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.