4 ways to optimise your ecommerce store for older customers

It’s common to believe that online shopping is only for the young, but this isn’t true. Indeed, around a full fifth of online shoppers in New Zealand are aged 60 years or older (NZ Full Download 2021).

But, online shopping does often leave senior people behind.

While you can’t assume all of your older customers will be the same – and you certainly shouldn’t assume that all older people will be technology novices or disabled in some fashion – making your website accessible for anyone will mean you’re providing a great customer experience no matter who is shopping.

So, here’s what you need to think about:

1. Figure out who your buyers are – and what they need

The first step to making any changes to your ecommerce store is research. Without this process, you will never know if the optimisations you’re making are actually worth the time – and if they’ll have the required accessibility impact.

So you’ll need some user personas

User personas have been around the web design and marketing worlds for a while, now, and can be helpful here too. User personas break down an audience into different groups, and then further break down those groups into different likes/dislikes, challenges/pain points, desires, assumed knowledge, demographic – any piece of data you can think of that will help you design the perfect website.

Why crafting user personas is valuable

What you’re left with after this research period is a single document that describes each of your audience categories (young and old) and everything you’d want to know about them.

Then, when it comes time to start making physical changes to your website, you can ask: Is this worth it? Will this help my specific audience? And your user personas will tell you.

What should go on my user personas?

Generally, user personas consist of an audience group’s:

  • Demographic (i.e. age, gender, place of residence, religious or political affiliations where relevant, job title, etc.)
  • Goals (needs)
  • Interests or desires (wants)
  • Challenges (pain points and barriers)

Given our context, these personas should consider technological, knowledge or accessibility barriers within the ‘challenges’ section, so you understand explicitly what aspects of online shopping prove difficult for your senior audience (if any).

Where does this information come from?

  • Customer database
  • Asking salespeople
  • Online or phone customer surveys
  • Customer workshops and focus groups

2. Conduct tests

The next phase is to make changes based on what you learned in your user personas research process, but you can’t make these changes in a vacuum – they need to be tested.

Why test changes if they’re already based on data?

Even with all the best data, website or user experience (UX) optimisation can’t always be done right the first try. It’s complex, variable, and partially subjective (even if it’s based on evidence).

Therefore, the way to truly optimise your ecommerce shopping experience is to make changes, then test them. In this way, you would make small changes, then A/B test options against each other to figure out which yielded better results. Then you would make another small change, test, and so on, so forth.

Only make one or two changes at once. If you make too many, it will be hard to know which one created the positive or negative impact on results.

How do you A/B test an ecommerce site?

Focus groups can help you test variations in website design or UX, giving you real-time insight into different possibilities from a select group of users.

Or, you can operate two versions of the same website at one time (so different customers see different pages, or go on different customer journeys), and then check the results using an analytics platform (i.e. Google Analytics) or specific analysis software (i.e. HotJar).

3. Think of usability when making design choices

Now let’s talk about some of the changes themselves. If we’re making optimisations to suit any older person regardless of technical know-how or personal ability, there are a few things we can do that might make their customer experience easier.

According to Nielsen Norman Group research, the design choices that present the biggest usability challenges for seniors are:

  • Small font sizes.
  • Small functions (i.e. buttons, drop downs, links).
  • Inflexible interfaces (i.e. a date/time selector that only accepts text written in a specific format, being punished for using hyphens in phone numbers, text forms not understanding simple typos).
  • Obscure error messages (i.e. unclear cause of the error, technical jargon).
  • Features that divide attention to multiple parts of the page at one time.
  • Too many pop-ups.

But, this research also shows us a big opportunity. Seniors are more willing to read text. Long-form copy, which is known to turn away time-poor younger audiences, was no obstruction to senior users who were more willing to read and do their research before making decisions on a page.

So what is the lesson here?

Test website design ideas that increase the size of copy, buttons and other features, simplify each page, and offer greater, clearer instructions on how to complete each step.

Try not to overwhelm the user in any one part of their journey, but rather focus on fewer things that are explained better.

4. Don’t make assumptions about how seniors will pay – offer choice!

There are many ways to pay for goods and services online, and just because people have gotten older doesn’t mean they will want to use the older options – like credit or debit cards.

Indeed, the Payments NZ Consumer Study 2020 found that, while seniors are certainly the least likely age group to be diverse in their online payment options, a lot of older users have still branched out. 25% used payment tools like POLi in 2020, and 21% had apps like Google Pay or PayPal.

To appeal to a variety of users, offer a variety of options

Credit/debit cards, POLi, payment apps, Buy Now/Pay Later – there are lots of options on the NZ market right now for online payments, and a company that can offer a variety is more likely to appeal to its wider audience.

Of course, you might highlight in your user personas research that customers prefer one or two options over others, in which case those could be your focus. But, be prepared to invest in a few different tools so you can cover the most possible people (regardless of age).


Older people may, statistically speaking, shop online less than their younger peers, but there are still a great number of senior individuals who love browsing ecommerce websites but feel excluded by their design.

A few small design optimisations to your website UI and customer journey could be all it takes to please these shoppers and make your online store more accessible to all.