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Shhh! Ageing is good business

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: ISCF, Support

It’s well publicised that our society benefits from advances in healthcare and, as a result, we’re living longer.  In the UK today, there are 10 million people who can expect to live to 100 years.  Yet, retailers appear to secretly court older consumers, if they court them at all.

Two cupped hands holding a miniature shopping trolley.

Over 50's spend £320bn per year

Why do retailers hide their relationship with older consumers?  I recently met a former CEO of a large retail organisation who told me how they looked at their customer base.  He told me that they had 12 customer segments for people under 55 years old and they lumped everyone over 55 into one category.

There are 18 million people over 55 in the UK.  As a customer group, that is a big customer group to not actively target and it’s a curious decision given the well-documented difficulties retailers experience today.

Older consumers are GOOD consumers.  People over 50 years old hold 70% of the UK wealth.  According to Saga, consumers over 50 spend £320billion a year - up by £100billion in nine years.   In 2012, consumers over 50 accounted for more than 47 per cent of UK household consumer spending – contrary to established retail industry beliefs about consumer groups with the most disposable income.

A group of elderly people after an exercise class, all laughing and smiling.

Active adults not old people

There appears to be, what I call, the consumer paradox of older generations – as soon as you label a product specifically for old people, older consumer appear to be turned off.  The consumer market in the UK for care products has yet to grow significantly.  On one hand, this is understandable.  Some people don’t want to be labelled as old.  Most people in their 60s, 70s and 80s prefer to known as active adults.

However, there is more to the story.  Products made for other generations should also appeal to an older consumer.  Product and service designers have been talking about inclusive design for more than two decades.  There is a way to create successful products designed for a wide range of generations, including older consumers.  There have been some real successes with inclusive design but they are not well recognised.

An elderly lady wearing oversize purple spectacles laughing.

Good design appeals to all age groups

I often refer to the Ford Focus as an example of unrecognised successful inclusive design.  The Ford Focus is a successful product by most definitions.  Ford have sold 12 million Focus model cars and won 65 industry awards.  In the design of the Focus, designers created a Third age suit, where the suit makes mobility in your neck, arms and legs more difficult.  What resulted from incorporating design thinking into the Ford Focus is a car that is really well designed car for people of any age want to buy and drive.

Ford is not the only example of successful inclusive design.  Tablet computers are another example.  They are easy to use for all generations.  They look slim and attractive for anyone to access the Internet.  Older generations find them less intimidating than desktop or laptop computers.  In the UK, 51% of people 65 to74 years old have tablets in their home.

Voice assistants like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home are another great example.  Voice assistants appear to be the next generation user interface for all generations to easily access online information or social connections, including older generations.  There are countless stories of older consumers finding it easier to talk to Alexa than it is to type into a computer or tap on a tablet screen.

Local authorities around the UK are getting on board and trialing voice assistants with vulnerable people who need an extra hand but don’t like current solutions using other technology.  According to one research study, voice assistants will be 40% of UK homes by the end of 2018.

Tablets being held up showing portrait photo's of a people of various ages.

Inclusive design

Is Nike’s new shoe an example of inclusive design? Nike has just launched a shoe that automatically ties it own laces!  Nike launched Hyperadapt 1.0 this Spring to consumers.  In their words, Welcome to the future of footwear.

The Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 is the first fully-functioning athletic shoe that electronically adjusts to the contours of your foot via adaptive lacing technology – providing a personal, customised fit that makes it feel like an extension of your body.  It’s not cheap but I suspect there are some interesting marketing lessons to be learned from Nike in the launch of their latest innovation.  Watch this space…

A lady holding a wad of money holding out her hands in a 'so what' gesture.

Ageing is good business

We have a long way to go before the older consumers are given the attendion they currently lack from most retailers.  They are a big group of consumers whose needs are underserved.  Contrary to belief they have disposable income.  However, selling to this segment requires an inclusive approach.

One thing is certain, done the right way, ageing is good business.


You can follow Eric on Twitter:@kihlstrom_ltd 

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