Digital experience for octogenarians

picture of an older couple

I have recently become aware of the barriers that are being placed in front of some older users when they try and use internet services. For them, the digital experience is shocking. My parents, 85 and 87, have recently downsized and together with my siblings I have been helping them with some of the admin of the house move. To say it has been an eye opening and frustrating experience is an understatement.

My parents situation borders into accessibility. My father has hearing difficulties, his eye-sight isn’t what it used to be and he has some cognitive issues. However, he would never describe himself as having a disability nor being disabled. He has used a computer for 40 years and the internet for 15.

There are over 3 million people in the UK aged 80 or above. At 70 or older there are over 9 million. This generation didn’t grow up with the internet and according to the office for national statistics, of the over 75’s, only 44% are online.

That said, those that are online do not lack competency. Many. my mother and father included, are frequent users of the internet particularly through social media, online banking and internet shopping. But the digital experience they have gives them problems, many of which will effect my generation and even the born digital generation that follows.

Major digital experience challenges for this generation

The biggest digital experience area that causes issues for my parents is security. Put in place for their own protection it has become a barrier to their normal day-to-day activity. As a result of moving home they have needed to buy various items and my Dad has an Amazon account. However, he has failed nine times to login and cannot work out why. He forgot his password and is now trapped in the password reset process with no way out – or in I should say.

He uses a PC and has done for years. Whilst he owns an iPhone he has never set it up preferring instead his old reliable Nokia. Bio-metrics are therefore not an option and so he is faced with an increasingly complex security protocol that he no longer understands. With nobody in Amazon to talk to it has fallen to me to place orders for him on my own Amazon account.

When my Mum tried to use the Royal Mail’s online post redirection service, she had a similar experience. She almost completed the process but wanted to use my dad’s payment information. The confirmation email when to his email account and because he didn’t verify the payment soon enough, unbeknownst to them, they were locked out of the online process for ever.

I called Royal Mail and they explained that this was a security procedure that stopped people fraudulently changing someone else’s address. It is a one strike and you’re out system and if you fail, there is no online recovery. My parents then had to go to the post office to sort it out in person – not ideal during the pandemic, nor operationally efficient for the Post Office.

What can be done to improve the digital experience?

These are complicated issues and I am not going to pretend to have the design solutions. What I can say is that where both services failed was that the feedback about what had happened wasn’t sufficient. In neither case did the feedback enable the user, my Mum or dad, to recover the situation for themselves. The digital experience might not be great but at the very least give the user the tools to recover the situation themselves.

In the case of Amazon, the password recovery process simply wasn’t clear. The verification on a separate channel, the reminders, the process, all were confusing and the process wasn’t clear.

If you fail the Royal Mail post redirect check, there is literally no feedback that tells you what has happened other than you have failed. There is no instruction for what to do next.

I doubt either process has been rigorously tested with users, and I think the chances are even lower that those users were over 70 or even 80. The tech-stack won’t provide the answer either. The analytics probably measure my parents failures as potential fraud avoided.

This group is worth investing in and the pandemic has driven even more of them online and spending. But even if you discount the value of their wallets, what about the value of the insight they offer. If your website passes the “Grandparent” test, you can be pretty certain it will be usable by everyone.

If you want help making your digital product fit for purpose with an older demographic, ring us on +44(0)800 024624 or email us at

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