Is it worth changing retail models to suit an ageing population?

We don’t know for sure what the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be, or even how long it will last.

What we do know is that it has changed the way we shop, and it seems likely that this change will be enduring.

While the greatest effect is likely to be seen in the highly tech-savvy younger markets, it is taking place amongst older consumers too.

We have an ageing population

In its report on Ageing Matters: the Future of Older Populations, Euromonitor has flagged up some important factors.

In the next 20 years, the global population aged 65+ years is forecast to increase by 600 million, to reach 1.3 billion. This growth will affect the way that economies, societies and businesses evolve.

And older people do have high disposable incomes

Older populations will see their incomes affected, especially if the over 65s lose out in a contracting job market. But against that, older people in Western Europe already enjoy some of the highest incomes in their age groups in the world.

The pandemic has started to break down the technology barriers

The lockdown has forced many older people to become more adept technologically, so that they can connect with others, access vital services and supplies online, and become more confident with shopping on the internet.

How can retailers and service providers build on this opportunity?

There are growth opportunities for businesses who can approach this market successfully.

But there’s still plenty to do to make online buying more accessible. Can retailers and providers re-think their models to make buying simple enough to appeal to this market?

Suppliers need to think about the technology that’s right for older consumers.  I’ve seen a range of ‘solutions’ for web access from mobile devices, from a new top-level operating system over the top of Android to completely re-thought propositions. There needs to be a balance between designing for a novice user while remembering that their ‘technical support’ – family at the end of the phone – will only be familiar with Windows, Android and i-devices.

If older consumers are to have confidence in digital payments, they will need huge support and education in how to secure their accounts and avoid the scammers. This is massive. We see daily how sophisticated criminals can be online, and providers need to take their share of the responsibility for keeping their customers safe.

Why mobility should be a beautiful thing

It must be at least 15 years ago that my folk art painting teacher appeared at class with a walking stick that she had decorated for a friend.

Gone was the boring brown. Instead she’d background painted the cane in a mint green, and then covered it with delicate daisies of white, yellow and blue.

It was gorgeous.

It was also pretty unusual.

Since then I’ve noticed good-looking creeping onto similar products on sale at National Trust shops and the RHS, for example. Places where people who enjoy life but need a little help might choose to visit.

It seems to have been a long time coming, but according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, designers and start-ups are now realising the value of aesthetics alongside practicality for a gently ageing population.

The news service found businesses on both sides of the Atlantic turning their attention to mobility helpers that are lighter, more manageable, and good looking.

Why? It’s partly because the end-user experience has become core to learning design. And also because the group of consumers classed as ‘older’ or ‘less mobile’ are getting on the internet and searching out what they want to own, rather than what other people think they should own. So they want something that’s a pleasure to own and use, and can be a talking point for social contact.

Whether it’s a walking cane, a walker, or another mobility helper, the people who are buying are more discerning and demanding than a generation ago. They are also regularly charged with in many cases being the owners of high disposable incomes. No wonder there’s a growing number of ventures willing to invest in a more beautiful lifestyle for longer lifetimes.

The future of housing with care and support

The shock of lockdown has encouraged many people to re-think their living arrangements.

Older people who live alone have found themselves isolated for months. Loneliness had already been recognised as a real issue for the less mobile and those without family nearby, and being trapped at home has really highlighted mental health issues.

On the other hand, the lack of support for care homes and media attention have made these residential settings look like the last place you’d want to be in a crisis.

That’s left a growing number of people looking for a middle ground, and for many that could be a type of sheltered housing. Organisations contributing to the ICUK conversation around making housing for older adults more inclusive have reported a significant rise in enquiries about their supported and independent living schemes.

But even these communal living arrangements have struggled during the pandemic, as they attempt to protect their residents and staff while still helping them to engage.

So, what can we learn from this experience for future housing for older people?

Social relationships are really important

A strong sense of community is important to the happiness of residents according to respondents to the first phase of the Diversity in Care Environments (DICE) study carried out by the University of Bristol in collaboration with ILC and the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (Housing LIN) about making housing for older adults more inclusive.

Those who answered the survey mentioned a general ethos that makes them feel included, such as community spirit, active get togethers, and friendly neighbours.

Those running sheltered housing facilities point to a communal area as being hugely important. Not only can the space be used to bring residents together for coffee mornings, film showings and much more, but outside agencies can come in to run events, such as exercise classes.

Access to easy technology is a must

One thing we’ve certainly learned from this experience is that technology is going to play a huge role in how people of all ages communicate and interact with the world.

If older people can Zoom or WhatsApp or House Party, they have a much richer way of keeping in touch with family and friends than simply using the phone. If they have safe access to the internet, they can order their groceries and other shopping to be delivered, avoiding the anxiety of not being able to get hold of even essentials.

