We have been thinking a lot recently about the growing divide between those who have access to digital services and are able to carry out essential tasks online and those being left behind because they are unable to do so.
The recent 2019 Consumer Digital Index (by Lloyds Bank) highlighted a number of areas where not being digitally savvy may start to hold people back. Put simply, if you’re not comfortable online you will be financially, emotionally and socially disadvantaged. According to the yearly study, if you compare people with less digital capabilities with those with more, 75% of those with the skills are paying up to 6% less a year for their utilities. This shows a correlation between saving money and going online, with people presumably shopping around, comparing tariffs etc. Just by not going online you are effectively penalised.
The advantages may not be immediately obvious either, 84% of people who are digitally capable, connect with family and friends online. This in itself isn’t remarkable, but when you consider the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6 (Age UK 2018, All The Lonely People), you start to understand how the ‘digitally incapable’ (16%) may be feeling and the role of not being online may be having in their loneliness. The list of advantages for being online and digitally aware goes on, from improving your job prospects, increasing your disposable income and managing your mental or physical health.
It is difficult to pinpoint the causality of the divide, but according to the Consumer Digital Index, security fears topped the survey respondent’s list, with 89% of people who said ‘nothing’ could convince them to go online citing cybersecurity and fraud concerns as blockers.
So what next?
As industries start to see an increase in transformation through the disruption of traditional services, the range of cost benefits and feature options for customers will likely increase. Anything from banking to energy providers and beyond, customers are likely to be provided with increased choice and competitiveness but increasingly these will be from online-only brands. According to the Economic Journal, some existing companies are even shutting down their brick-and-mortar stores in favour of an exclusively online presence, with new start-ups launching all the time.
It’s started already of course, take the energy market’s smart meter drive for example. In 2017 Citizens Advice reported 150-200 calls a month related to smart meters, people were concerned about installation problems, increased bills and faulty meters. Personally, having seen the user interface of a few of these meters, it is not surprising to find people a little concerned about how to work them. This trend could also extend to other seemingly connected technology they find in their home.
In this time of increased competition and cutting edge technology it is easy as design practitioners, product owners and makers to forget the less digitally savvy or those without the means to connect. As each new service jostle for their own position, we’d like to think that the simple fact of being inclusive could be the differentiator needed to stand out from the crowd. From the onboarding process a complete novice can understand, to the comparison tool that can be navigated by a conversation alone.
We’re all guilty of making assumptions about what makes a product or service intuitive or a pleasure to use. These assumptions are easy to miss as they often hold true for our digitally savvy peers but then go on to fail for non digital natives. To combat this bias we need a commitment to user research and testing across not just standard demographics but also across the digital divide.
Enabling an equal chance for all is key, but could this be easier said than done for some organisations? It is arguable that the big providers, retailers and institutions have a responsibility to help reduce this divide, and a lot currently are (see Barclays Digital Wings), but the more digitally aware, the more likely people are to shop around, find something new or want to switch. The most progressive providers could end up picking up the largest number of new customers as their services are optimised, made easier and the barriers to entry reduced.
The next time you go to your local supermarket and see all the tills replaced by self serve systems, and think ‘ooh that’s fancy’, spare a thought for the 90 year old who used to love a chat with the checkout staff and now faces a daily struggle trying to look up items without barcodes or placing an item over and over in a bagging area that refuses to acknowledge the placement.
Start a conversation with us about reducing the digital divide or if you just fancy a chat about your business, please get in touch! Furthermore runs various research and experimentation programmes to solve all kinds of challenges.
This little rant was brought to you by Steve Johnson, Managing Partner here at Furthermore.