Boomers: the retail tide that's about to change

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on October 24, 2005

On 1st January 2006, the oldest 'Baby Boomers' around will turn 60. After that, for the next 19 years, another one will turn 60 every 7.5 seconds, causing a demographic tidal wave will affect businesses with greater impact than the aging of any previous generation, according to generational experts Brent Green & Associates (BGA).

While the demographic tide changes, mature values and trends will increasingly dominate marketplace realities and consumer attitudes. According to Brent Green, president of BGA and author of the book 'Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers', there are five key ways that the Baby Boomer generation will change businesses and institutions over the next two decades:

  1. Health and fitness - beyond damage repair
    Over the past three decades, 'Boomers' have made substantial monetary contributions to health and fitness companies. These companies experienced substantial growth as Boomers became fitness devotees during the seventies and eighties. But many fitness brands seem to have forgotten their legacies, ignoring the generation that propelled their early growth.

    But Boomers will increasingly pursue fitness as a way to forestall the impact of aging. Perhaps less obvious will be emerging fitness drivers, such as: staying vigorous for grandchildren, undertaking intense physical preparation for adventure vacations and learning expeditions, and to improve cognitive health and memory.

  2. Workforce dynamics - stalling the retirement exodus
    Retirement looms on the horizon for a generation, and some employers are starting to become nervous at the thought of losing an experienced generation. Of greatest concern is how companies and government can preserve Boomers' experience, acumen and relationships.

    Many Boomers are retiring early to pursue unfulfilled dreams, and some are tired of job stagnation. Some fear the implications of recent layoffs and corporate downsizing, preferring to act rather than react. Boomers are also seekers, and many are confronting the dissonance between their youthful dreams and present-day realities. However, a Merrill Lynch survey last year predicted that over 75% of Boomers plan to work in some capacity in retirement. More than 10% say they intend to start new businesses.

    Consequently, companies that want to avoid the coming Boomer employee exodus must start developing new ways for them to rejuvenate within their existing positions. Hardened HR practices will need to gain new flexibility: job sharing, flex-scheduling, and intermittent sabbatical-style breaks will be needed. Complete new businesses will emerge to help companies and Boomers make phased retirement happen smoothly, with services such as knowledge capture and sharing, social network analysis, and cultural change management.

  3. Dynamics of housing - living around vs. aging in place
    Aging Boomers are often characterised as suffering from wanderlust, and a small percentage of the generation (in the USA, at least) will certainly relocate to traditional retirement communities such as those found in Florida and Arizona. However, more Boomers report their intention to "age in place", with the majority wanting to live near their families and grandchildren - within a three-hour driving radius, in fact.

    The 60th year will usher in creative new approaches in the building industry to help Boomers remain in their home communities. Local developers will start building more retirement-friendly housing, such as patio homes and gated communities. The US-based age-qualified retirement housing builder Del Webb has already been introducing new communities in non-traditional retirement locations such as Colorado, Delaware, and Virginia.

    Furthermore, other new companies will emerge to provide services at home for those who choose to age in place, including home delivery of gourmet meals, shopping services, home renovation services, and biomedical technologies to accommodate future disabilities.

  4. Boomer vitality - planning ahead for health care
    In recent surveys, Boomers have generally identified health care costs as being one of their principal concerns. This includes worries about rising health insurance, the future of the US national Medicare programme, paying for prescription drugs, and the costs associated with long-term care.

    The USA's elderly population has been projected to double by 2050, putting great strains on the country's health care system. Similar problems will no doubt be seen in Europe and other regions as well. Potential breakthroughs in longevity, while welcome news from the perspective of healthy Boomers, adds more than a little gravity to their concerns about late-life care funding.

    Continuing negative coverage in the media healthcare systems is nudging many Boomers to become more active in their search for solutions, including long-term care insurance, health savings accounts, annuities, and healthcare cooperatives. Negative domestic healthcare news will also fuel a trend toward expatriation among Boomers seeking places to live that are more progressive about healthcare. Again, new businesses are likely to emerge to help Boomers find healthcare and medications overseas, as well as creating cooperative buying networks of healthcare services.

  5. On the road again - a growth in travel and tourism
    Boomers have contributed to the growth of many new forms of travel entertainment, from European sightseeing to high-intensity adventure vacations. And as more of the generation prioritises time for travel and learning, the tourism industries will continue to experience substantial growth.

    But because aging has introduced new restrictions for activity holidays involving extreme sports, trends for the 60+ set will have to include blending low-key travel with immersive learning experiences. For example, National Geographic has already been developing a travel product called Expeditions, in line with changing Boomer tastes. Expeditions include out-of-the-ordinary journeys, education from qualified and respected tour guides, access to off-the-beaten path experiences (such as a tour of the Sistine Chapel after hours), and trips managed so as not to overly strain the tourists. The emphasis is on learning, cultural immersion, and unique experiences.

    Finally, domestic hotels and resorts will continue to develop new destination experiences to attract Boomers, offering gourmet cooking, wellness education, and skills improvement courses in leisure sports such as golf and tennis.

In his book Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers (published in 2005 by Paramount Market Publishing) Green presents insights about how businesses can adapt and capitalise on the coming Baby Boomer age transition.

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