Surfing with Seniors and Boomers

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the National Center for Health Statistics, the senior population (those 65 years or older) reached 35 million in 2000, accounting for 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, as well as a 12 percent increase since 1990.

The online population for this demographic segment, according to Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s corporate parent), was estimated at 4.4 million in 2001, 6.1 million in 2002, 7.6 million in 2003, and expected to surge to 16.3 million by 2007, representing a substantial, and profitable, market. The largest year-over-year growth will come in 2004, when the population jumps 2.5 million over 2003’s estimate to 10.1 million, and 2005, which will account for another 2.5 million.

Jupiter found growth spurts in other mature online populations as well. Middle adults, those aged 35-49, accounted for 40.2 million of Internet surfers in 2002 and 43.3 million in 2003, and will swell to 51.4 million in 2007. Older adults (ages 50-64) are expected to more than double in size from 2001 to 2007 – 17.7 million in 2001, 20.7 million in 2002, 23.7 million in 2003, and 35.4 million in 2007.

E-mail is as popular with older online users as it is for the overall Internet population. Jupiter’s research reveals that 95 percent of those 55+ cite email as a favorite activity, and 57 percent frequently send or receive e-greetings and online postcards. Those findings are conclusive with data from a November 2002 survey of 2,084 individuals over age 50 conducted by SeniorNet that indicated 94 percent used the Internet to stay in touch with friends and relatives.

Comprehensive data from a December 2002 report on Baby Boomers (those aged 45-54), conducted by Mature Marketing & Research revealed that, in addition to email, most survey respondents used the Internet to research health issues, comparison shop for big ticket items, read online newspapers and newsletters, and check investments.

Research from Jupiter indicates that online buyers, ages 50 and over, will account for almost one-quarter of all online retail spending by 2007, and older users are more likely to make an Internet purchase due to an online ad, with 30 percent claiming to have done so versus only 19 percent of the overall online adult population.

The 50+ crowd are well on their way to making Jupiter’s online retail spending prediction come to fruition: a collaborative report between The Goldman Sachs Group, Harris Interactive, and Nielsen//NetRatings showed the 55+ online shopping population holding steady through 2001 and 2002 at 19 percent.

Equal to the overall Internet population, books were the most popular item to be purchased online at 52 percent of SeniorNet respondents. Similarly, the Mature Marketing & Research report found that books and travel dominate purchases.

The Mature Marketing & Research report revealed that female boomers were more likely to make purchases online than men, while men tended to use the Internet more for research – particularly software and travel items. Those findings are supported by a SeniorNet survey that found that 61 percent of respondents researched computer software or hardware online to purchase offline, followed by travel packages, plane tickets, rental cars, etc. at 55 percent.

Some of that travel research apparently gets converted to purchases, as the Travel Industry of America found that Baby Boomers generated the highest travel volume in the U.S. in 2001 – registering more than 248 million trips, more than any other age group – and they were more likely to stay in a hotel or motel (59 percent), use travel agents (43 percent), travel for business (33 percent) and to fly (24 percent). Boomers spend more on their trips than other age groups, averaging $489 per trip, excluding transportation to their destination.

Data from Mature Marketing & Research also revealed that 75 percent of survey respondents owned a computer, and two-out-of-three owned a cell phone. SeniorNet’s research indicated that more than three-quarters (76 percent) of seniors were self-taught Internet users, and almost half (46 percent) have been surfing for more than five years.

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