Introduction

The business case for accessibility of older consumers is something that has long been known but not necessarily addressed at a grass roots level. In 2018, the over 65’s spent 54p in every pound and by 2040 they will be spending 68p in every pound[1]. This drastic increase in expenditure is something that is widely championed by businesses, but some organisations are not often willing to address the barriers to entry that older people face when it comes to engaging with businesses. These barriers have resulted in a situation where businesses need to embrace an age positive approach rather than just looking at the bottom line in the hope that the sales continue. One of the factors that impacts where older people shop is brand loyalty. Businesses need to harness brand loyalty, whilst addressing the need of their older consumers. This means taking a more proactive approach in becoming an age friendly society, rather than being a passive onlooker as the demographics in the UK shift.

Brand Loyalty In The Older Demographics

Businesses have long since been aware that it is cheaper to retain existing customers than it is to attract new ones. Acquisition of new customers is an expensive and timely affair, with marketing and an array of other strategies having to be developed in order to reach and then capture the particular market segment. Some businesses recognise that it is far more cost effective to nurture and develop already existing customers and this is especially true of the older demographics. However, it is noted that the most effective marketing strategy when attempting to sell to the older demographics is word of mouth. Older users rely heavily on suggestions from friends, family members and others in their network rather than traditional marketing methods and channels. It is suggested that this is due to the natural cognitive decline that comes with aging, therefore the cognitive actions that are required to digest and disseminate a marketing strategy aren’t as prevalent in older generations than they are younger. The result could be that some of the population that are over the age of 65 are not as susceptible to traditional marketing campaigns[2]. The implication for this is that businesses will need to make sure that their word of mouth reputation is maintained in order to not only keep their current customers, but to also entice new customers in.

What Is Brand Loyalty?

The definition for brand loyalty appears to be homogenised across the academic literature. However, it is brand switching rather than loyalty that is more salient in the case for age friendly businesses. The widely accepted definition of brand loyalty is two separate purchases of the same product, whereas brand switching is an area that has recently been subject to more investigation and research. The reason for this increased research is to answer the question of what factors can result in an older person switching brands or remaining loyal? Brands doesn’t just refer to a product, it encapsulates branded goods, shops and services.

Factors Influencing Brand Switching In Older Demographics

One of the factors that influences older people most when visiting shops and then returning is accessibility. Accessibility refers to both the shops physical location and how easy it is to move around in. Some older people need to use aides in order to get from point A to point B. Shops with narrow aisles, or a difficult lay out isolate older people from the market and freeze them out. If an older person is unable to easily move around the shop, they will seek out an alternative that fits their needs. When considering store layout, it is worth assessing if mobility vehicles and other aides are able to move through without obstruction or help.

Accessibility also refers to facilities within the store, namely toilets. An older person is less likely to return to the store if there are no facilities or the facilities are difficult to get to. Lack of facilities or difficult to use facilities are key barriers to entry and with the aging population.

Accessibility of products can also offer some discomfort for older shoppers, as previously addressed, the natural process of cognitive decline reduces the memory function in our brains. If shops and businesses are prone to moving items around on a regular basis, older shoppers will also avoid going and will switch shops as a result to alleviate the stress that can be felt when finding new products. The constant change in location of core products has been noted as an area of stress for some older people, especially those suffering from early onset dementia.

Practical Changes That Businesses Can Introduce

There are some practical changes that businesses can introduce to make their businesses more age friendly and meet the needs of the aging community.

Don’t change product placement too often. This will help older people remember where products are and not isolate users that suffer from dementia or memory reduction.

Organise your store so that it is easy to move around in. If you make all parts of your shops accessible, you remove the barriers to entry for a large proportion of the older population.  

Provide rest areas or seating areas for customers, especially if it is a bigger shop.

Allow customers to use the toilet facility or know where there is one close by that is easy to get to and accessible.

What Can Businesses Expect From These Physical Changes?

Older consumers are less likely to switch brands, shops, and services if they feel that they are having their needs met already. The reasoning behind switching to different providers is often down to accessibility and facilities within the bricks and mortar store itself. This coupled with the word of mouth marketing can make all the difference to footfall and even increase custom.

Implications

The implications of this research are wide reaching and give us new understanding in how age can adjust the ability to market to people as well as what factors can influence brand switching. The implications for businesses that are moving into the golden age of older consumers is the acceptance that their processes may well need to change in order to maintain a foothold in the market. As aforementioned, older people rely heavily on word of mouth marketing, which can either increase custom, or reduce it depending on the experience of the customer. Older customers will also readily switch to different businesses if they feel their needs aren’t being met, whether it is the routine moving of products, aisle width or even the availability of seating.

There are now a wide range of projects that are running across the UK that are seeking to promote an age friendly society. One of the ways that these projects are promoted is through the use of professional networks, where professionals discuss which areas of the project are working and can be used to help older people feel more included in their communities. Businesses that promote an age friendly society are discussed either to highlight best practice or whether or not they are place where professionals can refer their participants if they are engaged in direct delivery. This word of mouth pathway can increase older people engaging with businesses that they wouldn’t have engaged with previously, as recommendations are coming from a trusted source.

Conclusion

In the next decade, the population in the UK with the highest buying power will be that of the over 65’s. Businesses need to make a concerted approach to make their physical shops more accessible in order to retain their custom and work towards promoting an age friendly society. Not only will this increase the inclusivity of the community at large and make older people feel more embedded within it, there is also a solid economic and business case for being proactive and a leader in an age friendly community.  

 

[1] UK retirees' spending rockets as younger people spend less | Older people | The Guardian

[2] Journal of Business and Economic Research- December 2010. Volume 8, Number 12