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  • Writer's pictureSimon Rawling

Should SMEs Ignore the 13% of UK Consumers Who Aren't Online?

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

A 2016 ONS report revealed that 13% of adults in the UK did not have access to the internet. Recent data put this figure at 6.3% (ONS, 2020), which is still significant enough to raise issues of ethics, optics, opportunity and pragmatism.


Global Ethics Lecturer Merten Reglitz argues that "Internet access is a moral human right which should be publicly provided free of charge for those unable to afford it. Rather than being a mere luxury, internet access should be considered a universal entitlement because it is necessary for people to be able to lead minimally decent lives." (Reglitz, 2016)

While Reglitz's call for universal internet access would provide part of the solution, planners should consider other factors. There could be many reasons for lack of access, unrelated to finance or infrastructure, including digital illiteracy, physical and mental impairment or even a choice to remain offline. For these reasons, access to offline information and solutions must remain an option for consumers.


Some companies that have attempted to enforce a 100% online policy have encountered a damaging PR backlash, as recently illustrated in a Telegraph article about NS&I. The UK's most prominent savings institute was accused of blocking older customers in their drive to move accounts online. Age UK spokeswoman Caroline Abrahams says, "It is essential that NS&I and other providers ensure that all their services and products are available to everyone regardless of their digital skills, (Haynes, 2022)


Access to the internet has been on a clear trajectory in the UK since the late 90s (ONS, 2020). While the 16-24-year-old demographic has seen little change with 99% remaining online, the proportion of over 65s has risen from 16% to 65% and that of over 75s from 29% to 54%. (ONS, 2020).

For Smes to ignore 35% of over 65s and 46% of over 75s is a missed opportunity. Senior planner Jack Murphy argues that "older audiences have far more money (and spend it at higher rates than younger people), they have more free time on their hands, and a smaller roster of brands vying for their attention".

Targeting older audiences has seen great success in China's 'Silver economy', which is forecast to reach $880 billion this year (WARC, 2021). "The proportion of internet users over 60 years old has soared in the past four years from 4% to more than 10%. And e-commerce giant found that, in 2020, online users aged 56 and above spent 2.3 times as much as an average online shopper in 2017." (WARC, 2021)


It doesn't make practical business sense for SMEs' to ignore offline consumers. For sales to count as eCommerce, it only has to be finalised through the last online click in a customer journey. But this may not consider the many offline touch-points the customer could have interacted with up to this point. (Hankins, and Castlin 2022). Online and offline campaigns often overlap, and many successful campaigns combine the two. eBay's 2020 ‘Stronger as one’ campaign exemplified multi-channel techniques such as running OOH in parallel to digital campaigns via the Daily Mail. This saw tremendous success with both purchase intent and brand awareness. They also reported four or more channels drove optimal campaign effectiveness. (Jordon, 2020).

Research data exhibits a direct link between separate campaigns boosting each other. "Advertising even helps improve the effectiveness of other advertising, as we have seen from ROI Genome research and proven by a variety of quantitative and qualitative research methods. In fact, performance marketing is often significantly more effective when combined with brand equity." (Analitic Partners, 2021)

Using traditional offline marketing platforms such as OOH, Print and Radio to target offline consumers will boost brand awareness and share of voice. This intern can help brands stay top of mind for online sales and maybe for older audiences soon to gain internet access.


Analytics Partners (2021) ‘ROI - Genome’ ‘Analytics Partners, Available at:

(Accessed 5 Jul. 2022).

Dawson, K. (2021). ‘In China and Abroad, ‘Silver Economy’ Booms’. [online] ‘JD Corporate Blog’Available at: (Accessed 5 Jul. 2022).

Guttman, A. (2021). “Trust in advertising according to consumers in the United Kingdom (UK) as of January 2021, by medium’. Statista. Available at: . (Accessed: July 02, 2022.)

Hankins, J. and Castlin, J.P. (2021). The changing world of ecommerce: Why winning the final mile is crucial. [online] ‘Marketing Week’. Available at: (Accessed 2 Jul. 2022)

Haynes, T. (2022). ‘NS&I accused of ‘excluding’ older customers’. ‘The Telegraph.’ [online] 2 Jul. Available at: (Accessed 2 Jul. 2022).

Murphy, J (2021) ‘Marketing to over-50s: Understand and respect your audience’ ‘WARC’. [online] Available at: (Accessed 10 Jul. 2022)

Jordan, L (2020),‘eBay: Stronger as one’.’WARC’ [online] Available at: 02 Jul. 2022)

Office for National Statistics (2021). ‘Internet users, UK - Office for National Statistics. [online]’. Available at: (Accessed 5 Jul. 2022).

Office for National Statistics (UK). (2020). ‘Share of households with internet access in the United Kingdom (UK) from 1998 to 2020’.’Statista’. (Accessed: July 09, 2022.)

Reglitz, M., 2019. ‘The human right to free internet access. ‘Journal of Applied Philosophy’, 37(2), pp.314-331.

Warc (2021). ‘Why China’s ‘Silver Economy’ is an online gold mine for brands’. [online] ‘WARC’ Available at: (Accessed 09 Jul. 2022).

Warc (n.d.). ‘What’s working in sponsorship and partnerships’ ‘WARC’. [online] Available at: (Accessed 08 Jul. 2022).

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