Stores Called Unprepared for Coming Gray Wave

Discussion
Jan 03, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Everyone knows that the population is aging and that a growing percentage of society will be made up of senior citizens in the very near future. So why, wonder some who follow demographic trends, don’t retail stores seem more prepared for the needs of these consumers?


Richard Loreto, an expert who follows demographic trends in Canada and the U.S., told CBC Business News that huge stores, small lettering on signs and new emphasis on self-service are in direct contrast to the needs of an aging population.


According to Mr. Loreto, people who have difficulty getting around are going to be looking for small markets to shop in rather than attempt to navigate the 80,000-square-feet and up colossal structures that dominate much of retailing today.


Lighting and signage will be increasingly important as consumers’ eyesight dims with age. For the restaurant business, he said, “The notion of a candlelight dinner with a fancy menu for those in their sixties is just not on because they aren’t going to be able to read what they want to order.”


What seniors are increasingly going to want is service, said Mr. Loreto. Unlike past generations, many Baby Boomers are going into retirement financially well off, so they’ll be able to afford it.


“There is a niche market at present and an ever-growing market in the future to service seniors as they become less mobile as they inevitably will when they reach their eighties,” he said.


Moderator’s Comment: Will the size of the senior market warrant retailers making major changes in their businesses in the near future? If yes, what areas
(physical plant, product selection, service, etc.) will require the greatest change from how things are currently done?

George Anderson – Moderator

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17 Comments on "Stores Called Unprepared for Coming Gray Wave"


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Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
Guest
Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
15 years 2 months ago

Yes it will be a problem but don’t just put it on the retailers. The CPG’s are not doing enough to get ready either. Many packages are too hard to open, even the easy open lids. Have you ever thought about the force required to open the easy open soup cans? We have been told by seniors in focus groups that they can’t open them. The ingredients and print on labels is hard to read for seniors as well. The net is that CPG’s are not on top on the issue and opportunity and neither are the retailers. Maybe they should work in concert or maybe the retailers through their store brands could take the lead – now there is a real opportunity! It is all about Universal Design and taking everything back to a lowest common denominator and having it work for everyone. It will include seniors, differentially abled individuals and children, too. Lets get it right for everyone.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
That the baby boomer cohort is aging is news to no one. But the meaning of “old age” is also changing. People in their mid-50s are behaving like their parents did in their early 40s. Life expectancies are lengthening and so are retirements. Boomers are generally more concerned with wellness, peak experiences, and economic security and less concerned with accumulating possessions or the badges of prosperity, as compared with their parents’ generation. Younger boomers – those born after 1955 and before 1964 – are coming to grips with the reality that they are the first generation that will not live significantly better than their parents did. They are watching their parents spend down their inheritances. They are concerned that their own savings will not last through their own retirements. There is some interesting analysis of this phenomenon included in this week’s Advertising Age/American Demographics cover feature, “American Consumer 2006.” I was privileged to contribute to the editorial content. Key take-aways: 1) Older retireds consume differently than new retireds. 2) A “health divide” will be more… Read more »
Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
I think karenk has it about right. I would simply add that there are likely to be multiple tiers of aging consumers than there are today. That is to say, for those 50 and over today, lifestyles are much different and will continue to evolve. These lifestyles are dramatically different than say 20-30 years ago when the parents of those in charge today were in that category. That’s the challenge – I think. I think those in that category don’t see themselves there, but see others there. They see others much older in that category but not themselves. Therefore, they may be not addressing a demographic in the middle – themselves! It’s interesting that service is mentioned. It’s also mentioned that those in the demographic will be able to afford it and therefore demand it as a consumer. I don’t see anything in today’s trends in retailing to indicate that type of a shift at all. In fact, I see the opposite even from those who can afford it. It’s important to differentiate that level… Read more »
Margaret Callicrate
Guest
Margaret Callicrate
15 years 2 months ago

I agree with ahjemboe. It’s time to get our “Graydar” on!