The NHS is driving towards digital care. Some GP surgeries are talking about stopping their telephone services for repeat prescriptions, and asking patients to order online or in person. That’s not easy if you have restricted mobility or no internet. Video consultations are also on the rise, but you need the technology to benefit.

And for the people who do need the comfort of knowing that help is out there if they do have a problem at home, there are a growing number of technology-based services that can help. While some are phone-based, the availability of the internet is crucial for others.

Some communities do already offer wifi in communal areas, but wifi availability in each residence should become the norm, along with education on how to use the technology.

The whole environment matters

What else could and should feature in housing for older people in the future? The Housing for Ageing Population Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) has already been looking at the bigger picture. Building on their suggestions, there’s a whole list of specifications that can make later life living more enjoyable and safe:

  • Space inside a home to enable people to be active
  • Room for live-in carers
  • The importance of natural light, offering the opportunity watch the world go by
  • Balconies that offer an outside space and fresh air if no other open spaces are available
  • Access to open spaces as gardens, parks or allotments
  • Front door designs that allow for infection control in general and safe deliveries in particular
  • Affordable, energy-efficient and easy-to-control heating
  • Extra storage space outside the residence
  • Parking for cars, bikes, mobility scooters, and access to other transport

That’s quite a wish list, especially for residences that are already built. And clearly offering a wide range of facilities is at odds with trying to provide affordable homes. It’s a challenge for developers and local authorities who need to be planning for an ageing population.

 

Mature audiences care about words

The language we use to talk to our audiences can make or break our credibility.

And with the disposable income of the over 50s calculated to be a significant catch, it’s worth taking time to think about the right words.

The BBC recently asked its audience about the language that they didn’t like. This was followed up in a major social media group, who identify as Radio 4 listeners who aren’t all middle-aged. (But they probably are.) A vast generalisation is that this audience is reasonably well educated, and while accepting that language evolves, still want ‘good’ English from communicators, that’s not simply a stream of buzz words.

Here are a few of the terms that were mentioned repeatedly as enough to throw your radio out of the window. If they excite that much wrath, they won’t be working to the good in your marketing communications either.

Going forward. First example of an unnecessary complication. Just because it’s used everywhere doesn’t make it right.

So … I’m guilty of this one, but it drives others nuts. Starting sentences, or even completely new topics, with ‘So’ is a habit that can get far too much.

Pre-book, pre-order, pre-prepare. My contribution. Who decided to put that pre- on verbs that are perfectly adequate as they stand? It annoys me enough that if a theatre or bookshop invites me to pre-anything, I don’t on principle, even if I want to. (We mature people can be like that.)

Very unique. It either is or it isn’t.

Quite unique. See above.

Was stood. Was sat. This is the passive voice. That means if I was sat, someone else has sat me there. Otherwise I was sitting. People like me do get very exercised over this, and it doesn’t matter that it’s ubiquitous and the argument is that it should therefore be accepted. It hurts when we see it written down. Admittedly, this does also come under the heading of regional differences, which is a completely different matter.

The verbing of nouns. (See what I did there?) As someone pointed out, ‘medalling’ seemed to become a word at the 2012 Olympics. Now the practice is everywhere, and we don’t like it.

Low hanging fruit. Just one example of phrases that get thrown in without deep thought, and therefore is seen as lazy. It’s also verging on marketing speak, which we don’t want in our consumer communications, thank you very much.

Room 101. Like ‘low hanging fruit’ it’s a contagious phrase that has spread everywhere. Other examples are available.

World beating. Dislike of this one is a criticism of a certain type of politician who thinks all of life is a competition. The danger of anyone else using the term is guilt by association.

World class. I come across this regularly in B2B marketing. Not anywhere as bad is ‘word beating’, but what does it actually mean?

Killer app. What do they kill?

Off of. Uggh.

Literally. Regularly used when the writer means anything but literally. I literally laughed my head off.

Challenges. I was quite surprised that this offended some. We talk about ‘challenges’ in B2B marketing because no one wants to talk about ‘problems’. I have been in the business long enough to remember when IBM said there are no such things as problems, only opportunities. I have no idea if people believed them.

It is hard to use the language of a group of people to which you don’t belong. I do understand. I struggled with writing for millennials on a car insurance project, and had to call on help from some current 20+ friends to take the patronising out of the copy.

It’s important to get the tone right for any audience. Mature consumers can be a demanding bunch, so checking your communications meet their approval is a worthwhile task.

Read more of my thoughts on copywriting for businesses of every size.

Visit my website for families with older relatives and friends.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels.

Do you need over 50s marketers to reach an over 50s audience?

This is a question that’s turned up in an excellent article in Marketing Week about marketing to the over 50s.

The piece covers much of the ground that I’ve discussed before.

