Often isolated during the pandemic, elderly consumers — including aging Boomers — were at particularly high risk for COVID-19, and several food retailers and online shopping services introduced measures to encourage this age group to utilize online shopping services. 

Now that many seniors are receiving vaccinations, further action may be needed for e-commerce channels and retailers offering online grocery services to retain older customers. 

As described in Grocery Dive, seniors tend to be more hesitant to use online grocery services, and many face challenges related to technology competence, dexterity, eyesight, and internet or smartphone access. To help bridge the digital divide, some companies are therefore working with user experience (UX) designers to incorporate features that improve visual accessibility and ease of use. Others are introducing dedicated support lines and services that allow seniors to place orders by telephone.

Instacart, which reported that it saw a 9% increase in seniors using its service between the first and fourth quarters of 2020 (the largest bump among age groups), launched its own service aimed at seniors to assist them with their grocery orders. Per the article:

“Instacart launched its own Senior Support Service in late 2020 for people over the age of 60 in the U.S. and Canada. By offering a phone service, Instacart said that support staff and customers are able to have longer and more in-depth conversations, noting shortly after its launch that contacts with the Senior Support Service lasted on average 20% longer than traditional customer service contacts. The service aims to replicate the personalized, high-touch assistance seniors would get from friends or family, a spokesperson said. After placing one to two orders, seniors tend to need less support and go on to buy 25% more frequently than younger customers, the spokesperson said.”

Hartman Insights:

Understanding the specific needs and behaviors of seniors is essential to developing an effective strategy to attract and retain this group to e-commerce services and channels. The approaches outlined above have indeed been helpful during the pandemic, when COVID-19 risks were an underlying driver prompting many seniors to avoid shopping in person. 

To last beyond pandemic adoption, solutions will need to address not only concerns with accessibility but also product quality (particularly for fresh items like produce and meat), substitutions, and delivery fees. 

Going forward, the greatest barrier to online shopping will require much more creative solutions that integrate online and in-store experiences: Our Food Sourcing in America report found that when asked why they hadn’t placed an online grocery order in the past three months, more than half of Boomers (53%) reported that they simply enjoy shopping in person more than online (compared to just 35% of Gen-Z).

As found in Food Sourcing in America, many shoppers who shifted to online shopping during the pandemic said they were eager to return to in-store grocery shopping. In particular, they wished to return to in-store shopping for certain categories — particularly those that are fresh and highly perishable. Some shoppers said they simply miss the experience of shopping and browsing in person, but for most, those desires coexist with a recognition of the benefits that online provides in specific circumstances.

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