation (1925- 1945), and Baby Boomers (1946-1964). As the majority of the Baby Boomers approach retirement age, the size of this fifty plus age group is projected to grow from the current 96 million to over 109 million in 2015 and to over 118 million by 2020. A growing market segment with disposable income is an attractive target for all kinds of marketers, and it is attracting more and more attention.
Surveys indicate that over 70% of the 50 - 59 age group are actively on line and over 60% of those between 60 and 70 are active internet users. A surprising 27% of those over 75 are on line as well, an indication that we old timers aren't the techno-phobes that some would have you believes. So what are we doing with this new found interest in the online world?
The largest application by far is Email. Most users use the email services provided by their ISP, but once they get comfortable with using their computers for this simple task, they quickly expand to other internet services. Over 70% of us in the 60+ age group use search engines, indicating a broader interest in all things on the net. Adults over 50 are most likely to visit sites oriented at health and travel. Not a big surprise if you think about it. And a surprising 10% of us over the age of 70 use social networking sites like Facebook and My Space.
My experience with my own website indicates that a large majority of visitors are interested in health issues (as mentioned above), and even more so in financial issues. Given the current state of economy this shouldn't be surprising. It is also apparent that many of our visitors are looking for specific information that affects them directly. Some of the most common questions concern their financial options related to Social Security, 401K's and other retirement programs.
The convenience of shopping on the internet is an obvious benefit to seniors who may have limited ability to get around. And the ability to do comparison shopping without travelling mall to mall, store to store has the potential to help stretch limited finances. The internet has the potential to be a very positive tool for seniors in these and many other areas.
There is a downside for seniors who use the internet that should be mentioned. Seniors are more likely to be targeted by questionable or overly aggressive marketing tactics, and are the prime target for scams of all kinds. Although we like to brag that wisdom comes with age, so do a couple of other things. As we grow older we lose some of our mental sharpness which can make us more vulnerable to clever pitches. As we get older we may find that we are more alone as we lose spouses and friends. As indicated by the use of social networking sites, some seek companionship on the internet. While this is good thing, it can attract those who are there to take advantage of the situation. It is always a good idea to be wary of those we know only through contact on the internet, especially if the conversation takes a turn to money.
All things considered, the internet is a positive experience for the vast majority of seniors. It is remarkable how many old friends reconnect through the net. I know in my case, I have reconnected with several former high school classmates who are scattered across several states from New Hampshire to Arkansas to California.
The number of seniors who are active net users is sure to increase as the number of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age grows. But even we "old dogs" are getting comfortable with using technology to expand our horizons beyond the traditional limits we grew up with. So for you seniors who haven't yet really jumped in, come on in, you can learn new tricks. After all, if I can create and publish a website at my age (over 65 for sure) you can learn what you need to know to enjoy the benefits of being "on line" as well.
About The Author: Burt Widener writes extensively on issues concerning retirement. His website at http://www.allthingsretired.com offers a range of articles and other resources to aid retired persons find answers to common questions regarding retirement.
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