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22nd June 2022

High street retailers must accommodate older customers to survive, charity says

Patrick Crowder

The International Longevity Centre (ILC) is launching a two-year campaign to make the retail sector aware of the needs of older customers. As more business is conducted online, a significant number of high street customers are of an advanced age, though research shows that high street stores could be doing more to support their older customers.

Not only is making stores comfortable and accessible for elderly people the right thing to do, it can also be profitable. The ILC research shows that older customers made up 54% of all UK consumer spending in 2018, amounting to £319 billion for the retail sector.

ILC Director David Sinclair explains how high street retailers can help older customers maintain independence while also keeping their businesses afloat.

“The demography of the high street customer is ageing, and retailers and planners have long failed to adapt or recognise the diversity of older consumers. Older people complain that their needs are ignored. Public toilets have been closed, cafes and shops blare loud music, public spaces and shops rarely have anywhere to sit, and public transport is poor or non-existent. Our towns and cities are failing us all,” Sinclair says, “For our high streets to survive, they must become more inclusive. But our high streets needn’t just survive; they could thrive, playing a role in tackling loneliness and helping the UK economy succeed. Inclusive environments are often a cost-effective way to prevent worsening health among an ageing population.”

George MacGinnis is Healthy Ageing Challenge Director at UK Research and Innovation. He sees how the high street is changing, beyond the shift towards online retail. He also believes that the retail sector can thrive if the needs of older customers are addressed.

“This is a great opportunity to influence the future of our local economies. For as long as there have been towns and cities, retail has been at their heart. That is changing, and not just with a move to online,” MacGinnis says, “Changes to patterns of work and travel, climate change, and even how we manage pollution are all impacting on local economies, while the changing aspirations of a growing population of older people suggests there are new ways for retail to thrive. ”

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