Online shoppers today are not what they used to be.
Across many product groups—senior living included—companies and marketers are having to meet the preferences of Internet shoppers and their changing behaviors online. Today, that means general search terms and a high value placed on consumer reviews, according Caring.com, a major senior living search hub. No longer are the days when consumers started searching with a specific community or brand name in mind.
“More and more consumers are using the Internet, but few senior housing companies have adjusted,” said Caring.com CEO Andy Cohen before attendees of the Assisted Living Federation of America conference in Phoenix in late May. “More and more consumers are using the Internet, but few senior housing companies have adjusted.”
Largely, consumers have shifted their search from local to national, he continued.
“How it used to work, is the consumer would make local decisions,” Cohen said. “Referrals were getting walked to the front door and they were to move in. Now, they’re doing search online before they even start the process.”
In a recent release of survey data, Caring.com points to three distinctions between the former online shopper and today’s consumer: web searches don’t begin with industry terms or company names; customer reviews matter; and third party senior care sites top the list of trusted review sources.
“When consumers begin a web search, they are typically unaware of providers that offer the senior housing and care services they need, so their searches start with broad terms,” Caring.com found based on the recent research. Only 15% of those searching for a community began their search by typing a company or community name. Conversely, 73% start with a general germ like “assisted living.”
Further, reviews have become increasingly important in the search process.
Of those surveyed by Caring.com, 75% reported “the company’s customers” was the best resource for care information. Fewer than 25% said they believe the best information comes from the company itself.
The trend has given rise to the success of third party review sites such as Seniorhomes.com and Lifesitelogics—a resource devoted specifically to continuing care retirement communities.
“It used to be price and location,” Cohen said. “Now it’s price, location and reviews.”
Most often, at 43%, shoppers are more trusting of senior care website reviews than of reviews on individual community sites, general sites like Yelp or social sites such as Facebook or Google.
Caring.com also confirmed through its research that today’s shoppers are, by majority, between the ages of 50 and 69, and three quarters are female.
“Consumers who used to rely on physicians or hospital case managers for information about senior care and housing are now educating themselves via online research prior to contacting a community or care provider,” Cohen said in a press release announcing the data. “They begin searching the same way they search for a car to buy, a mortgage refinance, or travel arrangements.”
To remain competitive, he said, companies must adapt.
“Everyone going to have to adapt to the Internet consumer if you want to keep occupancy high,” he said.
Written by Elizabeth Ecker