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In Zenners we trust: Why D2C makes sense for over-55s

By Mark Ralphs, MD, Good Rebels

Once dubbed Silver Surfers, and more commonly known as Baby Boomers, the UK’s army of over-55 consumers has been transformed from an e-commerce afterthought into an online shopping force.

Driven by the pandemic to browse and buy digitally while stores were shuttered, this generation is now as au fait with online purchasing as younger demographics. And, as all good retailers are well aware, this age group possesses considerable spending power. Through extensive research we’ve also discovered they’re relaxed about the online experience. So much so, we call them the Zen Gen – or ‘Zenners’.

Zenners are shopping online in huge numbers: 95% of 55- to 64-year-olds and 94% of those aged 65+ have purchased online. They’re confident consumers too – 80% boast they find digital shopping easy. While Zenners have a new-found enthusiasm for clicks as well as bricks, and wealth on their side, it’s vital to understand what makes a great e-commerce experience for them.

Our deep dive into Zenners’ digital behaviour – encompassing 1,500 survey respondents and dozens of in-depth interviews in our three office locations, the UK, Spain and Mexico – uncovered key insights your brand must understand and barriers your brand must overcome to attract this audience.

Thanks to our study, we now know there is a missing ingredient in many brand and marketing campaigns targeting Zenners: trust. For example, a quarter of consumers in this age group have abandoned buying a brand they deemed untrustworthy.

Lack of trust could cost your brand dearly. But on the flipside, gaining the Zenners’ trust is also a huge opportunity for direct-to-consumer (D2C) businesses to build lasting relationships. Trusting the quality, the process and the entire experience is the key reason why this generation chooses a brand.

Nearly three quarters of our participants (72%) buy the same products online as they do in shops. In that sense, advertising has very little to do with brands Zenners purchase: it’s all about trust and familiarity. And that sets the stage nicely for D2C.

Zoning in on Zenners

There’s no doubt this generation can be a lucrative market for D2C operations, but success relies on building trust to tear them away from their favourite brands. There are myriad reasons why D2C suits these shoppers. It’s easier to establish and maintain trust when consumers can continue to buy directly from a brand rather than from an unfamiliar online marketplace. The direct line between the consumer and your brand can be umbilical.

When it comes to convenience and choice it’s difficult for brands to compete with e-commerce powerhouses including Amazon. But there are other areas where D2C brands can benefit from a fruitful relationship with Zenners.

Firstly, selling directly to the end consumer removes a significant amount of overhead and is therefore likely to boost your profits.

Secondly, selling D2C can allow your brands to gather more reliable data on your customers, how they behave and what they want.

Thirdly, and crucially, you get to own your brand image – and price point – online.

With their preference for choosing the same brands online and in-store, Zenners naturally feel more comfortable without a middleman – the retailer – interrupting their transaction.

There are many ways to build trust. Showcase your brand online as you would in-store to reassure Zenners they’re getting the same product; include customer testimonials on your website to verify how well your service works.

When we asked Zenners how they choose brands, a third told us they rely on recommendations from family and friends. This response was second only to their habit of plumping for identical products. You can capitalise on this by making advocacy programmes – for example ‘refer a friend’ schemes – a central part of your marketing strategy.

Remember, too, that traditional tools are often the best. This is a generation that bases brand trust on overall quality of service. Although they’re comfortable online, it’s safe to assume they’ll still appreciate help or reassurance from a person rather than a chatbot – particularly older Zenners. It’s imperative to create an experience that features the human touch: don’t dismantle your call centre just yet.

This point speaks to an increasing desire for the online shopping experience to be more human, and for brands to represent certain values – caring about both people and the planet. If your brand trades directly, you have the upper hand when it comes to communicating sustainability. Seize the opportunity to get brand values, sustainable packaging and delivery promise into messaging.

Let Zenners have their say

One of the best ways to build buy-in from Zenners is to involve them in your brand. That probably sounds scary – but it makes perfect sense.

The Zen Gen can often take more notice of content than channel, so if they’re invested in brand communications they’re unlikely to lose trust and back off. Involve them in your creative process (by means of co-creation, focus groups, surveys and encouraging customer feedback), and it’ll become easier to target the numerous sub-groups of this diverse demographic with ads that play to their specific hopes and desires, this can be achieved.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Zenners rarely shop online “on the go”; they like to plan their errand when they sit down at their computer. Ads and shopping platforms must work well in desktop format; social ads should focus on Facebook but, again, be created in desktop format. It’s tempting to design ads solely for mobile but it won’t wash with this audience.

D2C was already taking off before the pandemic but it’s even bigger business now. Dealing directly with a generation of over-55s who are increasingly confident about online shopping is a clear growth opportunity for your brand.

For their part, Zenners were aged 40 to 50 at the dawn of the digital revolution. Their unique experiences, halfway between digital and analogue, have shaped a mature and reflective generation with distinct online behaviours.

Reflect this in your brand values and communications – and never forget that they instinctively rely on trust. If you build it, they will come.

By Mark Ralphs, MD, Good Rebels

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