retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Sure we are supposed to be highly focused on Gen x, Millennials and Gen Z with their youth and burgeoning spending power. But let’s not forget the older generations with their enormous numbers, needs and long-earned customer loyalty.

And certainly, let’s not forget the reality that we boomers are getting older (and somedays faster than others).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global population over the age of 60 will double in decades to come and by 2035 people aged 65 and older will outnumber children in the US. While we may still be listening to the Beach Boys, our physical needs when shopping are going to change substantially.

The New York Times had a fascinating and important story last week about how the airport and hotel industries are preparing for this new age wave and the lessons that shouldn’t be missed by any customer-facing business, most especially retailers.

As the article reported, design firms are sending key staff into airports in “age simulation suits” designed to help a 30-year-old experience the challenges of someone more than twice their age. The suits hamper vision and hearing plus provide added weight - just some of the wonderful joys of aging. The findings are important.

For instance, the designers found obvious needs while inside the suits - such as the importance of benches and other seating areas. Granted, airports are much larger than retail stores, but that’s a problem that provides relatively easy solutions. Other findings were less expected but equally important and possibly harder to address. Consider that older people have trouble looking up and thus miss many signs hung from ceilings - a rather common situation in supermarkets like airports.

Likewise, many avoid shiny floors because they create concerns about slipping. Diminished vision and hearing mean a lot of in-store marketing might become invisible to older shoppers.

Frankly, the entire article looked like must-reading to me (though I did need to increase the font size a bit.) I’ve written in the past about the opportunities and challenges in serving aging boomers (and older generations) but the airport study highlights important needs in store design. If stores are to survive and create welcoming experiences for shoppers, it would seem obvious to solve the real world problems of all shoppers, especially those who are more likely to visit brick and mortar locations.

It might not even require age simulation suits or special designers. There are many “older” executives in the industry who with their family members could provide important input on how to serve the needs of shoppers with the limitations brought on by age.

This is a vitally important topic and one that I imagine will grow even more important in years to come. However, I have one important quibble with the Times article: the suggestion that anyone over 55 is “old.” I think the best response I can offer up to that is “bite me” … only not too hard. Apparently, I’m getting kind of frail.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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