Understanding the Older Consumer – The Grey Market

Patricia A. Knowles (Associate Professor of Marketing, Clemson University)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Knowles, P.A. (2000), "Understanding the Older Consumer – The Grey Market", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 263-272. https://doi.org/10.1108/jcm.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book is intended to answer the question, “Why is the over‐50s market important?” With almost 600 references, the book is certainly a resource for any and all who would wish to research and/or understand that question.

However, almost 75 per cent of those references date back to 1986 or earlier. Thus, the book serves much better as a historical resource than as an up‐to‐date guide to what older consumers are “up to” today. An example: “… when selecting unfamiliar brands from four different product categories, older housewives considered fewer attributes and alternatives than did younger housewives (Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia, 1981).” Those “younger housewives” of the early 1980s are approaching the age of the older consumer (variously defined in the book but often referred to as over‐50). One wonders if they would behave today (almost 20 years later) as they did in 1980‐81 or if they would behave as did the older women back then. The answer is not clear, and such questions arise quite literally hundreds of times in the course of reading this book.

For the average marketing researcher, I am afraid that the simple lumping together of older with more recent references is more confusing than clarifying. Further, the fact that there is little or no apparent attempt to summarize findings in meaningful ways makes for tedious reading.

Finally, statements such as “… older consumers do not wish to be patronised …” consistently led to argumentative comments in my mind. For example, does any group like being patronised?

Much of the difficulty in the book stems from the problem of which demographic variable is more important in describing market segments, age or one’s generational cohort. Despite many statements that older consumers are not a single homogeneous market and that age is not a good characterizing variable, the author consistently uses age as a way to view older consumers. Other variables that may be used to explain findings are simply not addressed.

My recommendation is to buy the book if you are interested in research concerning over‐50s consumers. But use it as a historical resource only. Further, don’t rely on the author’s characterization of gender of the researchers cited (e.g. Mary LaForge is referred to as “he”) or psychological theory (e.g. disengagement theory is mischaracterized in places). On the other hand, with references dating back to 1920, with almost 80 per cent of those references dating between 1974 and 1993 and, finally, with those references including nearly every prominent consumer behavior researcher in the USA and the UK during those years, the book is definitely a “must‐have” for current researchers in the field.

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