Think older – Why tech design shouldn’t underestimate the power of the Grey Pound
A Savanta poll commissioned by tech design agency Beyond found that, of just over 2,000 people surveyed in the UK aged 65 or over, 58% said they had increased their use of technology over the past six months. This is hardly surprising – given that the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a change in day-to-day habits in that timeframe.
With many in the vulnerable older age groups needing to self-isolate – and restrictions making it harder for them to socialise anyway – there are fewer opportunities for the regular interactions that they rely on. This is where the importance of online technology, from video messaging to ecommerce, becomes apparent.
The research further reveals that, within the same demographic, 17% made their first video calls using a smartphone and 13% used their laptops to do their food shop online for the first time. Uptake in smartphone use is growing rapidly amongst older generations. Last year, a report on Internet Users in the UK by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the generation gap is becoming less pronounced. In 2011, only 20% of adults over the age of 75 were internet users, compared to 47% in 2019. More significantly, those saying they had used the internet ‘recently’ in the age group 65-74 increased from 52% to 83% in 2019.
And that trend is only going to increase, now that any trip to a café, restaurant or bar requires use of the NHS Track & Trace app (not to the venue’s own food and drink apps to encourage socially-distanced online ordering wherever possible).
All of the above evidence points to the fact that the pensioner generation is more tech-savvy than ever before – and where they haven’t been, they’re learning fast. This offers a rare opportunity for those working in many areas of ecommerce, technology and user interface design. A significant section of the potential customer base has all of a sudden come online (literally) at once. What’s more, they are mature in both senses of the word: for a start, they often have a well-developed understanding of banking and finance (certainly more so than the school leaver / student generation, who are the most digitally conversant). They are also more likely to arrive with a financial portfolio of savings and investments – and many are economically independent, defying the stereotype of the penniless pensioner as the ‘baby boomer’ generation reaches retirement age.
To back this up, insurer Prudential estimated that those who retired in 2018 could expect an annual income of circa £20,000, whilst Saga, the service provider focused on the 50+ age group, estimate that the demographic holds three quarters of the nation’s wealth – accounting for £320billion of annual household spending.
What is apparent is that the grey pound is now in the pocket of a new, digitally-aware sector of the population. They are increasingly comfortable in conducting their financial life – from banking to shopping – online. ‘We’ve seen a huge technological leap in the first half of 2020 with more change over the past six months than the past six years,’ says Nick Rappolt, CEO and co-founder of Beyond (speaking to The Drum). With the elderly seeing some of the swiftest adoption rates of online tech, he notes that ‘Companies need to ensure that their designs are inclusive and that technology is an enabler for this age group, rather than a cause of frustration.’
He goes on to name a list of basic requirements for anyone wanting to ensure their website is ‘grey pound ready’ and responsive to the demands of an older audience, such as ensuring fonts are of a good, readable size with a strong colour contrast so text and call-to-action boxes stand out. It’s worth pointing out here something that Apple’s legendary design guru, Jonny Ive, made explicit on this very subject: all of the above, he suggested, is simply good design. If you develop your technology to be user-friendly, then the emphasis should be on readability and simplicity of use anyway. For someone who perfected the user interface for Apple products such as the iPhone and iPad, there is no difference between designing for younger or older audiences. Simply design it well: if the user experience feels intuitive, then it should work for all demographics.
But Rappolt’s underlying message about the ‘grey pound’ is still worth reiterating: ‘This important, growing segment of society cannot be overlooked.’