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Seniors Still Lukewarm on Web Activity

Seniors show tepid online engagement, even as more join in for certain activities

March 26, 2013

Marketers regard the 65-and-older population as a sleeping giant when it comes to digital usage. And for now, at least, the giant still mostly dozes.

Just about half of US seniors use the internet, and those who do spend less time at it than younger adults, according to a new eMarketer report, “Seniors Online: Venturing Further Into Digital—But Not Too Far.”

Although a majority of seniors have mobile phones, comparatively few have smartphones. And while there may be talk of old folks interacting with grandchildren on Facebook, social networking penetration among seniors is low.

Key eMarketer Numbers—US Seniors, 2013

For media usage, TV is still the medium that matters most for seniors, far more so than for younger generations.

In Q4 2012, seniors averaged 220 hours and 55 minutes per month watching traditional TV, according to Nielsen. That was nearly twice as high as the figure for 18- to 24-year-olds and well above the 156 hours and 24 minutes average for the total population ages 2 and older.

Monthly Time Spent Using Select TV/Video Media or the Internet Among US Consumers, by Age, Q4 2012 (hrs:mins)

Despite their generally tepid engagement with digital media, ecommerce is one online activity that makes practical sense for this age group, given that they have greater difficulty getting around. They’re also accustomed to buying through catalogs, and many find buying online a natural extension of that practice.

eMarketer’s estimate of online buyer penetration among internet users puts the figure at 63.7% for the 65-and-older population by the end of 2013. That’s lower than the average for internet users ages 14 and above (73.0%) overall, but not dramatically so.

US Online Buyer Penetration, by Age, 2010-2016 (% of internet users in each group)

Still, seniors who do use ecommerce are not free spenders, to judge from a survey last May by Forrester. Internet users ages 68 to 88 spent an average of $297 on online purchases in the prior three months, vs. $449 for adult internet users in general. (Note that this survey was conducted online, which may mean its findings reflect the predilections of respondents who are particularly comfortable doing things digitally.)

When seniors do make online purchases, books, music and tickets are high on their shopping lists. In a survey last May by The Integer Group and M/A/R/C Research, 78% of seniors who had bought something online said they had made a purchase in that category, nearly double the number (40%) who had bought health & beauty products that way.

The full report, “Seniors Online: Venturing Further Into Digital—But Not Too Far” also answers these key questions:

  • What proportion of seniors use the internet, and how much do they use it?
  • How involved are seniors with mobile technology?
  • What is the extent of seniors’ engagement with social networking?
  • Which ad media are most likely to get seniors’ attention?

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

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