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The older population — people age 65 and older — numbered 44.7 million in 2013, the latest year for which data are available, representing 14.1 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living.

That’s a lot of potential senior shoppers, a fact not lost on supermarket designers, who keep this older population in mind when working with food retailers.

“We account for all of the requested shoppers when designing a new space, which can vary depending on the retailer, location and demographics,” says Christopher Studach, creative director at King Retail Solutions, in Eugene, Ore.

“In the case of seniors,” he continues, “there are several elements that we consider when designing. One key area is good lighting that improves product visibility and readability. Seniors can also have a difficult time with contrast, so large swings from light to dark areas within the store can cause frustration and risks for senior shoppers.”

According to Studach, King Retail Solutions also focuses on the size, location and makeup of categories that are of special interest to seniors, particularly lifestyle and health-related categories, with the goal of providing easy wayfinding to help locate hard-to-find items. “For example,” he notes, “how many times have you searched with frustration for that one small package of vitamin K that is thoughtfully buried among hundreds of similar small packages?”

The current trend among retailers, he adds, is to use every cubic inch of space for merchandising, but for areas in which seniors have particular interest, it’s important to consider product height and not force seniors to stoop or bend down to merchandise placed too low, and also to try to place heavier products at a height that makes them easier to load into a cart.

“Designer trends tend to lean toward ghostly pale text in graphics and signs, sometimes with barely legible font sizes,” observes Studach. “When considering the senior shopper, we need to back off from that trend and provide adequate font size and contrast.”

In the future, he concludes, design adaptations for seniors will include clear wayfinding, easy-to-read infographics and a strong focus on the particular areas of interest to seniors. “The goal should be to convey a genuine sense of compassion through functionality as well as aesthetics,” says Studach.

A Better Shopping Experience

David Yehuda, president of Kings Point, N.Y.-based DY Design Inc., emphasizes that efficient supermarket design will benefit all customers, regardless of age or disability, and make their shopping experience more pleasant and comfortable.

“Layouts and traffic flow are designed for the ease of all customers, as well as the efficiency of the store and its products,” he says. “Placing enough room between the checkouts, utilizing signage with letters large enough to be seen and read by all, and applying lighting that will illuminate the signage, in addition to giving the products a punch of color and vibrancy, are all important.”

Yehuda believes that applying universal design principles benefits the senior population as well as people in other life stages and age groups.

“Specifying slip-resistant flooring is another smart consideration for the young to the old,” he notes, “with toddlers running around and seniors often walking with canes or using walkers or wheelchairs.”

Good design choices are recommended by the designer and need to be approved by the store owner, Yehuda points out. Regulations, codes and laws at the local, state and federal levels exist and influence these decisions, ensuring, for example, that wheelchair users have enough space to navigate through doors comfortably and safely. “Entryways are of huge importance,” he stresses. “If an entryway does have stairs, a ramp must be installed. Also required are handicapped toilets, which must be clearly marked and come equipped with handrails, an important safety measure.”

Yehuda adds that café areas have become popular in supermarkets, not only so customers can stop and eat, but also so seniors can stop and rest. “Having a café specified on my plan communicates to my clients that I understand the psychological needs and the physical limitations of their customers,” he says. “Having positive social interactions is part of a successful shopping experience, whether a customer is asking a store clerk for help in finding an item or engaging in small talk with a cashier.”

Improved technology in the future will afford seniors — and all shoppers — quicker and easier access to check prices and check out their food items, he says, and store designers will use their creativity to develop innovative graphics and store décor from natural and sustainable building materials.

Total Engagement

Regarding the accommodation of seniors in supermarkets, Ken Nisch, chairman of Southfield, Mich.-based JGA, notes, “While I think grocery stores have all jumped on ‘the easy way out,’ like brighter lighting, bigger signs [and] more open aisles … they have woefully failed on engagement.”

While Whole Foods Market is often thought of as “a yuppie place,” Nisch says, it has delivered on many of the things that seniors most like, such as involvement in community, a place to engage and connect with interesting and articulate people, an interesting variety of foods — particularly prepared and ethnic fare — and, in many cases, a willingness to go the extra mile, from a customer service standpoint.

“The consumer may think they would have to pay more,” he admits, “but many seniors are entering into the time of their lives when they have the most disposable income, are interested in their health, but are looking to have a little fun with friends, family and community along the way.”

Nisch points to a concept in India, where elders are held in high esteem, that his firm recently completed for a Big Bazaar store in that country. The store features a sit-down checkout system where seniors and others, such as expectant mothers, are invited to sit and enjoy a sampling of foods and store products while the store staff takes the customer’s cart, runs it through the checkout, bags the items and takes the bags to the customer’s car or driver. The store will also deliver the order free if transportation is a problem.

“The store has shopping experts who can shop along with seniors if they need extra help,” Nisch continues, “because modern retail is still relatively new to India, and they have great food stalls across a variety of ethnic foods from all parts of India, including a ‘bake while you wait’ roadside stand. These types of services are great for seniors who enjoy and are accustomed to fresh, homemade and nonprocessed food, but don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to cook on an everyday basis what are often very complicated favorite recipes. In this case, they are engaging the customer, not merely accommodating them.”

According to Nisch, the senior-sensitive grocery store of the future may find that what customers value is not so much the science, but rather the art, of retail in helping them engage and spend time in the store.

“Specifying slip-resistant flooring is a smart consideration for the young to the old, with toddlers running around and seniors often walking with canes or using walkers or wheelchairs.”
—David Yehuda, DY Design Inc.

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