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Boomers Take Part in the SOPA/PIPA Revolution – Washington Beware It’s a New Day

January 25, 2012

SOPA and PIPA were sunk by new-age revolutionaries who were organized by websites like Wikipedia and Google.   Baby Boomers could join their kids in exercising social conscience and their political power by responding to a 24-hour blackout by universally used online sites.  Congress has awakened a sleeping giant that can allow Internet companies to carry their causes to Washington.

And, although we know how much the younger generation uses the Internet, most are unaware of how often and how much Baby Boomers use it and buy on it.

Baby Boomers –that cohort of 80 million Americans who are ages 48-66 and refuse to yield their relevance — think differently than other groups.

Just ask them—they protest everything.  The Vietnam War, Women’s Equality, Equal Rights, Unfair Treatment of Animals, Elder Abuse, Unfair Voting rights—just to name a few.  Just give Boomers a cause and they’re reminded of their youth and they get revved up and raring to make a difference.

But when they aren’t exercising their social conscious, they are often exercising their wallets from in front of their computers or by using their mobile devices.  They are shopping.

According to a 2011 report by eMarketer:

  • At 78%, Baby Boomers spend more time and money online than any other generation.  This percentage is likely to stay the same through 2015.
  • Of these people, the 56-65 age group spends approximately 36.5 hours a month online.
  • Nearly 87% of Baby Boomers have a mobile phone.
  • By 2015, 40% of Boomers will use the internet via mobile.

And now on to their online spending habits; according to the same study:

  • Boomers spend more than $2.9 trillion annually online shopping (yes, trillion),
  • Statistics showed for 2010, Boomers spent  an average of $650 online every three-months compared to $581 by Generation X (ages 35-46) and $429 by Millenials (ages 18-34)

According to a recent study by Experian Simmons, 49% of Boomers thought making online purchases was safe, compared to 47% of total internet users.

So what can all Web based business glean from this information?

  • Boomers are a prime sweet spot for online sites if their user experience can mimic a shopping site.
  • Boomers are easy to mobilize to support industry causes and injustices.

Let’s for a moment reflect on the non-profit Wikipedia and its’ recent foray in history making.   The site is free to the consumer just like many of the other finance, business, productivity, medical and security tech services on the Internet today.

Wikipedia is easy to understand and easy to navigate.  People of all ages use it and respect it.  And when an issue of anti-piracy legislation was about to be debated in Washington, Web users bombarded Congress with protest messages supporting the “Wikipedia blackout.”  It was the millions of users who halted the debate and help foil the proposed legislation.

Leslie Harris, chief executive of the Washington based nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology, which is backed by tech companies, including Facebook and Google told the Wall Street Journal, “There is no question that the influence of the Internet community is at its apex.”

So what lesson does this offer for Web based tech companies?

  • If you engage your users; they will work for you.  It’s good ole’ grass roots lobbying taken to the Web.

I’m willing to wager that if some type of anti-shopping legislation were to rear its head in Congress, Zappos, Amazon, Nordstrom, Saks, Landsend and Gilt Group (just to name a few) could muster up support in no time.

And who would be the first ones on the bandwagon?  The Boomers.  Why?  Because Boomers are the biggest users of the shopping sites and were raised in the day when you “wrote your Congressman” when you didn’t like something.  Or you marched in protest.

Today, with so many Boomers on computers, and on Facebook it so much easier to find them and mobilize them.  Just ask AARP if you don’t believe me.

So how can other Web based businesses mimic the shopping experience to engage Boomer consumers?

  • Make your site clean and easy to read.
  •  Use larger font and easy to push buttons
  • Make it easy to return to the home page
  • Have a customer service email—a phone number would be great—but we understand that’s not always possible—so an email is good.
  • Have an automated instant reply that informs customers their email has been received and a customer service representative will answer the email within 24-hours (unless it’s over the weekend.)
  • Be sure a customer service representative follows through with an answer.
  • Keep an open file on the customer request until the issue is settled.   The domain registry company, name.com, does an excellent job with this service.
  • Do not send us to community forums—as soon as we have to go there it’s too hard and we’re out—probably never to return again.
  • If you site involves, money, passwords or any other sensitive materials, please show us all of the security services you offer.  Make that “lock” icon large, bright and prominently placed.
  • Tell us repeatedly how safe your site is and how our data is protected and not sold.
  • Make us think we are going to Fort Knox when we enter your site.
  • Tell us how much time you are giving us back to do other things we enjoy by using your site and streamlining our affairs.
  • Remind us how even if this service might not be for us, to think about using it with our aging parents.  (Remember Boomers are not aging—just ask us)

Understandably the tech sites that are beta testing with early adopters are not going to have the money to focus on designing a delightful user experience.

But companies that are in stage two funding and beyond can separate themselves from the others and move into the mainstream if they can spend some time and resources in making the customer’s time on the site easy to navigate and customer friendly.

The rewards will be bountiful.  Not only will these companies build solid groups of loyal customers who will repeatedly use their services and tell their friends—any chance they get.  Boomers are like that—we love to show off their “tech knowledge”   to each other.  It makes us feel younger and still hip.

In addition, the companies will develop a huge cadre of national supporters who will march on Washington if needed—even if only from their home computers or their mobile phones from their vacations.

And I’m wondering, could SlashDeclare—which is a “collaborative movement from those in the financial services industry wanting a more productive, fair and transparent system for all Americans,” be the next Web based group influencing Congress?

Since the movement’s leaders are Betterment, BillGuard and PerkStreet –and now National Family Mortgage—all Internet companies committed to delighting their customers—and whose products appeal to Boomers—my guess is watch out Washington—a very loud voice may be heard roaring over the horizon.

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