The Grey Pound Goes Digital

There is a slice of the ecommerce sector that has, as yet, been left relatively untapped. Over-60’s, like the rest of the population, are moving ever more of their lives online, filtering them through screens and lenses (and Instagram filters). The ‘Instagrans’ are here to stay – but who is best placed to capitalise on this growing market?

Only one in five marketers focus their efforts on older shoppers on the web. This may make sense – as it stands, only a tenth spend more than £150 per month online. But this number is increasing – ‘silver surfers’ have been the fastest growing sector of the ecommerce market in recent years.

The ONS reports that between 2015 and 2016, the percentage of those aged 55 to 64 who did at least part of their shopping online rose by 33%. Those 65 and over have also seen a comparable increase of 29%.

Ecommerce is more than ever no longer the preserve of the young. Though they may be the web’s most natural and proficient citizens, their monopoly on being at the forefront of the digital world is long since passed.

Moreover, 55 to 64 year olds had the largest uptake of smartphone use between 2012 and 2015. 50% now own a smartphone, which is continuing to replace laptops and desktops as the primary platform for ecommerce. One in four mobile shoppers in 2015 was 55 or older. Of course, this number pales in comparison to younger demographics, but growth in those sectors has plateaued as smartphone ownership and internet usage rates reach their upper bounds.

Marketers and companies who ignore this group do so at their peril. There are more people aged 65 and over than there are 16 to 25 year olds in the UK. Charts predicting the UK’s future demographics for the next decades look something like a very top-heavy slightly overweight Christmas tree. 27% of the population will be over 65 by 2030.

Moreover, older people tend to have far more money to spend. The ‘grey pound’ accounts for £320bn of yearly household spending – 47% of the total in 2012. This spending is set to grow by 4.4% per year. Over-50’s have three quarters of the nations’ wealth.

If etailers are not focusing at least some of their efforts on this key demographic, then they’re missing a trick. Clearly, the grey pound has gone digital. is riding this growing wave. It was founded in 2013 by two Mothercare alumni, Anna James and Sarah Boyle. Drawing from their experience of caring for relatives dealing with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, they realised that there was nowhere online that catered to their or their families’ specific concerns.

Anna James and Sarah Boyle founded four years ago

Launching with 300 products, the website now sells 3,000 across a range of categories. The company posted 100% sales growth in 2016, after spending the first two years focusing on marketing and product development.

Spring Chicken’s innovation is in part a product of its commitment to marketing towards a demographic rather than a generation. It’s a ‘life-stage’ market – an awareness that there are particular concerns – grey hair for instance – that are more prevalent in certain demographics but transcend generational background.

Speaking to Anna, she noted that:

‘living to be a hundred is going to be the easy part. Being comfortable when we get there will need us to think very creatively about the activities and products that make the difference between being happy and healthy or not. Spring chicken was built to find those products and celebrate them.’ – Anna James, Co-Founder, Spring Chicken

Clever product choice is at the heart of this appeal – from Pebbell trackers which allow you to call for help and speak through a small microphone to better designed rollators and speciality shampoo ranges for grey hair.

Moreover, the internet allows for near infinite specialisation. Physical retailers are starting to realise that giving over store-space to activities not directly related to selling, be it Nike providing small AstroTurf pitches to test their shoes or Game establishing e-sports centres in their shops, can be incredibly effective. Similarly, online retailers can devote space and time on their websites to pages that serve a purpose beyond merely selling products.

And whereas high street retailers are limited by rent and the fact that there is only so much space a shop can physically occupy, etailers have no such boundaries. Their only limits are their imaginations (and servers).

A rollator-trolley hybrid with a more modern look

Spring Chicken unites its clever market identification with a service that offers more than just stuff. It’s not just an ecommerce platform – it’s an advice website, a community hub and a retailer all rolled into one. Sir Muir Grey, their resident consultant, publishes blogs on everything from Roger Federer to how to keep your brain on the ball.

Its Facebook page now has 150,000 followers, and it post its blogs alongside old photos, songs, and regular advice quotes from their (unsurprisingly chicken themed) mascot, Ken.

Jonathan De Mello, the head of the retail consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs does highlight, the danger that ‘whilst traditional Millennial marketing might not resonate as strongly with the older generations, they certainly do not feel old, or wanted to be marketed or sold products in a way that makes them feel old’.

But Spring Chicken endeavours to avoid ‘speaking down’ to its customers. Its community efforts are at the same time engaging and understanding, and as one commenter notes, it’s done with ‘humour and fun’. If Spring Chicken’s reviews on Facebook are anything to go by, it’s going very successfully indeed.

There’s a lesson here for other companies looking to make waves in the ecommerce space. Spring Chicken’s marketing and product strategy acknowledges that many people do not want to feel ‘old’. This is why it identifies three different kinds of customer whom their marketing and products appeal to – spouses, the ‘worriers’ (close relatives who might have moved away) and doctors and health professionals who might recommend the website.

Spring Chicken haven’t just recognized that older shoppers form an untapped and rapidly growing segment of the market, but that clever, empathetic branding and strategy that utilises the web’s inbuilt advantages can bring in a much larger and more demographically diverse audience than you might expect.

It’s been a long time since a retailer could appeal to all demographics at once, transcending divides between rich and poor, old and young. But, perhaps Spring Chicken and businesses like it offer a note of hope; that we can embrace this fact rather than fight it.

Amazon may be trying to become the ‘everything store’ but Anna James and Sarah Boyle realised that they didn’t have to be. | @MoiraBenigson | @TheMBSGroup