Increased adoption of mobile by over-45s

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Posted by George Gabriel on 13 May, 2016

The increased use may come with security and user experience concerns

As part of a brief from a prospective client, the Future Platforms strategy team recently conducted audience research aimed at better understanding smartphone usage and ownership by those aged 45 and older. After gleaning some interesting insight, particularly in regards to e-commerce and user experience, we’ve put together a summary of our findings; highlighting why it’s now a great time for businesses to better accommodate a large and receptive group of users that are increasingly taking advantage of mobile platforms.



  • 37% of people aged 55+ currently own a tablet, up from 1% in 2011
  • 71% of users aged 45+ use a smartphone and/or tablet at least once a day
  • 50% of people aged 45+ will make at least one e-commerce purchase a month using their smartphone or tablet, including 44% of over-65s
  • 6 in 10 users aged 45+ cite a lack of understanding over what businesses do to protect and secure their data as a major barrier to shopping online
  • 20% of users aged 45 or older feel that the apps and websites they use to make purchases do not consider their needs or challenges at all
    This article has been supplemented by information from media regulator Ofcom’s 2016 Adult Media Usage and Attitude report. Where data is obtained from this source, rather than our own research, we have indicated.

    To the detriment of traditional desktop and laptop computers, UK mobile phone adoption has been steadily growing over the past few years. In fact, smartphones last month overtook laptops as the country’s most commonly used internet devices, while since 2014 the percentage of UK adults using a computer to go online has dropped ten points to 71%. During the same timeframe, the percentage of people using tablets has risen from 39% to 45%, and smartphones from 61% to 65%.

    As seen above, it’s a trend particularly noticeable in older age groups, where takeup of mobile devices began more slowly but is now accelerating at a significant rate. In 2011, just 1% of those aged 55 and up owned a tablet, while that figure today has risen to nearly 40%. Our own research shows that 71% of those aged 45 or older now use a smartphone or tablet at least once a day, 75% use one at least once a week, and fewer than 1 in 5 people use either device “less than a few times a year.” What’s more, while we observed that usage does decline as age goes up, more than half of those aged 65 and up still use a smartphone or tablet on a daily basis.



    Amidst all the talk of today’s digitally proficient, frequent-spending millennial users, some might question why there needs to be such focus placed on the more mature market. Yet, in truth, alongside the primary driver of their rising smartphone and tablet usage, there are a number of factors that mean businesses should be bringing the considerations of over-45s into better focus when crafting digital solutions.

    Representing over a third of the UK population (35%), it’s a relatively large user group that is also increasingly enjoying a great deal of disposable income, particularly after retirement. Our research indicates that a willingness to spend some of that income through mobile is certainly existent, and 50% of those we talked to will make at least one purchase a month using their smartphone or tablet. 33% will make at least one e-commerce purchase a week, while 44% of over-65s will undertake some form of smartphone or tablet purchase once a month or more.

    Yet, alongside a rising intent to use e-commerce services by much of the over-45 demographic, there still remains a significant portion of users, almost two fifths of those in the 45-54, 55-64, and 65+ age brackets, that do little-to-no online shopping despite owning and regularly using a smartphone.



    After talking to users about how frequently they made purchases using their devices, we also sought to get more information on the challenges and concerns that stop them from shopping online more frequently, or indeed at all. What emerged across all of the age groups we spoke to was a clear concern around security and privacy, with almost 60% of users stating that their main reservation with e-commerce is being unsure about how their personal and payment details are stored, used, and secured.

    While we know that from a technical standpoint, the large majority of websites and apps use data responsibly and often as an essential requirement to purchase, what’s clear is that in today’s era of security concerns and data leaks, there remains a lack of trust in e-commerce by a large part of this demographic. This is perhaps then, a user experience consideration, around how brands and businesses can better communicate the safety and transparency of their mobile shopping experience. Whether in the form of subtle informational messages, or a clearer explanation of why certain data is required, it seems more could be done to improve user experience and ultimately increase trust.

    It’s particularly notable that usability itself was also a prominently cited answer in our research, with a quarter of users feeling that the mobile apps and websites they use for purchases are generally too complicated to navigate and hard to read, a figure rising to 31% for those aged 55-64. When put together with concerns over data security and privacy, it points to a clear indication that while willing to use a smartphone or tablet on a regular basis, over 45s face a number of user experience challenges surrounding navigation, usability, and the display of information.

    We confirmed this sentiment with our closing area of research, which asked people to rate their general e-commerce experiences on how well they meet their needs and challenges as a user. Exactly 20% of those we asked believe sites do not consider their needs or challenges at all, while an additional 13% only slightly agree. This dissatisfaction, as seen in full below, is particularly pronounced in the over-65 age demographic, where almost a third feel that their needs are being completely ignored by brands’ e-commerce apps and websites.



    In all, our research has produced some fascinating results, and it’s clear to see that the rising usage of smartphones and tablets is especially prevalent in the over-45 age demographic. The better news for brands and businesses though, is that there’s a clear willingness from this group to spend money and time engaging with e-commerce apps and websites; a clear shift from five years ago.

    With that said, there remains a sizeable portion of this “older” demographic that remains somewhat hesitant to use smartphones and tablets for e-commerce, not through a lack of understanding or proficiency, but because of user experiences that aren’t fully accommodating their needs. Better clarity over data protection, payment details,  and security is paramount, but navigational improvements would also go to great lengths in attracting more of the demographic

    And, as we’ve seen during our ten years working with Domino’s Pizza, customers who shop online (versus in-store) tend to spend more per transaction, shop more frequently, have a higher conversion rate, and often cost businesses less to serve. This is no different in the over-45 demographic, and as their adoption of smartphones and tablets continues to soar, there has never been a more opportune moment to place their needs and challenges at the centre of your e-commerce strategy.


    We’ve been crafting award-winning, audience-specific mobile and digital solutions for over 20 years, taking advantage of user workshops, research, and market analysis. To find out how we could help your business benefit from an enhanced mobile or digital presence, or a full breakdown of these results, get in touch with us today.

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