Supermarkets Need to Prepare for Silver Tsunami

Supermarkets Need to Prepare for Silver Tsunami

As a woman in my 30s, I consider products for their anti-aging benefits, but it was a kit designed to make me feel 50 years older that caught my attention recently.

With vision-impairing glasses and gloves that made my fingers feel arthritic, it was a simplified version of AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System), a suit built by MIT researchers and students to help product developers understand the physical limitations that come with age. Retailers would do well to try on the suit too.

Take AGNES for a cane-assisted stroll down most grocery aisles and you'll realize what a handful of forward-thinking chains already have: For the most mature shoppers, the average supermarket is an unshoppable place.

“Grocery stores love shiny white floors and old people are afraid of that,” said 55-year-old retail anthropologist Georganne Bender, at the SymphonyIRI Group Summit last week.

But it's not just elderly shoppers who are being alienated. Consumers as young as 50 are having a difficult time reading nutrition facts panels. Managing chronic conditions with diet is hard enough, but it becomes an even bigger challenge when you're straining to identify which shelf tags say Low Sodium. Did you know that six in 10 Baby Boomers have been diagnosed with at least one chronic disease? Or that a 60-year-old needs three times the light to see as someone in their 20s?

Straining to reach for products up high or down low is also sometimes problematic. Do your planograms take into account that 55% of those over 50 have some type of arthritis? Did you ever consider sourcing shopping carts with hand brakes? How about a place to sit for a moment's rest?

If your answer is no, think for a moment about America's shifting age structure. The number of adults in their 60s and 70s will grow by a seismic 80% over the next 7 years and double in the next 35 years. Woman Baby Boomers are faster-growing than Hispanics in the U.S.

CVS/Caremark is already catering to what its chief marketing officer, Rob Price, coins the “Silver Tsunami” of shoppers. Its changes are subtle (that's very important to young Baby Boomers who don't want to be reminded of their age), but spot on. Shelves are being lowered, carpeting installed and lights adjusted to a level that's just right.

Other steps are so simple you can start taking them today. Walgreens has tethered magnifying glasses to its shelves with stretchy cord for those who couldn't otherwise read the fine print. Even Safeway is getting kudos for its “SimpleNutrition” shelf tags because they're large enough to read.

Food retailers can also win with older shoppers by making meeting rooms available for social events and providing transportation for those who no longer drive.

Have you designed a store tour for women with osteoporosis? Or assembled a panel of mature shoppers to assess their needs? It starts with senior steps.