The January 2012 issue of Choice -- the review journal of the American Library Association and Association of College & Research Libraries -- included "The Aging Consumer - Perspectives from Psychology and Economics" on its list of the "Ten Most Important Academic Books in Business, Management, and Labor" in 2011. "The Aging Consumer" was co-edited by UCLA Anderson Marketing Professor Aimee Drolet Rossi (Anderson's Betsy Wood Knapp Term Chair Professor of Innovation and Creativity) and her colleagues Norbert Schwarz (professor of business and research psychology at the University of Michigan) and Carolyn Yoon (associate professor of marketing at Michigan's Ross School of Business). The recognition was based on the organization's review of 7,000 books.
(Also included on the list was Professor Richard Rumelt's latest "Good Strategy, Bad Strategy which we've blogged about a few times previously.)
The UCLA Anderson blog recently had the opportunity to interview Professor Drolet Rossi about "The Aging Consumer." She told us the book had a few goals, including a look at the economic implications of an aging world population, as well as how aging consumers, whose psychological functioning and evolving biological limitations, will behave in the marketplace.
"The book kind of represents a kind of interection of scholars from economics and psychology who are trying to understand aging consumers, how they behave in the marketplace, how they plan for retirment, how they shop, what kinds of brands are they attracted to, what's the best way to advertise to them," Drolet Rossi says. "The book is organized in a way that we think makes sense. What kind with age? How do you market to (aging consumers)? A lot of past research is focused on 18 or 20 year olds. There's a lot of research that was done based on the assumptions that just aren't realistic anymore."
Drolet Rossi says that the idea was to find the intersection between two disciplines (economics and psychology) that are "increasingly finding that they have a lot in common, the study of human behavior." She says they selected authors to contribute original research to provide a comprehensive view that includes everything from retirement brands to advertising to emotions, to how the brain changes. "The hope is that if people read the volume as a whole, they'll have a more nuanced understanding of people aged 50-plus," Rossi says.
"There's a nice chapter about human design factors," Drolet Rossi says. "Ok, (as you age) you're a little slower. Should (computer designers) change the mouse speed? The brightness of your cell phone screen is going to matter because your eye lens gets harder." But there are nuances to catering to older consumers. "Nobody wants to be told their old. So, it's a complicated system so product design has to change. The book tries to give people a glimpse of the scope of all things that businesses and consumers need to pay attention to now."
Drolet Rossi's own chapter in the book deals with socio-emotional selectivity theory. It's a theory in psychology that suggests that once people start coding their lifespan from "having all the time in the world" to "how much time do I have left" the change in perspective causes them to rethink how they want to experiene consumer experiences. Drolet Rossi says that those experiencing that transition change the way they organize consumption. "As you have less time left, you tend to close your social network, you want to spend time with fewer, familiar people and become less interested in meeting new people," Drolet Rossi says. "The chapter tried to test a well known psychological theory to see where it does and doesn't hold up."
All of the research in the book is academic, but with a strong eye towards having practical applications.
"There's a basic bottom line that any business that ignores this wealthiest, largest segment of the population is missing out. The economic opportunities are enormous, but to be able to do something about it you have to have an understanding of these people that's not superficial and is not age-biased," Drolet Rossi says. "A lot of people assume that people in their sixties don't know how to use a computer. They do. But there are just some realitiees with aging, you have a biological system that wears out. From the economic side there's a nice chapter on presumptions: do these people plan for retirement. LIfe gets a little more complicated when you have big things to plan for.
"We were really pleased, I think the recognition reflects the fact that this is a critical area that has been under-studied and it's an area that has to be interdisciplinary, it doesn't sit in a silo," Drolet Rossi says. "It's a recognition of the topic and it's importance and a positive reflection on the quality of the contributors to the book."