Older customers: Silver Customers – The Golden Opportunity

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Over 30% of refrigeration products in 2006 were sold to those aged 65 and over, according to GfK. This group also accounted for 24% of all major appliances purchases, more than any other single age band.
Golden oldies

It is well documented that the UK population is ageing fast, with the over 50s holding 80% of the UK’s wealth and 80% of home ownership. Among the 65-84 year olds, 65% live in a home they own outright, and this age group have more disposable income than their juniors. Meanwhile, life expectancy is increasing at the rate of two years every decade to 86.5 for men and 89 for women, according to the Pensions Commission; while other sources quote 80 and 85 respectively.

The current group of over 55s are in many ways unique: whilst they have the highest disposable income of any age group, with income exceeding expenditure, they are also the beneficiaries of good fortune. This group had affordable housing in the 1960s, many enjoy final salary pensions and they been prudent in their spending rather than relying on credit. Later generations may not have these advantages. However, rather than just having the ability to spend, the 65 year olds of today, according to Chris Lever, category manager at Morphy Richards “were in their 20s in the 1960s and as the baby boomer generation they have spent a lifetime setting trends and steering society”.

Compared to previous generations of ‘grey’ consumers, today’s are more active, more aware of the need to eat healthily, feel younger and have strong interest in holidays and shopping. With regard to their choice of domestic appliances, Electrolux’s survey in conjunction with the Saga magazine has found many to be early adopters of technology, with higher than average ownership of induction hobs, dishwashers and espresso makers.

The group as a whole has diverse needs and requirements; for some ageing has resulted in mobility issues. Difficulties in bending, eyesight, dexterity and for some memory lapses to greater or lesser degrees are the key frailties that need to be borne in mind while dealing with these customers. Having said this, the product features which accommodate these difficulties are generally of benefit to all users and often are the reasons for purchase.

Catering for older customers

In view of the above statistics, it is perhaps surprising that the interest in older customers and their needs greatly varies in the marketplace.

Dimplex appreciates their importance to the appliance markets, finding them discerning, quality conscious and willing to pay more for products meeting their needs. Jamie Lennox, managing director at Home-tek, openly woos the over 65s saying that “their entire cleaning range is targeted at older users and this was the reason for buying the ‘Light ‘n’ Easy brand”. He also estimated that the over 65s account for 60% of the Steam Mop sales.

Meanwhile, the BSH group is careful not to be seen as discriminating by age, stressing that offering products that are easy to operate with high levels of safety, performance and concern for the environment benefit all consumer groups. However, they acknowledge that more mature customers are more demanding which suits their brands Neff and Siemens where products feature practical details that are not always valued by younger customers.

John Graham, managing director at Sovereign Appliance Marketing, points out that “irrespective of age, people want simplicity – not ‘clever’ controls; they want to switch an appliance on and see it work”.

There is a consensus that all ages want product designs that are easy and intuitive to use. Miele reports that many of its appliances have LCD displays with adjustable brightness and contrast; while several of their cooking and laundry products include end of programme buzzers with volume controls.

Cooking and washing with ease

In the cooking sector, innovative hobs from Siemens include four burners in a row for safer access. The Indesit company features oven telescopic shelves on many of the Cannon and Hotpoint ovens, for greater stability, while Miele offers an option of a telescopic baking carriage. Gorenje too provides pull out racks, while its recessed grill reduces chance of burning and low effort Aqua Clean system offers ease of use. Neff meanwhile have a slide-away oven door on their model B15H4 for easy access. Sovereign’s double oven cooker SC60 DOSSC has easy grip handles and clearly shows that the main door will open sideways, unlike other products, they imply, where the door has a horizontal handle suggesting opening downwards when the door actually opens sideways. CIH dealer Jenners of Tenterden, Kent, finds many cookers are not very user friendly for older customers. Identifying which knob relates to which ring is a common source of frustration.

In the laundry field, Servis which owns the Electra brand, identifies the possible space restrictions for older customers and recommends their washer dryers that can take a 7kg load and thus whole bedding loads as well as dry 5kg, and use clear dials and controls. Other easy to use laundry features are offered by Gorenje, such as a push button opening for both washing machine main door and detergent dispenser as well as internal lighting in the drum. Siemens meanwhile has a default temperature setting and hydro safe anti flood system; the latter feature is also found on their dishwashers.

In the dishwasher sector, a recent trends is to make integrated models fit in-column to reduce the need for bending when loading and unloading. Miele offers this option on all integrated 600mm machines, together with an in-door salt reservoir for easy access.

Special cooling needs

The GfK figures show the importance of older buyers to the refrigeration market, many of whom have a great interest in cooking but may have less ready access to shops. For many older consumers who may have downsized their homes or live in a retirement apartment or granny annexe, compact appliances offer good solutions. Sovereign offers a larder fridge and a freezer both suitable for placing on a worktop, therefore saving on space and not requiring bending, while Servis highlights their 500mm wide ‘A’ rated fridge freezer M7262 as ideal for smaller homes. On most Gorenje models, easy open doors are used often with the handle running the full length of the product. On this point, retailers, Jenners, reported that older buyers find external handles, such as on retro style products, easier to open.

