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Why I think the Tesco Clubcard is an example of the digital divide between the elderly and the rest of society.

The digital divide between the elderly and the rest of society has intensified since Covid. 4.2 million out of 12 million people aged 65 and over in the UK have never used the internet. Additionally, only 19 percent of this age group own a smartphone, which is how most people  access the internet outside their home. While people my age mostly see the numerous gadgets and increased online services of modern life as a convenience, the elderly mostly see it as a nuisance. Things like everyday banking and doctor consultations are mostly done online these days and for the elderly it is an additional burden to have to learn how to do this. So the Tesco Clubcard, Tesco’s loyalty card to get access to exclusive deals, is unwanted in the eyes of many old people.

The main reason the elderly have not been signing up for a Tesco Clubcard to get the discounts that accompany the card is because the application is only available online. An email address is required to make a Tesco account and to apply for a Clubcard which is difficult as 37 percent of those aged 65 to 74 don’t have an email account, and it rises to 44 percent for those over 75. This means this demographic ends up paying more for their groceries; in their research, Which? found out that Clubcard holders on average could save more than £400 a year on their shopping. This is why I think Tesco should have a campaign to encourage the elderly to sign up for a clubcard, and get their staff to help people sign up for a clubcard. Not only would this be beneficial for the elderly, it would also be helpful to those with certain disabilities and to non-English speakers living in the UK. 

There are many reasons why technology is not popular with the elderly. A study done by Lancaster University revealed that the elderly do not avoid technology because it is inaccessible, but because they are not confident using it. 61 percent of those who do not use the internet state it is because it is not something that interests them, or something they think is useful to them. Other reasons include concern that manual jobs could be threatened by the technology and there will be less social interaction. A reduction of face-to-face interaction will be more isolating for the elderly, many of whom are currently struggling with loneliness. Another reason is that many are sceptical about giving out their personal details online. 

A few Saturdays ago I went to my local Tesco to do my weekly shopping. While I was waiting in line for the self-service checkout, I talked to an elderly man who came in for help with his phone sim. He had travelled 50 minutes by car to Tesco Bow instead of visiting the Tesco that is a five minute walk from his house because he was familiar with Tesco Bow and the workers there. The Tesco Mobile workers had to speak with his phone provider for a long time, as the man did not remember his account or security details; his daughter had installed the sim for him more than three decades ago. Before he left to do his weekly shop, I asked if he had his Clubcard with him. He responded that he did not own one. He said he knew that he was paying extra for his shopping, but was still adamant that he was not going to create an email address for it. This man would prefer to miss out the benefits of using a Clubcard, such as saving on his groceries, if it meant he had to sign up online. This made me think that we should be focusing on assisting and educating older people on how to use technology and having conversations with them to overcome misconceptions they have about technology rather than accepting these attitudes which stem from unfamiliarity with digital devices. 

Why should we try to help the elderly use technology when they themselves are reluctant to use it? I think it’s our responsibility to help everyone in society access the same opportunities and provide some guidance on things that would be convenient in people's everyday life. Anyone who is not using the Tesco Clubcard is missing out on a practical, money-saving tool that could help their household finances and save some pounds on food shopping, which may be needed in this time of economic inflation. With inflation rates rising to 5.1% in January, prices of essential products like food and fuel are higher than non-essential products. This means that in general, people will be paying even more for their food shopping, whether they have a Tesco Clubcard or not. This particularly affects the elderly as they are most likely retired and relying on pensions, which means they do not have as much disposable income as working adults. If a person qualifies for a state pension, they get approximately £179.60 a week, although it varies depending on your National Insurance record. A poll was conducted on the expenditure of food in a one-person household, and the average amount spent was £26.50. That would mean  15 percent of the pension is being spent on food, and this will probably increase due to inflation. 

During the pandemic, there has been a lot of focus on how Covid impacts older people’s physical and mental health:  the elderly are much more likely to be hospitalised or die from Covid, and many have therefore spent much more  time in isolation to avoid catching the virus, which negatively impacts their mental health. What is not as focused on is the financial impact of Covid on old people. A questionnaire done by the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA) found that nearly one in five people aged 52 and over reported their financial situation was worse than before the coronavirus outbreak. Before Covid, the world was already increasing its reliance on technology, and the pandemic served as a catalyst towards an even-more tech-based society. Those who don't use technology are at risk of being left behind. 

As technology evolves at a rapid pace, I think of all the elderly people in my community who will continue to be isolated from the digital world. That’s why I think Tesco should create a campaign to encourage the elderly to make a Clubcard and dispel any misconceptions older people may have about data and security. They should create regular sessions with Tesco workers to assist older people to sign up to Tesco and create a Clubcard, which would make them a little more comfortable with navigating the internet. This will also help Tesco target a demographic of customers that were largely inactive with Tesco memberships, and the unique perks of the Clubcard will help Tesco retain more loyal customers. Tesco, along with other supermarkets and any big companies that require online membership, should also take on the social responsibility of educating and encouraging technological literacy to improve communities.


About the author

Nayeema Rahman has been interested in economic inequality and disparity since university. After graduating, she is focusing on researching the impacts of economic policy on marginalised communities and engaging these communities in discussions around their finance. In her spare time, she enjoys taking pictures of the sunset and going on long walks to beat her personal record of the most steps walked in a day.

This article is part of our Voices of the Economy series. The project brings together the economic experiences and opinions of people from a range of different backgrounds and showcases voices which are not heard as often when we talk about the economy. To find out more and share your own story, click here.

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