Research shows that many older customers make fewer purchases but are prepared to spend more each time, looking for quality and good value. When you combine this with the fear of being scammed, older customers are a natural market for Which? Trusted traders. Yet they are typically under-served by many companies, with advertising and marketing initiatives favouring younger customers.

What’s the best way to approach working with older customers?

Obviously you’d expect to provide the same high level of customer service, irrespective of the age of your customer. Clear communication about work agreed, creating minimum disruption to the customer’s routine and clearly communicating any changes to processes should all come as standard. But there are some areas that you need to bear in mind:

1. People don’t like to think of themselves as old. ‘Old age’ is relative – to a teenager it’s anyone over 30, to a 50-year-old it’s people in their 70s, and once you’re in your 60s up it goes again. Don’t refer to your customers as ‘elderly’. Older consumers are fitter, healthier and more active than ever. They will choose products that enhance their self-respect – that make them feel good.

2. Courtesy goes a long way. Older consumers want to be respected. While many people are used to being informal and switch instantly to first names, some older customers may prefer to be called Mr Jones or Mrs Smith.

3. Don’t rush. Allow sufficient time in appointments with older customers to allow them to make decisions at their own pace. Nobody likes being hurried, and some of your older consumers may prefer to work at a slower pace than you.

4. Have online and offline information and contact options. Overall, silver surfers are the fastest-growing demographic of internet users in the UK, with almost 70% having their own Facebook account and 90% checking their emails daily. Those who are online are likely to be heavy internet users, as they have more free time than average to dedicate to the internet and social media.

But those who are not comfortable with tech may well prefer to avoid emails and websites. Many older consumers would prefer to speak to a customer services representative than look for information or advice online. Maintaining a personal connection is important to them and increases brand loyalty.

5. Use larger print. Many older customers complain that they can’t read packaging or instructions easily. Ensure any written communication is easy to read and offer large-print versions if necessary.

6. Consider whether you need to adapt your premises. While people don’t want to be reminded of their age, older customers do want you to cater for them. It’s a balancing act, but being inclusive of older consumers is ultimately good for everyone.

Business premises need to be readily accessible to customers with mobility problems. Providing ramps, lifts or level access to premises and accessible toilets is important for customers who find stairs challenging. Ensure all products are easy to access – not on high or low shelves.

If your business premises are large and involve customers moving to different areas, provide regular stopping points where they can sit down.

8. Try marketing directly to older customers. Recent research from Mailjet found that a quarter of older customers think brands are too focused on targeting younger consumers. A similar proportion felt that there was a lack of emphasis on customer service and advice. Older consumers are waiting to be wooed by businesses that can provide them with excellent customer service and products that fit with their lifestyle – whatever that may be.

Ageing population

The UK population as a whole is getting significantly older. As the Baby Boomer generation (people born 1945-1965) hits retirement, there are far fewer younger people coming along behind them. A 2014 study found that from now until 2037, the 15-65 age group in the UK will increase by 29,000 each year, while the number of people age 65 and older will rise by 278,000 each year[1].

But what does this mean in practical terms? Older people are more likely to own their own property than any other age group. With more households headed up by people over 65, they will be looking for skilled traders they can trust to help maintain them. They are also are one of the only demographics to increase their car use – this is particularly true of the over-75s. Again, they will need to maintain these vehicles and are less likely to be able to try DIY solutions.

What’s more, this age group has considerable spending power. Over-65s in the UK currently spend around £2.2bn a week on goods and services. If this figure increases in line with inflation, at 2%, they’ll be spending more than £6bn a week by 2037. So it’s well worth looking through the tips above to make sure you’re meeting older customers’ needs.

More on this…


[1] http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/index.php/publications/publication_details/the_age_audit_delivering_a_business_response_to_ageing