The Silver Economy’s Golden Opportunity

The Silver Economy’s Golden Opportunity

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As 2015 dawns and the first quarter unfolds, retailers are fretting about the post-Christmas spending purge. But on Oxford Street in London one retailer is not sitting back. Department store group Selfridges has launched a groundbreaking campaign called Bright Old Things – an initiative that is literally turning heads.

Every year, Selfridges adorns the storefront windows of its flagship shop with young, hip models for its Bright Young Things initiative. But this year, the retailer wisely recognized that older consumers hold the key to business success in 2015 and beyond. Instead of obsessing about tweens and 20-something consumers, Selfridges is chasing the “gray pound.”

Related: Boomers Pioneer New Retirement Housing Trends

It’s a savvy move. Three-quarters of Britain’s wealth is held by 34 percent of its over-50 population, according to one study. In the U.S., the over-50s hold 77 percent of the country’s total net worth. Across the OECD, the picture is very similar.

As Selfridges has also recognized, long gone are the stereotypical British “pensioners” who pinch pence and stay home to watch the world unfold on the BBC.

So why and how are these new out-and-about over-60s different from their parents? New research from AT Kearney, a global consultancy, identifies five trends shaping the older consumer base: They have fewer children to care for, a longer life expectancy, a healthier aging, a wealthier aging, and a longer career span.

Related: America Follows Japan’s Lead at Our Peril

For retail and other sectors, these trends are key to a smart and successful business strategy. Here’s what corporate leaders must know to transform the notion of population aging from crisis into golden opportunity:

Boomers aren’t ‘old.’ Research by AT Kearney has found that older consumers don’t want to be treated as “older” consumers – with all the baggage and judgment that moniker entails. They simply want small, simple accommodations to be made without fuss – such as larger lettering on tags, brighter lights in aisles, and easier-to-open packaging. How hard is that, really?

They’re still working. This group of people is hardly idle and fuddling about, as stereotypes from the last century would have it. For a whole range of reasons, today’s older adults are active in the workplace. The majority of “retirees” are still working because they want to, studies have found. So the products and services they buy are for healthy and vital lives, not the opposite of that.

Related: Boomer Alert: What You Must Know Before You Retire

They’re still cool. The Selfridges window display gets it right: The over-60s want fashion and style. The Bright Old Things campaign understands that healthy, active aging means stylish aging. If you’re only as old as you look – older adults are spending to stay young. For the electronics, auto, cosmetics and fashion sectors, this is a critical insight.

They’re charting new ground. For their entire lives, boomers have been rewriting the script. Their numbers and wealth have triggered a new way of thinking about all stages of life, from childhood to middle age to “retirement” – and now to old-old age. Already we’re seeing older adults opt out of the traditional models of institutional care and into “aging at home.” Challenges and all, as new technologies develop we can anticipate a day in the near future when aging at home becomes the norm – along with “smart medicine cabinets” and preemptive medical diagnoses.

Each year, the month of January is replete with “trends” and “what to watch for” articles. Most are lousy, especially if they miss what Selfridges hit on the head: Bright old things are the engine of the 21st century economy. The aging population is hardly a drag on growth, but a vast opportunity to be seized.

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Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.