The owner of an online-only business recently asked me whether I thought social media should be used to reach out to retired people. Because he had received a number of telephone calls from older customers having trouble with his online application, his fear was that very few retired people were computer literate enough to complete a transaction on his web site or to use social media.
A recent Nielsen survey revealed that 17.5 million people aged 65 years and older now use the internet. Of that group, approximately half (8.75 million) use the internet to send email, read news, do online banking, and use social networks. (Citation: http://mashable.com/2009/12/10/seniors-online-habits/ ). As such, one would have to assume that at least 9 million retirees are computer literate enough to be high value customers for any online business. They can be acquired through the same combination of media outreach as other consumers online, and they can be serviced at the low marginal cost of an online transaction.
I also asked for input from a friend who held a strategic role during a formative period at Amazon.com (for a number of years Amazon didn’t even publish a telephone number for customer service inquiries, as you may recall). He harumphed, then opined that besides being more than capable of completing online transactions, retired people can be quite viral because they are likely to use their leisure time to share product and services information with their friends.
Certainly, some number of people from any given demographic – including retirees – will have trouble with every web site. But so long as you focus on making your site user friendly, don’t be afraid of reaching out to retired people through social media. They may just find you, and tell their friends.