Demography – an underestimated factor in e-commerce? 5 questions

Bevölkerungpyramide Deutschland 2012
Source: Federal Buro of Statistics

The community has now focused on the topic of gender in current e-commerce debates. While the topic “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” has lost none of its appeal, a subject seemingly long laid ad acta – the aging population – has been forgotten.

In the read worthy dossier Generation der Babyboomer vs. die Jüngeren (baby boomers vs. the youth) puts this topics back in the spotlight.

This reemerging subject brought me to the question: what could happen in online trade if what was a cone became a mushroom.

The Babyboomers – used to being in the majority

IIn an article from Zeit magazine, the generation baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1970, is characterised so: They are the largest, most affluent age cohort of all time. There hadnever before been so many detached houses, so many cars purchased in Germany, as in the 70s and 80s.

» “There was no excess in our time, but we were infused with an irrepressible faith in the future.” Peter John Mahrenholz, head strategist at Jung von Matt. «

They are still the largest economic drivers. When they were young, the 14-49 year olds were considered to be the most marketing relevant target group. Now they are coming into the spotlight through the generation 50+. The Babyboomers remain the cohort with the largest economic power and are still the most important consumers in all markets.

The Anti-Baby Boomers: Generation Internship and Generation Y

The following generations experience the world completely differently. From an economic perspective, the ‘difficult generations’ are coming onto the job market: Generation Internship and Generation Y. They are almost the complete the opposite of the Babyboomers. They are fewer, they are well educated and they know it. They ask about work/life balance and home-office already in interviews.

They are consumer critical, protest against planned obsolescence, go to second hand parties, and think about climate change and the financial crisis. They don’t want to climb the ladder, a sense of meaning rather than money is important for them even at the start of their professional lives. Tightening the belt now and living later does not apply; many know that the pension system won’t come through for them.

However, they are not seeing these dream conditions (yet). Older employees have permanent positions more often and receive company pensions. Their young colleagues have to struggle (four times as often) with non-permanent positions and stagnating entry level salaries.

Is the new economy animated by a ghost which does not belong to its generation?

While reading, it became involuntarily clear to me how strongly the ghost of the Babyboomers still appears to inspire some e-commerce approaches. That growth is unceasing is assumed to be a basic premise, almost like a law of nature. At the same time, very different times await the younger generation. The idea that the past simply swims on in the wake of the masses is a belief that cannot hold true in the generation after the drop in birth rates.

That is why I have a few questions I would like you let you think about:

  • Are the basic premises and models of e-commerce still accurate?
    Looking at the hockey stick scenario with this knowledge in mind, a predictable kink is to be expected. Models still function according to the principles, “everything will continue in this way” and “everyone is like us,” because it worked for so long. It could be dangerous for the younger generation to assume this will be the case for their own future.
  • Are the right business models being developed for the younger generation?
    The younger generation, which goes up to 35 year olds, grew up with different values and life circumstances to their predecessors. They grew up in a time of comparative abundance – no one uses mass strategies to enthuse them. Aspects, such as exclusiveness, personalisation, and the origin and material of a product take the foreground.
  • Do new concepts have to be interesting for generation 50+ as well?
    Those who tailor their business model solely to a young a target group will not get far in Germany in the future. That is why it is advantageous to approach multiple generations. The curated shopping model for instance, works for all age groups.
  • Will turbo internationalisation become the standard approach for everyone else?
    The reverse of the previous question – does the only way for business clearly focusing on young target groups lead abroad? This is a question, a country with the second oldest population in the world should be asking. The Samwer brothers have been leading the way, with their expansion strategy in emerging countries, for a long time.
  • Do the needs of Silver Surfers have to be taken into consideration more strongly than new trends?
    For instance, security concerns are some of the more important factors still causing older buyers to avoid or completely exclude online shopping. Are such rudimentary aspects set aside too often in favour of the latest SEO- or usability trends?

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