NEW YORK – In November, Paula Mont did something new: The 86-year-old, who hasn't left her New Jersey senior living community in nearly a year, went shopping – online.
Mont used an iPad, equipped with a stylus to help her shaky hands, to buy a toy grand piano for her great-granddaughter. She picked it out from more than a dozen versions of the instrument on Amazon.
“It is like a wow feeling. I found it,” Mont said.
The internet has become a crucial link to the outside world during the pandemic, one that millions of people still don't have access to. Among older adults, the lack of internet has even impeded their ability to get vaccinated.
But the pandemic has also motivated many who have been isolated at home or unable to leave their senior communities to learn something they may have resisted until now – how to buy online.
People 65 and older rang up nearly $187 per month online last year, up 60% from a year earlier, according to market research firm NPD Group's Checkout Tracking. They still spend less than the total population, who paid about $238 per month, but they are the fastest-growing group of online shoppers by age group.
The transition online hasn't always been easy, and children and senior living staff often have to help, an experience that can be both gratifying and difficult.
Barbara Moran, director of social programs for Atria Senior Living where Mont lives, says one of the biggest challenges residents face with their devices is that they are used to pushing, not tapping, as if they're using a touch-tone telephone.
“I would lie if I didn't say I was frustrated sometimes,” said Moran.
Internet retailers and delivery services hope people older than 65 keep up the online shopping habit. Still, there are many barriers, from struggling to use new technology to high prices to access.
People 65 and older are less likely than younger people to have home internet or a smartphone. Those with devices and internet may wrestle with how to use an app or fear giving out personal information because they worry about fraudsters.