Think outside the chatbot box: 88% of over 65s feel ‘shut out’ by online brands

Twilio, the leading customer engagement platform, released new research that uncovers how older consumers are being left behind when businesses digitise their customer facing operations. This new data demonstrates a need for organisations to take a more thoughtful approach to their digital engagement to ensure inclusivity, personalising the options available depending on the needs of individual consumers.

Findings reveal that while UK consumers over 65 hold significant digital shopping power, with 76% relying on online shopping, only 12% feel understood by brands they interact with digitally. While many in this age group are digitally-savvy, the communications options offered by businesses can often fall short of providing a reliable route to resolution, eroding trust. Meanwhile, more accessible methods of communication, like phone or email, are also often phased out in a drive for digital transformation, without consideration for the diversity of needs from different customer groups and the complexity of some customer support situations. Use of modern technologies like chatbots should be judicious, and businesses must digitise with consideration of every customer’s needs.

Don’t hold the phone

The majority of consumers in the over 65 group indicated that they find it hard to get in touch with companies, because many organisations do not design their customer engagement with the nuances of different demographics in mind. Significantly, 85% of consumers over 65 said they would rather speak to someone over the phone compared to other methods. That said, 16% from this demographic are happy to use technology channels such as chatbots and apps to interact with brands. Businesses should therefore analyse the feedback and data customers share to ensure they offer every customer the options that best suit them.

“Trust between business and customer is crucial, particularly in challenging economic times, and building that trust with tailored, personalised communication is key,” said Sam Richardson, Principal Visioneering Consultant at Twilio. “Customer engagement needs to be inclusive in order to be effective, and good old fashioned phone calls don’t need to fall by the wayside in an effort to modernise – in fact, all age groups find them useful for chatting through more complex problems. While in-app chat and SMS are useful for delivery updates and might perfectly suit more digital-native audiences, businesses should also think about what people with accessibility needs require from them.”

Missed opportunity

Failing to cater to the over 65 demographic also represents a missed business opportunity because they make up such a prominent portion of the online retail market. The 18-24 bracket is notably more likely never to shop online compared to over 65s: only 6% of consumers over 65 said that they never do their shopping online, compared to 30% of 18-24 year olds. Similarly, over half (51%) of over 65s read or keep hold of digital marketing communications.

But a lack of consideration is creating a trust barrier with older consumers, including when it comes to marketing. Half (50%) of shoppers over 65 didn’t know where brands got their contact details from, while one in five indicated that they believe brands only care about their money. This contrasts with younger consumers, who feel more understood as an audience, but are actually not as engaged with internet purchases.

“Older demographics are clearly more interested in regular brand engagement online compared to younger consumers,” continued Richardson. “As this older age bracket continues to grow in an ageing population, brands need to be better prepared to cater to older consumers digitally. This means reflecting customer preferences in available communication methods, as well as using first-party data – data collected consensually from customers – to deliver accurate, personalised experiences that make customers feel heard and understood. Technologies like customer data platforms can translate this data into insights, and this provides businesses valuable direction as to what customers actually want.”

Inclusive engagement promotes trust and loyalty

Though companies dedicate a lot of time to getting to know their customers, data shows that many older consumers feel overlooked by the ways businesses engage with them, which is diminishing loyalty. Only one third (32%) of respondents over 65 feel like valued customers, 15% feel that brands care about them, and only 10% feel that they represent the main target audience when it comes to marketing communications.

Delivering thoughtful engagement to alleviate this demographic’s concerns on trust can strengthen customer relationships and ensure accessibility isn’t a barrier to better understanding. Ultimately, this will also positively benefit businesses’ bottom lines.


Twilio commissioned the research in June 2022, with Walnut UNLIMITED conducting the survey. Walnut Omnibus is a quantitative syndicated survey conducted online twice a week with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 GB adults (aged 18+). The survey was completed in two waves, with a total of 4,028 consumers participating, 806 of which were over 65. Interviews are completed by members of Walnut’s newvista panel who have agreed to take part in the surveys. Participants are invited by email and panellists are selected at random. The responding sample is weighted to the profile of the sample definition to provide a representative reporting sample, based on census data collected by the National Office for Statistics.

About Twilio

Today’s leading companies trust Twilio’s Customer Engagement Platform (CEP) to build direct, personalised relationships with their customers everywhere in the world. Twilio’s leading communications APIs enable companies to engage with their customers across voice, conversations, messaging, video and email. Twilio Segment, the leading Customer Data Platform, allows companies to create highly personalised interactions and automated customer profiles based on first-party data from multiple channels. Twilio enables companies to use communications and data to add intelligence to every step of the customer journey, from sales to marketing to growth, customer service and many more engagement use cases in a flexible, programmatic way. Across 180 countries, millions of developers and hundreds of thousands of businesses use Twilio to create magical experiences for their customers.