Lifelong Retail Helps Design Elder-Friendly Communities

By Abelson, Rick | Aging Today, November/December 2007 | Go to article overview

Lifelong Retail Helps Design Elder-Friendly Communities


Abelson, Rick, Aging Today


Imagine living in an elder-friendly community where traditional retail products, services and ambiance are a stroll away. Now, imagine that older customers can't use much of what's sold there because the products are not relevant to their everyday lives. How frustrating situations like this are, for both retailers and customers. Developers of age-qualified, age-targeted and age-in-place communities are beginning to realize, though, that with a bit of extra care, they can achieve a meaningful balance in the retail mix that can create real value for residents. This recent trend is called lifelong retail.

Consider that with the passage of boomers into their seventh decade, members of the active-adult market in the United States are turning age 60 at a rate of 10,000 per day-a trend that will continue over nearly two decades. In addition, 45% of those ages 65 or older will continue to work for many reasons, and most are self-employed. According to Mary Furlong, author of Turning Silver Into Gold (New York City: Financial Times Press, 2007), boomers earn more than $2 trillion per year and own 77% of this nation's assets. Statistics like these translate into tremendous opportunities for companies that have products and services aimed at active-adult and older consumers.

Because not every place calling itself a retirement community is ideal, some innovators throughout the United States are creating new models for the older market that could help developers and retailers meet the market expectations of the aging population.

LIFELONG RETAIL DISTRICTS

What is the typical retail attitude of older adults? With an eye on middleclass boomers, it is important for retailers to understand people's mindset when they consider how to spend money at this more mature stage of their lives. Frequently, in their daily lives, those in midlife and older become less patienthaving heard the pitches all before-and feel more time pressured then they did 20 years earlier.

On average, boomers have some disposable income, but not everyone is wealthy, so they carefully prioritize their discretionary spending. Thus, they may drink a more upscale bottle of wine every so often and take an annual vacation on their own or with their grandchildren. Generally, theses older consumers are drawn to products and services that are durable, have good value, are convenient and sometimes provide a psychological lift. The checkout Unes at Costco or Trader Joe's will testify to this phenomenon.

Developers and retailers who pay close attention to how elders behave when spending their money are on the right track and can enhance their opportunities by creating lifelong retail districts that offer a friendly, local mix of retail stores for this group. Those aiming to serve this market should strive to be sensitive to age and demographics, have an in-depth knowledge about these customers, offer specific merchandise with well-focused selections, and have full inventory available and maintained within hours or overnight to establish a regional presence. Especially key to success is fostering customer intimacy with mature, well-informed staff who can create personal bonds.

The eventual aim is translating all of these factors into a physical place that elders can enjoy. Many older residents I've met have commented that these places "just feel right" to them, and so they keep coming back. To ensure a better chance for success, investment banks that have latched on to this retail strategy have identified specific location criteria for lifelong retail districts, which should be:

* Between 11 and 19 acres in size;

* In new or redesigned locations;

* Near hospitals, regional shopping centers and opportunities for higher learning;

* Accessible to major boulevards and freeways;

* Incorporating an authentic, storydriven retail experience;

* Cozy, casual and convenient. …

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Lifelong Retail Helps Design Elder-Friendly Communities
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