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For Digital Shopping, Baby Boomers Favor Desktop Over Mobile

Digital behavior still reflective of an older age group

Baby boomers resist acknowledging they’re no longer young—at the same time, they show their age in below-average adoption of some digital technologies, according to a new eMarketer report, “Baby Boomers in the Marketplace: How the 'Ever Young' Generation Approaches Shopping, Health and Retirement.”

Marketers may regard baby boomers as a market with money to spend, but while boomers may have more income than younger workers, it doesn’t mean they can spend freely.

In May 2013 polling for business technology consultant Infosys conducted by KRC Research and Vanson Bourne, two-thirds of US internet users ages 50 to 69 agreed “strongly” with the statement, “When making a big or expensive purchase, I search online to compare prices across stores or retailers.”

While boomers will conduct online research before making a big-ticket purchase, they are still the TV generation, and chances are good that a TV commercial initiated their interest in that product. When boomers do encounter online advertising, they don’t necessarily pay attention to it. In a March 2013 survey of US internet users by Ipsos OTX and Ipsos Global @dvisor, 36% of the 50-to-64 age group said they had watched a commercial online in the past month and only 11% of boomers had clicked on a banner or pop-up ad.

While younger consumers often conduct prepurchase research in stores, boomers are more apt to do so before heading out to shop—much as one would expect from a generation that overindexes for owning desktop computers and underindexes for owning smartphones.

Pew Internet & American Life Project polling in January 2013 found 12% of US mobile phone owners in the 50-to-64 age group had used those devices in the prior 30 days to compare prices in-store—far lower than the percentages of younger adults.

One moral to draw from this: A brand that targets boomers is apt to have the best luck reaching them in their prepurchase planning stage at home, rather than at the last minute in a store. And when boomers do see a marketer’s message, it’s more likely to be on a roomy computer screen than on a small smartphone screen.

Some of boomers’ shopping doesn’t entail setting foot in a store at all, as many see the appeal of ecommerce. eMarketer estimates that three-quarters of boomer internet users in the US—45.2 million people—will be digital buyers by year’s end.

Even older boomers—not a highly digital group in general—have caught the ecommerce bug. In a March 2013 survey for UnitedHealthcare, conducted by GfK Roper Consulting, 79% of US internet users ages 60 to 65 cited shopping among their online activities.


The full report, “Baby Boomers in the Marketplace: How the 'Ever Young' Generation Approaches Shopping, Health and Retirement,” also answers these key questions:

  • How do digital phenomena like ecommerce and showrooming fit into US boomers’ shopping activity?
  • How do boomers react to advertising?
  • Overindexing for health problems, do boomers underindex for health-related digital usage?
  • Are boomers voluntarily retiring early (as many hope) or not at all (as many expect)? Or neither?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.


Corporate subscribers have access to all eMarketer analyst reports, articles, data and more. Join the over 750 companies already benefiting from eMarketer’s approach. Learn more.


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