eCommerce adoption by seniors is becoming a critical strategic focus in retail. Particulary as it’s no secret that online shopping has seen massive growth in popularity over the past 14 months due to COVID-19. In fact, numbers show that this spike may have accelerated sales volume in the online sector by some 4 to 6 years (77% increase year-over-year sales in last May alone). These changes beg the question: what changes in each demographic’s spending habits are fueling this movement towards online shopping? Perhaps surprisingly, the early numbers point to consumers years 65 and older (previously the group that shopped online the least) as the fastest growing group among eCommerce shoppers with a 49% increase in sales compared to the previous year.
eCommerce Adoption by Seniors in Grocery Retail
This trend is expected to continue with 86% of people over the age of 61 expected to transition to online shopping due to the pandemic. Too often, we see companies assume that the early adopters for new digital channels are primarily young, technology-native consumers and overlook this generation. With this influx of new and previously unreachable customers, it is crucial that retailers in all verticals make the necessary adjustments to their online shopping platforms to accommodate these new buyers, especially given that this customer segment is traditionally known to be loyal shoppers with lots of disposable income.
While we strongly believe that all businesses should be considering how to tailor their business to increased eCommerce adoption by seniors and much of our advice can be universally leveraged, this article will center around one industry in particular – grocery. A recent study from Instacart reveals that in the last year, the number of Instacart sign-ups from shoppers aged 60+ has tripled with the pandemic. Beyond that, the same study found that those shoppers order groceries 25% more frequently and spend 35% more on household items than the average consumer. Instacart president Nilam Ganenthiran, Instacart’s president has gone so far as to predict that buying groceries online will be a “new normal” for this generation even after the pandemic. It would be a mistake to try to lump this emerging consumer segment of seniors who shop online into existing customer segments. This begs the question: how can grocery stores not only draw in but keep these new consumers?
Make it Personal
Personalization has proven to be a key driver in keeping consumer groups happy. This personalization should emanate across all aspects of the consumer’s online experience – from personalized email advertisements based on products they purchase, to the ability to filter by dietary restrictions, grouping of like / frequently purchased items and more.
More traditional, brick and mortar organizations only need to look at online grocery delivery services to see just how prevalent personalization is in the eCommerce space, as well as to see how much of a key tactic personalization is when targeting key demographics like seniors. Since the pandemic, Thrive Market (an eCommerce food retailer) has made clear strides in targeting seniors – adding the ability to filter by dietary needs and expanding supplement offerings on their site – and it’s paid off, as over 25% of their consumer base is now older than 65. Similarly, we’ve seen other online retailers like Freshly and Instacart as well as larger grocery chains like Texas-based H-E-B begin to offer more-senior friendly options, such as a Senior Support phone support line to call for assistance when ordering online, lists of easy-to-order essentials and smaller, lower-sodium portions. These retailers are thinking strategically when it comes to targeting this group of consumers, and it’s paid off. According to a study done by DigitalCommerce360, as of March 2021 this generation is 190% more likely than the standard consumer to begin using a food delivery service and 14% less likely to feel comfortable returning to in-store grocery shopping after the pandemic.
Mimic the In-Store Experience
The same study found that these consumers are 20% more likely than the average American to use coupons and pre-written grocery lists. To encourage consumers to shop online and make it as intuitive as possible, we highly recommend mimicking the experience that they’re used to and comfortable with as much as possible. Adding the ability to create / save shopping lists on your eComm site, sending virtual coupons and tailored email ads can go a long way, and we’ve seen just how impactful this can be with our clients. At a multi-regional grocery retailer, Clarkston assisted with building an eCommerce enabled website. When building the website, the customer was the first consideration and functionality to simplify the shopping experience was paramount. This shopping list functionality was built to be intuitive, allowing customers to be able to write generic products they wanted to shop for—similar to writing on a scratch pad—or add products from their store’s product catalog and receive additional information like pricing, size, and image.
An innovative eCommerce approach that we’ve also seen rise in the aftermath of the pandemic is partnering with CPGs. Kraft Heinz for example, has worked with multiple retailers to enhance the online experience of shopping for their products – through informative product videos, category grouping and in some cases, the ability to add several related items (like condiments) to the cart in a single click. This can help mimic the in-store experience and make it easier on consumers (especially those unfamiliar with online shopping).
Focus on Accessibility
Often times, shoppers over the age of 65 have some sort of visual or hearing impairment, which means it can be difficult to navigate ecommerce platforms. To address increased eCommerce adoption by seniors, retailers must put in the effort to create websites that are highly functional and accessible. It is critical to design a UX that is inclusive, rather than exclusive, to those less technology-native.
An easy first step in achieving this goal is ensuring that the platform is compatible with the assistive technology that many seniors employ when online shopping. These include screen readers, text readers, screen magnification software and so on. In addition, easy navigation on retail websites is crucial. This means eliminating hidden menus and shopping carts that could potentially cause confusion among shoppers and streamlining the buying process to be as straightforward as possible. Other worthwhile adjustments to keep in mind include a clear and easy to find search bar (many seniors prefer to search directly for what they want) and ensuring that all writing is spaced well and in a font that is large and easily readable. A study showed that only 55.3% of seniors were able to complete tasks on ecommerce websites (as opposed to 75% among a younger audience), which indicates that making a few of these simple changes can capture a previously unreachable segment of the online consumer market. Senior ecommerce shoppers are a rapidly growing demographic and by improving accessibility and usability, retailers will be able to position themselves to give these customers an excellent online shopping experience.
Another common way we’ve seen stores become more accessible and inclusive is via Buy Online, Pick Up in Store (BOPIS). We’ve seen huge success with implementing this new channel for our clients across industries, especially throughout the pandemic, as some consumers have become less comfortable shopping in stores. This more senior consumer segment has been a big part of the BOPIS shift, as they are 20% more likely to buy online and pick-up in-store – making seamless curbside pick-up experiences an important tactic in drawing in these consumers. To accomplish this, it’s important not only to implement BOPIS as an eCommerce feature, but to follow it up with large signage and clear, helpful instructions for these consumers to be able easily accomplish what can be a new and daunting experience.
Leverage Data to Create a Positive Feedback Loop
One of the biggest perks of increased eCommerce adoption by seniors (and many other consumer segments) is the increased potential to collect data on consumer behavior. Grocery stores already excel in collecting and building customer profiles using brick and mortar point of sale scan data. Now grocers today have an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum of this shift to online shopping by leveraging data collected into new insights on these shoppers, enabling you to better target moving forward. Companies like Kroger are leveraging their data to create a positive feedback loop and target this key demographic even further, through features like “Start My Cart” that build off of past purchases to better know what a consumer is searching for. The key is to focus on using the right tools and approaches to get data. Many companies use third parties to analyze demographic information and set targets. We also recommend leveraging email surveys and including a few demographic-related questions such as age ranges. Insights gained here can help not only to ensure you’re able to keep reaching these new consumers but can (and should) be leveraged more universally throughout your organization as well – helping to inform what products/assortments to sell and marketing tactics.
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Contributions by Kyle Larson and Noah Bidna