Chairs Come to East Harlem Retailing

Feb 22, 2011
Tom Ryan

On February 18, community volunteers in East Harlem distributed
chairs and window stickers bearing the slogan "Age-friendly New York
City" to
50 businesses, including bodegas, florists, pharmacies and supermarkets. The
initial sticker and chair distribution is part of a larger program led by the
New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) that aims to build awareness among all
sectors in response to an expected older adult population increase projected
at 50 percent over the next 20 years.

The "Age-friendly NYC" sticker
on windows indicates those stores "welcome
the business of older adults and are striving to better serve their needs," according
to a statement from the coalition. But based on a series of community discussions
with older adults about what they need in their neighborhood, the foremost
goal of the Age-friendly Business coalition initially is to provide chairs
for older people (and people of all ages) to rest while shopping, while waiting
on line or waiting for a service.

"I am so proud that the small businesses in our neighborhood listened
to the older adults of the community and are taking these steps to make their
businesses age-friendly," said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito
in a statement. "Having
a chair can make a world of difference — to a business’s bottom
line and to an older adult out in the community."

"Many businesses told us that older adults are their most loyal customer
base and that they are doing many things to accommodate them as a part of good
customer service," said Dorian Block of NYAM. "Businesses are putting
their stock on lower shelves, offering delivery services and making their font
size larger on printed materials to better serve older customers. At the same
time businesses are hungry to learn about how they can make no or low cost
changes to their store, office or restaurant to keep older adults shopping
and coming to their businesses."

East Harlem is the first neighborhood
to receive Age-friendly stickers and educational materials, but they will be
given out over the next few months across the city.

Discussion Questions: Is providing seating becoming more critical across retail channels as Boomers age? What other aging needs will likely become even more important than seating to retail customers in the years ahead?

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9 Comments on "Chairs Come to East Harlem Retailing"

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Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
10 years 2 months ago

By 2015 we’ll have more seniors in North America than children, so it seems readily apparent that we have to adapt our world to accommodate an aging consumer. Out with the play areas and in with the seating areas.

Seating is one element but retailers will have to examine the entire environment for improvements. Sound, lighting, print size, navigation and signing, parking–all will have to be rethought. And as for the concept of 190,000 square foot stores…forget about it.

Kimberly Clark has been doing extensive work in this area to prepare for the wave.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
10 years 2 months ago

This is a great story and one that will no doubt become more frequent as the boomers age. What’s striking about the story is a couple of things–the fact that the target group was actually asked what made the most difference to them and the simplicity and relatively low costs of these solutions. No high-tech here, just chairs, bigger fonts, delivery service, and convenient placement on the shelves.

Al McClain
Al McClain
10 years 2 months ago

Great idea–Nordstrom is one retailer that has been providing comfortable seating for years, so women can shop while men nap or read the paper. The comfort of the seating is also important–watch how many people request booths at restaurants, in part because booths have more padding. The quality of seating can also be a deal breaker for businesses where you have to sit awhile, such as restaurants, food courts, and airlines. If you’ve ever had to take a long flight in a middle coach seat that has too little padding, is too short, and won’t go back more than an inch; you’ll know what I mean. Are you listening American Airlines?

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
10 years 2 months ago

Seating provides a place to rest but getting consumers in the store with a place to rest does not necessarily result in sales. Getting them in the store is the first step, but then what is being done to help them make purchases?

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
10 years 2 months ago
Ensuring aging consumers have access to in-store seating is a good first step in becoming an age-friendly retailer. But retailers can’t rest on their laurels. More needs to be done, including ensuring stores are easy to navigate, creating appropriate product sizes, ensuring packaging info is easy to read and understand, ensuring products can be accessed easily and training associates to serve seniors. All such issues can’t be addressed at once, but they do represent the fundamental needs of aging consumers that brands need to address, if they want to win this consumer. When discussing such age-friendly initiatives, it’s also best for brands to ensure they don’t ignore a huge segment of the senior demo–one that doesn’t go by the name Boomers. Too often, the media, retailers, CPGers and others refer incorrectly to the impacted demo as being Boomers. But on the far side of age 65 exists about 40 million consumers sometimes referred to as Matures and/or senior citizens. It’s a group that is actually part of the fastest-growing segment of the population, and they’re… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
10 years 2 months ago

This, plus Doug’s link, were fascinating. Good to see so many people thinking sensibly–and sensitively. If that sort of marketing behaviour persists, I think the objection raised by Camille (encouraging the actual sale) will solve itself.

Ryan Mathews
10 years 2 months ago

I’ve actually done some survey work on this over the years. Two groups love chairs–old people and young people. The problem is that young people like them so they can hang out which often scares away older people who couldn’t sit down anyway because the young people wouldn’t get off their chairs for them…well, you see where this goes. It’s really a touchy subject. You can’t very well post “Seating available. Infirm only!”

Roger Saunders
10 years 2 months ago

Creating an inviting place to sit and reflect makes sense, if retailers have the space. As a Boomer, I don’t see this as a particular doff of the cap to age–I still give my seat to a woman, or a small child.

Chairs, be they rocking or lounge, are decorative and for ambiance when in retail.

Justin Time
10 years 2 months ago

My elderly dad died too soon to see this happen.

He would always complain about a lack of seating in big box stores, malls, supermarkets, etc.

When we would shop together, I would run ahead of him and Mom and first scout the store, mall, etc for a bench. Some times I was successful, most times, I wasn’t.

Once that was taken care of, he would enjoy the day shopping.

More likely than not, when I returned to his bench, there would always be someone, a former WWII vet sitting with him, and they would be talking about the war, etc.

Any of you that recall the over 400 G.C. Murphy locations in another era would remember their vintage cane chairs in the front of the store. Seems that Macy’s, the big boxes, supermarkets, and others could learn something about customer service for the elderly that has long been forgotten.


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