It’s unusual – and probably against the terms of my contract – to be writing in the week of ACS Summit about another event. However I really want to share some insights I picked up at the Everybody Shops conference, conceived and hosted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, last week. I was fortunate to be asked to chair this event, which was all about how retailers, suppliers, town planners and managers, and charities can work together to improve the offer for older customers.

It’s well worn stuff, but just to remind you, we have an ageing population, and those older people are themselves different in their habits, interests and lifestyles compared to older people a generation ago. Two things stuck in my head about the big picture of an ageing population: advertising guru Crispin Reed recoiling at the patronising marketing to the massive and diverse “over 50s” demographic (for whom funeral plans are seen as the big upsell opportunity), and academic Alaster Yoxall’s description of our demographic pyramid and becoming shaped like a demographic doner kebab, with as many people in older age bands as in younger groups.

So what do retailers need to do to meet the needs of older customers? Presenting to the conference, Paul Cheema was, not for the first time, bang on the money when explaining how his local shops support older customers. It starts with customer service: treating all customers with respect and reading what different customers need. That means managing those who want a long conversation because they have no other social interaction during their week, and those who want quick service. It also means helping out with deliveries to immobile customers’ homes, and helping them around the store when they visit. Paul, his family and his staff don’t start from the point of view of demographic segmentation – they start by treating people as individuals and responding to their needs.

So far so difficult to disagree with, but there was one debate that struck me as challenging to come to terms with. In all the research I heard presented last week, one message came through very clearly; older customers tend not to like change to the places where they shop – be that a high street, shopping centre or an individual store. Yet this week at Summit, we will be sharing countless examples of innovation, and to be candid, we’re definitely encouraging retailers to change their businesses. So how do local shops balance the need for change with the aversion to change from many of their customers?

I think getting this balance right is all about talking to customers, and understanding the risk of change and how to mitigate them. I hope this becomes an ongoing debate in ACS and elsewhere in the sector, and those of you on Twitter can join the debate by using the hashtag #everybodyshops and by following some of the other people taking part.

This entry was posted by Victoria on Thu, 27/03/2014 - 14:21