The way consumers engage with digital technology shifted when COVID-19 changed all of our lives. For the past few decades, we’ve perceived baby boomers as digitally incapacitated. But is this assumption true? Are boomers less digitally savvy than younger generations? And if they were—are they still?
Boomers have adopted more digital habits over the past decade, slowly but surely. And when the pandemic hit, the digital world suddenly forced itself into every part of their lives…
So are boomers the digitally incapacitated retirees that marketers seem to think?
Maybe some. But definitely not all.
Before 2020, boomers had already been steadily improving their digital literacy. When the pandemic hit, this improvement was catapulted forward—with boomers online now more than ever.
Behaviors shifted quickly: boomers began banking with their phones, getting on Zoom calls with their families, buying their groceries online for curbside pick-up, and more—all digitally.
Baby boomers might not be the most tech-savvy generation—but there sure are a lot of them.
Some boomers don’t even own a smartphone, while others have 5 or more devices in their home (Google Consumer Insights)! Still, we can’t compare them to the likes of digital natives like millennials or Gen Z.
But that doesn’t mean we should forget about them. When the pandemic hit, baby boomers who’d been slowly adapting sped up—and did so quite well. Now, in 2022, some boomers may still be analog (25% 65+ according to this survey)—but most are online.
Marketers should remember: the majority of boomers have gone digital—and this majority still belongs to the largest, most affluent generation in the US.
Boomers embrace digital tools for every day life
So, older adults have adopted more technology. They’ve done digital…but how? Which behaviors have changed? And which have stayed the same?
In 2015, Buzzstream and Fractl conducted a survey to see how different generations consume content—finding that boomers were consuming the most content online. And data shows that boomers have been steadily adopting more and more technology in the past decade (2017, 2019)—so they were primed for this change.
Now, they’ve moved forward from just consuming content to seeing the internet as a tool. According to Google, “digital seniors go online for a vast array of reasons, from staying in touch with friends and family (91%) to organizing their finances (87%) to improving their health and wellness (73%).”
We’ll look at four realms of digital behavior, and see which digital tools boomers eagerly embraced—and which they weren’t too fond of.
And we’ll provide some unique insight on Telehealth habits—since Health & Wellness is our bread & butter here at The 3rd Eye.
Ordering Online: Curbside & Delivery
Curbside initiatives already existed before the pandemic, but the speed and scale at which they were implemented increased exponentially once March 2020 hit. Walmart, for instance, has already launched curbside pickup with digital orders—with 1000 locations by 2017. But their Curbside & Delivery orders skyrocketed when COVID came into the picture—with app downloads increasing by 160%.
But you know all this… we all do. We saw it happen in real time.
What we’re really wondering is:
How did boomers take to curbside? Did they prefer it to online delivery?
To put it simply: Boomers loved curbside services. There was a staggering 431% increase in boomers using curbside digital services for picking up groceries.
You may think: well, obviously, they HAD to. But ordering groceries with a mobile app was still a prime option. And the usage of these services increased by 193%—which is a lot, but doesn’t compare to the 431% adoption of curbside services (Mobiquity 2020).
According to a survey conducted in 2020 by FIS, 46% of boomers changed the way that they bank after COVID-19 came into our lives. They’ve ventured into new channels of banking like online and mobile, adopting new behaviors since the pandemic hit.
Boomers embrace digital health
According to Mobiquity, 48% of boomers used telemedicine after COVID-19 came into play—compared to a measly 10% beforehand. We’re excited about this, though not surprised. We’ve seen similar trends in health and wellness marketing here at The 3rd Eye.
We saw the direct impact of the pandemic on the digital habits of boomers with data collected from a T3E client with Medicare eligibles (Fortune 100 Health Insurance Company). It showed as follows:
– An 11,000% increase in impressions as seniors shifted to digital channels for information
– A 19% increase in Facebook Engagement
– A 340% increase in click-through rate
– And a 51% Average RSVP rate for Virtual Events during the pandemic
So, boomers are online more…what now?
Digital Seniors vs the 25%
We know that boomers are more online now than ever, and we know that this trend has been years in the making—sped up by the pandemic.
But what about the boomers who aren’t online? Surely they exist…
A 2021 survey tells us that 25% of boomers 65+ report never going online (Pew 2021).
Google terms this majority of older adults “digital seniors,” deeming them “sophisticated, engaged consumers” & informing us that 82% of this group uses their smartphones daily (Google Consumer Insights).
Keep in mind: Google’s data is more recent.
And it reveals that non-digital seniors make up only 14% of adults 65+ and over—11% less than indicated by Pew’s survey in 2021.
This difference may simply be a margin of error amongst different sources of data—BUT it also indicates that the number of boomers who aren’t online is decreasing rapidly.
Changes in how Boomers perceive the internet
So, boomers are online now… but, has this affected how they feel about the internet?
According to a study conducted by Pew in 2018, boomers’ opinions on the internet had been steadily declining before the pandemic. In 2014, 78% of adults 65+ said the internet was mostly good for society; and in 2019, only 64% said the same—14% fewer in just 5 years!
Boomer sentiment about the internet may have declined—but despite this, 68% of them were using smartphones & 60% of them were on Facebook in 2019. So they were embracing digital tools, but some saw these as a chore.
When the pandemic hit, digital tools became life-savers rather than chores—and this changed the perspective of many boomers.
More recently, Mobiquity conducted a 2020 survey of boomers during the pandemic. They found that 88% of boomers said they’d keep using digital tools to improve every day life—even after the pandemic has ended.
Similarly, Google’s 2021 survey revealed that 70% of seniors said that they’d spend the same or more time online after the pandemic. Not all seniors are boomers—but this helps confirm our conclusion from the 2020 survey data:
Boomers’ adoption of new tech is here to stay—even when the pandemic has gone.
So, boomers are spending more time online, and boomers are enjoying digital tools more.
But… will this last?
Yes. Yes it will.
Looking at boomers’ digital habits from both before and after 2020, one thing is clear: we shouldn’t be underestimating the digital prowess of boomers—they’re savvier than we thought.
About The 3rd Eye
At The 3rd Eye, we take care of brands who take care of people. With over 25 years of experience, we’re a full-service creative agency focused on helping brands—and people—prioritize health and wellness. We’re experts at reaching multicultural audiences and maintaining generational awareness—helping clients brand with purpose and cultural competence.