More than ever before, seniors are using the web for business, leisure and social purposes. While it’s so often reported the overwhelming number of youngsters who are hooked in, the amount of seniors online is growing, and it’s not a market to be ignored!
We spoke to Catherine Graham who, alongside her business partner Amanda Graham, are owners of SeniorsHousingOnline.com.au and Downsizing.com.au, Australia’s leading real estate sites for retirement property. Catherine and Amanda have also recently been named in StartUp Daily’s Top 50 Australian and New Zealand Women in Technology for 2016.
Catherine offers great insight into the exponential growth of seniors using the web and the subsequent success of the services offered by her business.
Why did you decide to offer real estate listing services online for seniors?
We couldn’t find retirement village units on the big real estate websites when my sister-in-law Amanda and myself were searching for a place for my father-in-law. We were both time poor mothers, we wanted to be able to easily search online and see pictures of the places and prices. It was one of those issues where everyone you spoke to was having the same problem, and we could see there was a need there, so in the end we decided to build the website ourselves.
How has the response been to your websites?
It’s grown enormously since we started, but we’ve always had plenty of consumers searching for places. The demand was obviously there, but the hardest part initially was convincing the retirement and aged care operators to list with us. Many of them just thought older people weren’t online! That has since changed of course. On a monthly basis, we now have more than 92,000 website visits and send out over 100,000 email newsletters and new listing alerts per month, and that’s quickly increasing.
Do you find that seniors are more open to technology and learning new online channels?
Yes definitely, and it’s been especially interesting to see the take up in mobile devices, and the high number of seniors using social media platforms like Facebook. Our statistics show that more than 54% of our website visitors are using mobile devices to access the website – including smart phones and tablets. Of this group, more are using tablets than phones (29% tablets/ 25% phones) and more than half of these mobile devices are Apple iPhones and iPads. It’s understandable that tablets dominate in this age group – they are larger and easier to use than phones, especially at home or in social settings. And they are more convenient than a desktop computer.
What channels are being used by your customers?
Seniors are definitely prolific users of email, more so than younger generations who are more likely to use their phones to text or use other social media platforms to message friends. Emails are a great way to communicate instantly and stay in touch, and our email newsletters and new listing alerts are very popular.
Facebook is also a great way to communicate with family and friends and share photos, and seniors are now the fastest growing demographic using Facebook, as the most popular social media platform for this age group in Australia. According to the US Pew Research Centre, 35% of those aged 65 and older report using social media in 2015, compared with just 2% in 2005.
We have seen first hand a growing engagement by older people on Facebook with people liking and commenting on our Facebook page and posts. We recently had a listing posted on Facebook which quickly went viral – more than 12,000 people liked, shared and commented on it in just over 24 hours. It featured an alternative lifestyle community and it just seemed to grab people’s imagination and attract commentary.
Who is using your website?
When we started, it was fairly evenly split between older people using the site themselves to search for their own accommodation or services, and younger people using the site to assist an older family member or friend.
There has been a huge shift as older people move online and the latest survey results show it is now more than 96% of older people using the site for themselves and less than 4% are younger people assisting an older person.
In terms of age group breakdown, our surveys show 79% of people using the website are aged over 61. Most users (48%) are aged 61-70, but 26% are aged 71 – 80 and 5% are aged over 80.
Why do you think it’s important for seniors to keep up to date with technology and effectively using it?
So much information is now available online, and with the rapid shift to digital communication, there is a very real risk of becoming socially isolated for those people who don’t have access. Family members more often live in different states or countries, making regular visits or assistance more difficult. But technology such as Skype offers a wonderful and low cost way to easily see and talk with family members and friends on a regular basis, even if they are not living nearby.
Like consumers of any age, seniors can enjoy the benefits of online shopping, researching health issues, sharing photos, researching travel plans, online dating, online learning and much more.
Access to information and other resources online can be a great tool to maintain independence for as long as possible, and open up a whole new world of opportunity and experiences. Using technology can maintain mental health, keep the mind active and maintain significant relationships, and compensate for any decline in physical health.
The technology is evolving fast, it’s important to become familiar with the various devices and platforms, so you can keep up. It’s part of the lifelong learning challenge we all face – using technology is now an essential life skill and it’s never too late to start!
RetireAustralia has been publishing property listings through SeniorsHousingOnline.com.au since 2009, which is where many of the happy residents at RetireAustralia villages have found the living option that is exactly right for them.