As it now stands, youth drive digital trends because you'll rarely see anyone over 50 use a hashtag. Young web users are more boisterous in their market presence, making or breaking brands with a few tweets. Corporate digital strategy often focuses on the youth demographic to the exclusion of all others.
Such a single-minded focus can cut companies off from one of the most lucrative audiences on the web. People over 50 may not use the latest emoticon but they represent close to 45% of the U.S. adult population, and control some 70% of the available disposable income. Companies ignore such figures at their peril. Senior vice president and general manager of AARP Media, Robyn Motley, suggested in a recent article in the New York Times, “You need to focus on the Boomers because that's where the money is."
It's not that older Americans don't web browse; some 80% of seniors who are in the top-third of the tax bracket utilize the internet. The hurdle is that older Americans encounter physical barriers to fully enjoy online resources. Currently, more than 6.5 million Americans suffer from significant visual impairment due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or other age-related diseases. While Boomers spend more time online than Millennials (2 hours more per week in 2012), their online spending decreases by roughly a third compared with those of younger adults. It's as if you had a crowd of shoppers in your store but they couldn't read the signs for different departments, so they leave empty-handed.
The best thing online shopping can offer is convenience, and this advantage is lost on consumers over 50 because current web design is not adaptive to the needs of older Americans. In a 2013 study, the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) -- an organizations that focuses on user experience research -- studied this disconnect between seniors and web developers. NNG found that web users aged 65 and older were 43% slower at using websites compared to people aged 21to 55. Participants of the study frequently blamed themselves for difficulties using websites rather than the design or functionality of the website itself. However, study metrics led NNG to the following critical conclusion for businesses, “If [companies] redesigned their website to give seniors the same user experience quality as younger users, you could expect to get 35% more business from them.”
“Until recently the technology did not exist to let each person visiting your site customize the way they experience
your site to their specific needs. Customizable UX is now a reality.”
For budget hawks that fear the additional expenditure, it's best to frame this initiative as one that a company can't afford not to do. Not to invest in web design infrastructure for older Americans is to ignore
a seismic demographic shift, according to Amanda Wigginton, Director of insight at IPC Media. In a recent interview in Marketing Week, she said:
"Brands need to acknowledge what the data and insight is telling them. This is not going to go away…The 50-plus
generation is a force to be reckoned with."
Companies have a choice. Act now to deliver a quality web experience to boomers and seniors and reap the reward, or try to play catch-up as each consecutive wave of older, and more tech-savvy, consumers enters the marketplace.
Marc Zablatsky is Vice President and General Manager of sitecues, a cloud-based SaaS solution enabling websites to reach older users. sitecues is one of several assistive technologies from Ai Squared. A leader in the assistive technology field, Ai Squared is based in Manchester, VT and is also the maker of ZoomText and Window-Eyes.