Hello retailers, we would appreciate a welcome mat


By Sondra L.  Shapiro

My friend and I meet for dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. As we exchange pleasantries, the waitress hands us two menus, one listing sushi, the other the restaurant’s regular items. The colors and design are lovely to look at. I only wish we didn’t need to interrupt our discussion to seek out better light to read the miniscule type describing the dishes.

It’s a lazy, rainy Sunday, and I’m trying to catch up with back issues of my decorating magazines. Too bad I need a magnifying glass and every light turned on in the room to make out the tiny, fancy white type describing where to purchase the items listed in the articles.

During a supermarket run, I am forced to walk from one end of the store to the other for a loaf of bread and oranges. In between the excruciatingly long, narrow aisles, are grills, pots and pans, outdoor furniture and other items that have nothing to do with groceries.

Such practices are tough for consumers of any age, but most especially for us aging folks. Weakening eyesight, joint problems and hearing weaken with each birthday.

Not only is it unnecessarily challenging to traverse the business world, the trek makes me feel older than my 57 years. When I have to give up reading a magazine article or forgo a menu item because I can’t read the description, I feel frustrated and helpless and — old.

Far too often I go into a clothing or accessory store only to have music blasting so loud, I can barely concentrate on the merchandise. Not to mention, it makes me feel unwelcome.

At my weakest moment, I wallow in absurd thoughts that this is a deliberate attempt by businesses to snub their noses at us aging consumers. Realistically, until now, older customers haven’t been on the radar, period. Within the next 10 years, though, those 65 plus will swell to almost 30 percent of the population. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, baby boomers constitute the largest bloc of American consumers. Though the lean economy has made us more frugal, quality-minded shoppers, we are still spending money — and businesses are beginning to notice us.

We aren’t fickle spenders like the younger generation, and we have more bucks to spread around. Who cares that we eschew youth-oriented, splashy and hip Abercrombie & Fitch for the more sensible, streamlined Chicos. All money is green, after all.

“Consumers have gotten better at being recessionary shoppers and now it’s up to the retailers to make sure they are delivering to the customer on multiple fronts,” Corinne Asturias, a consumer strategist for baby boomers said in a 2009 issue of Retail Traffic Magazine. That same article said that we budget-minded boomers are apt to frequent supermarkets, drugstores, mass merchants, office and pet supply stores and home improvement establishments. These shopping habits help stimulate the economy.

Because of our vast numbers, the Associated Press reported that National Retail Federation members are becoming more accommodating to us.

Retail anthropologist Georganne Bender concurs, singling out a drugstore chain that is re-setting its counters, not putting its merchandise up too high or down too low.

Half the over 65 population has some kind of arthritis, which makes it difficult for older shoppers to reach high shelves or stoop to bottom ones, Bender told the Associated Press.

I had first-hand experience this weekend at the supermarket when I crouched down to the bottom shelf to retrieve some chunk white tuna and suffered sharp pain in my knees. I was so embarrassed because I had to slowly and calculatingly maneuver myself back up, while juggling six cans. And, I work out regularly.

CVS is one of those companies doing its best to court the aging market. A very welcome addition is the magnifiers that are starting to turn up on shelves for us to better read the tiny print on vitamin bottles and other products.

If this trend is just the beginning, I would greatly appreciate:

•My favorite health food market widening its rows and amping up the lighting. And, please, please get rid of the funky signage that is difficult to read.

•Coupons with simple colors and larger font type so I can easily read the expiration date and other coupon stipulations like whether it’s 50 cents off on one or two items.

•Magazines not running stories with white type on dark backgrounds.

•Restaurants using simpler, larger type for menu items (or at least provide magnifiers at each table). They could also improve lighting. True, low lights are mood enhancing. But, the gesture is counterproductive when patrons have to squint or jump from their seats in search of sufficient light to read the menu. Let alone rummage around in pockets or pocketbooks for magnifying glasses.

•Grocery stores reverting to the term. I’m not going to buy my gas grill from you. But, I will purchase my hotdogs, hamburgers and condiments at your establishment. Just don’t make me walk the million steps necessary to bypass all the non-grocery items to get my food and staple shopping done.

•Better lit parking lots at malls and other shopping venues.

With retailers’ willingness to make concessions to aging consumers comes the added benefit of helping people of all ages. Loud music, small, fussy type on signs, long, narrow aisles are not welcoming in general.

Since boomers have always been trendsetters, let our aging needs lead the way to universal consumer friendliness — A welcome mat truly meant for everyone.

Sondra Shapiro is the executive editor of the Fifty Plus Advocate. Email her at sshapiro.fiftyplusadvocate@verizon.net or read more at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com