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Baby Boomers are going digital - here’s what that means for business

Published February 3, 2021

Society likes to tease that the baby boomer generation (born 1946–1964) is light-years behind younger generations, especially when it comes to technology adoption. But the portrayal of boomers as an analog generation is outdated.

Baby boomers support digital innovation more than society gives them credit for. Yet they’re the most undermarketed-to generation, behind the silent generation (those between 75 and 92 years old). The truth is that they have money to spend, and much of that spending power lies in the hands of digital channels.

Baby boomers embrace digital tools

A 2020 report by Mobiquity explored baby-boomer engagement with digital technology. What they found was that, similar to businesses that were forced to take operations online, boomers took their business online due to safety advantages when COVID-19 hit.

The pandemic increased tech adoption among older generations, but adoption was already trending upward before COVID-19 forced many businesses online. Pew Research Center data from 2019 shows that the majority of baby boomers now own a smartphone (68 percent,) and 11 percent of them use their phone as the primary way to go online. They also use social media—especially Facebook, where they’ve doubled their usage since 2015. One could argue that the digital adoption of smartphones is a necessity, but growth in social media usage demonstrates the opposite.

The digital opportunities that lie with baby boomers

Boomer consumers are growing increasingly comfortable with digital options. Eighty-five percent of boomers in one study said they wished more businesses had digital options. Pair that with the buy-online boom caused by COVID-19, and baby boomers have come to not only want but also expect digital offerings from their favorite businesses.

Opportunity 1: Take your essential business online

More businesses in essential categories (like grocery stores, pharmacies, and health care) have shifted their services online for the first time due to the pandemic. Telehealth use among baby boomers increased from 10 to 48 percent after the onset of COVID-19, and more local pharmacies started offering online ordering, delivery and pickup to compete with online pharmacies like Amazon Pharmacy. Online grocery pickup also increased by 431 percent, and Apptopia found that grocery delivery apps—like Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt—“have seen surges of 218%, 160%, and 124% respectively.” This behavior is expected to continue after COVID-19 slows; ensuring that your website or app can keep up with demand is key.

Opportunity 2: Set up a system for BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) and curbside pickup

A National Retail Federation (NRF) study found that two-thirds of baby boomers had tried buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) offerings. Of those, “63 percent said it improved their overall shopping experience.” 

Boomers also love curbside pickup options because they help avoid shipping costs and facilitate COVID-19 precautions (like social distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions). So, even after social distancing measures slow, the cost savings alone will motivate that behavior to continue. To ensure that your business can handle BOPIS and curbside pickup, make sure you have the infrastructure in place to execute it flawlessly (and partner with a third-party provider if you don’t).

Opportunity 3: Replicate in-person interactions through digital media

Although the medium has changed (from in-person to digital), baby boomers are taking their tried-and-true expectations to digital means. So businesses should focus on enabling and optimizing the experience of those digital solutions.

Coupons, loyalty programs and other incentives remain popular among this age group—all things that are easy to optimize for digital with a fully integrated point-of-sale (POS) or mobile POS (mPOS) system. Boomers also started using chatbots, apps and websites to interact with their financial institutions—Mobiquity’s survey saw a 9 percent increase in usage—so businesses should take more support efforts online, especially on mobile, to meet that need.

Where there’s wealth, there’s a need for financial services. One in five baby boomers plans to continue to work at least part time during retirement, and 32 percent of boomers are doing so for the discretionary income. And by 2029, when the youngest boomer turns 65, the generation’s financial assets will reach $26 trillion, up from $17 trillion in 2015, according to Deloitte.

Changes to employment and lifestyle have a direct effect on consumers’ income and spending. As boomers continue to work for discretionary income and adopt more digital solutions, financial institutions will need to continue to cater to their digital needs. Financial institutions can meet those needs by rationalizing their offerings, like taking loan applications online and optimizing and encouraging your mobile banking app(s). Discover how Bay Federal enhanced their customer experience by building a digital banking app around their users.

Baby boomers have 10 more years of powerful spending

Baby boomers may be entering their golden years (ages 65+), but studies show they’ll remain in the workforce longer than the generations that preceded them. And they’re holding on to that purchase power for as long as they can.

According to Visa, “the strongest future growth potential in spending lies firmly with baby boomers.” Boomers don’t make as many purchases as younger generations, but they’re still the biggest annual spenders. According to Epsilon research, boomers have an annual spend of $548.1B, not-so-closely trailed by Gen X, with $357B.

On top of general spending patterns—and although millennials and Gen  Zers do have money to spend—baby boomers have the most disposable income of any generation. Visa’s report says that over half of U.S. spending comes from those 50 and older, and that they are “responsible for more spending growth over the past decade than any other generation, including the coveted millennials.”

One of the reasons boomers hold their place in the market? They’re still working, and they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Baby boomers are the only generation with upward trending growth in the labor force.

Whether it’s out of necessity or want, baby boomers’ digital adoption continues to increase as they hold on to their purchase power and intent—and as an undermarketed-to generation, businesses have plenty of room to capture it.

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