Why Don’t Older People Engage With Your Website?

Posted by John Spong, on 31st March 2020, in Usability

Online businesses are missing out on the full spending potential of UK’s most affluent consumers – yet the solutions are simple

The over 50s age group - Digiboomers - now makes up a third of the UK population and holds a staggering 80% of its wealth*. Test Partners undertook to survey this age group to look at their online behaviours and experiences and how these might impact their spending.  The results make very interesting reading for online businesses:

  • 1 in every 5 [20%] would spend more online if websites were easier to use
  • More than 6 out of 10 [62%] feel websites are not designed with their age group in mind
  • Slightly more [64%] say easy to use sites give them greater confidence in the organisations behind those sites

The fact that the majority of over 50s feel sites are not designed with their age group in mind is particularly worrying given that overall consumer spending by this group has grown on average by 4.4% annually for the past decade, compared with growth of just 1.2% for the younger age groups*.

An older person using a laptop to browser the Internet, with the help of a younger person

Sectors most likely to benefit if needs of over 50s are addressed

Clearly, many online businesses are missing out on the full spending potential offered by this affluent group.  With that in mind, the survey sought to identify the types of sites that are especially popular with over 50s - these sectors should take particular note of the findings – and indeed that would be most likely to benefit from enhanced business should they address the specific needs of their older users.  Respondents were first asked what types of websites they had visited in the last month. See the results below.

Type of websites visted by over 50s last month
Website type % visiting in last month
Banking 76.1%
Social Media 54.6%
Travel / Holiday 47.9%
'Other' Shopping 45.3%
Clothes Retail 44.1%
Price Comparison 43.1%
Food / Grocery Retail 41.9%
Cinema / Theatre Booking 33.0%
Insurance 27.3%
Other 7.6%

How the sectors currently stand on the ease of use scale

Respondents were then asked to rate each of the website types in terms of their general ease of use by indicating whether they found them ‘easy to use’, ‘difficult to use’ or ‘neither easy nor difficult’.  Mindful that 20% of respondents had said they would spend more online if sites were easy to use, this was a critical question.

Banking sites came out best and were rated ‘easy to use’ by 60% of respondents. This is perhaps not surprising given the frequency with which these sites are used, thus ensuring that customers get to ‘learn’ their way around.  However, a significant 40% still did not describe Banking sites as ‘easy’.  

Of the sites where respondents actually spend money, Clothes and Food / Grocery websites fared best being rated ‘easy’ by 45% and 42% respectively; whilst Insurance sites came at the bottom of the league achieving an ‘easy to use’ rating from just 26%.  However, as the chart below shows, with the exception of Banking, the majority of respondents did not give an ‘easy to use’ rating to any of the website types. This confirms there is substantial room for site improvement in all these market sectors and those companies that take the message on board will undoubtedly benefit from increased expenditure. 

The percentage of over 50s who describe these websites as easy to use
Website type % describing as easy to use
Banking 60%
Clothes Retail 45%
Food / Grocery Retail 42%
Travel / Holiday 39%
Social Media 37%
Price Comparison 35%
Cinema / Theatre Booking 35%
'Other' Shopping 29%
Insurance 26%

What problems are encountered?

The survey went on to ask respondents how often they encounter issues that make sites difficult to use. Worryingly, as the chart below shows, every issue listed is encountered by over half the respondents and most are actually undermining the online experiences of 7 out of 10 or more older users!

Type of problems encounted by over 50s on websites
Website type % saying 'frequently' or 'sometimes'
Unclear navigation/label headings 79%
Cannot find how to get help 73%
Meaning of icons / signage not obvious 72%
Buttons / clickable areas too small when using a mobile and/or tablet 70%
Unclear language / use of jargon 68%
Text that is too small 56%
Too many moving images 52%

These results are interesting, firstly because many of the same issues were highlighted in our Older Users Accessibility Survey back in 2017 [See What do older adults hate about websites]; and secondly, because if the right research and testing processes are conducted at appropriate points in a website’s ongoing development cycle, then most reported problems would never arise - and if they did, they will be quickly identified and fixed.  

So how can online businesses improve their commercial potential amongst the 50 plus age group?

When asked which single website enhancement would most improve their online experiences, the  number one choice was: ‘Phone numbers to get help’ [cited by 35%], the next most popular request was ‘More content for people of my age’ cited by 29% of respondents.  Of course, what that actually means, will vary enormously by site – as indeed will the specific problems that undermine ease of use.  However, as we said earlier these issues are not difficult to address, they simply require a commitment to deliver excellent user experiences for older customers.

3 key takeaways to improve your website’s performance with over 50s

  1. Implement professional User Needs Research that includes representatives of the 50+ age group. If the development is a new concept, then conduct user needs research before the build begins. However, for existing interfaces the initial research would identify current shortcomings and thereafter research at key milestone points will ensure the site stays abreast of – and even anticipates - evolving user needs requirements.
  2. Conduct Usability Testing as part of the development lifecycle and ensure that older customer profiles are always represented. 
  3. Conduct Accessibility Testing with older customer profiles and their accessibility issues in mind. See more information on Digiboomers and improving your website here.

*Source:  Sunlife