Small appliances

For an older customer buying a vacuum cleaner weight is a critical consideration, with compact size to allow storage a further bonus. Here Home-tek’s Light ‘n’ Easy shoulder vac’ HT801 should fare well, with the option of a carry handle for an item weighing less than 3kg. CIH retailer, Jenners of Tenterden confirms the brand is a good seller among older buyers. Electrolux’s new Intensity cleaner folds sufficiently to be stored in a standard kitchen cupboard, while Dyson recommends its DC18 Slim model as offering ease of use due to its manoeuvrable steering and quick draw wand for reaching difficult areas. All these models include easy emptying.

Weight is also critical in the area of irons according to retailer Jenners and the retailer is disappointed that few still offer dry models. However, they report the soft grips used by Morphy Richards coupled with a two-year guarantee as a boon. Morphy Richards says that most of their products are suitable for older users, with classic styling and easy to use features, such as on the Precise Steam Iron where temperature and steam output work together matching garment care labels. The retailer also reports a surprising interest in steam generators among older customers, explaining that many of them help with grandchildren which may include additional ironing.

In kettles Morphy Richards offer a stainless steel travel kettle that is commonly bought by older users living alone while the traditional styled models where the handle is above the lid prove easier to pour. Tefal are set to revolutionise the kettle market with the Quick Cup that claims to heat water for a single cup or mug in three seconds, and by just heating the amount of water to be used could offer substantial electricity savings.

Other small appliances which attract interest among older buyers include products that help promote healthy eating such as steamers and juicers but also slow cookers and bread makers, as this age group is more likely to spend time cooking from scratch rather than use ready prepared foods.

Many older customers appear to be more conscious of their carbon footprint, and as they are more careful of appliances’ running costs, they are likely to look for energy saving options. Here heated bedding, according to Morphy Richards, proves far more economical than central heating. Chris Stammers, marketing manager at sister company Dimplex, takes up the low running cost theme in explaining how their Optiflame fires use LED bulbs which are rated at 14 watts and have a 100,000 hour life or over 11 years if switched on permanently. The additional saving here is that users would not need to change the bulb, a process some might find difficult. In addition, the degree of lightness of the living flame effect and option to switch the heat on or off can all be controlled by a remote control for the ultimate ease of use. Stammers reports this group to be selectively extravagant and proving strong buyers of contemporary wall mounted fires, such as the Obsidian.

Pioneers of digital audio, Roberts Radio, offer a number of products that they feel they are ideal for older customers. Whilst the Revival radio gives the generic DAB benefits of extended programme choice, sound quality and ease of use through a large LCD screen with scrolling text, new products such as the Gemini 55 are referred to by Roberts’ chief executive Leslie Burrage, as “the modern day radio cassette player for recording from radio or other sources”.

Brand loyalty

Older consumers have more experience of using appliances on which to base their buying decisions. BSH’s group marketing manager, Ekkehard Rabold, suggests they are more loyal but less tolerant. They have acquired product knowledge from experience and are open minded to take on real product benefits. Miele confirms the need to give a hassle free experience. A survey conducted among their customers who had needed an engineer to call, found that 94% would buy Miele again. Meanwhile, Bill Miller, sales director at Gorenje, indicates that “to many older consumers, quality is more important than price – they will be looking for well made products with long guarantees”.

Servis and Electra see older customers as core for both brands as they would have grown up with the brands. Many of their customers buy through independents. According to marketing manager Gill Hewitson, the company is “striving to continue to offer these valuable customers reasons to stay with Servis for life”. Roberts Radio sees the opportunity for loyalty to be partly attributed to the knowledge of dealers and that purchasing through independents tends to encourage brand loyalty. This confirms the need for retailers to identify previously owned brands in assessing customer needs.

Future trends

For the future, BSH’s Rabold suggests that “this group will influence the future more than the younger population” because they have more money and are more demanding; a point confirmed by Colin Cross commercial director at retirement home specialist McCarthy & Stone. Cross indicates that they select appliances for apartments that exude quality and simplicity. They trial new products and invite feedback among residents. They found out that ‘flashing lights and more programmes’ are not of interest.

Both Miele and Sovereign were concerned that improved technology could lead to appliances becoming too complicated. Sovereign suggests that designers should keep the end user in mind to avoid confusion, while Dimplex sees running costs as becoming a major focus of product design, with tangible end user benefits of key importance. Small and light products with clear dials and easy to read setting are the future, suggests Morphy Richards whose research includes testing work with magazine Disability Now to help in areas such as design and positioning of handles and switches.

Clear product controls together with clear instructions in easy to read English are essential, stressed Sovereign’s John Graham. UK-based customer call centres manned by real people rather than automated answering systems are also key for building loyalty of older customers, agreed all. Furthermore, effective liaison with retailers, particularly independents who know their customers well, is fundamental for building a two-way partnership with the ‘silver customers’.

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