Interview • 01.08.2019

Silver Surfers: Older adults ride the wave of mobile technology and shop online

The increasing importance of e-commerce for senior citizens

Man in a suit without a tie smiles diagonally into the camera...
Spencer Hinzen
Source: Ruckus Netwerks

You are wrong if you think it’s mostly young people who spend time online. Older adults are also increasingly embracing online shopping with enthusiasm.

In this interview, Spencer Hinzen, Director of Sales, Central Region, Ruckus Networks, describes how members of the older generation like to spend their money, explains what this means for online retailers and reveals where changes are still required despite steady growth in digital transformation.

Mr. Hinzen, compared to statistics from 2017, more seniors than ever shop online. Why is that? Has it become easier for them to use the Internet?

Spencer Hinzen: The results of our online survey among 1,000 senior citizens last year has indeed shown that nearly 40 percent of those aged 65 and older already use the Internet to shop. On the whole, Germans spend an increasing amount of time online: almost 54 million people are online every day, spending an average of 196 minutes, nearly three and a half hours on the Internet!

Even seniors over 70 surf the net for nearly an hour each day. The increase in online shopping among the older generation has less to do with user-friendliness and is actually because older adults are becoming more tech-savvy. Computers, smartphones, and laptops are constant companions – and continue to be in retirement as well. People are simply embracing these technologies and don’t want to do without the options and conveniences of the Internet just because they are getting older.

Why do older adults appreciate online shopping?

Many consumers, including older adults, like to shop from the comfort of their home. If you are no longer as mobile as you used to be, online shopping becomes a great way to maintain your independence and quality of life with age. This allows you to keep up with the latest trends and order products online.

Two seniors - man and woman - sitting in front of their laptop and shopping...
Older people like to surf the Internet and shop there. Especially when they move into an old people's home, they often have to do without it.
Source: PantherMedia / AndrewLozovyi

What types of products and platforms are most popular with the older generation?

Silver surfers and digital natives basically share similar buying patterns. However, unlike younger online buyers, the older generation tends to spend more money online. The most popular product categories with seniors include music, books, and even video games. Having said that, they still prefer to purchase items like furniture or cosmetics "offline" at brick-and-mortar stores.

What e-commerce strategy should online retailers use to help attract older adults?

If online retailers want to reach an older target audience online, they must tailor their marketing and advertising content to the needs of the senior demographic. According to the Ruckus survey, the majority of respondents (55.7 percent) say they use their smartphones to go online. That's why mobile optimized websites and mobile usability are the keys to e-commerce success. However, usability should not be the only element of an e-commerce strategy. E-commerce companies must cater to the preferences of their target audience throughout the entire customer journey. For example, since older adults prefer to pay by invoice, retailers should offer this as a payment option.

Despite continued worldwide e-commerce growth, is there still room for improvement?

Older adults value a professional web presence. Testimonials or trust seals are great ways for e-commerce companies to inspire trust. In addition, silver surfers want a simple navigation menu and detailed descriptions of products, costs for shopping, warranties and delivery information. Online retailers can also score big points with excellent customer services such as chatbots or callback functions.

Venturing a glimpse into the future, what are the e-commerce trends when it comes to senior citizens?

Seniors enjoy a high level of discretionary spending power and are one of the reasons that online food deliveries now rank among the fastest-growing product categories in German e-commerce. Apart from groceries, older adults are also interested in recreational activities, travel, and wellness. E-commerce companies can ensure future sales and success by offering vacation options for the so-called best ager target group. A reliable internet connection is an essential prerequisite for creating a memorable online shopping experience.

We presently see a need for improvement when it comes to wireless access in retirement communities. Right now, seniors living in retirement homes are largely excluded as e-commerce participants. Why? According to the WLAN-Studie Pflegeheime 2018 (English: Wi-Fi for Retirement Homes 2018), less than 40 percent of retirement facilities in Germany are currently equipped with Wi-Fi. Smooth internet access to online shopping for a majority of those older than 65 is only possible if these communities have a comprehensive digital infrastructure.

Interview: Katja Laska

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