The best years of your life? Designing the retail experience for seniors

Jun 21, 2017

GDR Senior Writer Andrew Lowry explores various approaches retailers are taking to adjust their experience for an aging population

Aging isn’t what it used to be.

At GDR, we’ve written before about the huge spending power of the over-55s, and how companies are finding news ways to communicate with this cohort.

Precedents from Japan, which is literally the most mature market in the world, suggest that as this generation ages they are unlikely to significantly reduce spending as they may have in the past: in 2014, over-75s spent 90% of the average annual per-person expenditure in the US, while Japanese over-75s, proportionally a larger group, spend 106% of their natural average.

Japan’s further progress in demographic transition suggests the elderly, as opposed to those in late middle age, will become an increasingly important market.

How can retailers cater to their needs?

Research by consultancy firm AT Kearney in 2013 suggests that 60-70-year-olds are attracted by some key factors:

  • 68% reported they wanted to shop closer to home – local, small outlets within walking distance would seem to be preferable to out-of-town destination sites.
  • 52% said they often found product labels and prices hard to read, suggesting that packaging design has not kept pace with an aging market.
  • Where younger people may be happier shopping with their phones aiding them in-store and not want assistance from staff, older shoppers are happier with human service.
  • The importance of shopping as social opportunity was also stressed.

Recent research by GDR uncovered Seniority, a new store in India that has tailored its retail design to these needs. While it offers equipment for senior care, which means it makes sense for its design to be conceived in this way, the approach of architect Insiya Pithawala holds several lessons for those wishing to court this market.

Built in a converted bungalow in a residential area, a social element is key, with the store acting as a drop-in centre for locals who may otherwise feel isolated.

Seniors can require light up to five times brighter to read than their younger counterparts, so bright, direct illumination is used. Polished, heavy glare surfaces are avoided, and a gradual transition in lighting between the exterior and interior ensures customers’ eyes have time to adjust.

The signage is uncluttered and high-contrast for ease of reading, with dark colours and pastels avoided, as they can be more difficult for the older eye to define. Colour blocking delineates the various functional areas in the store.

Matte, non-slip flooring is used, and washrooms are wheelchair accessible and have room for caregivers. There is extra seating compared to what may be expected in a conventional store of the same size, and this seating is clearly marked with a yellow strip to help with navigation.

Seniority is a specialist retailer, but we have seen a variety of approaches around the world to make the shopping experience more suited to seniors’ needs.

These can be small-scale, like the weekly ‘Slow Shopping’ sessions at a Sainsbury’s in England, instigated after a grass roots campaign, or top-down, like German supermarket chain Kaiser’s ‘Generations Markets,’ which offered trollies with built-in seating and magnifying glasses, and emergency call buttons in some locations.

Japan, as suggested earlier, is at the forefront of questions around aging populations, so has seen the most elaborate efforts in this area. Seeking to compete against the attractions of proximity and conveniences, the Aeon Mall in Funibashi has introduced several schemes to attract seniors. Calling this market “the grand generation,” they offer free pick-up and drop-off services, an in-mall health clinic and consultation service, and more than 140 leisure activities are on offer in tandem with with a ‘Begins Partner’ programme that helps individuals find companions. Japanese pensioners also receive their pension on the 15th of every month, and the mall offers 5% discounts on this day to all over-65s.

Elsewhere in Japan, the Keio department store responded to research indicating 70% of its customers were older than 50 by rearranging its women’s clothing by price, size and colour, rather than brand; this led to a significant increase in sales.

This is just a brief survey of various responses around the world to demographic changes – but the trends in developed economies are clear. Much has been made of the opening of new channels by technology and the alterations to the physical retail experience they herald; how best can it be adapted to the aging population?


If you’d like to discuss further, feel free to get in touch with Andrew here.

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