Silver Surfers: the changing face of the online shopper

Anna Thompson
Anna Thompson
Discover Content Team
7 min read
facebook sharing button
twitter sharing button
linkedin sharing button
Smart Share Buttons Icon Share
old man typing on laptop

Online shopping may have been thought of as a young person’s game, but during the pandemic, an older generation of “silver surfers” discovered the convenience of online shopping. Even now, this still means big opportunities for e-commerce businesses looking for new customers. Forget the millennials and the TikTok-ing Gen Z-ers, the baby boomers are catching up, and they have a healthy amount of disposable income to play with. 

It’s no secret that the pandemic was e-commerce’s biggest driver. Though online shopping was already booming, 2020's e-commerce growth rate accelerated at record levels. With stores closed, even those previously reluctant to shop online were nudged to do so out of necessity, and the convenience of doing so became clear. So these habits are likely to stick.

So, who are these new online shoppers and where have they been hiding this whole time? Introducing the baby boomer generation – or “silver surfers”, to give them a slightly cooler name. Baby boomers are the generation generally defined as people born from 1946 to 1964, during the post-World War II baby surge. Today they are aged 60-78 years old.  

Let’s dig in a little deeper to explore their online behaviors so that you can position your business to capitalize on this shift.

Do your research

Though there may be some identifiable trends in silver surfers’ budgets and spending habits, it’s important not to take a “one-size-fits-all” strategy when targeting the group. Today’s boomers are experiencing a unique combination of life events – getting divorced (and perhaps remarried), watching their children fly the nest, switching careers, and becoming grandparents.

Thus, age is an oversimplistic way to treat this generation. There are diversities in their needs, habits and motivations when shopping online so, as with all your customers, you should look to testing and feedback to discover what works and what doesn’t. Do your research to find gaps in the market where older consumers are not being catered to, and then diversify or expand your product line to meet the need.

Remember, too, that older shoppers tend to be loyal to brands they have purchased from for a long time. To overcome this, you’ll need to really home in on your brand’s USP and structure marketing activity around it. Let’s take a look at some other considerations your e-commerce business should take in when targeting the silver surfers.


You should be thinking about how you can tweak your e-commerce website to optimize the customer experience for silver surfers. Make sure it’s user-friendly with easy navigation, and include a feature that allows visitors to increase the text size, if needed. How-to guides and video tutorials are great extras that will also deliver a good user experience.  


Online security is a big issue for silver surfers – in contrast to the younger, digitally-native generation who are used to sharing every aspect of their lives online. In fact, research shows that security concerns and risk of identity theft are big deterrents to the older generation doing business online – whether banking or shopping1. To counter this, promote your website's safety with transparency around your data handling policy. Add copy to your website about the security steps your business takes when handling personal information such as credit card details to reassure customers. Additionally, allowing your customers the option to pay through a known and trusted platform such as PayPal2 can increase your conversions.  


Every generation has its own preferences for online payment methods. Generally speaking, the more payment services you offer your customers at checkout, the better, as online shoppers are 70% more likely to finalize a purchase if their preferred payment method is displayed as an option3.  That said, there are generational preferences, too. Baby boomers are most comfortable shopping via credit or debit card, with 65% of these global e-commerce shoppers having used one or both of the two to make cross-border purchases. In contrast, only 3% of boomers have used a “buy now, pay later” service4 – proof, perhaps, of their financially stable status.

Customer Service

This should be at the heart of your business strategy, whoever your customers are, but research has found that boomers are the generation most likely to abandon a purchase following a subpar customer experience5. What’s more, they’re not fans of the new wave of AI-powered chat bots, instead preferring good old fashioned human-to-human contact: 70% of baby boomers prefer to talk to a human agent rather than an automation tool such as a self-service bot (compared to only 54% of millennials)6. Thus, it may be worth your while investing in customer service agents, or combine the two: a simple “speak to a human” button during an automated live chat interaction, for example, will keep customers happy. If this level of service is not in your budget, you can instead “humanize” the automated customer service you offer by carefully curating the language to be warm and engaging.

man holding mobile phone


Remember, the customer experience is not over once they click “buy”. Delivery is a whole new opportunity for you to keep them happy and ensure they return to your business again.

A study by the National Retail Federation7 found that baby boomers demand free shipping the most, with 88% expecting it from online stores. That compares with 77% for Generation X, 61% for millennials, and 76% for Generation Z. Thus, offering free shipping at checkout could be a worthy investment for your business.

Boomers new to the online shopping process will appreciate transparency throughout the delivery process so be sure to offer full tracking and notifications of their order. This assurance will go a long way in turning them into loyal patrons. 

old lady smiling in front of phone

Social media

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking social media is just for the youngsters. In the US, for example, 86% of baby boomers use social media daily8, so keep them in mind as well when you determine your social media strategy.

Social media platforms have the benefit of offering age-based targeting, helping your business to zero in on the silver surfers. Ensure the ads you buy are tailored for the boomers with dedicated click-through landing pages that speak specifically to their generation. You can also experiment here with calls-to-action, discounts, and coupons, to gain a better understanding of what works best with this market – learnings you can utilize in the future.

1 - Malware Bytes, March 2019

2 - PayPal

3 - 2Checkout blog, June 2020

4 - 2Checkout blog, June 2020

5 - Just-Style, March 2021

6 - The Future of Commerce, Accessed April 2021

7 - ChainStoreAge, January 2019

8 - The Manifest, July 2019