  1. The over 50s is a massively broad general category that encompasses many tastes and often two generations in a single family
  2. Even if you narrow the age group, the interests of that group are still wide and various, and not tied to their age
  3. When people hit 50, some may be interested in ads for funeral plans and stair lifts, but most don’t see any relevance to their lives.

The extra question that Marketing Week poses is whether you need people with experience of being over 50 to understand the audience sufficiently to market successfully to them.

This is a really good question, but are we just going down the same path as those who lump all “older people” into one category?

The respondents in the article took the view that interests and experience are more important than age in marketing.

I think that’s true of marketers too. What we, the aforesaid over 50s need, is people with understanding and a positive attitude.

Let’s take understanding, and break down the market. If you take a group of people who, say, have no dependents, but are still gainfully employed, can a marketer predict what their spending priorities will be? Saving for retirement and care home fees? Conspicuous expenditure on quality living? And can you do that for multiple groups of people over 50? Surveys help, and some businesses have been at pains to research the market effectively.

Then there’s attitude, and this is where I think marketing can come undone. I remember, in my first major freelance copywriting gig, being asked to recruit a video expert, and my client expressing absolute horror that I had found someone with white hair. It’s a very unsubtle example of something that is pervasive in many organisations. Young is good, intelligent, adaptable etc etc. Older is dull, uninspiring, inflexible, unadmired. It’s not obvious everywhere, but it’s there enough for it to spill into marketing campaigns addressing those so uncool older people.

My view, then, is that you don’t need to be over 50 to market to the over 50s, any more than you need to be a small child to market to small children. But an open mind and a desire to understand without prejudice are vital.

Photo by ieva swanson on Unsplash

The grannies are grumbling – and who can blame them?

paper bags near wall

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Gransnet has just produced a report citing what people over 50 know – but many marketers are still failing to grasp. “Mature” consumers are not one step from the grave and only thinking about recliner chairs, funeral plans and who’s going to get the money when they’re gone.

We over 50s don’t come as an homogenous lump. In reality we’re probably more varied as a generation as any other. We’re interested in what’s on offer, but we don’t blindly follow fashion trends to fit in. Many of us have more disposable income than at any other time in our lives.

And for many of us, we have dropped the responsibilities of caring first for children and then older relatives, and we are free to spend our time and our money where we want to.

All that begs the question, why do we feel so dismissed? According to some of the respondents of the Gransnet survey, it’s because the younger marketers simply don’t understand this market.

Will parents follow adult offspring into clean living?

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As the parent of two mid-20s children, I’ve tended to see them as brave but unusual in not being part of the drinking culture. What’s more, while one smokes (sigh), he’s also a dedicated vegan.

But it turns out they’re not at all unusual these days, and I suspect that this growing band of “clean lifers” will affect the way their baby boomer parents view their choices in the future.

Here’s why.

The clean lifer concept is one I’ve picked out from a report by Euromonitor International on the Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2018.

According to the report, the group clustered around educated 20-29 year olds are eschewing clubbing for more minimalistic lifestyles. With strong ideals they believe they can make a difference, and are saying no to alcohol, unhealthy habits, animal-based products and the need to impress through ownership.

At the same time, family is very important to this group, especially in countries like the UK and the USA, where the cost of leaving the family home has become prohibitive for many. As a result of this close relationship, adult children and their parents are choosing to share experiences more, such as travelling to new places.

It seems to me that it’s very likely that these relationships will in due course see those views and actions of the younger generation being reflected in their own parents’ behaviour.

Although my children don’t live with us, the subjects that concern them are constant topics of conversation when we meet. I’ve learned more about the rationale (and emotions) behind veganism in the last six months than I have in nearly 60 years. Don’t tell my son, but I may be converted over time – though it’s hard to know how to make meals interesting without meat and dairy when you don’t enjoy the heat of spices.
It’s an interesting question for the food and drink market though. If the baby boomers and more follow the lead of their adult children, will we see a downturn in the alcohol intake of older people? We’ve seen a move in many groups towards meat-free days. Will dairy follow suit?

Why do some retirement villages have hidden fees?

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How to spoil a good thing through complexity

A UK Law Commission report just out has made recommendations that should bring clarity to the cost of moving to a retirement village. That sounds good, but it does bear looking at more closely.

First, why do we need greater clarity? It seems that when customers buy into these schemes, they’re always fully aware of the costs involved. The homes within retirement villages are offered on a leasehold basis, but not necessarily under the same rules that we’re used to elsewhere in leasehold living.

Many retirement village owners charge “exit fees” when the property is sold or there’s a change of occupancy. And it’s this charge that is not always made clear and can come as a surprise to residents. The Law Commission would like to limit when and how these fees are applied and to ensure that potential customers are made aware of the charges early in the process.

