While many retailers are focusing on young, technology savvy shoppers these days, they can’t afford to ignore older baby boomers who account for roughly one in every four consumers and possess much of America’s personal wealth and spending power.
What does that mean when it comes to designing your store? Appealing to this generation of 48 to 66-year-old shoppers takes some finesse. You don’t want to make boomers feel old. Nor do you want to shut out the younger generations. The key is figuring out “those hidden things boomers respond to that everyone benefits from,” says Seanette Corkill a Vancouver, Wash., retail design consultant.
Here are five strategies to help make your stores boomer-friendly:
1. Adjust your lighting
Getting lighting right is critical for any store and any customer, but it’s especially important for older shoppers. Jenny Wall, owner of Moose Mountain Trading Company, a Steamboat Springs, Colo., store that specializes in women’s sweaters, added spotlights and sconces to the overhead ambient lighting to make sure older shoppers didn’t have to strain their eyes. “The aging eye perceives color differently,” says Corkill. “It tends to see more yellow.” Corkill suggests avoiding lighting with too high a temperature, which could increase the yellowness of your store and make it look less attractive. She also cautions against angling spotlights too much, causing them to point across and into shoppers’ eyes rather than down at objects. While such invasive light can be blinding to more sensitive, older eyes, it makes the shopping experience less pleasant for shoppers of any age.
2. Keep merchandise uncluttered and accessible
Think carefully about how you organize your merchandise. Younger customers may not mind walking into a store crammed with stuff, but a boomer might be repelled by too much inventory on display, says Corkill. “It’s not a garage sale.” Where you place merchandise matters to boomers, too, of course. Linda Cahan, a West Linn, Ore., retail design consultant, recommends that retailers always place products targeted to boomers at least two feet above the floor. “Younger people will bend, whereas older people will not want to,” she says. “Don’t put extra-larges on the bottom.”
3. Tidy up your space
You always want to keep a clean store, but tidiness is especially important to older customers. Alice Cunningham, who owns the Olympic Hot Tub Co. makes sure the hot tubs in her five Seattle area showrooms are carefully wiped down and that customers have clean, warm towels to dry their hands after dipping them in the water. “Women boomers, especially, are crazy about cleanliness,” she says. Wall, a 57-year-old boomer herself, agrees that her older shoppers value the polished look of her clothing store. “Quality is important,” she says. “We try to fold and straighten and have things together.”
4. Avoid fine print on signs and price tags
Boomers naturally appreciate large, easy-to-read type on price tags and signs. If your customer has to pull out her glasses to read a tag, that doesn’t bode well, Corkill says. “They’ll just skip over what they can’t read, and that means lost opportunity to influence a sale.” But you don’t want to go too far and put giant fonts on everything. That might offend older customers, as well as signal to younger people that your store is for their parents’ generation. “You’ve got to make it workable for everybody,” Corkill says. “You don’t want to delineate yourself so specifically that you alienate others.” You might be tempted to get fancy with swirling, elaborate fonts, but it’s safer to go with a simple font for price tags and signage. That way, customers won’t struggle to make out prices or words, and your store will have an overall cleaner look.
5. Greet customers when they walk in the door
The older the customer, Cahan says, the more personal interaction they usually want when they go shopping. “When somebody 45 or up walks into a store, they don’t just want to be acknowledged; they need to be acknowledged,” she adds. “Otherwise, they will get annoyed.” Making that personal connection can go a long way toward building long-term relationships with boomer customers. At Moose Mountain Trading Company, Wall and her sales staff offer older customers tips on how to accessorize or wear certain items. “We do it in a way that’s not pushy, but that’s more educational and fun,” she says.