How media reporting on ageing can be bad for business

The headline screams “Dedicated supermarket aisles, free online deliveries among wish-list items for the elderly“. Reading further in this article from Singapore’s Straits Times, it becomes clear that the quoted research from Nielsen involves a sample of 300 people, 55 years and above. Really? 55 is ‘elderly’!? This bullshit is bad for business.

Promo material for the presentation session held by Nielsen in Singapore entitled “Winning the loyalty and wallets of the silver generation” did not seem to mention the term ‘elderly’.  So I suspect the journalist who picked up this story was probably a ‘twenty-something’ who thinks anyone over 40 is ‘elderly’.

What’s more, the reported top-line findings are near useless;

  • 67% of elderly consumers have indicated products need to have clearly labeled nutritional information
  • 63 per cent of the respondents also said they wanted more wheelchair-friendly facilities
  • 72 per cent would like free online deliveries which do not require a minimum amount spent

Would the responses to these questions be any different if they were asked of younger people? I think not. Who wouldn’t want clearer labelling, wider aisles (think mothers), and free delivery?

How about this one? “65% have specified that they have difficulty in finding shopping aisles dedicated to aging-needs products”. Do older people really want dedicated aisles or was this a forced question? e.g. “Do you have difficulty in finding shopping aisles dedicated to aging-needs products?”

Nielsen is better than that.2016-04-03_19-12-40

Older consumers (depending on their age) buy a much wider range of products and services than could practically fit into a dedicated aisle. In fact, they buy from most of the store. See the chart from McKinsey illustrating that the share of household expenditure among ‘retiring and elderly’ (60 plus and 75 plus) goes well beyond the shopping stereotype of ‘healthcare products and assistive aids’.

What’s more, efforts to bundle all ‘ageing’ products into a specific store or aisle have proven a failure in retail examples worldwide.

We believe a more inclusive approach works better. A concept we call Lifetime Customer Experience.

Often, ‘silo’ product shopping (usually for the old, old) is conducted by caregivers purchasing for their dependent elders but older people generally do not want to be stigmatize about their age based on what they buy or where they buy it – even within a store. I can’t imagine a 55 year old searching out the ‘ageing products’ section.

Such reporting can be dangerous and counter-productive as it generalizes the attitudes and predicted needs of older consumers as if they are a single, homogeneous group. It takes the needs of age extremes and applies them to all mature shoppers, in this case 55 years and above.

This leads many marketers to dismiss the ‘older’ consumer because they believe their company does not have products or services specifically designed to serve the ageing market. The result is that companies overlook the real needs of consumers as they age and are missing out on the business opportunities that arise from them.