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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A word about kettles and the older consumer

Monitoring daily electricity use of the elderly

I am a bit obsessed with kettles. Looking back on my posts I’m quite surprised I haven’t written about them before.

Today I’m prompted by a story in the New Scientist. It’s about an energy-monitoring system developed in the UK that could be used to track the use of electricity by an older person and potentially alert family if the kettle’s not been switched on at the usual time. The Howz system monitors how electrical appliances are being used during the course of the day and learns the owner’s daily routines. If it detects something out of the ordinary – like an oven being left on for hours or the kettle not being used all day, it sends a message to a nominated person. It can also detect more subtle changes to a daily routine that might indicate something else is going on with that person.

That’s great.

But at the other end of the kettle story, are manufacturers and shops taking into consideration the everyday needs of older consumers in their designs?

I ask this purely on anecdotal evidence from my household.

We have just thrown away a kettle that lasted less than two years. It was naff – indeed dangerous – from the start. You had to wait until the boiling had died down before pouring or water would cascade everywhere. It was hugely easy to knock the switch and turn the kettle on by mistake – and no obvious sign that it was now switched on, especially if your hearing isn’t what it was. Then it started to rust and and finally it began to leak through the bottom onto the base below.

So we replaced it with a similar looking model from another manufacturer. Much more robust, but at the same time incredibly heavy for older wrists which tend to be weaker with or without the added bonus of arthritis.

This kettle too has no visible light that it is on. At least, that’s what I thought. Turns out that both kettles are designed for right-handers, and as long as you conform you can see the blue “on” light on the side. Turn the kettle round and it’s nowhere in sight.

So here we have out of a sample of two, kettles that don’t take the needs of the older person or the left-handed user into account.

It would be a great advance if we could see more thought put into the everyday use of appliances for older consumers in general who are starting to feel the effects of lower mobility and strength, as well as the pioneering work on helping the elderly.