The End of Senior Discounts

by Jeff Weiss

Last month and for the first time ever, my wife and I were asked if “one of us qualified for a senior discount”.  Quickly deciding that pride wouldn’t get in our way, we said “yes” and saved $30 as we entered an art fair where the average price per piece of art was likely over $5,000 (and no, we did not buy anything!).  We were not expecting the offer and by no means did it factor into our decision to attend this event.  It was like finding free money on the street.

I’m not exactly sure when senior discounts came into being and perhaps they made sense when turning 50 or 55 generally meant that you were looking to save money wherever and whenever you could.  But times have changed and it is time that these discounts became a thing of the past.

Consider these points:

  • The over-55 crowd controls more than 70% of the wealth;
  • The median net worth of people 65 and older continues to rise dramatically while it drops for those under 35;
  • According to the 2014 Census, the national poverty rate is 14.8 percent. For seniors 65 and over, it is just 8.7%, compared to 21.1% for children under 18.

As we look to crush the myths and stereotypes associated with aging, senior discounts are a well-known example of a program that only serves to propagate the myth that older consumers have no money. Sure, there are folks out there who have less money, but that can be said for all age groups.

The use of discounts to drive behavior and purchase has been used for centuries and it will always have a place in the business world, but it is a slippery slope that is tough to escape.  In the case of senior discounts, while they are often not needed to drive purchase with the older crowd, many have come to expect them and would be upset if they were all of the sudden taken away, even if it only resulted in a small dollar difference (i.e. saving $1.50 for an early bird dinner).  Businesses may well be stuck with this offer while others, who can really use the discount, stay away purely for financial reasons.

There are two other things that just don’t make sense to me.  First, people can get offended when asked if they are “of a certain age” or if they qualify for a senior discount when they are actually not old enough to take advantage of the offer (our own research found that being offered a senior discount is more likely to make consumers 55+ feel old, than becoming a grandparent). This is somewhat similar to asking a woman if she is pregnant when, in fact, she is only carrying a few extra pounds.  Oops!

Second and somewhat contradictory to the first point, people can get offended when they are asked if they qualify even if they are old enough to get the discount.  As we get more comfortable with our age and getting older in general, many active aging consumers don’t want to be singled out as being different. What if you were asked if you wanted a discount because of your race or religion?

While senior discounts still might have their place in certain industries and/or situations, the use of this particular sales tool has seen its day.  It’s time to retire this practice and move on to efforts that will really appeal to and engage the active aging consumer.

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