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Perhaps, as usual, I remain blissfully unaware of the marketing media mind but as far as I can see, in the UK, there isn’t anyone specifically targeting the baby boomer contingency. There are some models on television and in print ads who are 21+ with “mature” figures and I’m sure I’ve seen or read something about skin care and makeup but it really doesn’t seem to preoccupy people as much as it does here. The earlier comments that resonate for me are those about packaging and those that point out the obvious about one size not fitting all. Actually, I quite liked the suggestion about having more small stores as well. After trailing around the supermarkets of Escondido today, my 79 year old mother came home completely exhausted while I pretended to be fit as a fiddle and nursed by aching knees in silence.

Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

The rapid growth of the drug store sector should be proof enough of the need for retailers to market to seniors and near seniors. This vertical has done a tremendous job of outreach with the recent changes of the Medicare drug plan. In recent store visits, I saw pamphlets, posters and other info on the new plan at two local drug store chains, but saw only one leaflet at one local supermarket pharmacy and nothing at another. And while there are still some serious challenges on the rollout, most of the problems lay with the government administrators.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Let’s first remember that we’re not going to wake up one morning and find that everyone is old. The process is more gradual, suggesting that radical revisions to retailing are not needed. Second, remember that the aging boomer is a temporary phenomenon – at some point the age distribution tips back to a younger population. Creating stores for old folk is going to turn off younger shoppers, which you may not recover as they age. I’d be interested in seeing data that suggests old people want more service – I see lots of self-checkouts among seniors at my grocery store and my Wal-Mart; are we overestimating their special needs?

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Overall, retailers have not made any efforts to adjust to the Gray Wave, bar one women’s apparel retailer. This is not to say every retailer should adjust. We expect to see a change from looking young to feeling good. As the Baby Boomers retire, one can expect some slow-down in consumer spending due to a greater percentage being on fixed income. More spending on leisure, travel and entertainment offsetting spending for apparel and home furnishing should be expected. Retailers most at risk are big box stores. Someone 75+ years old simply will not shop a 100,000 square foot store. Once their driver’s license is withdrawn, they will not have the transportation. Furthermore, the physical effort will not be worth the trip. For food retailers, it is time, depending on customer mix, to scale down package sizes as the Gray Wave eats less.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Home Depot and Borders are the only 2 national retailers to partner with the AARP. The AARP has 30 million dues-paying members. The time to reach graying Americans is today, not 5 years from now. Home Depot uses the AARP mailing list for sales promotions and also uses the AARP web site for recruiting. Borders uses the web site for recruiting and doesn’t do sales promotions. The AARP print media keeps separate subscription lists for those in their 50’s, those in their 60’s, those in their seventies and up. So the messages can be tailored to the most appropriate subgroups. Almost all retailers use tiny type with or without asterisks in their print ads, a hostile approach to all customers, and even more hostile towards people over 50 whose eyesight has changed. Our RetailWire discussions have often been about reaching minority groups. Thirty million AARP members is a worthwhile group to reach.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 2 months ago

The RetailWire poll indicates that most respondents believe that retailers are not “Very Prepared” for the changes that our aging society will bring about in 5 to 15 years. There seems to be a GAP predicted for AARP retailing.

With constant societal emphasis being put on “individuality” in every thing we do, wear, eat, drink or drive, and who we love, a retailer must determine his/her target audience. To woo one large audience, a retailer may have to give a lesser priority to another large audience. Teenagers and younger adults don’t cotton to older images … and today’s younger standards don’t ring the bells loudly with aging and nostalgic-developing seniors. The key is to choose your principle target audience. Even mighty Wal-Mart isn’t all things to all consumers.

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
15 years 2 months ago

Gray Wave? Seniors? Are those the new terms for the “Baby Boom” generation?

The baby boomers have changed retail in so many ways over the past 35 years. First it was about price, then it was convenience, then it was, as George Carlin says, accumulating “stuff.” Now it is a strong desire for good customer service.

Baby boomers, unlike previous generations, are not going to fade into the background. They are (or should I say we are) the largest generation and arguably have the most wealth and discretionary dollars.

I see many retailers starting to look at the type of products that suit the baby boomers and at the same time see a greater commitment to customer service.

