Who Are the 15 Percent Who Don’t Go Online?

Oct 11, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, a Watershed Publishing publication providing up-to-to-minute data and research to marketers.

Eighty-five percent of American adults were using the internet as of May 2013, representing a new high point for adoption, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. That still leaves 15 percent of adults who do not use the internet or e-mail, for a range of reasons. The study takes a look at the demographics of this group, with some fairly predictable — but nevertheless interesting — results.

One of the biggest discrepancies in adoption is found when sorting by educational attainment. Respondents with no high school diploma were 10 times more likely than college graduates to be offline (41 percent vs. four percent), with a high proportion (22 percent) of high school graduates without any college education also offline.

Age, predictably, also factors in heavily. While just two percent of 18-29-year-olds are offline, that figure rises to eight percent among 30-49-year-olds and 17 percent among 50-64-year-olds, before jumping to 44 percent for the 65+ group.

Interestingly, although Hispanic cell phone users are more prone to using their device to go online than the average American, Hispanic adults are more likely than the average adult to be offline (24 percent vs. 15 percent).

Household income (HHI) also plays a role: 24 percent of respondents with HHI of less than $30,000 are offline, compared to 4 percent with HHI of more than $75,000. Rural Americans are also, not unsurprisingly, more likely to be offline.

Separate results from the study indicate that 19 percent of offline adults say they don’t use the internet because of the cost, while seven percent cite lack of availability or access. The main reasons for not going online, though, concern relevance (34 percent) and usability (32 percent).

Other Findings:

  • Usability has spiked as a reason for not going online, with this year’s 32 percent up from 18 percent in 2010. Availability is a much smaller issue than it was in 2007 and 2009.
  • Fourteen percent of offline adults said they used to use the internet, while 44 percent have asked a friend or family member to go online for them at some point.
  • Fewer than one in 10 offline adults would like to start using the internet or e-mail.
  • Nine percent of American adults use the internet, but not from home. Incidence of out-of-home use is higher among lower-income respondents and those with low levels of educational attainment.
  • Among those who use the internet outside the home, the main reasons for not going online at home are price (42 percent) and relevance (17 percent).

What do you take from the Pew Research Center survey around technology adoption? Should marketers invest in adults who do not go online or simply wait it out until they do so?

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16 Comments on "Who Are the 15 Percent Who Don’t Go Online?"

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Paula Rosenblum

I find that there are people who just don’t want to do it. Even among the Boomers there is a not-insignificant number of people who prefer other forms of communication.

I see no value in companies marketing to people who “don’t speak the language.” It’d be like sending me emails in Spanish. It’s not going to do anything for me.

Max Goldberg

Adoption of the Internet has been faster than any other new technology. The Internet has come of age, in terms of adoption. This means that it should be considered in media plans, but it should not be the sole focus. Depending on a brands goals and budget, the Internet should be a marketing tool and part of a blended media plan.

Ben Sprecher
Ben Sprecher
4 years 8 days ago

No matter how beneficial any new technology proves to be, there will always be people who resist adoption and change. I’m sure there were people who refused to ride in an internal combustion vehicle or talk on a telephone, and they could always chalk it up to lack of availability or prohibitive price. The difference today is that adoption has been so fast, and availability has become so universal, that any American who never uses the internet either must actively be avoiding it, or must be unable to understand, pay for, or use it.

Unsurprisingly, this Pew poll tells us who those people are: the poor, the uneducated, and the elderly. And internet or no, these same groups are the ones that are most difficult for marketers to reach and influence.

Bill Davis

With my dad, who is 85 and has a PhD, the internet just doesn’t have any appeal for him, which in some ways I can’t believe, but at the same time it has some benefits for him.

This group of people who don’t go online will disappear as time passes, as it’s a necessity of current life. It wasn’t in my dad’s day.

Ed Rosenbaum

I have friends and relatives who are “afraid” to learn how simple it is to operate on the internet. Technology is a big word and scary to some.

Joan Treistman

I’m just wondering about the impact on potential applicants for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Aren’t these non-users a large segment of the group who needs affordable insurance?

