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Should retailers use age for customer segmentation?

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Are generational demographics approaching online and offline shopping in different ways?

There is a lot of interest in age – marketers are on a quest to crack the millennial and then centennial markets, and plenty of brands proclaim their target market to be ‘young people’ (or the similarly general ‘women’). When it comes to buying things online, digital products and ecommerce experiences are often targeted to those under 35; the assumption being that only young people use computers and smartphones.

But the data shows something quite different. Kantar Media’s most recent GB TGI Study (Q1 2018) shows that 49% of adults aged 65 and over own a smartphone (that’s 5.7 million people). Older consumers may be less likely to shop on a smartphone, but 63% of 45-54-year-olds and 60% of 55-64-year-olds shop online on a computer. 

Age ain't nothing but a number

Andrew Curry from Kantar Consulting comments, ‘Our outdated ideas about ageing will rapidly need to catch up with the reality of the incomes, behaviour and values of this older group. They’re more social, more affluent, and more physically active than stereotypes would have you believe, and brands need to recognise this before they can engage effectively with this new breed of shoppers.’

Nigel Hollis (Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst at Kantar Millward Brown) wrote an article recently about his views on shopping – while he prefers the physical experience of visiting a store and ‘feeling’ what he was going to buy, a similarly-aged friend far preferred the digital experience, finding the real-world shopping journey ‘archaic’. (The friend’s young daughter felt the same.) Anecdotally, age didn’t seem to be a factor in which channel they chose.

Kantar Worldpanel data supports this. Analyst Ashley Anzie comments: ‘When it comes to online and offline shopping, segmenting by age isn’t very useful. For a start, most people do both (only 0.2% of us shop online exclusively, for example) – so looking at them as separate groups of people isn’t that helpful. You need to look at their attitudes/needs too.’ If you drill into the data, there are some demographic differences when it comes to online shopping. Single person households, families with 3 or more children, and (yes) people aged 28 to 34 are represented more among those who shop exclusively online.

However, says Anzie, the behavioural and attitudinal differences are much more telling. ‘Our data from panel questionnaires shows online shoppers are more tech savvy, and less health conscious than those who shop offline.’

As Nigel concluded, ‘Segmentation is not dead provided it is based on needs and values rather than demographics.’

Spirit of the age

That’s not to say that age (or other) demographics are not useful, or have no place in a marketing or sales strategy. By definition, demographics reveal only fairly straightforward facts about individuals. Alone, they can be a bit too general. However, when combined with behavioural data and insight, they can help marketers to identify far more meaningful groups.

As Katie Casavant and Nina Rahmatallah from Kantar Consulting argue, ‘Some traditional segmentations may be, in part, responsible for the failing of our industry to truly close the strategy-to-activation gap, but the answer is not to say that segmentations are dead. Far from it, in fact. The right kind of segmentation can help you define your campaign target, then go much further, by creating the very audiences that your media agencies will buy.’

Kantar Worldpanel has a great example of this in action, in its Thoughts On Demography report. It notes that demographics can help effectively target different groups of buyers or prospective buyers in order to increase penetration and ultimately sales. The example of a baking brand introducing larger crumpets to expand their appeal was salient: ‘One year after launch, consumption of crumpets as both a morning snack and evening meal had risen, as had purchasing for several demographic groups including men aged 16-34.’

As the report notes, combining segments is helpful in identifying more niche demographics. ‘Bringing together age, gender, life stage and income creates new segmentations such as ‘hurried mums’ or ‘time-rich, cash-poor elderly men’. This multifaceted approach gives a more holistic view and helps brands respond to a variety of consumer needs, rather than just one.’

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