The graying of the internet

Apr 24, 2014

While in far fewer numbers than their younger counterparts, the population of seniors going online is expanding and those that do are active participants in the cyber world.

According to new data from the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of seniors (defined as those ages 65 or older) report they go online — a six percent increase in the course of a year — and 47 percent have a high-speed broadband connection at home. In addition, 77 percent of older adults have a cell phone, up from 69 percent in April 2012.

Internet use and broadband adoption among seniors each fall off notably starting at approximately age 75. Older adults also face several unique barriers and challenges when it comes to adopting new technologies, including physical and learning challenges as well as skeptical attitudes about the benefits of technology.

Still, most seniors who become internet users make visiting the digital world a regular occurrence. Among older adults who use the internet, 71 percent go online every day or almost every day, and an additional 11 percent go online three to five times per week.

These older internet users also have strongly positive attitudes about the benefits of online information in their personal lives. Fully 79 percent of older adults who use the internet agree with the statement that "people without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing," while 94 percent agree with the statement that "the internet makes it much easier to find information today than in the past."

Other findings from the study:

  • Among seniors with an annual household income of $75,000 or more, 90 percent go online and 82 percent have broadband at home. For seniors earning less than $30,000 annually, 39 percent go online and 25 percent have broadband at home.
  • Fully 87 percent of seniors with a college degree go online, and 76 percent have broadband. Among seniors who have not attended college, 40 percent go online and just 27 percent have broadband.
  • Twenty-seven percent of the total older adult population (46 percent of online seniors) use social networking sites such as Facebook, and these social network adopters have more persistent social connections with the people they care about;


Does the marketing community overall seem to over- or under estimate the opportunity targeting online seniors? In what categories do you expect them to have the strongest online influence?

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15 Comments on "The graying of the internet"

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Ian Percy

I have some dealings in the Independent and Assisted Living category and good internet connection is assumed in facilities these days. And I don’t mean just in the “Sun Room” at the end of the corridor. This ain’t your grandmother’s nursing home any more.

What website designers and marketers have no clue about is how seniors process information. Start with design for example. 20 something designers who love 6pt fonts in light gray need to start thinking about their readers instead of design awards. And online stores that don’t tell you the full price until you’re at the end of the process drive seniors nuts…their first question is “How much is it?” I see the advent of 65+ versions of retail websites.

As far as prime categories go I’d vote for pets and kids.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Overall, I believe this segment is under-estimated by marketers. This group has two significant advantages: Income to spend and the time and inclination to spend it. Online provides this group with current information to be used in their buying and consuming of products and services. Remember, this group used to get their information via discussions over the backyard fence. The Internet is the digital equivalent of the backyard fence.

Obviously, certain goods and services lend themselves to this generation and this medium: health care, travel, restaurants, etc. However, this is a terrific opportunity for almost any consumer or household goods/services, like food and household goods shopping, home repairs and services, etc. The key is, the Internet provides availability, accessibility, flexibility, and affordability; attributes that many bricks and mortar retailers struggle to provide.

Tom Redd

Hey, let’s talk grey! The older space is being addressed by marketers, but I would say it’s for sure missed in many cases. Take a look at some of the material that you see on sites or in promos. There is a marketing style online that markets to greys the same way TV marketers do – all focused on aging and drugs that make you better. Watch Jeopardy commercials and then online promos for greys. These are 2 platforms; the marketing needs to be tuned for the online greys. TV ads for greys are also targeted at the non-online team.

So, grey is a space to re-tune for, ASAP. Grey can and will pay when you serve them well!

Ian Percy

One further thought…

The “drop off” chart in this article is very misleading and may cause online retailers to dismiss the huge “gray” customer base. This is a static snapshot. What isn’t depicted is that the high use of web services by those currently 65-69 will continue until that final click. The relatively low use by those CURRENTLY 80+ is because they came to the click stream late. One thing about demographics is that we tend to forget that every year we get a year older.

W. Frank Dell II

The technology community is missing a large and growing market, namely seniors. Currently, these seniors are e-mailing family and friends, posting to Facebook and using Skype to see and talk with their grandchildren. The future is even brighter for e-commerce.

As seniors age, driving a car becomes an event not an everyday occurrence. When they lose their driver license, online shopping will allow them to remain in their own home. These Baby Boomers will become the largest segment for home delivery of groceries.

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
3 years 4 months ago

The marketing community under estimates the value of targeting online seniors because they are in the finishing lap in their tenure.

Elder consumers, however, have a different take. They are slowly catching up the techie kids and they want to be appreciated for being commercially mellow before they become ripe.

