E-commerce has focused heavily on the millennial market for many years. While there have been considerable successes in targeting this demographic, many businesses don’t realize that much more is still left on the table.
Specifically, e-commerce has failed to consider elderly users in products, design, and user experience. This is a shame for two major reasons. First, e-commerce entrepreneurs often don’t realize the opportunity costs of forgetting about the older customer base. Second, and easily most critical, is the fact that the internet was built on the foundation of universal inclusion, and websites should take measures to ensure they’re accessible – consider for a second (the term “world wide web.”)
Websites should be built and made usable for everyone, regardless of location, ability, or location. One way e-commerce brands can begin improving their business for this key demographic is to develop websites catered specifically to this population. This means building sites based on universal design and accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Elderly users can benefit from intentional web design with:
- Site simplicity & logical navigation
- Clear communication
- Dynamic elements, like resizing and changing font
- Including closed captions & transcriptions
The Powerful ‘Silver’ Dollar
This is an unusual blind spot for the e-commerce industry, considering older people control more than 70% of all disposable income in the U.S., and represent the most prominently untapped market. The senior demographic is expanding rapidly.
Not only does the older generation have significant control over disposable income, the number of those 65 years and older is also rapidly increasing.
According to a May 2021 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 16% (or about 1 in 7) of Americans are 65 years and older, reaching 54.1 million in 2019. This is a 36% increase over the decade — a rate that dramatically outpaces the population increase of those under 65, which saw just a 3% increase during the same period.
The 65+ demographic is projected to grow to 21.6% of the population by 2040, or 80.8 million. This is more than twice as many as were recorded in 2000.
This is due to several factors. The “baby boom” generation born between 1946 and 1964 is further aging into the 65+ demographic each year, and will be entirely migrated by 2029. Improving life expectancy is playing a role as well. The average American’s lifespan increased from 68 years in 1950 to 79 years in 2017.
WCAG is a manual of online accessibility techniques and success criteria published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C,) that provides guidance on creating perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust websites.
The WCAG guidelines are generally viewed as a tool to support web accessibility for users with disabilities who depend on assistive software, and face impairments that can hinder their use of technology, including visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive abilities.
Web accessibility design ensures websites don’t interfere with assistive technology or establish usability barriers based on specific abilities. However, these benefits significantly overlap with the needs of older people as well. Thus, when websites, apps, and software are accessible to people with disabilities, they’re more optimized for elderly users.
Age-Related Challenges & Impairments
In general, web accessibility is critical for websites, considering 26%, or 1 in 4 Americans, have a disability. However, according to the CDC, those disabilities are heavily concentrated in the older demographic. An estimated 2 in 5 people aged 65 and older have a disability.
Age-related disabilities that directly affect older generations’ ability to access the e-commerce space include vision loss (1 in 21), motor instability (1 in 7), cognitive decline (1 in 10), and hearing impairment (1 in 17).
Age & The Digital Divide
Age-related impairments aren’t the only issues for elderly users. The digital divide between older people and new technology has been a significant national conversation for several years.
Thankfully, the same web accessibility design standards that make a site accessible for someone with disabilities and impairments, also help address skill gaps with online platforms.
E-commerce sites can help to close the digital divide through the following:
- Create a logically structured website (e.g., menu bars fixed at the top, navigation flows top to bottom, tabs straight-forward labels)
- Consistent formatting and design throughout the entire site
- Predictable locations for shopping cart and submit buttons
- Streamlined ability to reach end-goal conversion with minimal requirements
- Make website text simple, brief, and informative
Aging & Hearing Loss
When someone’s hearing ability declines, audio for an e-commerce promotional video or product description can be challenging to discern. Background noise can be difficult to filter out and are distracting, and higher-pitched tones can go unheard.
Hearing loss begins to impact people around age 50 and increases each following year. Around 47% of those between the ages of 61 and 80 experience hearing loss. That number jumps to 93% for those 81 and up.
The WCAG guidelines provide critical solutions for those who are deaf or hard of hearing:
- Include subtitles, text alternatives, and transcripts for any video media
- Provide multiple reliable means of contacting your business besides a phone number, such as a simple email or messaging tool.
- Consider adding video calls with an American Sign Language (ASL) translator as a part of your customer support structure.
- Make text easy to read
- Avoid audio-only indicators, such as error or alert sounds. Every sound should have a visual alternative, such as an icon or color.
Aging & Vision Loss
An estimated 16% of those aged 65 to 74 have experienced significant vision loss; 19% among those 75 to 84; and 46% for those 85 and older.
This means this demographic has a more prevalent challenge to focus on near tasks and computer screens. Light and color sensitivity can also be impacted, leading to yellow and red being easier to see, while green and blue can become indistinguishable.
Those with low vision also require a higher contrast text-background ratio due to decreased sensitivity from pupil shrinkage. According to W3C, someone who is 80 can have as much as 80% less contrast sensitivity than a 20-year-old.
WCAG prescribes several ways to ensure those with vision loss can continue to utilize e-commerce sites:
- Ensure your site is dynamic, with resizable font and variable formatting
- Include descriptive alt-text for content images
- Allow for dark mode or color contrast changes
- Assure point or regard is maintained during zooming or resizing
- Make sure there is a strong contrast between the text and the background
Aging & Physical Decline
Age-related motor disabilities can inhibit an elderly user’s ability to navigate websites confidently. This includes difficulty using a mouse or trackpad, clicking small targets, and straining to perform non-ergonomic tasks, such as pulling down menus or fly-out bars.
Arthritis is estimated to affect more than 50% of those 65 years and older. Around 20% of this same demographic also experience tremors. Of those 85 and older, 4% are affected by Parkinson’s Disease.
The following tips can make browsing your website easier for older users:
- Design your user journey navigation for switch selection and simple keystrokes
- Test if your site for keyboard and cursor-only accessibility
- Optimize your design to ensure conversions can be entirely through voice dictation like VoiceOver
- Check that form fields allow for auto-fill capabilities with a user’s browser
- Make sure buttons and icons are large enough to target and click easily
- Animated features should be pausable
- Time-sensitive tasks should provide ample time to complete before session time-out
Aging & Cognitive Decline
Cognitive abilities diminish with age and can complicate someone’s ability to perform tasks they once found natural, including using a web browser or reading content.
Around 20% of those 70 years and older are believed to experience mild cognitive impairment. The prevalence of dementia greatly expands between the ages of 65 and 85. This can result in short-term memory limitations, concentration difficulty, distraction, and difficulty grasping large or complex information simultaneously.
Complicated navigation and poor formatting can increase the likelihood of older users getting lost or confused while attempting to make a purchase. Complex sentences and long passages with headings or images can make it easier for those with cognitive decline to get lost or disoriented while viewing a page.
A number of WCAG guidelines can benefit those with cognitive impairments:
- Predictable structure and site outline
- Multiple ways to navigate to end-goal pages (e.g., search and dropdown menus)
- Ability to force pause animations and flickering effects.
- Disable autoplay on video and audio content
- Avoid jargon and use straight-forward terminology
- Icons should be universally recognizable (e.g., stop/play buttons, hamburger menu)
Millions of dollars are spent strategizing how to attract key demographics. Grabbing the attention of these more traditional e-commerce spenders is competitive, and many believe large, easy gains are no longer possible. This may be true for younger generations, but an ever-expanding demographic of older users remains significantly untapped.
Making an e-commerce store web-accessible and compliant with WCAG makes using websites easier to use for everyone, from permanent disabilities to age-related decline to digital illiteracy. And when sites are easier to use, money is easier spent. Learn more about UserWay’s AI-Powered widget for E-commerce website ADA compliance here.