How COVID helped cure a certain generation of technophobia

How COVID helped cure a certain generation of technophobia

What’s in this article:

  • As work, shopping and just about everything else has gone remote, or at least offered a remote/mobile option, older generations have begun to overcome their technophobia
  • As older generations become more comfortable using technology, they’ll be more apt to shop online – since the pandemic, 45 percent of Baby Boomers say they’re shopping online more
  • To engage this untapped market, brands need to ensure they’re offering the online features, support and purchasing options this generation needs and values

If your phone or computer is giving you trouble and you can’t figure out what’s going on, ask a child to fix them. At least, that’s how the saying goes. Like other popular anecdotes, there’s some truth behind it. While there are, of course, exceptions, younger people are more apt to use and feel comfortable with all of the latest technologies. That’s why ads and features are generally targeted towards them.

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Since COVID-19 first arrived, the younger population has been using their technology even more — but they aren’t the only ones. As work, shopping and just about everything else has gone remote, or at least offered a remote/mobile option, older generations have begun to overcome their technophobia. And that’s great news for e-commerce brands.

What is technophobia?

Defined as a fear, dislike or avoidance of new technology, technophobia can result when someone feels like they don’t fully understand how something works — like a computer or new device. The person may also believe the technology could pose a danger or risk of malicious misuse.

Like with anything, the more someone uses an item, the more comfortable they become with it. Generally, newer technologies are first embraced by young adults and teens, followed by younger children. So, where does that leave the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers? For many in these generations, their refusal or avoidance of technology has made them the definition of technophobia. That is, until a global pandemic changed everything, including these generations’ perception and usage of technology.

Impact on technology usage

Online platforms ranging from Zoom to YouTube have all seen increased traffic since the pandemic began. People are spending more time at home, many with less to do, so that uptick is to be expected. Internet services have seen rises in usage from 40 to 100 percent, compared to pre-lockdown levels. Many began working from home, requiring them to learn how to manage everything remotely — and becoming comfortable with a variety of technologies was a large part of that. Not only were they using technology more, the number of those with smart devices also increased.

In 2019, 93 percent of Millennials, 90 percent of Gen Xers, 68 percent of Baby Boomers and 40 percent of the Silent Generation owned a smartphone, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults. As of February 2021, 96 percent of people ages 18 to 29 have smartphones, 95 percent for ages 30 to 49, 83 percent for ages 50 to 64 and 61 percent for those 61 years old and older.

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What that means for e-commerce stores

As older generations become more comfortable using technology, they’ll be more apt to shop online. Since the pandemic, 45 percent of Baby Boomers say they’re shopping online more. Product categories seeing the most growth in purchases from this generation include pet supplies, clothing, personal care, and groceries. On average, consumers 65 and older spent a total of $1,615 online from January through October 2020, which was a 49-percent increase from the previous year. That made them the fastest-growing group of online shoppers. Their frequency of purchases also climbed more than 40 percent.

Shipping services are also attracting more boomers, with 61 percent of people in this generation saying they’ve used delivery services (ex. Shipt or Amazon Prime) more due to COVID-19. The option to buy online and pick up in the store is another method growing with boomers, with more than 60 percent being aware of this method — which is more than any of their younger counterparts. The main reason they choose to buy online and pick up in store is to avoid shipping costs, a reason that will still exist after the end of social distancing (which is the second reason they use this purchase/delivery options).

How brands are responding

Several companies are not only welcoming older online shoppers, but they are also tailoring their offerings specifically to this expanded market — which is exactly what they should be doing to capitalize on these consumers. Instacart, which offers a grocery delivery and pickup service, created a Senior Support Service for customers older than 60 years old. The service helps seniors learn how to order grocery delivery online, and the company says they brought on 60,000 seniors into the program within a month.

When a customer uses this service, Instacart has a team member assist the senior with setting up an account, adding items to their virtual cart and placing the order. There are also tutorials on key features and troubleshooting support. Instacart says they help an average of 2,000 seniors a day. With technophobia being a holdup for many, providing them an easy solution and support to purchase your products or service could be your way of creating and growing that customer relationship.

What happens next?

As we are all ready for a post-pandemic world, many are also left wondering what that new normal will look like. In this case, some may ask if boomers will go back to their old habits, which include making less than half of their purchases online. All signs suggest they will continue shopping online.

A study found 47 percent of Baby Boomers plan to increase their online shopping after the pandemic. Not only that, but boomers are about 14 percent less likely than the average American to say they’ll return to in-store grocery shopping once the pandemic ends. One factor that’s especially important to this generation is for online stores to offer free or low shipping costs, whereas the delivery speed isn’t as important as it is to younger generations. Brands that offer curbside pickup options will also attract boomers.

To engage this untapped market now and after we return to some form of normalcy, brands need to ensure they’re offering the online features, support and purchasing options this generation needs and values. If your brand doesn’t, rest assured, one of your competitors will.

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