They will spend on anything that enriches their lives, their youth or their grandkids. And a huge segments of these finite customers have lots of money to spend and dispense somewhere. Marketers should go after their share but don’t try to sell them that wearing designer diapers is part of the youth movement.

James Tenser

Seniors certainly represent the tail end of the adoption curve for online technology use. We should anticipate that they, as digital non-natives, will approach it differently than their mobile millennial grandkids do.

Based on my unscientific observations of family and friends, I’d suggest that email, Facebook, photo-sharing, online gifting and medical information are primary activities for seniors. Access via tiny mobile device touch screens is a less attractive option, compared with a nice stable monitor and mouse.

Site designers should address the small font problem, of course, although in their defense, I perceive that newer “responsive” site designs seem to go larger by default — presumably to make them legible on smartphone screens.

Site experience is another story. Those brands and retailers who value digital seniors as a target segment should make certain they offer navigation and services that are intuitive — even familiar — to folks who assimilate change a little less eagerly than the early adopters.

Jason Goldberg

I still frequently run into marketers that operate on the outdated notion that Millennials are 100% online and boomers are dramatically less digital. It’s adorable when they think they are reaching late Millennials via Facebook. πŸ™‚

Kai Clarke

The marketing community seems to be forgetting the golden rule…seniors have the gold to make the rules. To underestimate this segment is an egregious error, and one that the smart marketers will not make. Seniors will be going online faster and faster within a shorter amount of time. The smart marketers will have already have prepared for this.

Matt Schmitt

Marketers would be well served to focus intently on opportunities and programs tailored to seniors online. Take social media platforms. What’s interesting is that the coveted millennials tend to be slippery and transient in their loyalty to certain online apps and platforms. By the time older age groups, including Seniors, embrace a Facebook or other online channel, the kids may have starting slipping away to the next flavor (Snapchat, etc) while marketers (and Facebook) have just begun to figure out programs to leverage these platforms for marketing.

Ed Rosenbaum

Ahhh. The greying of America has hit another segment. I felt good after reading this. I still have time before I become irrelevant. LOL

gordon arnold

There are site characteristics and construction techniques that allow for user and user device access and participation differentiations. These differences amount to the level of user dexterity and Information Technology (IT) experience and confidence taken into consideration for the build. User devices have hardware, software and communication capabilities that may seem to have richer or poorer user experience depending on pilot expectations.

The idea of creating sites using consumer identity demographic input is, for the present, not practical simply because the demographic support information from live site feedback is unreliable for a lack of proven validation test methods. At present many of the means to track and identify user information are under legal scrutiny for invasion of privacy reasons and open to possible financial judgment as a recourse to the victim.

The most likely files with a wealth of user personal information are financial in makeup and purpose. This too is a problem for obvious reasons. For the time being, creating and improving a site that is receptive to proven technologies and easy to navigate is still the best of all goals.

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
3 years 4 months ago

Marketers underestimate the needs and interests of the online senior community. First, many seniors remain strongly brand loyal and are somewhat less mobile. Seniors can find it difficult and taxing to locate many items in larger stores. Retailers have an opportunity to connect with these loyal shoppers who would value the ease of online shopping for brand favorites and home delivery.

Amazon opened an” Over 50″ site last year, focus on personal and health care items – a start, but interests are farther ranging than that. As mentioned, opportunities for children, pets, more stylish clothing, travel, and more suggest themselves through easy to navigate sites and customer support.

Frank Beurskens
3 years 4 months ago

I donate time providing technology assistance for a local volunteer group, Canopy of Neighbors, that provides support for seniors to help them stay in their homes. These are typically 65 – 85+ years old, active on email and web, maybe too active on the web. (One of the common fixes is getting hacked search bars and spam removed after they follow links that come across the “geezer net,” those homey and often politically twisted emails that circulate among the crowd.)

We have one elder that is starting an online business and plenty that order online. The highest volunteer demand every week, however, is for grocery shopping….

Alexander Rink
3 years 4 months ago

The marketing community definitely underestimates the opportunity surrounding the 65+ bracket. Seniors not only have the money to spend, but the time to do so. However, one thing they are lacking is patience. If you want to appeal to seniors, you can’t market the same way you do to teenagers or middle-aged adults. Bump the font. Increase your spend on adwords on search engines. Simplify the buying process.

As for categories of strongest online influence, I would suspect anything in the kids department (toys, clothing, etc.), or consumer electronics. I suspect they would be buying for themselves, or for their grandkids.


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