Beauty Store Business magazine - December, 2019

The Purchasing Power of Boomers

Capture the interest of beauty consumers with the highest expenditure in personal care products and the greatest buying power: baby boomers.

Marketers spend billions of dollars to draw in millennial consumers. Enamored by their youth and consumption chops, they clamor to tap into their billion-dollar buying power. Meanwhile, they miss out on the deepest pockets of all. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, have spending power in the trillions. They spend the most across product categories, and they’re positioned to inherit trillions of dollars from their senior parents over the next two decades. Experts in the category say that marketers and retailers alike are missing out on the buying power and opportunities within this group. Furthermore, 50 is expected to be the average age of American adults by 2025, according to AARP, a nonprofit that works to empower aging adults.

“This is a market segment that is too big to ignore from an expenditure standpoint. More than 50 percent of the population in the United States will be over the age of 50 this year,” says Ruth Stanat, president of SIS International Research, a market research company specializing in beauty. “Seventy percent of disposable income in the United States is controlled by baby boomers who spend $3.2 trillion every year. Over the next 20 years, spending by people age 50 and above is expected to increase by 58 percent to $4.7 trillion.” Stanat adds that baby boomers claim the biggest share in terms of total net worth dollars (34 percent); and to add to their buying power, they’re expected to inherit $15 trillion over the next 20 years.

In beauty retailing, AARP notes that baby boomers’ share of spending on personal care products and services is 53 percent, which means they spend more in the category than millennials or Gen Xers combined. They also continue to be a driving force behind brick and mortars. Women’s Marketing, which helps indie brands achieve high growth through marketing and media services aimed at female customer bases, found that brick-and-mortar stores are still the top shopping channel for boomers. And contrary to popular opinion, antiaging isn’t the top product segment; older consumers are looking for products to hydrate their skin.

One of the biggest misconceptions marketers and people in general make about this demographic is that they’re seeking to turn back time. Experts say this is far from the truth. Baby boomers aren’t looking to achieve flawless skin any more than they’re seeking the latest trends in color cosmetics. Mature consumers are looking for products that complement their health and appearance and effectively address their concerns. They do their research, they know what they need and they gravitate to brands with a helpful, knowledgeable staff.

“Only 38 percent of boomer women are interested in antiaging claims; 60 percent look for products with moisturizing/ hydrating properties for dry skin; and 52 percent say they use beauty products to look good. I think this is understandable at this point in life,” Stanat says. “They’re not looking for antiaging. They really want products that directly address their skin and hair. They want to look good and feel good. [For them], beauty is integrated with health.”

“Over the next 20 years, spending by people age 50 and above is expected to increase by 58 percent to $4.7 trillion.”

–Ruth Stanat, president, SIS International Research

As a result, skincare products are at the top of the baby boomer beauty list. And retailers must be aware of boomers’ most common personal care concerns, such as dryness, to effectively address them. “Skin discoloration is the highest-priority beauty category for this group because of sun damage over the years. Hyperpigmentation and skin discoloration [come] first, followed by fine lines and puffiness. And that goes across ethnicities, because the damage someone does to their skin in their 20s comes through in their 50s,” says Lake Louise, owner of Lotus Moon Skin Care, which uses natural ingredients and science to produce safe, nontoxic products. “So you want to address the skin condition, [such as] dryness.”

In recommending products for this age group, she says that it’s less about age and more about skin condition. “There are people who prematurely age and have wrinkles at 30. [Boomer beauty consumers in particular] are looking for products that address concerns and that do not add to toxic overload,” Louise says.

The integration of health and beauty is one of the most important boomer beauty characteristics that retailers must attune to. Boomers are looking for products that support their health regimens; this includes naturally formulated, efficacious products. “This group loves natural, but they skew a little toward efficacy. They’re sensitive to the environment and to ingredients. They’ve probably been burned more than anyone with ingredients that are bad for you. So, they are sensitive to the quality of the ingredients,” says Marlea Clark, executive vice president of marketing and insights for Women’s Marketing.

The integration of health and beauty also means that retailers must be ready to have a conversation with their boomer beauty customers. Asking them what they’re looking for and pointing them to the section isn’t sufficient. Their shopping protocol includes having a real conversation about what they’re looking for. So, retailers shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about their habits, regimens, lifestyle, diet, vitamins or even prescriptions that could counteract the effects of their beauty products.

