Quelling that quarantine isolation: how retailers can help the elderly adjust to online shopping

In a world under lockdown, online shopping is set to become a literal lifeline for millions of increasingly isolated elderly people. In the UK alone, more than 1.5 million are now confined to their homes, most of them aged 65 and above. The government’s advice to this group is stark, leaving many with uncertain access to even the most essential of items. And while the UK’s biggest supermarkets are reserving online ordering slots for the vulnerable, research shows that many older people will struggle to navigate such vital shopping journeys alone. Similar difficulties will apply when shopping for less critical items, which may nevertheless bring them a little succour in these challenging times.

Almost a fifth of Britain’s population is aged 65 or over. Last year, the ONS revealed that 54 per cent of over-65s had now shopped online, with clothes being the most widely purchased items. Although this marks an impressive leap from just one-in-five a decade ago – a clear and worrying flipside of the statistic is that almost half of this age group has still never shopped online

Whilst online grocery shopping is the most pressing, similar scenarios will emerge across the online retail space, from purchasing a birthday present for a much-missed grandchild, plants for the garden or vital equipment for the locked-down home. This calls for dynamic interventions to make online processes as accessible as possible to support the needs of vulnerable groups.

Making shopping journeys accessible for the over-65’s may well necessitate a usability audit and a back to basics approach. Older people often have a less intuitive response to digital interfaces and many report encountering problems throughout the online shopping journey. It may help to consider a shopping journey from the perspective of an elderly family member with limited digital literacy.

  • Start by creating a reassuring onboarding experience. This may mean opening with a simple question, such as, ‘Have you shopped with us before?’
  • Follow up with a streamlined purchase journey navigation. Present clear buttons and information for next steps. Do not assume that users will be familiar with online norms, such as hovering over a help button to reveal tips. Make key elements such as buy buttons or cart icons clear.
  • Improve site accessibility. Ensure you have employed best-practice design to cater for the visually impaired. For example, providing a contrast between colours and textures and facilitating manual font size adjustment.
  • Create content that your audience will understand. When targeting an older demographic, it is even more important than usual to employ concise, natural language. Avoid slang or overly casual terminology.
  • Use content to emulate the offline shopping experience. Customers accustomed to shopping offline are used to being able to touch and feel products, or see the size of a product in person. Ensure your content is detailed enough to give them all the information they need. Plus, by laying out product benefits or providing shopping guides you could get one step closer to emulating the offline shop assistant.
  • Remember web and mobile best practice for formatting content. Clear formatting is important at the best of times, but with this audience, it becomes imperative. Present your content in a way that makes it easy to understand, with simple headings and bullet points to convey information clearly.
  • Make the product page interface accessible. Don’t assume users will know to hover over an image to make it bigger. Draw clear attention to useful features, such as a 360-degree icon to showcase a product, with textual explanations of how to use them.
  • Provide accessible in-person support. Clearly alert users to the potential for phone or chat support. You could even offer them a video chat with customer support where they can access one-click functionality to share their screens.
  • Offer easy to find information about delivery and returns. Provide frequent, concise and informative post-purchase emails on the status of an order and delivery.
  • Provide assurances about online security. Alleviate concerns about entering credit card details online and provide reassurance about hygiene and contact-free deliveries.

Overall, many baby boomers still express a preference for bricks and mortar stores. This is currently not a realistic option, but retailers can still help by trying to create as much of an in-store experience as possible. Above all, this means providing clear, detailed and accessible content and images, and access to meaningful and interactive help, where needed. For many elderly people, buying that toy for their grandchild or those shrubs for the garden online will be a new and possibly unsettling experience – fraught with uncertainty. The more reassurance and support you can provide, the better.

For advice on adapting your site for this new audience, or support in achieving the required adaptations at speed and scale, please get in touch

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