My topic should relate to many people, if not for work, then in their personal lives (e.g., family and friends). I don’t know all the facts and figures on what older consumers do online. This discussion was an opportunity to hear the thoughts and opinions from a diverse group. Thanks to all for a very engaging discussion. Participants included our hosts from Visa Worldwide Pte Ltd, tech start-ups, education (teachers and students), gaming product UX, art design plus consumer research.
The rise of digital currency and its myriad ways to pay promise boundless convenience to those who are aware, equipped and willing to embrace a cashless (or at least a less cash) society. But what about consumers who want the familiarity of physical currency, or established physical transactions (e.g., over the counter, cheques, NETS)? How can you help individuals go from “I would like that,” to “I will pay for that online” when online or mobile payment would be a more convenient option.
A recurrent theme in my work around ageing is that latent and not explicit needs have greater influence on consumer behaviour. If you want to pitch something to consumers, you better figure out what makes them tick. Explicit needs are easier to identify but what older consumers really want can be less tangible and rooted in what has purpose and meaning in their lives. With a lifetime of perceptions, preferences and values driving behaviour, the customer experience (CX) has to go deep with a narrative beyond explicit needs and monetary value. If you don’t get this first part right, easier ways to pay won’t make a difference.
The older consumers we are talking about here are those with resources and in control of their own lives. They make their own purchase decisions on products and services. We are not talking about seniors in care or needing social support. Such cases would be addressed by different services and the topic of a different discussion.
5 broad discussion points
- Trust issues and systems
The 2008 crisis caused a major loss of consumer confidence in the finance industry. For older workers and retirees who incurred pension and other losses, a collective bad memory cast a long shadow of doubt over the finance industry. Adding to such feelings are scenarios such as banks charging for paper statements and cheques, giving affected customers no choice but pay to keep modes of engagement that work for them. Beyond business practice, internet security risks often feature in the media (invariably the worst cases) reinforcing perceptions by older consumers that dealing with money online is inherently risky.
With the above, the discussion group recounted what they have heard from older adults. We can’t validate anecdotal evidence but if there are older consumers who believe so (perception is reality) then encouraging adoption of digital currency requires education beyond the task level. Consumers (and not just older ones) may not understand how systems work, nor why products and services frequently demand attention by email (valid notices are mixed up with spam), pop ups (seen by some as viruses) or seemingly endless prompts to update apps (seen as problems with the system).
Consumers are left to draw their own conclusions between the positive messages from service providers and cautionary ones from respected media. In such situations the easiest thing for customers to do may be nothing (status quo bias). A good product or service is thought of as one that understands you and works the way you do. Prompts for frequent updates or changes detract from any perceived value and make being dismissive of the product or service becomes the easier path to follow. Trust issues are based on multiple factors so gaining the trust of potential customers will need multiple touch points.
- Implicit assumptions
In Singapore with one of the world’s highest rates of Internet usage (81% population 2016) and mobile penetration (149% 2016), you could assume just about everyone is connected. Seniors are web savvy but to what extent, or to what application? Contradictions abound. Seniors chatting away in WhatsApp groups may still hold on to their bank passbooks. Friends and colleagues tell me their parents have taken to online shopping like ducks to water. From my healthcare work I hear from patients and practitioners that remote healthcare or “telehealth” is not popular, at least in the areas I was involved (e.g., diabetes management). Of course online shopping has more appeal than managing chronic conditions so a one size fits all approach will not work. How would varied approaches translate into UX? What does it mean for the individual poking away at their computer or device? A retired accountant who had run his own successful firm once told me he kept busy by doing pro bono work for charities. He also took on the challenge of doing so by computer but when punching in the numbers he was inclined to press the return key 3 times “just to be sure.”
Appealing to familiarity or practicality can mean two very different experiences for older consumers. With money matters, familiarity has connotations of traditional counter banking services and the personalized interactions and relationships that went with it. Practicality with DIY services (online payments) logically should carry the appeal of convenience, but I have seen convenience fail as a compelling benefit in healthcare. Patients can easily go to hospitals and clinics and hand themselves over to practitioners. Patients also walk away with something tangible as proof of the transaction, even if only a queue ticket number (patients want something physical to takeaway). Back to money matters, bank customers here still update their bank passbooks when e-statements and/or smartphone app could be a more practical interface. In theory an online or mobile solution would be more efficient. In practice the familiarity of the passbook could make for good place to start in thinking about retail banking UX. Referencing the familiar is a good way to pitch new ideas.
- Attitudes to spending
India’s move towards a cashless economy was highlighted as an example of how developing nations are pushing ahead with digital currency. India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) essentially debits money from your bank account, and transfers to the recipients account instantly and securely. MFS Africa is another system, and works with normal mobile phones.
Whether Narendra Modi’s surprise demonetization will successfully push a cash-based population into a digital economy is a work in progress. My thoughts are radical changes are more easily accommodated if you perceived you have time to make them, and are IT savvy. For those with less time (older = fewer years left) and are less IT savvy, radical changes could cause anxiety which in turn could prompt irrational decision making.
