Why seniors need extraordinary customer experience

May 15, 2016, by Bart-Jan van Putten and Sebastiaan Peek

Before people buy and use a product or service, they weigh the costs and risks against the potential benefits. For many seniors, the costs and risks are higher than for younger customers. Therefore, developers need to set the bar for their product’s customer experience very high.

The trade-off strategy

If we would have to walk for several hours to be able to pick a handful of berries, this would probably not pay off. However, if we would have the chance to catch a wild pig, it could be worth the effort. No matter what it is that we have to do, we – mostly unconsciously – weigh the potential benefits against the perceived costs and risks. This trade-off strategy is essential for the survival of mankind and also applies to how seniors buy and use interactive products and services. In this article we will first have a look at the costs and risks side of the trade-off. Subsequently we will look at the benefits and explain how the trade-off can be improved by designing extraordinary customer experience.


Cognitive effort

People need to learn to operate a product they haven’t used for a while or have never used before. With increasing age, peoples’ ability to learn deteriorates. Research also shows that seniors are significantly slower than younger user groups when using interactive products. The main causes are: (1) cognitive decline (reduced attention, processing, coping and memory) and (2) less prior experience with interactive products. In other words, for seniors, the cognitive effort of using a product is often higher than for younger customers.

Physical effort

Using a product may also require physical effort, e.g. unlocking the e-bike, taking it from the shed and putting it outside, inflating the tires, checking the battery, putting on the shopping bags. When people age, their bodies become less agile and muscle strength deteriorates. Thus, the physical effort of using a product may be higher for seniors than for younger customers.

Financial costs

There are major differences in buying power among seniors. Seniors with limited pensions and high care costs may have little money to spend on anything but housing, nutrition and care. Therefore, products that may seem affordable to some of the baby boomers or younger customers, may be too expensive for others.


Prior negative experiences

Seniors may have had bad experiences with interactive products in the past. For them, the risk of a negative experience has increased. In other cases they may feel too uncertain, because of a lack of prior experience with interactive products (neither positive nor negative).

Lack of training and support

Because of retirement, reduced mobility, and friends passing away, seniors often have a smaller social network than younger people. Therefore, they may not find a person to help them when they get stuck using the interactive product. Thus, seniors may be afraid of investing in a product, which they will not be able to master without the availability of adequate support.

“Young man, at my age I don’t even buy green bananas!”

Green bananas

Consider this story of an insurance salesman, who arrives at the door of an elderly woman. He asks the lady if she would be interested in buying a life insurance. She answers by saying: “Young man, at my age I don’t even buy green bananas!”. This example shows that, sometimes, seniors are hesitant to invest money and effort in new interactive products, when they consider the risk of passing away before reaping the benefits.

Making the trade-off more attractive for seniors

On average, the costs and risks of an investment in interactive products are higher for seniors than for younger customers. So what can developers and designers do to improve the trade-off for seniors?

Increase benefits

Seniors are often interested in simple products that allow them to stay independent and make tasks more efficient, rather than in sophisticated products that provide new possibilities (e.g. skiing down a slope with a wristwatch controlled helmet-camera). For example, the comfort chairs by Prominent are designed specifically for people who want to relax/sleep during the day and need support to get up from the chair. Seniors are willing to pay a premium price because this product has benefits over ordinary chairs. The same holds for e-bikes, because those allow seniors to maintain their mobility.

Reduce costs

Sometimes, it is not possible to significantly change the benefits of a product. In that case, developers need to reduce financial and non-financial costs for the elderly customer. For example, the required cognitive effort of using interactive products can be reduced with guided procedures and progressive disclosure (explained in one of our earlier articles). Developers must also reduce physical challenges, such as the need to move heavy objects, or press tiny buttons. For some seniors, payment in terms can be a solution to relieve the initial financial costs.

Mitigate risks

The risk of lack of training and support can be mitigated, e.g. by designing good user manuals, setting up call centers, offering (paid) in-person home visits and allowing interactive products to be configured and maintained remotely. It may also help to give product demonstrations (e.g. Gazelle Overstapdag for e-bikes), to extend the return policy to at least 30 days or to offer products for rent instead of for sale (e.g. Thuiskoffer).


Seniors are an incredibly important customer segment for many businesses (McKinsey Global Institute, 2016). However, due to higher perceived costs and risks, buying and using a product is usually less attractive to them. If the developers of interactive products want to turn seniors into loyal customers and users, they will have to improve the trade-off by designing extraordinary customer experience. They will need to do everything better: increase benefits, reduce financial and non-financial costs, and mitigate risks. Aiming to create delightful products for seniors is not a design fetish; it is the Champions League of customer experience design, where only the best will succeed.

Further reading