New Economic Realities   //   July 8, 2024

Why more young people are signing up for AARP memberships

As more shoppers seek discounts and deals to combat inflation, one of the hottest hacks this summer is an annual membership that is surprisingly open to all adults.

Younger people are increasingly signing up for the AARP, the interest group that advocates for people over 50. Word is spreading on social, thanks to TikTokers like CityCouponMom who are letting their followers know that you don’t need to be a senior citizen to get the discounts that the AARP offers to members. In a video that generated 44,000 likes, TikToker Torok Coupon Hunter said even though she’s only 32, she’ll never go without one again. Elsewhere on social, NerdWallet uploaded a recent YouTube video telling its financially savvy followers about the benefits, while the hosts of the podcast Forever35 spent part of a recent episode chatting about why they signed up.

Barbara Shipley, AARP’s senior vice president of brand integration, told Modern Retail that it has previously seen waves of younger people join. But this summer, it’s happening again as people are looking for more ways to save. “It’s not the first time we’ve seen it, but this is a bit more intense,” she said.

While the organization actively courts people who are 50+, anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to join. At $16 a year, the subscription can pay for itself fairly quickly for members who use the benefits — one popular benefit called out by TikTokers is a $10 discount on AT&T phone plans, as well as travel, restaurants or tickets.

The organization doesn’t share its membership numbers or the age breakdown, but AARP currently counts 22 million households as members that span all ages. But Shipley said some viral TikToks have led to membership spikes. In one video that’s received over 2 million views, a TikToker called DealCheats rattles off the different travel or restaurant savings you can get with an AARP membership as she puts on makeup.

“We’ve had some really interesting moments on TikTok, our members sharing and influencing,” she said. “After something like that, we will definitely see an uptick [in sign-ups], and a pretty impressive one.”

Overall, membership and engagement with AARP has risen since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when traffic to the AARP website started to double as more older adults spent time online. But more recently, the uptick is driven by a hunger for deals.

“In these days of inflation, people are tightening their belts but not wanting to give up on things like having dinner with friends or traveling to see family,” Shipley said. “They’re very ingenious, looking at the ways that they can use [the membership] for their lifestyle.”

In response to the uptick in membership, AARP is doing its own updates to stay relevant among its members of all ages. This week, it launched an expansion of its digital platform on its website and mobile app. New additions include recipes from chef José Andrés and former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, a Hollywood-focused celebrity news column from Merle Ginsberg, and free books from authors like James Patterson and Ann Cleeves. Additionally, an internal team focused on the deals and discounts offered to members is also scouting out new offerings — this year, some include a $20 discount on the annual Walmart+ membership, and a 30% discount for three years of an annual premiums subscription to meditation app Calm. Last year, new offers included the likes of Alexa Emergency Assist, Paramount Plus and Holland America cruise lines.

It’s not just discount groups that are seeing spikes in members. Club stores that offer memberships are also seeing increases. During its first-quarter earnings Walmart CFO John David Rainey said the the warehouse store Sam’s Club has seen record number of members. He later said that it’s seeing the highest level growth among Gen Z and Millennials. For its part, Costco has about 74.5 million paid members, a 7.8% year-over-year increase, according to its latest earnings presentation.

Danielle Harvey, global vp of strategy at digital analytics platform Quantum Metric, said the AARP membership is something many people may not be aware of until they see an influencer’s video. “The average person would never know you can sign up for AARP if you’re under 50,” she said.

But once aware, the value exchange may be hard to resist as people tend to feel inclined to spend when they know they’re getting a discount; Quantum has found that around 52% of people will prefer to shop at a retailer that provides regular discounts rather than lower prices. “In the face of tighter budgets and higher prices, there is an interest in ‘What can I do to save money, find savings, and making shopping pay off a little bit better?'” Harvey said. “Loyalty programs and subscription programs are becoming more popular as a way to do that right now, as long as there’s a clear, perceived benefit.”

It’s not just younger users that are taking note of AARP these days. Tim Glomb, vp of digital, content and AI at performance marketing company Wunderkind signed up in March shortly after turning 50. He had noticed Bon Jovi on a recent AARP magazine cover, and had previously checked out an interview they did with Tony Hawk. “The marketing finally got me,” he said. “The brand seems fresh and new.” So far, it’s more than paid for itself. Glomb used the membership when renting a car and received a 35% discount that amounted to roughly $300 in savings. 

In a more macro sense, Glomb said the AARP membership spike squares with overall demand for good value exchanges. Discounts on travel and phone plans are likely to appeal to shoppers of any age due the squeeze of inflation — regardless of any stigma the brand may carry. But beyond that, people are becoming used to the idea of subscriptions thanks to services like Netflix. ”Membership is one of those trends that’s increased,” he said. 

Looking ahead, Shipley said that AARP isn’t going to exclude anyone as popularity swells. And that’s by design. Beyond the discount program, the group’s main mission is advocacy for programs intended to benefit older people. But these programs affect many more people than today’s seniors, like its defense of the Social Security system, or push for more familial support for unpaid caregivers. “The work we do is ageless and universal,” Shipley said.