Once someone no longer earns a salary, attitudes to spending can change. Previously looser purse strings tighten even with sufficient resources. Questions of “do I have enough money?” and “how long will I live and in what health condition (cost implications)?” come to mind. Many older adults want to simplify their lives but needs and wants do not go away. Motivations move towards having fewer but better, especially things that have meaning. Unlike younger consumers with steadily increasing incomes and desire or pressure to spend it, older consumers are more likely to have got the desire for “more stuff” out of their systems. Older consumers have the will and means to cherry pick, which includes choosing nothing if no options satisfy. Motivating them to purchase must be easy but also must be clear as to why they would do so.
- Compelling benefits
The compelling benefits of products and services for older consumers can lie in values other than money. Tradition and heritage as values suggested in discussion are factors for sure, perhaps more to do with how product and services were more personable when people were dealing with familiar faces and customers felt they were heard and understood. Dialogue with service staff gave customers confidence their transaction are taken care of with confirmation in familiar language. Human touch points resonate with older customers so how would new services such as Amazon Go with no lines and no checkouts fare? Not wanting to look foolish can be a powerful inhibitor with older Asian’s but this does not mean they won’t take to new ideas. The key is having compelling benefits and how they are pitched.
Older consumers are interested and willing when products and services align with their needs.
With resources and the kids grown up, money for older consumers can be less about their net worth and more about empowerment and to access what matters to them. From HDB studio apartments to landed properties, older adults are directing their time and energy towards making the most of each day, for work, learning or just having fun. On a retirement project one Auntie said “I don’t have to worry, my friends told me to SKI (Spend Kid’s Inheritance).” Anything that supports the older consumer’s desired lifestyle is more likely to get their attention. In this context a compelling benefit of easier ways to pay online could be less of their valuable time is taken by mundane essentials, such as paying for groceries or bills.
- So now what?
Talk of trust, assumptions, attitudes and compelling benefits is well and good but what does it have to do with UX? These less tangible attributes are a key part of a foundation for a value proposition UX must capture and present to the customer. Different industries have different requirements and you will have to work out your particular requirements (or propose as a topic for discussion at the next meet up). As a start a cheat sheet from discussant’s inputs include….
- Start easy. Engage customers with a low risk proposition spending a few dollars at a time.
- Start sooner. Frank by OCBC targets younger customers with easy to swallow advice. The same/similar approach could work for older customers if pitched appropriately.
- Gamification to system. We are talking about education here. An onboarding or learning curve to online/mobile payment.
- Access experience. The risk of bad first experiences is the customer once bitten will be twice shy.
- Last mile adaptation. It doesn’t matter how technically clever a system is if the customer cannot easily use it. Osaifu-Keita (“Wallet Mobile”) has been used in Japan for over 10 years showing system mass adoption is possible.
- Herd mentality. Groupthink can be tapped on for positive behaviors (or drive negative one if not well managed). Appeal depends on who is leading the herd. Uncle Sim has been demonstrating how easy Visa payWave is on TV and online.
- Ease of use plus confidence. Two sides of the same coin and related to perception and cognitive ability. Note most people will make greater physical effort than cognitive effort. On a way finding project, a fit and able auntie told me she avoids the MRT if taking it involves two or more changes. Her alternative route is more complex but being familiar is an easy alternative.
- Signal vs. Noise. Give customers a clear path to their desired purchase. Avoid feature creep or temptation to add more touch points for billing. As one discussant noted “Help not scalp them!”
- “Hero Design.” In context to this discussion this means predictability, consistency and avoiding surprises. More choice does not necessarily make for happy customers.
- Physiological limitations. We’re talking about older consumers here so issues like content and screen legibility (content logic and graphics) or dry fingers struggling with capacitive touch sensors are a reality. The customer’s own device is part of the whole experience.
The concerns of older consumers around digital currency are not attributed to the idea itself, rather to the complexities around it (e.g., the daily dose of “bad” news on TV). Add in demographic variations in market needs and wants and you are now talking about educating any consumer to better use online or mobile payment. Newbies need a good introduction; confident users may need better security awareness. I am Gen X and rightly or wrongly I believe my smartphone is not as secure as my computer and this perception influences what I used them for.
As previously noted there won’t be a one size fits all answer, rather there will be commonalities in approaching different market segment needs and wants. In the case of older consumers, they are as diverse as any other demographic and more than willing to vote with their wallets. This write-up is not a how-to guide; it is more of a stone thrown into the pond to see where the ripples go. Design to meet the needs and wants of older consumers is a growing narrative and while millennials and centennials seem to get a larger share or marketing budgets for now it is still the silver market with a larger disposal income.
Further general reading
What Makes Us Tick? Hugh Mackay
A Cashless Future Is The Real Goal Of India’s Demonetization Move
Startup Fuels Africa’s Mobile-Payment Boom
Simplicity Wins over Abundance of Choice