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Amid anecdotal reports of grandmothers with numerous Twitter followers and octogenarians with their own YouTube channels, the reality of seniors’ digital usage is more prosaic: A nonlandslide majority of seniors are internet users, and their overall digital activity tends to be modest in scope, especially in its mobile and social aspects, according to a new eMarketer report, “Seniors 2014: Beyond the Wishful ‘Silver Surfers’ Label.”
It is not a rare occurrence for seniors to use digital resources in their purchase process. But because seniors underindex for internet usage and mobile device ownership, digital shopping and buying simply are not standard procedure for them to the degree that is true of younger generations. That said, a surprising number of seniors are digital buyers. eMarketer estimates that 36.7% of the US 65-and-older population will make a digital purchase this year—a market of 16.9 million people.
Still, seniors lag behind younger generations in buying online. A June 2014 Harris Interactive survey found online consumers 68 and older significantly less likely than younger people to have made such purchases in multiple product categories. The conspicuous exception was prescription medications.
Seniors are also laggards in using digital tools to research possible purchases in stores. Even among those who go online, a below-average proportion uses the internet for this purpose. In a December 2013 survey of US internet users by Prosper Insights & Analytics, this was true across sectors ranging from apparel to furniture to electronics. Inevitably, medicines/vitamins/supplements was one of the few categories where seniors exceeded the average for total adults.
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