Seniors an overlooked technology market: report

  • TECH
  • Monday, 17 Apr 2017

Marilyn Lamm says she especially likes using her GrandPad for instant photos from her family. (Carrie Rengers/The Wichita Eagle/TNS)

Technology companies focus much of their product development and advertising on reaching young adults and teenagers. But they would be wise to not overlook those customers' parents and grandparents. 

A report released last month by Stamford IT consulting and research firm Gartner argued senior citizens comprise a vital market demographic and that tech firms could do more to meet older customers' needs. 

Aligning with those findings, an interview with about a dozen senior citizens conducted last week at the Stamford Senior Centre by Hearst Connecticut Media showed widespread adoption of digital technology. 

"Mistakes are made when marketing technology products and services for seniors is an afterthought," Andrew Johnson, managing vice president at Gartner, said in the report. "Tweaks are made to products and messaging without really understanding how the products are used in daily living by seniors, or what motivates seniors to purchase." 

Tech savvy 

Many of the seniors interviewed said they use a range of devices, including smartphones, tablets and laptop and desktop computers. 

They said smartphones are indispensable for communicating with family members and friends. "You've got to text to stay in touch with your grandchildren because they don't call," said Ira Kaplan, 74, who has three grandchildren between 15 and 20. "It's the only way I stay in touch with them. They don't call. They text – that's it." 

Others use messaging apps on desktops and laptops to stay in touch. Clement Champagnie, 79, enjoys Skype sessions with his 11-year-old grandson. "It works well," he said. "He pops up, and we talk. It's a fun experience." 

Paying bills and buying goods online also represents a popular practice among Stamford seniors. "It's wonderful to set up your payments on the computer, and you don't have to look back, except once in a while," said Rosie Frazer, 73. 

For their entertainment, a number of seniors have embraced the same platforms that their grandchildren favour. "I got a smart TV this year, and I was like 'Whoa, this is cool, I've got all these great programmes and movies coming in now,'" said Kay Hawkins, 75. "I don't have to leave the house. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Go, Showtime – I've got them all." 

Esthler Shklover, 86, said she enjoyed the home-entertainment system set up for her by her husband, Gregory Shklover, 92. "He's a smart guy, and I'm watching movies on my TV from the laptop," Esther Shklover said. "I'm just inspiring him to do something!" 

A growing market 

With adults 65 and older numbering more than 630 million worldwide, the group presents an untapped market in a number of sectors. 

Connected home technology would help seniors to remain active and independent in their own homes, rather than living in assisted-living facilities, the Gartner report said. 

"If technology and service providers can successfully adapt wearable devices to cater to the senior market, then they will revolutionise the senior health-care industry," Gartner officials wrote in the report. "However, providers must focus on transforming or developing new products and services that truly cater to the burgeoning senior market, rather than expecting older citizens to adopt existing applications." 

Some seniors said they avoid new technology because they are more comfortable with older offerings. Marge Laurent, 90, keeps a seldom-used cellphone in her car for emergencies, and she still uses a VCR to watch movies. 

"I'm a Luddite," Laurent said. "I'm the only person in Stamford without a computer, and I'm very happy the way it is. It's hard to change at this age... I couldn't do the new stuff." 

For those who are connected, cybersecurity ranks as a top concern. Ellie Guss, 83, has a smartphone, tablet, laptop and desktop. But she does not pay bills or make purchases online. 

"I don't feel secure; I'm afraid they're going to hack in," Guss said. "I do have automatic payments to the bank from my credit cards. ... I will pay extra to talk on the phone with someone." 

Others, such as senior centre group facilitator Tom Gale, 81, said they felt comfortable paying online. 

"What are you going to do – hack in and get my credit card and get a car?" Gale said. "I have no problem with that. We book planes and cruises, get items from Amazon, Loft, and pay with credit cards all the time." 

Gale plans to upgrade from his current flip phone to an iPhone later this year, and he said he would be interested in using it to try ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Gartner's report cited those two companies for offering services that could help seniors stay mobile. 

"I'm interested," Gale said of ride-sharing. "It's something that's very intriguing to have." — The Connecticut Post/Tribune News Service

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