OK Boomer: How to Sell Online to Consumers Age 60 and Up

When the Baby Boom generation came of age in the U.S., it was the largest generational cohort in history. Boomers reshaped product marketing as the then-most-coveted consumer demographic and also as creatives who changed the advertising world. But the rise of the internet and even more populous cohorts shifted merchant focus to digital natives who buy online: Millennials and Gen Z.

Then 2020 happened, and the pandemic drove Boomers to embrace online shopping in droves. A study cited in The Washington Post says Boomers are now the fastest growing segment of online shoppers, spending 49% more online in 2020. Boomers also have the highest level of disposable income, and their brand loyalty makes online merchants newly eager to attract and retain them as customers. But how?

Find Boomers Online and Advertise Where They Are

While their Millennial children and Gen Z grandchildren might scoff at their digital chops, most Boomers are tech savvy and online, they’re just not on the same apps. For example, Millennials love Instagram, with almost 60% saying they are active users. Less than a quarter of Boomers are on Instagram, but nearly 60% are on Facebook, so marketers targeting Boomers should plan social outreach accordingly.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Boomers tend to index much higher for linear TV than younger generations do. That means ad buys on traditional network, cable and syndicated programming can effectively reach this demographic at scale more than campaigns that are focused on streaming media channels that demand higher CPMs. That said, 70% of Boomers are on YouTube and nearly a third use Pinterest, so campaigns on those channels can work if the content is relevant to

Another generational consideration to keep in mind is that while Boomers are definitely online and use their devices (desktops and tablets more often than phones) to conduct product research, they tend to rely on top search results rather than delving more deeply. So, paid search is a good strategy for reaching this group, as is raising page rankings organically.

Keep Boomer Customers When the Brick and Mortar World Reopens
Boomers are typically loyal customers if a brand meets their service expectations and offers good value. During the pandemic, familiar brands like Target and Walmart and many regional grocery chains capitalized on the shift to online buying by making the process as frictionless as possible for Boomers. The question now is, will Boomers resume their old shopping habits when the virus is under control?

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest they won’t. As one retail consulting firm CEO put it in The Washington Post article, “There’s going to be a lot more mixing and matching: ‘Maybe I want to go to the store to squeeze my own vegetables, but I’ll get non-perishables and dry goods delivered.’” So, how can retailers make sure their Boomer customers keep shopping online?

Digital offers and coupons can help. Like any other demographic, Boomers respond to bargains, and digital coupons and deals are a great way to engage shoppers at the top of the sales funnel. Boomers also tend to engage with longer-form content and print ads at higher rates than other generations, so those can be productive channels for digital coupons or offers, such as print ads with a QR code.

After the Boomer Business Boom
Retailers who sell 100% online and those who have brick and mortar stores that grew their online sales during the pandemic have something in common: both want to sustain the growth of ecommerce sales, which require less overhead. As a practical matter, that means retaining new customers who were first-time online buyers last year, many of whom will be Boomers.

Techniques that recreate the retail experience online can help merchants retain shoppers who are more accustomed to the in-person store experience. Online campaigns that drive in-store traffic can also work well. Digital video targeted to the Boomer demographic and delivered on frequently used channels can be an effective strategy, and continuing convenient offerings like curbside delivery can also help.

The pandemic showed that even a consumer group that was hesitant to fully embrace ecommerce would do so in huge numbers when they had to. Boomers remain a large, affluent and highly desirable customer segment. Millions of Boomers became online shoppers last year out of necessity, but soon it will be up to ecommerce retailers to earn their business when they have other choices.

Christian Jones
About the Author: Christian Jones is currently the Head of Marketing at Hawthorne Advertising and brings over 15 years of proven success in business development and sales, creative digital media, and technology to his role. His work has been nominated for Webby and Grammy Awards.