It’s been a while since cell-phone obsession was something that separated the middle-aged from the young. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reports that more than 85% of adults age 50 to 64 now own mobile phones, and about a third own smartphones. Even those with, er, dumb phones are getting more adventurous about how they use them, according to a Pew study released this week. Almost 80% of phone owners in that boomer tranche now take pictures with their phones, and 72% are texting (though one hopes they’re better-versed in the shorthand than Phil Dunphy of “Modern Family”).
But there’s still a digital divide, it seems, when it comes to trusting the mobile phone with a transaction. Boomers are more wary of mobile banking than younger generations are, for example; in the Pew survey, only 21% of 50-to-64-year-olds had done it, compared to 45% of adults under 29. And mobile-phone retail also remains an unfamiliar frontier, as Shelly Banjo reports today in a Wall Street Journal story about “Shopping’s Great Age Divide.”
Banjo spent a holiday shopping trip with a family in Columbus, Ohio, watching their retail rituals with a sociologist’s eye for detail: 54-year-old mom fumbles around in her purse for clipped coupons, while her tween and 20-something kids scan the web for coupon codes, post photos of potential purchases to the Web to get friends’ reactions—and, generally speaking, leave the mall empty handed. One standout stat in the story, from a National Retail Federation study: Fewer than 10% of people aged 55-to-64 plan to purchase products via smartphone during the holiday season.
As Banjo notes, retail chains are putting a greater focus on smartphone-driven promotions, “hoping to capture the attention of the so-called Millennial generation…but fearful that moving too fast will alienate Baby Boomers,” who, of course, have much greater buying power.
Left unaddressed in both the Pew report and the Journal article is what might be keeping Boomers from jumping into the mobile-commerce world. Is it a distrust of the technology? Concern about courting even more retail-offer spam? Or my own bête noir, an unwillingness to spend more time than necessary squinting at a smartphone screen? Let Encore know why you have, or haven’t, embraced mobile shopping.
Definitely an unwillingness to spend lots of time squinting at a smartphone screen.