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How online retailers risk alienating older generations and are missing ‘safe instore’ options amid rush to digitise

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The shift towards online shopping risks alienating older consumers in the event of another lockdown – potentially costing retail millions in ‘grey pounds – while also cutting off revenue from ‘safe shoppers’ looking to visit the high street in a new way.

A survey by global commerce agency 5874 Commerce, finds that 63% of consumers see the increased focus on online shopping alienating older users, or those less comfortable with technology. Only 11% disagreed. A third of respondents believe ensuring accessibility for all shoppers should be retailers’ top priority right now, with only prices seen as significantly more important. 

From a commercial perspective the impact is also clear. Sixty-two percent of consumers believe brands are losing revenue by not reflecting the need of older shoppers in their ecommerce strategy. According to the ILC, by 2040 older people will be spending 63p in every pound spent in the UK economy – up from 54p in 2018.  

When it comes to safeguards to protect shoppers less able to use the internet, more than half (54%) believe that local delivery services are essential, with 46% stating that telephone ordering is a must. It also appears there was support for supermarkets offering early access, with a third of people stating preferential access to limited availability products would be important.  

Just under half of shoppers (46%) have reported that they use a website in the same way they have used a physical catalogue in the past and then ordered over the phone or in store.

It is clear that while an online presence forms a vital part of the buying process, the jigsaw that is the shopping journey continues to extend well beyond the screen.  

Rupert Cross, Chief Digital Officer at 5874 Commerce explains: “As retailers rush to adapt their online presences to tackle store closures, they need to ensure they’re not forgetting the older demographic at a time when this group needs access to products and services more than ever.”

Cross adds: “With the Government considering asking over-50s to stay home, there is a real risk of this most vulnerable group being unable to go out and unable to get what they need online. Thinking about the needs of different customers is vital when reviewing a commerce strategy. Considering the whole journey is essential and as needed putting in place those alternatives, including local delivery services and telephone ordering.”  

Collectable teddy bear company Charlie Bears is a case in point. Three-quarters of its customers are over 50 and are used to buying in store. ,Lockdown has changed all that. Will Morris, co-founder of Charlie Bears  says: “The lockdown has been a challenging time particularly for the over 70s, who were required to shield for many months. The risk of isolation is high and with stores closed, for many older people options were also more limited when it came to ordering online.”

He adds: “When we developed our new website in 2018, ensuring the website was interactive and easy to navigate was a core part of our brief. As well as meaning that buyers can continue to treat themselves during this challenging period, with 70% of our stories closed, having an accessible website has proved vital to our survival and success during 2020.”

Online making in-store safer

Separate research, meanwhile, finds that many shoppers are planning to use online to not only buy, but also to make the high street safer to visit.

According to a survey of 2,000 UK and US consumers, conducted on behalf of JRNI, an experiential relationship management (XRM) platform, more than half (56%) of UK consumers and more than a third (36%) of US consumers will be heading online to complete their ad-hoc Christmas shopping purchases. However, a fifth (20%) of them are planning to take advantage of online personal shopping appointments to complete their festive purchases.

Consumers voiced concerns about encountering long queues and crowded stores that make social distancing problematic. More than a third (34%) of consumers say they feel more confident in a retailer who offers pre-booked appointments. The main reason for this is they are seen to be  taking the safety of their staff and customers more seriously than those where ‘walk-ins’ are the only option.

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