Tech marketers develop new alliances, strategies to capture booming senior market

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Computer marketers such as IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. are pushing to bring more seniors online and to get more surfing seniors to purchase their computer solutions over the Internet.

Ninety-four percent of Web users older than 55 own a computer, according to "Surfing Seniors II," a recently released study conducted by Greenfield Online. Of those computer owners, 95% have Internet access from home and 83% have made a purchase online.

The No. 1 item they are purchasing online, according to the study: computer software.

The online market demand has lead IBM and Compaq to establish online relationships with senior portals to bring their products closer to the mature market.

"We see this as an emerging market opportunity that we currently don't have a strong presence in," says Arch Currid, Compaq senior manager of corporate media relations.

Compaq late last month announced an agreement with PacifiCare HealthCare Systems to launch Senior Internet Co. Compaq is hoping its $14 million investment will help get its computer solutions through seniors' doors.

"Seniors are adopting new technologies . . . [so] now is the perfect time to get a foothold in this market," says Mr. Currid. "We are tailoring solutions that meet the needs of the senior community from an Internet standpoint."

Some Compaq incentives for seniors would most likely include discounts on Compaq's Presario computer product line, he adds.

IBM has established online marketing relationships with boomer site Thirdage.com and non-profit computer training group, SeniorNet.

Thirdage.com allows IBM to target the active 50- to 65-year-old computer user and SeniorNet allows IBM to connect with the 65-to 80-year-old consumer who may not be as active on the computer, says Rai Cockfield, VP-market development.

IBM offers discounts on its Aptiva computer and software to members of SeniorNet.

The software includes packages of interest to mature adults, such as Family Tree Maker for chronicling their loved ones, and Crayola Print Factory to buy as a gift for a grandchild.

IBM offers similar promotions on Thirdage.com.

Microsoft, which could not be reached for comment at deadline, late last month began shipping software to original equipment manufacturers such as Compaq for the MSN Companion, an appliance mainly targeted at seniors that helps them get online, surf the Internet and email easier.

"I can't tell you how many times I've heard from people now connected [to e-mail] who have established relationships again with people who may have passed their lives at an earlier point in time. They are finding old friends and old war buddies," Mr. Cockfield says.

"IBM has been very smart in targeting this market," says Stacy Dieter, director of development for SeniorNet.

Copyright July 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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