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April 13, 2021updated 11 May 2021 7:15pm

How Covid-19 has closed digital age gap

A new study suggests Covid-19 has led to changes in the way older citizens are using technology, which, Laura Foster argues, should cause brand owners to think again about how they market to more senior age groups.

When thinking about older consumers and their digital consumption, stereotypes about tech-phobic grandparents who refuse to buy smartphones or use internet banking often come to mind. Yet, while this has been true to a certain extent, the basis on which the stereotype formed is starting to disappear.

According to a report from UK-based market researchers Global Web Index, the digital gap between young and old is closing, with Generation X and Baby Boomer consumers adopting new online behaviours and platforms in order to stay connected during the lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. When comparing the amount of time Gen X/Boomers spent online on their mobiles each day during the third quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, the global figure (excluding China) jumped from two hours 29 minutes to two hours 52 minutes, according to Global Web Index’s ‘Connecting the Dots 2021’ trend report.

Data, based on the same time frames, also found the percentage of Gen X/Boomers that use a messaging app, or use video or voice calling features, on a mobile more than once a day rose from 53% to 61% globally.

The use of mobile payment features within the last month of being surveyed was up from 21% to 26%, while the use of finance apps and internet banking services increased from 40% to 44%, and the proportion that used online grocery shopping grew from 25% to 31%.

What these figures suggest is older consumer groups are overcoming their suspicions and – in some cases – willful ignorance of digital technology to be able to connect and continue to carry out their daily chores in a safe manner.

“Until March [2020], Facebook and social media usage were largely one and the same for Gen X and, especially, for Boomers,” says the Global Web Index report. “Our monthly visitation data shows older groups outside of China have embraced messaging apps during Q2. They have even embraced new platforms like TikTok, where ‘#over50’ reveals plenty of older creators weighing in on TikTok challenges, and plenty of younger experts posting how-to videos for older newcomers.”

With all this in mind, brand owners would do well to consider a change in approach for their digital and social media marketing strategies. The belief that it’s a young person’s arena, with a focus on Millennial and Gen Z audiences, is soon to become an outdated one.

There’s an issue here, however, as Global Web Index identifies. Despite Gen X and Baby Boomers offering their brand loyalty, not to mention their impressive purchasing power and advertising ‘receptivity’, these consumers don’t feel represented by the advertising they see. Just 13% globally said that they felt represented, and this figure dropped to 8% in North America and 5% in Europe.

These are shockingly low numbers.

Traditional media outlets have always been viewed as the best arena in which to engage older age groups, but the argument for this approach is becoming less compelling as increasing numbers get plugged in. These new digital behaviours are not going to go away; Covid-19 has – as in so many other areas – accelerated the adoption of this trend. It’s time for your brand to start targeting these silver surfers in earnest.

And another thing. As the wider retail channel starts to reopen in the UK this week, the much-discussed phenomenon of the ‘death of the high street’ feels more pertinent than ever, with the loss of numerous big-name stores in recent months. The swing to online shopping is only going to continue to fuel this. According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, the proportion of retail sales that take place online is rising rapidly in the country. In January this year, online purchases constituted 36% of all retail sales, up from 20% in the same month of 2020.

Ensuring your product is available in the right online spaces is vital, as is ensuring your own e-store is also up to scratch if you’re selling direct.

With the absence of the real-life experience of being able to visit a store, a new digital shopping trend is emerging, one Global Web Index terms “entertainmerce”. While GWI found the key drivers for online purchasing are free delivery (60%) and easy check-out experiences (43%), just under a third of survey respondents also want the purchasing experience to be entertaining.

In some parts of the world, live-stream shopping has taken off. Originating in China in the 2010s, practically all the social media platforms are developing capabilities for live-stream e-commerce on their apps. Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are all moving into the arena, while Amazon has launched Amazon Live.

While this may sound like a glorified shopping-channel experience, albeit digital, it’s been lapped up in China. With all the big names putting plenty of money and resource behind it, this is one online shopping development to definitely keep an eye on.

This article originally appeared on just-food sister site

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