Date archives "January 2014"

Wearable Memories

I sat next to a frail, elegant woman and noticed the heavy, man-sized ring on her index finger. “Was that your husband’s ring?” I asked. She nodded, and showed me the chain around her neck. “This was my mother’s,” she said.“I understand,” I told her. “I wear my mom’s wedding ring.”

ring hand shutterstock_30986500

Many of us have things from loved ones – dishes, furniture, artwork, needle points, jewelry, clothing. But it is this last group of items — things we wear — that most intrigues me. These represent the private, personal connections we indulge in. Often, the items we wear are jewelry; rings are the most common. When my mother first died, I wore her wedding ring on a chain around my neck. Eventually, I put it away. One day, years later, I took off my wedding band and quietly put hers on my finger instead. I’ve worn it ever since. It just felt right.

I’m not alone, I know. One friend wears his mother’s wedding ring on his pinky finger. Another wears her mother’s bracelet. She says she feels like she is visiting with her mother when she has it on. Sometimes, the item represents an event of special significance. One friend said of a ring her mother gave her, “I rarely take it off because it is the very last ‘thing’ that she ever gave me and I feel as though a piece of her is always with me.” Sometimes the memories are less painful; one friend wears earings she gave her mother as a gift because she remembers shopping for them together.

The items we wear are not always jewelry. Some are clothes. On the outside, they appear ordinary. One friend wears her mother’s Mickey Mouse shirt. Another friend thinks of his dad when he wears his father’s golf shirts. I wear two tops that belonged to my mother-in-law. They are from Chicos, and I like them. But they are more than just clothes. Every time I wear them, I think, “Today I am wearing Bubbie’s shirt.”

Often, there is no single point in time when the item becomes special. It belonged to someone you loved, they died, and you decide to wear it, perhaps as a way to honor them, perhaps as a way to remember them, but mostly as a way to keep them close.

What I find so intriguing, what makes this appeal to me so much, is that it is all very personal and private. No one knows, when they look at my hand, that this is my mom’s wedding ring, and I like it that way. I covet our special relationship. When things have been part of someone else for so long, and they become part of your daily life as well, there is a connection, a continuity, a closeness, that is comforting. And perhaps that is the gift we receive from items we wear that belonged to people we loved. They comfort us.

What do you wear that belonged to someone you loved, and why do you wear it?

Your Opinion Matters…Until You’re Over 65!

As a Baby Boomer, I am accustomed to feeling important, which is why it bothers me that I will soon become invisible. All my life, I’ve been courted for my influence and my buying power. Once I reach 65, my opinions won’t be worth squat. In survey after survey, I’ll be lumped into an “over 65” category that assumes I think and purchase just like an 85 year old. And I don’t like it.

survey1

Companies want to know how old you are so they can understand differences in priorities and spending habits. Once you reach 65, however, you lose the preferences that define you as an individual or a cohort. You become part of a group whose members presumably all think alike – the old.

The 65+ population has significant spending power, so you would think companies would want to know a lot about them, but apparently not. This is more than dumb marketing; it’s ageist. Though seemingly innocuous, these surveys perpetuate stereotypes and marginalize older people. They influence the young, and, even worse, they influence older adults who may adopt these beliefs themselves.

I tried being devil’s advocate. Maybe it’s because the surveys are mostly online, I suggested, and people 65+ aren’t online. That’s not true.  According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 54% of people over 65 use the Internet (up from 13% in 2000). One third of people over 75 are Internet users, and twelve percent of people over 75 use tablets. Use of technology by seniors may not be as high as with younger age groups, but if you want data about how people 65+ think and spend money, there are plenty of senior Internet users to provide answers. Of course, that is not the impression surveys give.

Next, I tried another argument. Maybe 65+ individuals aren’t major consumers of consumer products and services. As a Senior Move Manager who spends most of her time in the homes of people 65+, I can assure you they are still big consumers, although what they spend money on may change.

I admit, for companies like Urban Outfitters  and H&M, segmenting age beyond 65 may not be important. But how does that explain this Chicos customer satisfaction survey:

    • Under 25
    • 25 – 34
    • 35 – 44
    • 45 – 54
    • 55 – 64
    • 65 or older
    • I prefer not to answer

Chicos seems to think that the under 25 year old group has different opinions than the 25-34 year old group, but that everyone over 65 thinks alike. That’s odd, because I spend a lot of time in Chicos, and I’ve never seen anyone under 35, yet alone under 25. But I’ve seen a lot of people 65 and older.

What’s even more insidious is that this value system is the standard in survey creation. Grapevine Surveys and Constant Contact, two email marketing platforms, both illustrate age segmentation with age brackets that end with “65 or older.” Users who plan to design their own surveys assume this is what they are supposed to do, too.

Fortunately, some organizations get it. In a report entitled Is “Seniors”‘ One Demographic Group? ESRI, a reserch organization, concludes:

Seniors” represents a large and diverse consumer market that will continue to grow. It has previously been under served and has significant wealth and money to spend. In the past, product manufacturers have focused on trendy products to catch the eye of young consumers while creating one-size-fits-all solutions for seniors. But seniors aren’t just one group.

Knowing the customer is key to success with seniors, just as it is with the population overall. …Companies that address seniors as discrete segments with unique needs can position themselves for success in this growing and increasingly profitable market.”

I am happy to report that some companies do see the light. Last week, I received a survey with age segmentation that went to 85. I wondered what forward-thinking group realized that seniors are not all alike. It was from a funeral home.