From over 50s' avid internet use to our reluctance to pay on mobile – how Brits really use and feel about media in 2016

Ofcom’s annual Adult Media Use & Attitudes report this week, as usual, provided a fresh look at British society, with comparative data back to 2005 for some questions.

The data challenges three common stereotypes often used in marketing.

Over 50s are avid internet users

The over 50s account for half of British consumer spending. But marketing to the over 50s is still stuck in the past, assuming they are luddites. And advertising to this group ranges from twee to insulting.

(Note this image served to me for being over 40 might be a trifle too far – but standard stock photography if you look for ‘older people iPad’ is pretty bad.)

Yes digital media use skews young. But that is very different from assuming that over 50s don’t use the internet heavily.

Here are four facts that should shake us into taking older people seriously online:

1. Two thirds of 65-74 year olds use the internet

In fact only among the over 75s does internet access fall to less than half of the population.

2. Some 3 million over 75s use the internet

This is an increasingly wealthy group that is largely ignored by digital marketing.

3. The over 55 users check their platforms every day

This group is a major user of social. Alright it’s not Snapchat, but for 88 per cent it’s Facebook that makes up their main social use. Who is marketing to these people?

4. Tablets rule

Older groups are the big fans of tablets with 31 per cent of 65-74s using them, and 15 per cent of over 75s. This might explain why a few months ago YouGov found Skype, smartphones and the iPad as the most loved technologies of the 21st century. Have you ever got over-60s user testing your site on tablets?

OK, so what else do we have?

People comfortably switch devices when buying

Ofcom shows that mobile continues to assert its dominance, with desktop computers now less popular than mobile, tablets and laptops – down to less than one in six people using them for general web use.

And increasingly search is happening on mobile – with over a third of search happening on mobiles and another 20 per cent on tablets.

But something happens when people want to buy something or pay a bill.

Over 80 per cent of people now buy things online. It’s an entirely mainstream and unremarkable activity, as is using a smartphone. But buying things on a smartphone is another matter.

Over half of transactions happen on a laptop or desktop. People still fire up the desktop in the corner of the sitting room, or open up the laptop to buy things.

There’s a fairly obvious reason for this. While our mobiles are always to hand, it’s hard buying things, even on well mobile-optimised sites. Choosing things is easy. But paying is difficult.

Filling in payment forms is boring – it requires at least seven fields of address and bank details filled in. So we happily switch devices to somewhere we can easily type in our details, unless it’s an app that we are going to use regularly (hello Ocado and Uber) which can save our details.

The challenge here for marketers is that while the influence of mobile is huge, it’s hard to measure. If customers never log in on mobile, marketers have difficulties to measuring mobile influence on their sales. Especially if they continue to measure on last-click, something that is all too common.

But with Deloitte estimating that 36 per cent of retail sales are mobile influenced, this is something that marketers can’t ignore any longer.

Side note: one small suggestion from a UX friend. Add an ‘email this to myself’ button on your website. People do this anyway, but you’ll be able to track people switching devices. Great nugget.

What about the incredible dominance of Facebook and Google?

For all the talk of new social networks, and the travails of Twitter, Facebook and Google are completely dominant:

  • Four of the top five social networks are owned by Google (YouTube) or Facebook (FB, Whatsapp, Instagram).
  • 92 per cent of people use search engines, overwhelmingly Google, and recognise search results as hugely important.
  • 84 per cent of internet users consider Facebook their main profile, with another 7 per cent naming Instagram and WhatsApp.
  • Two thirds of adults use social media more than once a day. For a quarter of users it’s more than 10 times a day.
  • Instant messaging, predominantly through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, is as mainstream as traditional social – used by 78 per cent of people.

This dominance extends everywhere – across social classes, ages and gender.

In fact it’s probably easier to look for areas where they aren’t dominant. Reviews from fellow consumers, from Amazon to TripAdvisor, are one of the few areas where Google-Facebook are lagging.

And finally...

One small watershed this year. 2015 was the first year when more people said that their mobile phone would be their most missed device, overtaking the TV.

TV may not be dead – but it’s having to share a lot of attention now.

Ofcom’s annual Adult Media Use & Attitudes report is a trove of insights and unbiased research – with no agenda. Download it and check it out for yourself here.

Rob Blackie is director of social at OgilvyOne. He tweets @robblackie_oo

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