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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Supermarkets are beginning to embrace their older customers

There are great moves afoot to address the needs of older consumers in retail.

It’s a rapidly growing market and according to new research from AgeUK, going to the supermarket gives nearly 2.5 million older people a reason to get out of the house.

Over a million over 60s visit a supermarket every day, says the report, and a further 5.3 million go at least 2-3 times per week.

Age UK is calling on retailers to train staff to recognise older people who may be lonely and chat to them.

That’s something that’s built in to the ethos of some supermarkets already. Our local Waitrose has always been a place to find conversation at the till if you want it and no hint of being hurried. On the other hand, Aldi staff are pleasant but goods fly through their hands as they speed process their customers.

Just last week we heard about slow tills at Tesco. It’s an experiment in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Scotland to help shoppers with dementia, but could be of value to all customers who enjoy a slower shop with conversation and help.

Not every disability is visible

That’s not the only positive news from Tesco. It’s one of several supermarkets that are changing the way disabled toilets are labelled to highlight the fact that not every disability is visible. The aim is increase awareness of the many reasons why shoppers might need to use facilities that are more accessible.

AgeUK has more on the agenda for local retailers and businesses. The charity would like to see greater awareness promoted amongst staff of local services that can help, and store policies which help front line staff to become volunteer befrienders, making regular visits and telephone calls.

 

Writing about needs and desires of an older population – my top articles for 2016

Writing for older consumers

From retirement to end of life, our needs and desires continue to change.  And for marketing it’s really important to understand what drives older people as a group and as individuals, just as with any sector of the population.

As a student, a commissioning editor, a writer and a participant in supporting older people, I’ve learned a great deal about what’s considered valuable at this time of life.

My top articles on quality of life for an ageing population

Maintaining a great quality of life is paramount, regardless of whether we’re 60 or 99. I’ve written with that in mind and here are my top picks from 2016.

Choosing gifts for older people

  • Gift ideas. Whether it’s Christmas or another special day, choosing presents for older parents and grandparents can be difficult. I’ve always believed that we should choose something that’s luxurious, unusual or fun. Not something that emphasises a person’s age like a walking stick or a pill box might. So I searched out products that I thought would fit the bill and here’s the result. Last year I also looked at tasty food and drink ideas and some lovely presents for Mother’s Day.

Where to live as people age

  • Are retirement apartments the next step? We see them popping up everywhere but for whose benefit? Are they the dream scheme for developers or a really good idea for new retirees? I visited one London scheme to find out more.
  • Choosing a care home. There is plenty of advice on choosing care homes available. What I wanted to do with this article was examine how to get under the skin of a home to understand the commitment to care. These questions are all about things I didn’t know and rather wish I had.

Retailers and older people

What makes life fun in retirement?

Reviewing products and services

  • Tea for two and a night of luxury. In January I was invited to visit the Hilton on Park Lane for afternoon tea and a stay in one of their high-rise rooms. Was it an experience I would recommend for older people looking for an enjoyable weekend? Here’s my review.
  • The emergency smart card. A review of the EIO smartcard that lets you upload all the information that would be useful in an emergency to a secure site that’s accessible to emergency helpers with a smartphone such as contacts, health conditions and medicines. My review has helped EIO improve their service to make it really valuable to anyone who might need help one day.

Real life stories

  • Arranging dad’s funeral. When my dad died in September I suddenly found myself with a huge number of decisions to make just to arrange his funeral. I wrote this blog partly to let him know what we did and why – and also to help others know what they will have to think about.

Need marketing or writing help?

If you’d like to talk to me about communicating successfully with the rapidly growing sector of older people, just drop me a line at kathy@wrightwell.com.

Does your marketing take account of the growing number of over 65s?

Customer service feedback

When I encourage businesses to take account of an ageing population to boost their success, I’m not talking about getting rich quick from a captive audience.

What I believe businesses in any area should be doing is understanding the changing marketplace and making adjustments accordingly.

Take going online. There are around 4.5 million over-65s in the UK who are not online. Why? They may not have the skills, they’re very rightly worried about security, or they may struggle with the dexterity, vision or memory that makes online shopping, banking or using any services difficult. Or, like my dad, they may simply refuse to go any further than an electric typewriter.

So financial institutions, retailers, utilities and more can go one of three ways. They can ignore the changes in the shape of their market. They can take an opportunity (as many are already doing) to make more money by charging more for offline transactions and argue that they are simply covering costs.

Or they can take a hard look at how they interact with their market and make adjustments to win more share through a better experience for all. It’s a losing strategy to assume that everyone of any importance has a mobile phone and a Facebook account, or is even internet-enabled. More worthwhile is to think about which channels work best for different segments of the population. Which messages are most relevant to this growing older audience? How can you demonstrate that you are a credible provider while protecting your customers from those who seek to steal and destroy?

We’re always talking about the customer experience and how customers expect the best. Older people deserve the best too, and that’s a long-term strategy for businesses who want to stay around and build their reputation wisely.