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The Boomer

Shopping Tips for Boomers to Survive the Holidays

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The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to

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With the holidays just around the corner, it might seem as if your life is dominated by shopping, cooking, decorating and attending parties, but there’s one major item that you can’t afford to overlook: your budget.

Baby boomers often find themselves combating a long gift list, but it’s important that we plan, prioritize and create and stick to a budget so we don’t end up carrying in debt into the new year. I have a tradition of heading to the mall Christmas Eve to find the best deals. My wife on the other hand, shops early and online and doesn’t have to leave the family room. I am following her lead this year.

Digital marketing agency Response Mine Interactive recently released a survey showing that boomers plan to snub plastic this holiday season with 85% of us paying cash or writing a check for holiday gifts. Brick-and-mortar stores will be happy to learn from the survey that 34% will head to actual stores to s hop, compared to 13% who prefer to shop online.

I spoke to Ken Robbins, founder and CEO of Response Mine, about the survey’s findings and get some expert shopping tips for boomers:

Boomer: As we head into the holiday season, what shopping habits and trends did the survey find for baby boomers?

Robbins: First, our survey showed that boomers love to shop in stores. The trend of "showrooming" has been a big story this past year and companies like Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) have been suffering under the spector of customers browsing and handling product in stores, but walking out and buying items online at a discount. Our survey showed that boomers like to visit and buy in the store, and that provides a huge opportunity for brick and mortar retailers.

Adding to this trend, boomers overwhelmingly prefer to use cash or check to buy. As they march toward pre-retirement and into retirement, boomers are no longer the credit generation. They are more fiscally conservative. However, this should not dissuade companies from trying to woo them: boomers have 7X the discretionary purchasing power of Gen X and Gen Y combined.

Finally, a big key to boomers is customer service and the shopping experience. They are much less tolerant of bad service and since often they have more discretionary time (meaning they can shop off-peak hours if they choose) retailers should staff up all day.

Boomer: What advice would you give to our boomer readers on how to budget for this holiday season?

Robbins: Find coupons online and use them in the stores. Sites like Fatwallet, RetailMeNot and Coupon Cabin are filled with brand-name discounts that can be printed ahead of time, or do a quick search on a smartphone or tablet for coupons while waiting in line to check out.

Boomers with smartphones should download a price scanner app to use find the retailer offering the lowest price on an item. Often, stores will match a price so be sure to point out lower prices to a manager.

Boomer: What did the survey show about marketing to boomer and senior shoppers?

Robbins: Don’t show images of old people. Seriously, to boomers, 50 is the new 38. Show active lifestyle shots. Companies should not even acknowledge age in advertisement copy unless it is about Medicare or a serious health issue such as arthritis. Other than that, it’s a mistake to think that their age matters or is even held in high regard.

Marketers should also use easy-to-read fonts. The older the target, the shorter and bolder the headlines should be with more white space. Even in a retail store, it’s very frustrating to have to squint to read a label.

Finally, our capacity and intelligence does not diminish with age, but the speed at which we consider things does. That means hyper-cutting a TV commercial is less informative and more annoying to a 60-year-old shopper. Also, bring out important information in a print ad with bold and cut out boxes.

Ignoring the boomer generation is a big mistake by marketers. Boomers’ kids are graduating from college and that’s freeing up time and money. Boomers stand to start inheriting $15 trillion from their parents, which increases their spending power. This generation is active, often more fit than the previous generation at the same ages, and still self-reward. That means spending on travel, housing and food and leisure will all be up.

To appeal to boomers, marketers should use self-reward messaging ("you deserve it")  to sell luxury and experience--advertising as the "boomers brand" is often a concerning strategy. Companies want to be associated with youth and sex appeal. In these cases, they should consider direct marketing like direct mail, email and other digital advertising, because these are more discreet channels than broadcast. Here’s an example: Spanx continues to promote itself as the sexy lingerie-shapewear brand in print and packaging, but sending direct mail offers to middle-aged women.

Finally, although our surveys showed a bias for shopping in store, seniors and boomers are on the internet. They research heavily and companies should work to provide easy-to-consume content on a product or service in order to grab their attention and persuade them to consider the product.

Boomer Did you find a greater number of baby boomers entering the online world as consumers?

Robbins: Sure, but the percentage is still less than Gen Y and Gen X. While we’re more likely to start shopping online, we still "consume" in store

Boomer: What was the methodology behind the survey?

Robbins: RMI performed a self conducted survey utilizing our mature market internal database. We used both telephone and online surveys to collect the data needed, and 434 respondents were contacted via telephone and 214 respondents completed an identical survey through email. Findings for total respondents are significant at a 95 percent confidence level and with a +/- 3.72 percent margin of error.