By 2005, 3.2 million retirees will be online with one common trend — hyper-speed learning: fast-forwarding their online behaviour through increased leisure time and a love of communication, according to a recent Report from Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR). Successful firms must adapt now to seize the commercial opportunities online retirees present.

“High-income pessimists will begin to use the Web, discovering the experience is much more attractive than they had imagined,” said Forrester analyst, Caroline Sceats. “PC retirement gifts and the impact of children and grandchildren communicating via email will spur uptake of the Internet amongst the over-55s. And the kick-off to hyper-speed learning happens when consumers spend sufficient time online to pack a year’s worth of online experience into a few months.

“The most dedicated users — Addicts — will use the Internet six or seven days a week, increasing the opportunity for online businesses to engage with them through advertising. Adopters, in comparison, will come online for around four days a week. The least active group — Experimenters — will go online less than two days a week, limiting the ability of online businesses to target them,” she added.

Within a year, Forrester asserts, older users in hyper-speed learning will out-perform in areas such as online gaming and shopping: Sites will have only six months at most to target online retirees before the cost of recruiting them starts to rise. And as their behaviour development picks up speed, users will come to expect higher functionality and better service. Companies must re-focus their attention on attracting and retaining the most profitable of the online seniors — what Forrester calls the Net-Powered and Net-Reticent Retirees.

The Net-Powered are technology-driven experience seekers who are frequently online, but they are also low spenders. With their fondness for new technologies and with strong tendencies towards gambling, gaming and downloading, Net-Powered Retirees are a good match for lower-cost digital TV and mobile Internet offerings.

“For Net-Reticent Retirees to turn into profitable customers, media and commerce players must create partnerships to build lifestyle management portals that attract and educate new users,” Sceats added. “Lifestyle management portals — online personal assistants — will give older Web users an online experience they value and help open up access to their high online spending potential. Content-commerce partnerships will become retailers’ best revenue propositions, and Net-Reticent Retirees will have the finances and the interest to plug into online financial management in a big way.”

For the Report The UK’s Golden-Age Opportunity, Forrester spoke with executives from 30 UK companies including members of Britain’s leading retailers, portals and hardware vendors. Forrester also drew on data from its Technographics® May 2000 Europe Study and the May 2000 UK Internet User Monitor™ which surveyed over 65,000 users of the UK Web. Additionally, Forrester spoke to Dr. Alistair Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of York, whose areas of expertise include how older people use technology.