Thus, those who are listening to their customers are prepared. They are changing with the times. Those who don’t or won’t listen are not only unprepared, but will most likely become extinct.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Changes should be ongoing, reflecting the reality of the day. Some retailers, like Whole Foods, have stayed on top of the trends superbly well. Today’s aging boomer wants healthy foods he/she can trust, and they are there. Not many of us are ready yet, thank God, for canes and bedpans. My eyesight isn’t what it was, but, like most people my age (57), it’s correctable to 20-20. Although a lifelong borderline klutz, I’m still active in sports on a very regular basis, like many people my age. Whatever happened to those threads where we all said how boomers today are aging differently, and staying younger longer? I strongly agree that there’s a fine line here; if a retailer starts catering to “old people” in that cliched way, they’ll insult their target and turn off younger shoppers. Personally, I’m seeing more solutions in search of a problem, than problems in search of a solution. I get annoyed sometimes, but all in all, don’t think retailers are missing the mark all that badly.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
Yes, there is a growing senior market. No, none of the companies (retailer, CPG, or otherwise) are prepared. However, this will be an extremely difficult market to reach. Yes, there are some things like poorer eyesight for reading and increasing arthritis and/or heart disease. However, these are not the characteristics that define the market. The market is defined by what the consumers want to do, by their physical ability, and their discretionary income. Putting things in larger type may address one physical issue but that doesn’t have anything to do with what customers want or how they will spend their money. This senior market spans the age range of 50 (getting an AARP card) to at least 80 and more often 100. Marketing to people from the time they are born until they are 30 years of age does not mean finding one strategy to fit all so why should there be one marketing strategy to fit a group of seniors that span a 30 year age range? Marketing to “seniors” is an impossible goal.… Read more »
Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 2 months ago

On average, most retailers are playing by outdated rules and
selling programs, with a few exceptions as mentioned by previous commentators. Walgreen, Walgreen, Starbucks, Starbucks,and hair salons!

Oh yes, we must include food outlets and eating places that have a weekly senior discount day. (Are doctor and dentist visits now a retail business? Think about that!)

But, what happens to the remaining 311 days in food and meal outlets? Hmmmmmmmm

Karen McNeely
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
I think some are exaggerating what the needs are for the aging population. The baby boomers are aging differently than the generations before them. In general, I would say they are more active than their predecessors. While some physical changes are inevitable, they are fighting the aging process tooth and nail (hence the popularity of Botox, etc.) and the last thing they want to be reminded of is that they are getting older. That said, the changes need to be done in a way that makes it seem hip, not like they are giving in. I’m not sure if the woman’s retailer Frank is referring to is Chico’s, but what a great example. While I personally don’t shop there (OK, I’m on the tail end of the boomers…), it sure beats the standard uniform polyester pull-on pants of days past. I think we will see more and more of this kind of thing evolve naturally versus a hit ’em over the head, geeze you getting old now we have to coddle you because you are… Read more »
Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
15 years 2 months ago

My perception is that stores are aware and that they have been adjusting to the growing senior population and average life expectancy increases for years. Product mix reflects that awareness and I think advertising reflects that as well. Today’s senior is mobile, connected and much more similar in shopping habits to 45 year olds than in the past. It appears as though the senior demographic segment needs to be treated as two or three separate groups;

*working and spending 60 to 75 year olds

*retired and spending 60 to 75 year olds

*75+ no longer working and spending only for essentials

As I see it, many smart retailers have been breaking it down this way and profiting from it in their positioning and targeting and that it is totally incorrect to say that stores are unprepared.

Ann Hjemboe
Guest
Ann Hjemboe
15 years 2 months ago

The retail world never really addressed the baby boomer well, in my opinion, especially the female consumer. How many articles have been written over the past few years about the lack of apparel shopping opportunities for anyone over 45? Time and time again, retailers and direct merchants are quoted as saying they are trying to adjust their merchandise mixes to address the younger customer.
If we haven’t addressed the needs of the 45 year old, it isn’t likely we will address the needs of the 60 year old! Getting old just isn’t sexy for the retail world.

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