Box clever – internet usage and the over 50s
July 9, 2010 Leave a comment
Recent reports reveal that an extra million people over 50 went online for the first time in the past year, increasing the number of internet users from 36.9million to 38.8million. People over 50 accounted for 53% of the increase with men in this age bracket accounting for 38 per cent of growth (722,000).
A spokesperson from Nielsen, who conducted the research, maintained that this increase was because people were now more confident about security aspects of using the internet, and more sites now target the over 50s. Certainly the first point is likely to be accurate, but questions must be raised about the second when older internet users almost certainly spend the majority of their time online accessing the same sites as everyone else (banks, retailers, travel, entertainment). Plenty of evidence exists (including regular updates from mature marketing specialist Dick Stroud (http://20plus30.blogspot.com/) to show that the over 50s in general are not highly attracted to “older” websites. The “Saga” generation is less the over 50s and more the over 70s.
Our belief is that what has probably happened is that older men – who have been less likely to use computers and keyboards through work than older women – are now (no doubt influenced by the women in their lives!) realising the advantages and catching up. This reflects the classic marketing growth curve of new product development which proposes a pattern of early adopters, to mass market, late adopters and then the laggards. The truly elderly now represent the laggards with Age UK estimating that 70 per cent of those over the age of 65 have still to use the internet.
The reasons for this appear to represent a mix of lack of ability, opportunity, confidence and support. Overcoming these will not be easy, particularly in these economic times when this may not be seen as a financial priority by public service providers. One potentially highly useful way forward was brought to my attention earlier this week at an academic conference on research methods.
Marcel Das from Tilburg University in the Netherlands was reporting on his use of the CentERpanel, an Internet-based research panel representative of the Dutch population aged 16 and over, administered by CentERdata at Tilburg University. He said, “Because not everyone owns a personal computer or has access to Internet, CentERdata provides a set-top box for people who do not have a computer, enabling them to complete the questionnaires online.” Apparently the set top box is the equivalent of a very simple computer enabling people to have internet access and to send emails. It is installed and supported by personnel from the CentERdata team who spend a considerable amount of time teaching people – particularly the more senior respondents – how to use the equipment.
This seems an excellent way forward as a means of increasing internet usage amongst a proportion of those – particularly the elderly – who currently are not web-enabled. The project is financed by a large European grant and the benefit to the overall community – through access to a large amount of panel data – is huge.
Time for the UK to think outside the box also?