With  the emerging “Silver Tsunami,” a metaphor for our aging population, retailers are preparing for the tidal wave of some 78 million Baby Boomers turning 65 and  over in the next 10 to 20 years

With their growing numbers and vast purchasing power, senior shoppers present both an opportunity and challenge for retailers. For some of the biggest names in the industry, including Kohl’s, Best Buy and Boscov’s – the 60-and–over crowd represents an important customer base already, and are doing even more to accommodate it.

“This demographic should be important to retailers as there is a gap between the scale of the senior consumer population’s purchasing power and the current offerings in the retail sector that are more geared toward younger shoppers,” said Deborah L. Weinswig, Managing Director at Fung Global Retail and Technology in New York.

She said the senior proportion in the U.S. was a substantial 14.8 percent, or nearly 48 million people in 2015, and projected to grow to 20.7 percent of the total 356 million population by 2020. Likewise, spending by U.S. seniors continues to grow faster than consumer spending in total.

Her recommendations for retailers:

  • Lower shelves to make reaching items easier.
  • Extra large- and large-sized  sweaters positioned lower on racks. “Maybe not have all the sizes together so those who can’t reach that high can get to their size,” she said.
  • Buttons to push so if she needs assistance in certain areas of the store a sales associate can come to her aid.

Some major retailers have taken steps recently to cater to seniors.

On Kohls.com, Kohl’s offers a special 15 percent discount every Wednesday in stores only for customers aged 60 and over.

Electronics giant Best Buy recently launched a pilot program, known as “Assured Living Service” in Denver and Minneapolis as a sensor-based notification service connecting caregivers with their loved ones through smart home technology. Best Buy consults with both the child and parent to customize a system that best meets their need and the company’s Geek Squad installs the technology in the parent’s home and offers training on using it.

The payoff potential is huge. Senior households wielded $1.43 billion in spending last year – up 6.7 percent from $1.34 billion in 2015, according to National Consumer Expenditure Surveys.The mean family wealth and before-tax real income of households headed by most age groups under 64 contracted considerably between 2001 and 2013, while households headed by seniors saw a significant increase in their average wealth and income in the same period.

On the consumer spending front, U.S. households consisting of those ages 65–74 direct a substantially greater share of their total spending to retail categories than the average household does, but households consisting of those ages 75 and older direct a lower share than average toward retail.

Fung researcher Swarooprani Muralidhar said seniors bought twice as many household supplies, cleaning products, books and periodicals, than they did clothing,(142 percent vs. 62 percent of  their average household  total spending in 2016.)

Senior couple Phil and Karin Damiani of Media, Delaware County, are loyal Boscov’s customers. While Phil Damiani, 67, likes perusing the Boscov’s at the renamed Promenade at Granite Run Mall, Karin, 64, does 90 percent of her shopping at Boscovs.com.

The couple made a rare shopping excursion together at the Boscov’s  store last week so Karin could check out new frames for her glasses in the optical center. They also looked at furniture and appliances.

That afternoon store manager Robin Holman showed the couple specially located price-check scanners under shelves when Karin was unsure how much a quilt was.

Phil Damiani, a retired Delaware County Court executive director, or “restricted free agent,” as he jokingly refers to retirement, said he appreciates that kind of attentive customer service above all else.

“If I’m not sure where something else, it’s much more helpful if a person is able to take me by the hand and show me,” he said. “Anything [retailers] can do to be customer-friendly and help people determine if what they’re looking for is really what they want, is key to me.”

A part-time registered nurse, Karin said she likes being able to return online items directly to the closest Boscov’s store But the other reasons she’s gravitated toward online shopping have more to do with her stature and health.

Damiani said she used to be 5-foot-6 inches tall, but was now 5-foot-4 1/2 inches because of osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weak and brittle. Her condition started three years ago and has progressed. She also injured her back in 2014 after a fall, forcing her to wear a back brace at night.

About 50 percent of Boscov’s clientele is aged 60-and over, said CEO Jim Boscov.

“It’s an important part of the business for us,” he said. “Over the years, our stores are accommodating to seniors – such as signage that’s legible, making sure that things are not too high on shelves, and we introduced carts for them. If our associates see a customer carrying a heavy package, they’re trained to ask to help them, and to encourage them to take their package to customer pick up so they can  just drive around and we load it in their car for them.”

Boscov’s recently started loading heavy packages for seniors in its Erie, Pa. store, and six weeks ago, the retailer began rolling out a hearing aid division in six stores, including the Media store where the Damiani’s shop.

<Philadelphia Inquirer>