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Seniors and Computers - Mining the Internet's "Grandmother Load"

By Robert G. Knechtel, Founder/Editor, Go60.Com

Mature Couple

No longer is it a source of astonishment to see seniors going online. Older U.S. adults are flocking to the web.

According to research by the American Association of Retired Persons senior citizens are the fastest-growing segment of the Internet community.

Even more surprising, the most rapidly growing crowd of web users is actually over 65, expanding today at an annual rate of 16%.

Senior Spending

The highest concentration of online buyers on the web is the 50 to 64 bunch - 27%. Overall, 68% of online buyers are over 40. Older consumers in the 55 to 64 demographic spend the most. Despite what the media would have you believe, thirtysomethings are actually outspent by 65 to 74 year olds.

With Wall Street taking a sour look at business to consumer internet ventures, could it be that many failed dot com high fliers overlooked making adequate probes into some of the richer consumer veins?

Learning Computers

Although many seniors have to learn how to relate to computers, once they overcome resistance, “they become the most enthusiastic, energetic users you’ve ever seen,” says Sandy Berger who hosts the AARP’s computers and technology site.

Senior Computer Use

Some 38% of the AARP’s members (7.8 million) own a computer and 17% are online. The principal reasons for Internet use are E-mail, and information about health, finance and travel.

AOL’s statistics also show that seniors are the fastest-growing group of Internet users, making up 13 percent of the total online population. Seniors who go online spend an average of 18 hours a week.

A recent survey done by SeniorNet.Org showed that while keeping in touch with family and friends remains seniors' top reason for using the Internet at 93 percent, making electronic purchases is becoming an increasingly popular use. In fact, 45 percent of those surveyed report online-purchasing as their third most common activity.

By 2003 its estimated that the number of seniors online will rise dramatically to 27.3 million, up from 10.7 million in 1999 according to Jupiter Communications, an internet research firm.

Older Population

In 1998 the U.S. population of seniors over 60 was 44.99 million and growing. There are 78 million baby boomers approaching their senior years, and who are the sons and daughters of today’s older generation. Since life spans are increasing and the prospect of eventually having to care for aging parents looms, boomers have a keen interest in how the older set is faring.

According to the National Family Caregivers Association of Kensington, Md., 21 percent of caregivers are responsible for a parent. Out of an estimated 25 million who care for parents in some fashion, its also estimated that 81 percent are women and 70 percent of them are between the ages of 40 and 59. Boomers are becoming their parents’ parent.

So, we’re not talking about a small demographic here. With increasing scientific and medical advances and lifestyle changes, a growing aging culture is here to stay.

Designing for Seniors

A word of caution comes from the AARP’s Berger. Seniors want simple, easy to understand information. Glitzy web sites will not carry the day. Simple, easily navigable design, free of clutter, is more appealing and sticky with older people. You’re not trying to dazzle teens or twentysomethings.

Corporate cultures in the Dot Com world are not in tune with the aging process. In the late nineties Microsoft launched a senior initiative that was later abandoned and Microsoft’s senior web site has been taken down. Also, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who was the Microsoft antitrust trial judge, is in his sixties.

Suffice it to say, the older crowd has yet to be adequately addressed with an e-commerce agenda tailored to its needs and interests.


Given all these considerations, it would be a serious oversight for any thoughtful e-marketer not to take aim at this financial powerhouse of a populace with time on its hands.

Opportunities are legion. One of the greatest fears among older adults is eventually being warehoused in a nursing home. The Internet is a powerful tool enabling online seniors, and their friends and loved ones, to access vital information, services and products designed to extend the span of independent and productive living. Now, there’s a compelling need if there ever was one. The AARP says 85% of seniors want to live independently in their own homes as long as possible.

Dot-Comers take heed! Your grandparents offer a mother load of web traffic. They’re more affluent than you and have time to magnify the web experience to fulfill a myriad of requirements. They’re energetic, enthusiastic and grateful web users once they’ve been bitten by the computer bug. Abandon your cultural stereotypes!

Hey, don’t go west all you hip young web savvy people. Go mine the “Grandmother Load” instead.


Robert G. Knechtel 65 is Founder of Go60.Com, a web site devoted to seniors. The AARP has had this to say about Go60.Com. “Go60 is an online magazine covering every aspect of the 60+ American’s life – health, career, travel, retirement, this site has it all. The site presents its information in a lively and accessible format. Very well designed both visually and ergonomically, Go60 is full of pertinent information for anyone, no matter what you are doing with your later years. “

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