Seven tips on how to avoid stereotypes and sell technology to seniors

Here are seven tips to for retailers and staff on how to best interact with mature age technology consumers:

  1. Don’t assume any knowledge. Something that seems obvious to a young salesperson may be totally new information to an older customer.
  2. Ask questions: ‘Is this your first tablet?’ The sales pitch to a first-timer is very different to a sales pitch for an older pro.
  3. Avoid jargon: This is a great opportunity to sell on benefits (like seeing quick pictures of the grandkids) rather than potentially confusing tech specs (4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC).
  4. Be prepared to spend time with the customer: you may need to start from scratch with explanations — it’s not always a cash-and-carry sale.
  5. Don’t set limits: The customer may come in asking for the one thing they’ve researched, but may not know what other options are available.
  6. Don’t condescend: If a grandparent is shopping with their adult children, don’t ignore the person who will eventually be using the product.
  7. Look at your own staff: If all your salespeople are under 30, are you catering to a broad range of customers? Customers like to identify with the person they’re talking to.

Age is no barrier: don’t let young and old stereotypes affect appliance and electronics sales
(21 November 2013)

While it’s safe to assume most teenagers aren’t in the market for a $20,000 oven, consumers shouldn’t expect to walk into a store and be treated differently because of their age. But ageism in retail is still a problem, and it can lead to a bad shopping experience for customers as well as retailers.

The Baby Boomer generation — defined by GfK as those aged between 49 and 67 — makes up a large proportion of tech consumers in Australia.

According to Dr Morten Boyer, general manager of media and market insights at GfK Retail and Technology, Baby Boomers are “very fond of acquiring new gadgets”. People in this age group make up roughly one quarter of consumers shopping for PCs (27 per cent), mobiles (25 per cent) and digital cameras (24 per cent), and almost one third of consumers buying flat panel TVs (31 per cent).

Most importantly, their motivation for shopping is “led by a desire to enhance their existing experience, as opposed to being forced into the market due to product breakage or loss”.

But while older consumers are opening their wallets, Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said they are being left behind.

“In the retail space, generally, older Australians are overlooked,” said Ryan. “But they are a big and growing market, so it doesn’t make business sense to overlook them.

“When many older people go into consumer electronics stores, they often feel that the information they get from a salesperson doesn’t grasp what they’re looking for. Often, retailers don’t even speak a language that the older customer can really understand.”

According to Ryan, “salespeople shouldn’t assume because someone comes in and they’re in their 70s that they know nothing”. However, she said it was important to “have the common sense approach that older people, in general, have not lived and worked with new technologies for the last 20 years”.

This is a point reiterated by retailers themselves: don’t discount the older consumer but recognise the sales pitch is often different.

Joe Fernandes, general manager of Oasis Betta Home Living near Darwin said there are some basic differences between younger and older customers, but there is no reason retailers can’t cater to both demographics.

“The under-30 demographic is very knowledgeable. In most cases they come into the store knowing what they want, and we more or less just have to guide them to what they’re looking for,” he said.

“There’s a bit more time involved with the older demographic, only because they’re new to the technology. We tell these customers it’s like learning a different language, but once you get the grasp of how it works, it becomes second nature.”

Trevor Evans from the National Retail Association said having a diverse mix of staff is important.

“The great thing about retail in Australia is that you can have a wide employee base in your firm, and you can have a combination of young retail workers and older retail workers,” he said. “There are a lot of retailers that are actually finding more mature and more experienced workers to be a great addition to their retail teams.”

This view was supported by Commissioner Ryan:

“People want to see that wherever they fit in the diversity spectrum, they can find someone they can communicate with.

“If you get the right customer and you look after them really well, they will spend a lot of money. That’s where the bonus is — you can’t disregard that consumer category, because they do have a lot of money. And once they feel comfortable with either the store or the salesperson or the product, they will come back and spend.”

And for young staff selling to older customers?

“Because they come from a younger generation, they’ve got to learn that it’s not a cash-and-carry situation. They’ve got to appreciate that if there is a bit of effort put into a sale or solving a consumer’s needs, but in the long run you’re going to have a loyal customer for life.”

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