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.


Does the healthy living trend include the older population?

Fitness after retirement


A recent report from Hitwise has discovered that healthy living in the UK is no longer based on fads or New Year resolutions. Analysis of searches shows that consumers are looking for long-term health gains in diet and exercise. The rise of popularity of fitwear and the rapid evolution of new ways to exercise underline the trend.

But is this just a youth thing or is it reflected in the older population?

Many of the growth activities highlighted by Hitwise are most popular with younger people. Crossfit, marathons and “tough mudder” need the speed, agility and knees of youth. But there is a marked growth amongst the older population for interest in gentler activities such as yoga.

Alongside greater interest in exercise is a change throughout the population in approaches to diet. People are looking for healthy eating that’s also easy – hence the rise of the ingredients box.

Where retailers may be missing a trick is in the exercise wear business. Lines from specialists and the big retailers are doing really well but continue to be focused on the young and slimline. Yet wearing comfortable, fun gear is a positive mood enhancer at any age or size.

Is there a need? Well, coupled with the noted rise in interest across the population for a healthier lifestyle is the continuing progression of advice that older people should keep active. Many of these stories emerge on websites such as the BBC as well as media providers such as the Guardian and the Mail – all popular places to find information. Just last week the BBC carried a story about the importance of moving to maintain the longevity of body cells.

Couple that with the rising average age of the population and wise retailers could open up new markets by focusing more on the older consumer.

Are you looking at your products from the perspective of older consumers?


I recently had a great conversation with someone from a major retailer that really cares about its staff and its customers. Because of that the company has set up all sorts of committees of like-minded people to assess and discuss the products that the company sells.

But it seems they’re missing a trick. Because the groups are formed from employees, there doesn’t seem to be an option for those over retirement age to give their views.

Yet with an ageing population it’s really important that manufacturers and retailers start looking at what they sell from the point of view of older consumers. Does the product work physically for people with less mobility, poorer eyesight or hearing or weaker wrists – all likely to happen with age? Does it appeal to their sense of taste or style? Is it technologically unnecessarily challenging?

Looking at products and services from the perspective of different user groups is a fantastic thing. We just need to ensure that older people are included too. With an ageing population it’s too important a consumer group to ignore.

Image from GraphicStock

Where cafes can do better for older customers and those with dementia

I’ve just written an article about how far retailers have come in understanding dementia – but how far they still have to go in taking action to make life easier.

I believe that every organisation that wants to include the growing population of seniors needs to take stock of not just how they train their staff but how they offer their services. And that’s not just for those with dementia. It’s for anyone who starts to have challenges such as loss of mobility, deteriorating hearing and sight, slower reactions – and even different views on what constitutes good service.

Here’s an example.

We have locally a hugely successful garden centre, farm shop and PYO farm. People come long distances to visit.

The garden centre has just spent a serious amount of money on building a very glamourous new café. It’s big, looks good and offers a huge range of delicious cakes.
But there are aspects that don’t work for an older clientele. That’s especially true for the growing population who are living reasonably successfully with dementia and can still manage on their own for the most part.

picjumbo.com_HNCK4347What are the guidelines that could have helped?

1. Low noise. Even with just a few people in the café the acoustics are really poor. Anyone with poor hearing will struggle quite quickly. People with dementia are disturbed by loud noise. On the plus side there isn’t any of the piped music that can bring conversation to a halt during many a pub lunch.

2. Clear paths. There’s no obvious and clear route to the café from the entrance to the garden centre. Tucked away at the back of the garden centre the café isn’t (yet) clearly signposted and there’s no “roadway”. You have to find your own path around the displays. Great for those who want to browse on their way in but perplexing for those who need simplicity. And as with many places, finding the way out again is difficult too.

3. Straightforward purchasing. Instructions for ordering meals are confusing. There are no menus on the tables so you find your table number, then go back to the noticeboard to choose a meal, then queue up to order it? I haven’t quite worked that one out yet.

4. Logical and consistent routes. The central serving area is circular and you can go to the left or the right. But on the two visits I’ve made, you can’t go right, and the way is sort of blocked by a notice board. Confusing again.

5. Really helpful staff. There are plenty of staff but it’s hard to know who, if anyone, is going to take your order, make your coffee and actually hand over the drink. It seems to take three people. That’s perplexing for anyone, and adding to the challenge is the fact that internal communication (aka chatting to your friend) seems to take priority over serving.

6. Easy access to facilities. They’ve got this right. Along with the café they’ve built new toilets and with a bit more signposting they’ll be very useful. And I can’t comment on how easy the facilities are to use as I’ve yet to use them! But simplicity and common sense are a priority for this market however much being design clever appeals.

7. Comfort. Again, that’s fine. The table seating is very easy to use.

8. Décor. Loud decoration and confusing patterns aren’t good for those with dementia. This café is simple, sophisticated and has lovely views out over the farm fields. So more brownie points.

9. Accessibility. It’s reasonably easy to manoeuvre wheelchairs through to the café (and anyone who doesn’t make this work could have issues with regulations). No steps anywhere and there’s plenty of space between displays, so everyone can get to anywhere in the garden centre. Full marks.

This café will be a great success. But it may not get repeat business from all the senior customers who visit it because there are too many small challenges that add up to a less than perfect customer experience. And for retail businesses today, getting the customer experience right is absolutely vital.