“Honestly Kirk, how old are you?”

As I have a background in market research, geo-demographics, data and CRM, I’m always interested in interacting with companies (or brands) and this often involves filling out forms and giving feedback, mainly out of curiosity and partly to see how my favoured brands or business acquaintances interact with me.

I draw the line at being seduced into filling out on-line questionnaires with their thinly veiled attempts at turning me into a prospect for products I don’t want, but recently I was asked a few questions by a favourite clothing brand that I buy from on-line, who asked if I would tell them my age. I’m not in denial yet about my age and I hoped this would be used to “tailor” my future on-line shopping experience with them, but to my horror, the age bands I hovered over were 45-53 [   ] or 54-65 [   ], therefore on my birthday (last week) I jumped from being categorised as a (on average) potentially trendy, mid-life crisis-driven late-forty ish customer to a pensioner…… I’m not ageist or have anything against pensioners or the elderly in general, (I’ve met some of them and there are fine, honestly) but I’m not a member of that club yet. Saga yes okay, Bus Pass brigade no!

But hang on maybe there are benefits from this company’s age segmentation, perhaps on my Customer Journey, the High “Loyal” & High “Value”, age 54 to 65 segment will receive offers in larger font sizes for subtly elasticated waist trousers, long socks and softer shoes, (yes I have read the Daily Express…) even as I write this I am warming to the notion of accepting there could be upsides from getting this right.

But getting my age correct is only one part of the question and understanding my product spend, frequency of purchase, channel choice and promotional response, is also important.

A number of my professional friends (I have unprofessional friends too, you know who you are) often, after a glass of wine, pour scorn on my whole world of data and direct marketing and the often lumped in, traditional advertising and its effects on them as ironically frequent-flying point collecting consumers, but the world of database marketing and loyalty programmes is all around us and them, and is highly influential, often by stealth. Recent research* indicated that over 90% of us are in at least one loyalty programme, maybe we are in denial, like people who say they never use money-off coupons and I’ve never met anyone who admits to reading the Sun (in public anyway) except over 5 million people used to read it and hundreds of millions of money off coupons are redeemed every year in the UK.

The majority of these coupons are redeemed at grocery outlets or via home shopping, which for grocery shopping has been around for years as a market share defence mechanism targeted at those who were of an age or had a time poor lifestyle, as a loss leader which with the increasing number of us (in our ageing economy) looking for the convenience, it is an issue which the aggressively competitive grocery sector will have to resolve while keeping shoppers loyalty, a catch-22 situation for them to resolve so watch this space….

As I get older my preferences and shopping habits have changed as have the proportions of my multi-channel shopping and recent moves towards “easier” click and collect shopping options will drive more of my spend on-line as my attitude to convenience has also changed.

My age or lifestage as a way of personalising my consumer experience though, is a huge piece of the jigsaw in maximising me as a customer.

It certainly made me think, do companies really use ages or age bands effectively these days? We give out our ages or dates of birth frequently both socially and for verification and with my age neutrality (as I am mentally still 25), I have in the past made the cardinal, schoolboy / male error of asking a lady of a certain age, what age she was (trust me, it was a really bad mistake!).

I never really appreciated how much of a secret ladies ages were until I read recently that 82% of a large, industry leading (highly female-orientated) brand’s customer details were incorrect – mainly due to age inaccuracies, (ages can be verified easily these days), but as an example I was out shopping with my teenage children recently and while the female customer (two places in front of us) was waiting to pay, a female member of staff / researcher, with a clipboard came over and loudly asked her a few questions including how far she had travelled to the store and what mode of transport she used and after a pause…(mental drum-roll), asked for her age, (not her age-band…). Her answer was able to be clearly heard and so clearly untrue it made me (and my kids) laugh. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get asked anything!

Therefore there must be a problem with the process of companies asking for our ages, have you ever scrolled down on a web form to click on your date of birth, if not, the next time you do this, scroll to the end and you will see that some systems go back to 1900 on some and 1910 on others !!  but hang on, if you are over 100 years old what are you signing up for?

But ages are in the public domain and it’s not that expensive to add them to your customer’s data, so I’m thinking that a number of companies could be well be missing a trick.

Researchers are keen to use age bands for lots of good reasons but I want to be treated like an early fifty-something customer using all of the data and knowledge and insight that can easily be derived about me from my purchasing behaviour, to keep my loyalty, as the TV character the Prisoner said, “I am not a number I am a free man” and I’m certainly not a pensioner, not yet anyway!

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