Consumer Corner: Boomers take to the Web for more purchases

By MARCELLA S. KREITER  |  Jan. 16, 2011 at 4:39 AM
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CHICAGO, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- "Let your fingers do the walking" was always a great slogan, but now it's migrated from the phone book to the computer -- and it's the older shoppers who are taking the concept to heart, a survey indicates.

Integer Group's and M/A/R/C Research's The Checkout survey found members of the baby boom generation are outpacing Generation Y when it comes to shopping for such things as food and beverages online, although the whippersnappers still outnumber their elders when shopping for such things as electronics, clothing, books and music.

It seems those 50-64 years old have discovered how much time they can save shopping online, said Craig Elston, senior vice president of insight and strategy for Integer.

"Boomers in general are spending quite a bit of their time online now," Elston said. "There's definitely a move among that generation to try those things. They don't want to be left behind."

Online shopping increased this year. During the holiday season, it was up 17.6 percent from 2009.

Elston said there's great potential for shopping for food, beverages and health and beauty aids online -- if retailers can just get the logistics ironed out. Currently, 30 percent of those 50-54 surveyed said they shop for groceries online while more than 40 percent of those 50-65 said they shop for health and beauty aids. The percentage creeps toward 50 percent for those 65 and older; however, it is unclear how much of that is prescriptions, Elston said.

Among the big barriers to increased Web shopping for everyday items is logistics, he said, advising brick-and-mortar operations to take a closer look at the Amazon distribution model. Admittedly, he said, however, quick delivery of groceries is easier to accomplish in compact areas than in sprawling metropolises.

"In the U.K., two years ago, we used to do all our grocery shopping online," Elston said, noting delivery could be had within 6 hours. "We would sit down the night before. It worked beautifully. Then we moved to the U.S. and now we're spending hours walking around the store. (Online shopping) certainly freed up a lot of time. … My mother even does it now and she's 70 this year. It just makes her life easier. She doesn't have to carry stuff."

A Mintel survey found nearly 31 percent of female baby boomers are likely to buy cosmetics and skin-care aids online.

"Female baby boomers are one of the largest beauty care segments, known for their spending power, proactive health habits and dedication to product research," said Kat Fay, senior analyst at Mintel. "In fact, these women spend 13 or more hours online a week making the online market a powerful resource if retailers can get boomers to log on."

The Checkout survey -- which queried 1,234 subjects in August and had an error rate of 3 percentage points -- found 73 percent of those who shop online are not shopping more, just differently, clicking their way through Web sites to find the best deal. However, the survey found fully half of online shoppers are resistant to buying packaged goods.

Elston said he thinks it will take some creative merchandising to change people's minds, possibly by eliminating delivery fees, charging a flat annual subscription fee no matter how much is ordered and scouring the Web for coupons to be applied to orders, or setting up a timed delivery schedule for specific products so the consumer never runs out.

"People will get used to the convenience," he predicted.

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