“We ask and they tell us,” Louise says. “We ask questions to get a basic understanding of their lifestyle. We ask about their daily activities and stress. We ask how they cleanse and whether they exfoliate. We ask about their water intake and about the other products they’re using. If they say they have sensitive skin, we ask what they’re sensitive to. If they have a prescription for retinol, that’s a piece of information we need to know because it really dries out the skin. We also have an on-staff esthetician who uses the products in her treatments,
so she’s able to talk to them at a higher level.” Lotus Moon customers consist primarily of older women who are mindful and deliberate in their diet, exercise and overall health maintenance. The brand helps them select products and establish a beauty regimen that supports their health and lifestyle, while remaining adaptable to shifting seasons, hormones and other changes.

Skin care is a priority for this group, but experts say that the haircare market still has room to grow. Boomers are looking for hair care that supports a healthy scalp, hydration and volume, along with addressing dandruff and hair loss. And frankly, this mature demographic could use more options. “There’s a lot of room for hair products in this generation. A lot of women talk about how their hair is changing–and it’s really challenging. It’s very upsetting, especially for women who had really gorgeous hair. So there’s a big, growing market in hair products,” Clark says.

The reality is that boomer beauty consumers enjoy looking good–the same way they did 10 or 20 years ago. As Clark puts it, “There’s no reason to think that suddenly because they’ve hit another stage in life that they’re going to stop being interested in the world and new products and what they look like.”

But there are some generational differences in their beauty buying habits that retailers ought to be aware of. For one, baby boomers are believed to have more realistic expectations. “I would say that they’re more realistic than millennials,” Stanat says. “Millennials want to see results very quickly, and they want to put it on their iPhone and on social media. [The boomer mindset is], ‘If it works, it works. I’ll give it time.’ And they’re likely to be more private about it.”

“This group loves natural, but they skew a little toward efficacy. They’re sensitive to the environment and to ingredients.”

–Marlea Clark, EVP of marketing and insights, Women’s Marketing

In that same vein, boomers have less expectation for personalization compared to millennials, who’ve grown up in an era of customization. However, boomers lean toward a more hands-on approach when it comes to customer service. They prefer in-person or phone conversations to email or online chat options. They want to ask questions and receive answers. Their word-of-mouth also looks different. They are more likely to share about a purchase via private conversation versus online.

“They look at retail flyers. They like to research online and in store, but their research is less price shopping and more of a Consumer Reports approach. They have strong smartphone adoption. They are on desktop computers in much higher numbers than younger generations who are purely on their phones,” Clark says. “So I think it’s important to remember that they’re everywhere, just as younger women are. You want to reach them everywhere they are, and that might be some slightly different channels.”

Research also shows that boomers prefer branded products to private-label products, and they like retail environments with plentiful options. “We found that boomers are less interested in a single-brand site,” Clark says. “They grew up with department stores, so they’re more comfortable seeing different kinds of products, whether that’s at Ulta or”

Store environments also determine whether boomers ever enter the store. “There is no question that as we get older, our vision, our hearing and our senses change. We certainly are vital and active and all of those things, but that can make it more difficult to navigate stores and find what we’re interested in,” Clark explains. From extremely loud music to easy navigation, the various elements of a store’s environment potentially attract or repel older customers.

Baby boomers have established beauty regimens. They’ve generally found something they like and are committed to it. So, their personal care purchases are generally for replenishment. However, this doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to try something new. It just may take creativity or product experience to get them to do so. This is where samples shine. Experts agree that if anything will get boomers to try a new product, it’s a free sample. If they try it and get results, they’re likely to buy it.

Beyond that, studying their market, being knowledgeable about their concerns and taking a genuine interest in helping them address those concerns will go a long way in winning a boomer audience over. “I read a lot. I study the body and the aging process, and then I share what I’ve learned with them in newsletters or on the phone,” Louise says. She takes pride in Lotus Moon for having customers who are avid users, some of whom have been loyal to the brand for 10 years. She says it’s imperative that brands are transparent, authentic and trustworthy. And she notes that the higher the cost of the product, the more closely a boomer will look at it.

Experts urge retailers to deliberately market to baby boomers. Give them visual representation by incorporating this demo- graphic into your marketing materials, including in-store posters, and let them know you have solutions for them. Keep customers abreast of the products, remedies and ingredients that provide beauty solutions. And create a space for their products, Stanat says. “Most retailers have shelf space for everybody. But if they had a certain amount of shelf space dedicated to boomer women, they would come; they would flock to it.”

“If you push the total health and beauty [concept], it’ll resonate with her,” Stanat says. Otherwise, you’re missing valuable opportunity. ■

[Photo by Hero Images/]