Ken Lonyai

There’s no surprises here to me. These facts represent the points I make that lead to (verbal) fisticuffs with the kiosk industry. They tell me there’s a big future for kiosks in large part to serve the “15 percenters” that don’t have their own technology. I believe that most of the people not using technology have deeper reasons than lack of access.

Sure retailers can chase this group to find some sales gain, but I wouldn’t recommend investing too much in the pursuit. I’m not implying that the individual people are any less worthy than top level consumers, just that there’s little chance for a tangible ROI except in some very specialized businesses. Per many recent discussions on RW, it would be far more practical to improve existing touch points and customer practices to get a better share of consumers that use technology and represent demographics that shop more fluidly.

Lee Peterson

It’s a bell curve, right? On one end are the low income, less educated and on the other are the elderly. Is this news? Did Pew have to do a study to determine that?

Interestingly enough though, to that point, just a few years ago when presenting an online solution, Walmart told us that most of their customers weren’t online. Blink to now and that is certainly not the case. So, watch the ends of that bell curve disappear in the upcoming decades.

W. Frank Dell II

The digital divide persists primarily due to economics. Less educated consumers typically have lower incomes and internet access does not make it into the budget after rent, food and clothes. Seniors living on limited income also do not see the value. Keeping in mind that these groups are not purchasing much of anything but the basics, over which the internet does not have an advantage. Seniors are dropping the internet as e-mails are mostly spam, so why bother?

The question remains, is this good for television; as the merger of games and entertainment moves to the internet, will TV lose its market?

Lee Kent

No, marketers should not be investing any more dollars to reach those who do not go online. But does this mean they should stop newspapers ads? Not quite yet!

Many in this category rely on the Sunday circulars and other such paper coupons. Wait it out and this too will pass.

Bill Hanifin

The survey results are in line with expectations, especially when viewed by age range. There is a certain percentage (larger than I thought) of older folks who just missed the entire digital experience.

The correlation to education level might be equated to those who like to read and those who don’t. People with less education might also be presumed to be less intellectually curious, therefore the disconnect with the relevance of the internet.

Offsetting that comment is the abundance of video online today. Most everyone likes to “look at the pictures” and therefore I’m surprised by the lack of engagement.

I would like to know from the research how the 15% overall breaks down, i.e. is half that number made up of over 65 year old persons? That would tell us something.

Craig Sundstrom

There’s absolutely nothing surprising in these findings, other than, perhaps, the magnitude of some of the specific sub-groups. Should marketers reach out? The simple, brutal answer is no. You have one group who is poor and uneducated, and the other who is – literally – going to die out (unlike political views, internet behavior will not change with age)…hardly promising demographics. Of course there are firms who still do business the old fashioned way (i.e. physical catalogs and phone orders) and I expect they will continue to do so as long as it is profitable, but conversion campaigns will not occur.

Nikki Baird

I think we’ve learned from current media plans and experience that even highly engaged internet users benefit from marketing messages in other channels. If the internet was all that when it came to reaching consumers, TV would be dead. And while it may have its struggles, it’s not dead yet.

I’d be more interested in knowing about these groups as personas, rather than statistics. As other RW members have commented, it’s not exclusively the poor or the old – or the old poor – that have no interest in the internet. Are these doomsday preppers? Those nostalgic for the past’s simpler times? That would be more useful in deciding what to do about them.

Ralph Jacobson

There is a huge opportunity globally, especially in developing regions, to “help” those people get online. CPG and retail brands can make compelling offers to people via community gathering places, such a civic centers, religious institutions, etc. Brands can offer kiosks in these places for people to access the internet and get acquainted with its capabilities, along with the brands’ products and services.

Jerome Schindler

Any surprises here? I could have saved them a lot of money. Who relatively speaking is not online? The old. The poor. The lesser educated.

Dan Frechtling

I find it a bit absurd to suggest marketers should avoid marketing to those who are not online. Let’s consider rural consumers, one of the demographic groups found by Pew to be less likely to go online.

This group is 5 points more likely to be offline but 13 points more likely to regularly consume traditional media like print and broadcast, according to an earlier Pew study. The numbers grow when you consider those who consume some online media but substantially more traditional media.

Because rural residents are also more loyal to local media than average Americans, there are obvious opportunities in the media mix to reach and influence this segment without buying one pixel.


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