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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2005, 22:01 GMT 23:01 UK
Silver surfers ready to storm shops
Older people using the internet
Internet use among retirees is growing
Silver surfers are about to burst through the doors of the virtual shopping mall, so retailers must be ready to cater for them, a new report says.

With the online shopping market set to grow to 60bn by 2010, retailers could be throwing away billions if they fail to invest in the older online shopper, says research by the Future Foundation.

Already nearly one in every four adults in the UK has bought goods online in the past six months, double the amount three years ago.

And now, almost two out of every three of those coming up to retirement are using the web, compared with just a third in 2001, signalling an impending silver surfer shopping bonanza.

According to the report, commissioned on behalf of The AirMiles Travel Company, online sales will keep accelerating, accounting for 20% of total retail spending by 2010.

Five years

In the meantime, a growing number of shoppers aged from 55 to 64, traditionally ignored by e-tailers, are eagerly jumping on the internet bandwagon.

Researchers warn a revolution in online shopping fuelled by the elderly consumer is only five years away.

It's essential for company growth to invest in this older, online shopper
James Roper, chief executive IMRG

This is based on the Future Foundation's findings that there is usually a delay of two to six years between first using the internet and engaging in online shopping.

James Roper chief executive for global e-retailing body Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) said: "Consumers are increasingly voting with their keyboards for online shopping, yet retailers are failing to understand how shoppers want to buy and how they will change in the future."

Many companies still believe the online market is strictly for the under-30s, IMRG said, but if they continue with this belief they risk restricting profits growth.

"It's essential for company growth to invest in this older, online shopper."


Indeed, the way we live and shop is about to be revolutionised, according to the report.

And it is up to retailers whose websites currently target a younger audience to wake up and smell the coffee.

A 3D model tries on clothes
Cramped fitting rooms in clothes stores will be a thing of the past

Websites with small or difficult-to-read text, unclear navigation or advertising focused at a younger age group will suffer unless they adapt to the silver surfing revolution, the Future Foundation warns.

"Today's online shopping market is certainly booming and is set to evolve dramatically over the next five years," says Michael Wilmott, chief executive and head futurologist at the Foundation.

"If current trends continue, the proportion of internet users among the general population could be as high as 85% by 2010 - with a whopping 80% of people shopping online."

By 2050, it is predicted that shopping in general will evolve beyond recognition, with High Street and online shopping becoming much more streamlined as consumers create their own "virtual High Streets".

'Virtual you'

In the future world of retail therapy people will have tiny voice activated super-computers embedded in their watches, jewellery or even skin, the Future Foundation predicts.

Super-computers will be able to do almost anything from selecting and ordering your favourite music to shopping for the latest fashions.

The same computers will even help steer you away from a debt mountain. If your bank account is empty they will automatically select a credit card or deferred payment option to avoid overdraft or bank charges.

By 2050, clothes shopping will also be transformed with the creation of a "virtual you" alive inside a computer with your exact measurements, hair colour and skin tone.

The old tailors' tape measure will be redundant as your computer makes sure that clothes, shoes and accessories both fit and suit you before ordering them.

And booking a holiday will no longer be the gamble it is now. Vast improvements in live web cam technology will enable holidaymakers to see their chosen destinations in real time.

People will be able to check out hotels, beaches and local attractions before making a booking.

All this could be just a click away, forecasters say.

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