When shopping for a major purchase, most people these days turn to the Internet to do research or get crowd-sourced information on the product they’re considering, and that’s becoming increasingly true for senior living boomer consumers.
As the baby boomer generation turns 65, many of their parents are at an age where they need long-term care. Right now, the boomers are between the ages of about 49 and 67, and roughly 77% of this demographic are Internet users, according to data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Of their Internet activities, using search engines ranks the highest, at about 91% of the boomer generation.
Consumer resource websites are paying attention to this trend. About 50% of the senior living industry’s referrals are coming from the Internet, and many in the industry think that number will rise to “well over half,” according to Andy Cohen, the co-founder and CEO of Caring.com, an online source for people searching for senior living and care services.
In the past couple of years, Caring.com has made a drive toward building up reviews, he says, as more and more consumers look to them for guidance. Those consumers are mainly adult children—specifically women between the ages of 40 and 60—rather than the seniors themselves.
The 40-50 age demographic are especially used to hotel and restaurant reviews on sites like Yelp.com, because they want to see what other people are saying about various venues before making the decision to go there. By-and-large, consumers report considering online reviews to be “trustworthy and helpful to research,” according to Caring.com’s director of social community Denise Graab.
“When we do surveys and focus groups with consumers on what they’re looking for in an assisted living community, they mention location and price. These days, they’re also mentioning online reviews,” says Cohen. ”Five years ago, reviews wouldn’t have been a top-three criteria. Now they are.”
The importance of consumer reviews will keep growing the savvier people get with the Internet and technology, says Danielle Cantin, director of marketing at Michigan-based American House Senior Living, seven of whose communities received Caring.com’s Caring Stars of 2013 honors based on high consumer ratings and reviews. “It’s a big decision, and they’re shopping for a long time, finding out everything they can,” she says.
Peer feedback can wield substantial influence, as many consumers will look at reviews before even going an a tour, according to Cohen.
When looking at five Caring.com listings of comparable senior living communities where three have reviews while the other two don’t, the three with reviews will garner more consumer click-throughs, he says.
In an analysis of all assisted living and memory care communities listed with the site in 2012, Caring.com has found that among listings both with and without reviews, those with reviews had five times more consumer inquiries than those without.
“Folks are looking at as many communities as they can, and they need to look online before touring,” says Melissa Owens, director of sales and marketing at Elmcroft Senior Living. “They’re visiting our website, or those like Caring.com, to see if they can get a feel for the offerings [communities] have, and they’re also looking at reviews to see if they want to take the next step.”
Most of Elmcroft’s inquiries used to come over the telephone, she says, allowing sales staff to craft the initial experience and work the lead into the next step—usually getting them in for a tour. That has changed.
Elmcroft continues to see its number of online leads grow, according to Owens. “We value our professional referrals, but we’re seeing a larger and larger number of total inquiries coming to us directly from either a [community listing referral] partner that operates mostly online, or through our own website, or any other number of ways, including our search engine optimization strategies,” she says.
Currently, almost 20% of Elmcroft’s inquiry traffic is coming from an online avenue—an approximately 50% increase that has occurred over the last two to three years and a “significant” change, says Owens.
“We believe it’s going to continue to grow, and we’re putting our eggs in that basket,” she says. While her company continues to go through traditional methods with reaching out to the community at large or meeting with professional referral sources, Elmcroft is putting the largest amount of money in 2013 toward investing in partnerships like the one with Caring.com, along with its own SEO strategy.
“The presence we have online is more important than it ever has been before,” Owens says. “We may never capture that individual via a phone call or a form submission on our site, if they don’t get a sense of our community [through online research].”
Written by Alyssa Gerace