Tech-savvy over-50s embrace mobile

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Posted by George Gabriel on 30 Jul, 2014

The mobile industry is expanding and growing at an incredibly fast pace, and adopters of smartphones and tablets are growing at an alarming rate within unexpected demographics. Researchers, Deloitte, predict that in 2014, the over-50’s will be the age group experiencing the fastest year on year rises in smartphone penetration across developed markets. The number of people over 55 years old accessing the Internet has jumped by more than a quarter in the past 12 months, fuelled by a surge in the use of tablets within this demographic. The Office of National Statistics states that over 80% of 55-64 year olds in the UK have Internet access and yet only 4% of those people agree that technology brands meet the needs of older people very well. The over-50s make up 35% of the British population, and have the highest disposable income of any age group so this begs the question, are brands doing enough on mobile to service a frustrated and overlooked demographic?

The technology void between younger and older mobile consumers is set to become negligible by 2020, with early signs already showing. Levels of smartphone adoption for the over-50s are set to rise to between 50% by year-end, up 25% from 2013. So with the over-50s expected to catch up with younger users within the next six years, brands must start taking the needs of this demographic more seriously when releasing products and services, but to do this they must first change their perception of the 50+ demographic.

Marketing on mobile to the over-50s

Over the past couple of years, it is safe to assume that wires have been crossed between the over-50’s demographic and mobile marketers. Older, more tech savvy users believe brands are focusing too heavily on younger audiences, with research showing older buyers often feel ‘overlooked’ and ‘patronised’ by marketers. This blurred perception of over-50’s often frustrates and alienates them from brands and could prove costly. Research from advertising agency AdMob shows that the over-50 market is far more lucrative for Apple’s iPhone, than the 16 to 24 group. “They [the over-50s] have the money and the inclination, and they know what they like. They want good-quality, reliable products and they are prepared to pay for them”. Based on these findings, it would appear that brands should be changing their out dated perception of how the over-50s use technology.

Digital Behaviour

To explain how the over-50’s currently use mobile, we must look at the different types of users within this demographic. Two different groups of users have emerged as the adoption of mobile technology has increased.

The first group, which leans toward younger, highly educated, or more affluent seniors has relatively substantial technology assets, and also has a positive view toward the benefits of digital platforms. These users are capable of using apps and most mobile/digital devices.

The other, which tends to be older and less affluent, is more likely to be largely disconnected from the world of digital tools and services, both physically and psychologically. This second group is not a representation of the over-50’s, but older consumers are concerned that brands still view them in this way.

As previously mentioned, the over-50’s are increasingly adopting smartphones/ tablets. However they are not utilising their full functionality, often just using the most basic functionality of the device e.g. feature phone functionality for an iPhone.  Also, whilst we have seen an increase in Internet usage within this demographic, Ofcom found that the older generation are significantly less likely than other Internet users to do a range of online activities including banking, watching or downloading TV programmes or films, and visiting social network sites or apps. From previous findings, it is likely that these statistics derive from a lack of support and understanding of the digital behaviour of older users. Brands should look at this as an opportunity, rather than an uninhabitable market space. Research showed that once the majority of the over-50s age group overcame their initial lack of confidence, they became and remained enthusiastic users.

Over-50s mobile usage

While older Internet users aren’t as prolific as younger users, research indicates that the older demographic is beginning to increasingly use the Internet, with figures showing that usage rates were up from 27% to 42% in 2013. This is further highlighted by the rapid increase of tablets being purchased by this age group, with media regulator Ofcom finding that the proportion of 65 to 74 year olds accessing the web with a tablet jumped from 5% to 17% between 2012 and 2013 – with further increases expected in 2014.

So why is this demographic drawn to tablets over smartphones and desktops? Research shows that older users are exhibiting typical digital adopter behaviour by using tablets instead of desktop computers (often skipping desktops entirely) and subsequently moving onto smartphones after becoming comfortable with tablet usage, effectively making smartphones an extension of their tablets.

Another factor of higher tablet usage could be due to the availability of apps that have the ability to enrich certain aspects of their day-to-day life. Some of the apps proving popular with the 50+ demographic are  Vouchercloud, Skype,Pill reminder pro, Idealo, Seniors Phone.

The rise and rise of the over-50s

It would be an over exaggeration to claim that brands have ignored the over-55 demographic completely, but research amongst over 50’s shows that they are frustrated with how they are perceived by marketers and app developers.

Older consumers believe they are constantly being reminded of their diminishing or inadequate faculties when it comes to technology, resulting in a barrier blocking their continuing up take of mobile technology.

They have the highest disposable income, more time on their hands, and an ever-increasing interest in mobile technology, making the the 50+ demographic a lucrative market place, which has yet to be properly tapped into by brands on mobile.

With usage levels of the 50+ demographic forecast to be level with younger consumers within the next couple of years, coupled with an ageing population, there’s no reason why over 50+ users cannot adapt to the breadth of technology currently used by younger demographics. However, in order for this to happen, developers must provide a more intuitive service, with utilities to support older users without patronising them. It now makes more sense than ever for brands to listen to their elders.

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