Extend Your Customer's Life With You

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A challenge for catalogers, continuity offers and others is the inevitable aging of their customer base. If they have a loyal, long-term, repeat customer base, should they change or expand their product mix to appeal to their core repeat buyers as they age?

According to the 2002 DMA Statistical Fact Book, when comparing catalog, retail and online shoppers, "catalog buyers are the oldest group, with 20 percent age 66 and older." While the same book indicates that less than 5 percent of online buyers fall into this age group, as this media channel matures, will they face the same issues?

"Channel migration to the Web affects product mix because the Web customer is younger," says Bob Crowley, Blair Corp. senior vice president, marketing services, menswear & home.

Consumers' interests change as they age in a variety of ways. The styles they find attractive in apparel, shoes, accessories and jewelry may mature.

"An older customer certainly appreciates products that offer stretch fabrics, expandable waistbands, larger sizes and easy care items," Crowley says.

Taste in books and editorial evolve as well as consumers age. The women's fiction/romance publisher Harlequin has capitalized on this trend. In discussing product mix for consumers of varying age ranges, Garry Woodrow, manager of outside list management at Harlequin, says, "Variety is the key and addresses all age levels."

The way consumers entertain may change as they grow older. Their health concerns and medical needs will change and influence other purchases. And the gifts they buy for friends may change as their friends age.

If you buy into the widely held premise that it is less costly to retain, cross-sell and upsell a current customer than to prospect to bring on a new one, then this should be an intriguing concept.

Insurance providers have been developing products and addressing this issue for years, bringing age-appropriate products and offers to their customer base to cross-sell, upsell and simply appeal to the changing needs of their audience.

With this in mind, there are ways catalogers and continuity offers can grow with their aging customers to retain loyal buyers even longer. The most obvious solution is to expand their product mix slowly to meet the differing needs of an aging customer.

"Anything that provides convenience is a good consideration," Crowley says.

In addition to an expanding product mix, any direct marketer can adjust copy or increase font size to more clearly address the aging customer's needs.

Can this be done successfully while retaining your catalog identity?

Some catalogers initially place pages into their existing books to showcase a product mix that will appeal more fully to a changing demographic. Sometimes these pages become a standalone book in future mailings. Sometimes they continue as a unique section of the current book. Sometimes the current book evolves around them and changes its identity to become something more viable. Sometimes these trial pages are so successful that they eventually take over the parent book.

Most catalogers spend time, money and talent studying the lucrative baby boomer market as part of their age-appropriate marketing research.

"We've spent a great deal of time analyzing data about baby boomers - the 78 million women and men who are our target audience," Crowley says. "Since our core customer is already made up of a significant share of seniors [60-plus] ... our challenge is to migrate to a slightly younger product mix without alienating our core customers. Our goal is to continue to serve mature consumers. If we could bring the average age into the range of 55 to 60, we would feel comfortable that we would be meeting our goal."

And while this may not be an issue today for online marketers, Internet shoppers will age and it will become an issue in time for them as well. n

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