However, the Law Commission’s recommendations are not see as stringent enough by some. Back at the end of 2016, when the draft report was published, organisations such as AgeUK and Carlex argued that the report didn’t go far enough. For one thing, the Law Commission didn’t appear to be interested in looking at historic cases, but only at new entrants to the market.

We took a look at the role of retirement villages as part of the retirement and assisted living mix a while ago, and our conclusion, as with many choices, is that it can be the right way to go for some seniors.

Retirement villages do not receive bad publicity on the whole, so it’s puzzling why some providers are almost bringing a poor reputation upon themselves by appearing to confuse, if not deceive, their residents.

As in many markets, reputation matters in retirement living. People moving into villages, apartment or other voluntary living will talk about their experiences with friends. Most of the target audience – late 50s into their 60s – are happily technology-enabled, and have all the tools to share their views with a wider world. And bad news always travels faster than good, so providers who are less than upfront about their fees are likely to feel a growing backlash.

Regardless of the Law Commission’s report, honesty and transparency are better long-term marketing tools than hoping to confuse customers for short-term gain. Whether or not the Commission’s guidance is taken up by the government, all providers would be well advised to think hard about their business models and how they affect their reputations and future sales.

Getting older women into sport with #thisgirlcan

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It’s fabulous to see that the reignited #thisgirlcan campaign from Sport England to get more women into sport is ready to go cross-generational.

Two woman over 60 features in the true life stories campaign. Catherine, 67, has joined a boot camp while Sue, also 67, has taken up cold water swimming.

The new campaign is covering a wider mix of sports and activities in recognition of the challenges of the barriers that come into play as women get older.

“This time around, we are allowed to be a bit bolder, by showing the lines and cellulite in a stronger way than we would have felt able to do last time,” campaign manager Kate Dale told Marketing Week.

She says: “Older women said they had strong connections to the campaign beforehand, but they spoke about the fear of being a beginner. At 46, you’re maybe a little bit less inclined to start something new, so that’s what we’re directly tackling. We want to normalise the beginner and highlight that exercise is not just about the physical benefits but also about personal development.”

The new campaign builds on the huge success of the original, which not only attracted huge attention in social media and over 1.2 million visitors to the website, but was also successful in changing behaviour. Sport England says that the This Girl Can campaign resulted in 2.8 million women getting more active.

It would be terrific if campaigns like this can go beyond encouraging older women to join in and try something new. These women need both the strength to test their bodies in a different way and the courage to be the oldest person in the room. If attitudes can change and other participants can learn to be more accepting and even welcoming, then progress can really be made.

Why retailers are mad to ignore the older consumer

 

Consumers shopping for clothesThere’s a very interesting article in Property Week* underlining my argument that retailers and providers of goods of services in general really need to start taking the growing older population more seriously.

The magazine teamed up with retail real estate loyalty and marketing specialist Coniq to take a hard look at whether retailers are focusing enough on the growing spending power of older consumers, and found plenty of room for improvement.

The report points out that the “grey pound” accounts for more than £320bn of all UK consumer spending and that the over-50s hold more than 75% of the nation’s wealth. Over a three-year period the over 50s spent 42% more on retail goods than other age groups and, very surprisingly, 66% more than millennials.

And yet it’s these millennials that are at the heart of marketing for shopping centre landlords and their retail tenants.

Some 80% of the almost untapped market of over 50s don’t relate to current marketing, feeling ignored or even patronised, according to BNP Paribas Real Estate research.

When retailers do look at the older generation, it’s often with very dated perspectives. People are living longer and there are easily two generations in what was once a general “old people” category. There are the “old old” who have lived through austerity and the younger baby boomers “young old” who have enjoyed times of plenty – and their respective needs, desires and behaviours are quite different.

The newly retired have more disposable income right now, and they’re spending it in areas such as travel, well-being, healthcare and home maintenance.

This latest generation of older consumers are looking for more authenticity, transparency and environmental responsibility from their providers, and are looking more for services than products. When they do shop for fashion, for example, they still want style but to fit their changing shapes.

According to the article retailers in other countries around the world are making more effort to provide services that appeal to the oldest consumer. That includes putting on events in shopping malls such as health tests, hobby workshops, financial services advice and even dating evenings. Some shops are meeting the needs with wider aisles and non-slip floors as well as targeted offers. Subliminal actions like turning off the piped music, slowing the escalators and turning the lighting up at quiet times are helping to attract and maintain loyalty.

What could be done in the UK? Experts suggest subtle zoning of shopping malls to make them more accessible to older shoppers who are starting to experience less mobility.

But what should be borne in mind is that there is plenty of difference between the newly retired consumer in their 60s and those who are 20 or 30 years older and they should not be consigned to a single category.

Equally, retailers and service providers ignore older people at their peril. As Ben Chesser of Coniq points out “If I told our clients we’d identified a group that accounted for 30% of retail spend they’d be jumping through hoops to engage with them.”

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