Online shopping is an anathema to elderly people and their dislike of buying by smart phone, tablet or computer presents an opportunity for convenience stores to better meet this age group’s needs, new research suggests.

The findings from the University of Hertfordshire’s Food and public Health Research Unit, funded by the Food Standards Agency and the Economic and Social Research Council, highlights the risk of social isolation from what it says are well-intentioned efforts to get the over-60s to shop online.

The study, Food Provision in Later Life, says a focus on encouraging greater uptake of online food shopping among this age category would have unintended consequences, potentially increasing social isolation and reducing opportunities to interact with the local community and to exercise.

Those who participated in the study stressed how much they valued the opportunity for social interaction that comes with a trip to local shops.

Wendy Wills, professor of food and public health and director of the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care at the university, said that shopping online could contribute to a greater feeling of isolation and older people becoming less involved in “food provisioning”.

However, supplementing shopping trips with online purchases of heavier and bulkier items could ensure older people continued to benefit from the social interaction, while maintaining control of their food choices and prolonging their independence.

Norris Family Grocers in Niton, Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight, has many elderly customers who Wayne Norris, the store’s owner, said liked to get out and “wouldn’t dream of going online”.

He said coming to the store was part of their social life in what was a small village, “especially if they are on their own”.

Ajay Odedra, owner of Boreham Village Stores, in Chelmsford, Essex, said if his over-60s customers were forced to shop online they would be “very lonely”.

Many of them came in for the personal contact, he said, “We always make time to talk to our customers.”