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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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Is Your Business "ZOOMER" Friendly?

Nine ways to make your store more convenient for older customers.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (March 21, 2011)

We were walking through the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino one morning when we stopped to watch a group of 50-something women try to navigate their way down the cobblestone streets. They weren’t just getting in from a long night of Las Vegas night life, they were on their way to a conference, and were merely trying their best not to catch a heel and lose their balance on the uneven flooring. We've seen this happen on more than one occasion, and apparently so has the hotel, because posted at each entrance is a classy brass sign warning guests about the possible hazards of the uneven walkways.

This observation led to a lengthy discussion on one of our favorite topics: are our businesses and products ready for the hordes of aging American consumers, each with unique special needs and physical limitations to be considered, who shop in our stores, and use our products and services? It’s a funny thing: We can talk about this topic all day long – it was first incorporated into our presentations in 1992 – and yet we’re not seeing too many businesses making dramatic changes.

Boomers to "ZOOMERS"

People over 50 aren't old; they’re in the prime of their lives. They are healthy and happy, and far richer than any other generation. This new generation – a combination of 76 million Baby Boomers and the 64 million people of retirement age and better – have a new name: they’ve been coined "The Zoomers." Zoomers control more than 70% of the wealth in the U.S., and according to a survey by WSL Strategic Retail, shoppers aged 55 to 70 are "heavy shoppers," making four or more shopping trips a week. These two facts alone should make every retailer sit up and take notice.

According to Ken Dychtwald, PhD, founder and president of Age Wave, as the Baby Boomers pass through their middle years, and on to maturity (the first Boomers began to turn 60 in 2006), several key factors will reshape consumer supply and demand. These factors include a concern about the onset of chronic disease, their desire to postpone physical aging, and entry into new adult life stages. And there are two more factors Dr. Dychtwald says will have a direct impact on your cash register.

It’s a "good news/bad news" scenario. The good news: Boomers are experiencing a psychological shift away from acquiring more material possessions toward a desire to purchase enjoyable and satisfying experiences. The bad news: You'll have to work harder to attract them as the absence of "disposable time" continues to complicate their lifestyles. Here’s the bottom line: You have a tremendous opportunity ahead of you if your products and services cater to the needs of the discretionary dollar-rich Zoomers.

A Store That's Ready

Adeg Aktiv Markt is a wonderful example of a retailer who is doing just that. Adeg is an Austrian supermarket chain that recently launched a supermarket footprint designed specifically for older shoppers (older shopper being defined as those aged 50 and better.) At Adeg’s Aktiv Markt, customers enjoy larger parking spaces, larger price labels, wider aisles, floors that are non-skid even when wet, plenty of places to sit down, even shopping carts with built-in seats so shoppers can relax whenever and wherever they like. They even have brakes to keep them steady while loading the car. Customers can reach for one of the magnifying glasses hanging from chains in the grocery aisles and dairy cases, or even borrow a pair of reading glasses to make shopping easier when they forget their own.

Adeg is quick to point out that their Aktiv Markt is not a store for old people; it's a store for discerning shoppers. This makes perfect sense. Parents juggling children while trying to shop and customers with armloads of product will appreciate these extra conveniences as well. Your business should be ready for discerning Zoomer customers, too. Here is a checklist of things to consider:

The Checklist

1. If you have a retail store or showroom, be sure to place product at more easily reachable heights. And if you have 84” shelves, as many retailers do, instruct store associates to be on the lookout for customers trying to get at product they can’t reach, and help them accordingly. Try to save the very top shelves for back-up merchandise.

2. Presbyopia, a disease that affects our ability to see clearly up close, kicks in at around age 40. Those Zoomers checking out your product, or wandering your sales floor, may be missing key product detail. We recommend that you have reading glasses in various magnifications available for customers to use on the honor system.

3. If large numbers of customers need reading glasses, then it’s safe to say that large numbers also wear bifocal glasses. When you wear bi-focals, you have to choose which part of the lenses to look through. The top part helps you see far away and the bottom helps you see close up. This means that at any given time, half of your display is out of focus to these customers. Cruise your store/product/showroom to look for important product that needs to be moved to a different location on the fixture.

4. Pump up the type size currently used on signing, brochures, newsletters, and other point-of-purchase (POP) materials. These materials are designed to help customers make good purchasing decisions when an associate is not available to help out. If they can’t read the materials, no one wins.

5. As we age, it gets harder to adapt to different lighting. We’ve been in too many businesses that are unbelievably dark. This makes it tough for anyone to see, and tougher still for aging eyes that need 2–3 times more light to see as clearly as younger eyes. Yet, lights that are too bright can also cause problems for Zoomers. If you are not sure where you stand lumen-wise, consider calling in a lighting professional to help you out.

6. Everyone loves a shiny floor, but shiny floors scream trouble for older Zoomers who do not want to risk a fall on what appears to be a slippery surface. When it comes time to replace your flooring, consider one made from non-slip material.

7. Do you have doorknobs or handles? A large percentage of Zoomers will have some sort of arthritis. It’s much easier for them to operate a handle versus a knob. This is a quick fix; door knobs are easy to replace.

8. Zoomers have plenty of expertise – don’t let their knowledge and talent go to waste! The Millennials (18–29) are on track to mimic their grandparents' values and beliefs. One of our favorite retailers takes advantage of the relationship between these two generations. On Saturday afternoons, a grandmotherly woman sits in a rocking chair near the store’s front door, knitting. The plump cushions strewn at her feet are always filled with children (and sometimes their parents) learning to knit. Brainstorm ways you could put Zoomers' expertise to work in your own business.

9. Put Zoomers on your payroll.  If your customers are older, it just makes sense that some of your associates should be as well. Zoomers feel a little more comfortable working with people their own age.

Now, about this aging thing that none of us are too fond of: John, Paul, George, and Ringo put it all in perspective when they sang, "When I get older, losing my hair, Many years from now, Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine? If I’d been out ‘till quarter to three, Would you lock the door? Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m sixty-four?"

(Editor's note: Here's a quote we like: "Inside every old person is a young person asking, 'What the hell happened?'")


A Note from Georganne & Rich:

On March 30 we’re representing ourselves both as consumers, and as the Baby Boomer generation as a whole, on a panel discussion that also includes a Millennial and a couple of Generation Xers. The audience will be comprised of CEOs and executives from retail and consumer packaged goods Fortune 500 companies.  It should be fun… it’s certainly different from our usual modus operandi! http://www.sigsummit.com/Speakers.aspx

(Note: Meetings & Conventions magazine took a survey of meeting planners asking them to name their favorite speakers/keynote presenters – and Kizer & Bender make the list, along with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Mike Ditka, Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Leno, Colin Powell, and others. To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

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