Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Age is more than just a number when it comes to ecommerce. Here’s what brands need to know

By Elizabeth Lane, Head of Research & Measurement, IAB UK

Let’s face it, as an industry we’ve got a thing about age. Overwhelmingly, advertising – particularly digital – is preoccupied with young people and new trends. From cutting edge devices to Gen Z traits, it’s easy to get excited about the newest, the latest and the up and coming. But, as our research at IAB UK shows, we ignore older age groups at our peril when it comes to one of the fastest-growing trends.

Ecommerce has seen exponential growth in the past year. At the end of 2020, eMarketer reported that online retail sales were set to surpass 30% of all retail in the UK for the first time, but growth in this area isn’t being driven by the young according to our research. In fact, the powerhouse behind it is the over 50s. Yes, that much-maligned but hugely powerful buying group that’s less preoccupied with the property ladder or by the unpredictable jobs market, and largely unencumbered with the burden of student debt.

This week, to mark our first Ecommerce Week, we at IAB UK have released findings from our latest Real Living study, exploring the online shopping habits of Britons and seeking to establish how they anticipate recent changes to their behaviour – driven largely by the pandemic restrictions – to manifest themselves in the long-term.

The research shows that those aged 55 and over are fuelling growth across the top four ecommerce categories and 58% of the same age group who have adopted or increased their online shopping in 2020 say that they will continue to do so once the pandemic is over. This is more than 35-54s (53%) and only slightly less than the digital native 16-34s (61%).

This offers marketers a huge opportunity to cater to a significant shift in consumer behaviour and cement lasting ecommerce loyalties among older people. Our findings give valuable insight into the mindset of a huge new consumer group that is setting new trends in the retail world. Here are four key factors that advertisers need to know:

● The path to purchase is different for older groups. While social media and influencers are vital sources of discovery for younger age groups, those aged 55 and over have a very different approach to shopping online. They favour both familiarity and functionality, turning to retailers (55%) and online marketplaces (43%) directly to discover new products, research them and, eventually, buy. Known brands and trusted retailers are still hugely valued, while functional factors such as free delivery and logins being saved at checkout rank in their top 3 purchasing perks.

● Advertising should be helpful and discreet. Advertising plays an important role for older online shoppers, but it needs to take a certain form and fit with the ‘familiar and functional’ role that older buyers favour. This demographic is looking for helpful, clear suggestions, and it’s crucial to ensure that the advertising isn’t invasive or disruptive to the purchase journey. For brands, this means that building a following of logged-in users is key – utilising first-party data will be a crucial component in informing different communications strategies as third-party cookies are phased out. Now is the time to engage with these new customers and build relationships in order to have the ability to influence them down the line.

● Ecommerce or EastEnders? The evening peak. Across age groups, shopping online is seen as a rewarding and enjoyable experience, with 60% looking forward to doing it again. Ecommerce is now seen as entertainment in and of itself, with a clear shopping peak coinciding with the evening surge in live TV viewing, VOD, social media and gaming. For the 55 and overs, both retail and grocery shopping peak between 6pm and 9pm, before decreasing sharply. Advertising that is both relevant and considerate to the mood that consumers are in at that 9pm peak will reinforce the enjoyable experience of ecommerce. For grocery shopping in particular, product advertising that is highly relevant to the consumer works well as it complements the level of focus required and acts as an aide to the purchase journey.

● Offline and online shouldn’t be siloed. Yes, 58% of over 55s plan to stick with ecommerce once the pandemic is over, but that doesn’t mean that shopping in real life is off the cards. Overall, one in three people across age groups say that they will be doing more shopping in both online and offline environments – offering twice the available moments for brands to reach buyers. Savvy marketers need to examine how their ecommerce strategy feeds into their high street presence and create a seamless brand experience across the two in order to capitalise on evolving behaviours.

It’s clear from our research that when it comes to ecommerce, age is more than just a number. Marketers must look at where and how older shoppers engage with brands and ensure their messaging is presented in the right environment and context in order to resonate with this demographic.

As we begin to emerge from lockdown, retail is approaching a crossroads and online brands can either choose to stick to their old tried and tested strategies or embrace the transition that has already taken place. Brands should take this chance to cement real, lasting change in a post-pandemic world.

The full research can be  found here.