Online Shopping is Here to Stay for Older Adults

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By Debra Berlyn – broadbandbreakfast.com – June 3, 2022

Summertime and online shopping can be easy – and safe – for everyone, particularly older adults.

As a result of the unexpected years of the pandemic, there has been a seismic shift in consumers’ adoption of technology to purchase products and services. There has also been a growing acceptance of technology by older consumers who were forced to adopt an online existence as access to the outside world around them quickly shuttered.

Today, the aging community is growing more familiar and comfortable with technology.

Consumers continue to embrace e-commerce, spending $871.78 billion in 2021 in online transactions, a growth of over 14% from the previous year.  The pandemic also served to increase these dollars, particularly among older adults who recognized the ease, convenience, and safety of shopping from home.

A significant overall force in the marketplace, the “buying power potential” of older adults, in general, has been growing in the past decade. In 2018, consumers 50 and older spent $7.6 trillion, accounting for 56 percent of overall U.S. spending.

For older adults, the significant shift from traditional brick-and-mortar stores to online retail continues to move forward. The 65+ community has jumped into the game and today they wield ever-increasing online retail power.

In 2020, many of those 65+ were averaging $187 in online shopping per month.  It’s also clear the online shopping habits that started during COVID-19 are not going to disappear anytime in the near or distant future.

Unfortunately, just as online spending has increased, so have the opportunities for fraudsters to build new tactics to scam significant dollars from unsuspecting online users.  All consumers need to have the proper tools to ensure they can feel confident when engaging in online retail.

In particular, older adults will benefit from having clear information on how to shop safe online.

Solutions for Older Adults to Engage in E-Commerce with Tips to Stay Safe and Additional Resources

Seven Tips to Shop Safe Online:

1) Always use a trusted online shopping “store” for your purchases and beware of phony online shopping sites that often reside on social media sites and may offer enticing prices.

Beware of phony online shopping sites and check out any unfamiliar stores with the Better Business Bureau. Consider trusted online stores like Amazon, which offers an A-to-z Guarantee for items purchased on their site that can help resolve issues with third-party vendors.

2) It’s best to use a credit card for your purchases.

If you purchase an item on your credit card, you can always then dispute that charge. Federal law limits liability to $50 if there’s an unauthorized charge to your account, and if you report it to your credit card company as soon as you discover it, they often will remove it entirely.

3) Make sure you’re on a secure site when entering financial information during your purchase transactions.

Always make sure you’re on a secure site before entering financial or other sensitive information. Look for the address bar “http” to shift to “https” when asked to input financial information, such as a credit card number. This indicates it will be transmitted securely.

4) Protect your privacy and security.

Engage the privacy settings, “cookies” choices, and clear your history on a regular basis to avoid unwanted marketing from companies.

5) Watch out for online “phishing scams” that can target older adults.

Scammers use email or text messages that look like they’re from a company you know or trust, such as your bank, credit card company, or an online store. Phishing emails request your personal information, such as a log-in or Social Security number to verify your account, or may ask that you update your credit card payment.  Then they use that information to steal your personal and financial information.

To avoid a phishing scam, carefully check the email address to see if it’s from the company (the email address is often incorrect or is off by a letter or two). Some companies have implemented email verification technology to make it easier to identify legitimate emails. For example, if customers see the ‘Smile’ logo next to emails coming from an @amazon.com sender, that will indicate that the email came from Amazon – not a scammer.

Click here to see if your email provider supports this technology. A dose of healthy skepticism is in order if you receive any unsolicited emails asking for your personal and/or financial information.

6) Keep this adage in mind: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Be careful of unsolicited email come-ons and special deals that ask you to “click here.” They can take you to illegitimate sellers or scams.

7) Report any scams or fraud that you experience online.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Report a Fraud, Scam, or Problem with a Company:

For additional information on online shopping safety, check out these helpful websites:

Debra Berlyn serves as the executive director of The Project to Get Older Adults onLine (GOAL), and she is also the president of Consumer Policy Solutions. She represented AARP on telecom issues and the digital television transition and has worked closely with national aging organizations on several internet issues, including online safety and privacy concerns.  She serves as vice chair of the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Advisory Committee and is on the board of the National Consumers League and is a board member and senior fellow with the Future of Privacy Forum. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.