Byline: Paul Groves
They have become known as the silver surfers but it is only in the last two years that companies have started to acknowledge their existence.
For many years they have been the most over-looked section of society in terms of internet presence, yet paradoxically they form the age group with the most voracious appetite for getting on-line.
The over-50s have, until fairly recently, remained largely ignored by companies using the internet to promote services and sell goods.
But in the last two years especially there has been an explosion in websites devoted to this emerging age group.
The strength of the 'grey pound' has long been accepted by companies.
So it seems a little strange that they have failed to capitalise on the enthusiasm that has been shown for the internet.
The over-50s now represent one of the most crucially important groups for our economy.
They form a high-spending section of society willing to splash out on good quality products and services. Yet the fact they are more likely to own a home computer and have ready access to the internet seems to have been completely missed for several years.
For so long the industry's focus was on the so-called Generation X and Y sections, despite the fact that they represent a fraction of the spending power of the silver surfers.
But with the 'baby boom' generation now in turning 50, the situation is changing.
Three of the biggest web directories specifically aimed at the over-50 sector direct surfers to a whole host of sites catering for their particular requirements.
The web population of over-50s is now getting on to the internet faster than any other. Nielsen//NetRatings research tells us that people who are aged 50 and above connect to the internet more frequently than all other age groups.
The data also shows the average time spent online by this group is higher than for others.
Forrester Research carried out a detailed Europe-wide survey which shows the over-50s now account for a third of the market.
They can be split into three categories:
This group (32 per cent) is active online, and not just with email. They are
likely to own technology devices, visit financial services sites, research travel sites and buy online. They read business and educational magazines.
The second group (35 per cent), mostly women, uses the internet for email. They like traditional activities such as cooking and reading.
The final group (33 per cent) are brand-loyal, impulsive, magazine readers of family magazines and regional papers. They're not online yet, sticking with television and videos. A promising market for DVD and interactive television.
These findings are confirmed in other studies which show that 76 per cent of over-50s surf daily, compared to 68 per cent for the general internet population.
'A higher percentage of this population buys online than do their younger counterparts,' said a spokesman for Forrester Research. 'The over-50 age group also seems more responsive to advertising.
'Older surfers tend to frequent content relating to their specific interests, such as weather sites (they enjoy more leisure time so weather is of substantial interest), followed by health, investing, food and cooking. …