Product Managers Discover Older Customers

Products made for older customers are getting a makeover
Products made for older customers are getting a makeover
Image Credit: Katie Mims

Who do you sell your product to? Is there a possibility that your product is being used by older customers? If this is the case, what you have done to make it easy for them to use your product? If the answer is “nothing”, then you are like many other product managers who have not taken the time to study their customers and customize their products for their unique needs. Perhaps this is something that you need to start doing.

Older Customers

Product managers know that older customers have long complained that products designed for them are clunky and unattractive. However, now product managers are starting to listen to their complaints. As the customer population of people 65 and over grows, so does their spending power in the marketplace and product managers are taking notice. More product managers are offering walkers, canes and other products that deftly assist the elderly – and are stylish at the same time.

The boomer generation is the first to be able to wield its considerable spending power to reject bad designs. These aging product buyers are using consumer choice to drive the change. I think that we can all agree that products such as walkers and canes have been slow to evolve aesthetically over the past century as product managers focused largely on products for their young, mobile peers. The result is that they have largely ignored the desires of the elderly. But a shift in the way design thinking is being taught in schools as well as the slow death of the “superstar, egocentric product manager” has meant the needs and desires of older people are now starting to be considered by product managers.

Research-and-design methods that teach people to how to understand the end-user experience seemed quite niche 10 or so years ago. However, now, they’re a part of most good design courses. When product managers ask older people what they want from products, the answer is often very simple: to not look like something a frail, invalid person would use. The request for a cool-looking walker or a well-designed long-term-care facility goes deeper than customer vanity. Product managers have to address the damaging imagery of aging: old-fashioned mobility and medical devices can turn a customer into an object of pity. When you bring a sense of design and beauty and aesthetics to this type of product, people will talk about them, and people will talk to you – it becomes a way to connect. Older consumers have power in numbers: in 2018, there were 52 million Americans over the age of 65, a figure that will nearly double to 95 million by 2060. It is estimated that Americans over 55 will account for half of all domestic consumer-spending growth from 2008 to 2030.

Product Managers Respond To A Changing Market

Customers over age 55 say their favorite retail brand no longer understands them or what they need. This feeling of alienation along with a rise in internet literacy among seniors is pushing this demographic to seek out and spend their money with brands that cater to their aesthetic needs. The idea that older customers are more brand loyal is an outdated view. Another big change is that end users are now primarily making the purchases. Previously, it had been either children or caregivers who did most of the buying. When they made a purchase, they simply chose whatever was on offer in mobility stores. This meant ease and good looks weren’t always prime considerations.

Product managers at a number of new firms are trying to determine what products and services they want to develop. Some of the ideas being considered include a service that allows older people to share their pain-management techniques and a social network that facilitates deeper daily interaction with 10 or so friends. Product managers are also looking into a co-living space for people who don’t want to reside in a “cruise ship on land”: retirement homes with hundreds of residents and a fully preplanned social calendar of activities. Product managers need to understand that what ends up getting created for older people isn’t really what they want: it’s somebody else’s idea of what they ought to want.

Other product managers are considering ideas such as products and experiences for older adults including an e-commerce company for things like bedpans, guardrails and ramps. The product managers realize that it’s their responsibility and opportunity to build products, services and technologies for older adults. Product managers realize that the real work is yet to be done, but it is being done, and it’s being done because there is this new generation of product managers who are using head and heart to make a difference.

What All Of This Means For You

As product managers, we want our products to be popular. We want more and more customers to find our products and purchase them. I think that not enough of us spend time thinking about just exactly who our customers are. What we may be missing is that our customer base is probably getting older. This means that we need to start to think about how our products are going to appeal to older customers. We may also want to think about how we can make changes to our product to make them more attractive to older customers.

One of the biggest complaints from older customers is that products that are designed for them are clunky and unattractive. Since there are so many older customers, they are starting to use their buying power to change what products are being offered to them. What older customers want are products that don’t make them look like older customers. Older customers are not brand loyal and more and more of them are going online and finding the products that they want. Product managers are starting to come up with innovative ideas to meet the needs of older customers. Product managers want to find ways to make a different in the lives of their older customers.

The market potential of meeting the needs of older customers is huge. However, product managers need to understand that in the past we have not done a good job of serving this market. The products that they have been presented with have not appealed to them or really met their needs. Things are changing and product managers now understand that older customers have a unique set of needs. If we can adapt our products to meet their needs, then success will be ours!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
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Question For You: What’s the best way for a product manager to find out if their product meets the needs of older customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

How great would it be to be a product manager who was responsible for a very popular high priced exercise bike? This is the position that the Peloton product managers found themselves in just before the pandemic hit. I’m pretty sure that they must have had many meetings where they were trying to find ways to get people to quit gyms and instead buy a Peloton exercise bike to use at home. Then the pandemic hit and that is exactly what happened! The Peloton product managers were beside themselves – this was fantastic and it was going to go on forever. However, it didn’t.