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It's Not Your Grandmother's Photo Store - Or Is It?
Marketing to the 55-and-Over Set



When you think of a typical consumer who may venture into your store to peruse your digital cameras, inkjet printers, and media cards, it’s only natural to picture a web-savvy 30-something wandering your aisles, rather than someone who knows what the word “daguerreotype” means or who remembers the first showing of Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer. But the high-tech goodies on your shelves are not strictly the realm of the younger generations. Thanks to increasingly user-friendly equipment (not necessarily marketed to seniors, but easy enough for everyone to use) and a concerted effort by prominent senior groups and camera manufacturers to educate older consumers, individuals in the 55-plus demographic are becoming an increasingly important customer base—one that you should keep a watchful eye on.

Aging Gracefully, Camera in Hand

Years ago, Grandma or Grandpa may not have even considered picking up a digital camera or sending photos via email. Today, however, with more and more people migrating to all different parts of the country, it’s becoming more commonplace to turn to technology to keep in touch. Young parents who are located across the country, for example, want to be able to easily send images of grandkids to their own parents, so today’s senior set is becoming more well-versed in photo printing (online, at retail, and home), hooking up printers to their computers, and even trying their own hand at some digital shooting.

According to imaging analyst Liz Cutting of the NPD Group, digital camera buyers 55 years and older represented 20% of all units sold, and 21% of dollars spent on DSC, which is proportionate with their presence in the overall U.S. population. “But where they are buying is a little different than the average buyer,” Cutting points out. “Twelve percent of dollars were spent at photo specialty stores in the last 12 months, but persons 55 and older spent 18% of their dollars at photo specialty, making them a great target for the specialty store.” Seniors also spent an average $253 on a digital camera in the last year, versus $241 for all digicam buyers.

Before you can start marketing to the older consumer, however, it’s important that you’re able to pick their brains to figure out what drives their purchasing decisions and what would make them buy gear from your store in particular. According to a recent consumer profile compiled by Claritas (which defined the segment in question as those 55 and older, making up 36.6% of U.S. households), this demographic features equipment use and shopping habits that may differ from the general population.

There are also specific questions they may ask and features they may request when looking for a camera or other equipment in your store. Is the LCD big enough for them to view? Are the controls intuitive and easy to use? Have they ever used a digital camera before? (familiarity with cellphones or computers will give them a leg up as well.) Are they comfortable coming in to use a photo-printing kiosk or are they more at ease using a printer in their home? But while these are all important questions to consider when selling to this population, don’t make the mistake of assuming all older customers are intimidated by technology or can’t use a higher-end digicam. Like any other segment of the general population, you may have a gearhead Granny who knows all about megapixels and metering and just needs some simple guidance in making her final selection.

Lending a Helping Hand

Camera manufacturers themselves are still working out the kinks in appealing to this group. One problem, according to Neil Portnoy, assistant VP of consumer durables, Claritas, is that in the years before digital, most of the major camera manufacturers were already appealing to the older populations—it was the advent of digital that more or less propelled them to go in the other direction to draw in a younger crowd. “Older customers always primarily shopped at photo specialty stores, and because companies like Nikon and Olympus have pulled primarily through those channels, they’ve ended up with an older customer base,” says Portnoy. “That ended up hurting them in the digital camera space, because all these companies put themselves in this position by never expanding beyond their key channels of distribution. Because they already have that older customer and are now trying to get younger customers in, it’s become an issue for some of the camera companies.”

That’s not to say the camera manufacturers are completely ignoring the older customer base. For example, while it is not yet completely off the ground, Fuji is currently working on a senior citizens’ project that is geared to educate the senior community about new opportunities in photography. And while Kodak does not specifically target its product portfolio to seniors, the company’s EasyShare lineup is designed to be simple enough for anyone to use, including those 55 and older.

Not surprisingly, seniors can find a good amount of assistance and encouragement from non-photography-related resources that have traditionally helped them with a plethora of other issues that face an aging generation. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has sponsored an Older Americans Month National Photo Contest, accepting photo and essay submissions from seniors across the country that enhance the image of older Americans to all generations.

Wired Seniors (www.wiredseniors.com) offers a subsection on their site dedicated to senior-friendly photography articles, photo links, and online galleries. And the American Association of Retired Persons (a.k.a. AARP) has compiled an astonishing array of “Lifelong Learning” articles and how-tos geared toward helping seniors learn the ins and outs of everything from using photo websites and preserving digital photos to learning how to use a home inkjet printer for creative projects (www.aarp.org).

It’s evident that this senior contingent is out in full force with the desire and discretionary income to boost your sales. Now it’s up to you to draw them into your store and up to your register.

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