How and Why You Should Sell to Senior Citizens

This mature market tends to show more loyalty than younger generations — if your store appeals to them.
senior couple shopping
With a few small tweaks, you can make your store more friendly to senior shoppers — and win their hearts along with their wallets. (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

The population of people age 65 and up is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the U.S. population — and that’s good news for retailers.

“People in this age group tend to be less price-sensitive and exhibit higher levels of store loyalty, making them a lucrative market to store owners,” said consumer psychologist Bruce Sanders, author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.”

“Seniors are more likely than younger consumers to be at least partially retired, so they have time to engage in shopping, travel and fee-based experiences. They can frequent your business at times that would otherwise be lulls for you.”

To reel in this demographic, you might need to make some tweaks to your store. Sanders shared some of the best strategies you can use to make your small business more appealing to seniors.

bruce sanders

Make your older customers feel comfortable in your store by offering a senior discount, advised consumer psychologist Bruce Sanders. (Photo: Bruce Sanders)

Offer a senior discount

If you want to get people excited to spend money at your store, offer them a discount. While promotions generally shouldn’t be given to a specific demographic, senior discounts are the exception to the rule and will help you engage a more mature market, said Sanders.

“Giving preferential discounts usually irritates customers who don’t get the discounts. But studies show that people have little objection to senior discounts, which makes seniors feel comfortable,” he said.

Sanders recommends knocking off 20 percent for seniors during the slowest day at your business (typically Tuesdays). It will help you boost business during off-peak hours and days — and give your older customers a reason to come back regularly.

Related: 6 Ways to Offer Discounts and Still Make a Profit

Get them in early in the day

Time of day can make or break a sale for senior shoppers. The earlier they come, the more likely they’ll buy something at your store, said Sanders.

“Since they’re more concerned about their physical security than are younger shoppers, seniors feel more comfortable being out and about earlier in the day.”

Sunlight and visibility is another reason more seniors prefer to shop during the day, so keep your store bright and make sure your products are easy for seniors to see.

“Marketers are wisely moving to the use of bolder colors and more contrast in product packing,” said Sanders. “But for stores that let daylight enter, the morning brightness can help seniors tell the blues from the greens and the foregrounds from the backgrounds.”

And unlike younger shoppers, who tend to be more alert in the evening, seniors often have more energy and focus earlier in the day. Offering a promotion during the morning is a great way to draw older customers in during their prime hours, and may help them form a positive opinion about shopping at your store.

“When older adults are in your aisles in the morning, they are better able to analyze selling points in detail, rather than depending on global impressions. As a result, the morning shoppers are more likely to make purchase decisions they’ll later think about favorably,” he explained.

Related: How to Market to Baby Boomers and Beyond (and Why You Should)

Ease their shopping experience

elderly hand on cane

Make sure your retail store layout makes it easy for senior shoppers with less mobility to get around while they shop. (Photo: aboikis/Shutterstock)

As consumers age, some find the typical retail store design to hinder their ability to shop. Some stores don’t allow for enough range of mobility, for example. Sanders recommended looking at your store through the eyes of a senior to see where improvements can be made.

“Allow space for companion help and assistive devices, like walkers,” he advised. “Keep the dressing room uncluttered so people can easily enter and exit.”

Another way to appeal to seniors is by making it easy for them to discard items they have chosen not to buy, said Sanders. The less they have to carry around, the more likely it is they’ll find something they want to take home.

“Perhaps place a ‘not-for-me’ container by the dressing room exit,” he said. “Point out places for shoppers to safely put aside packages and belongings so they can turn their attention to the prospective purchases.”

Sanders also said to make sure your signage and printed materials are legible to people who may have visual impairments.

“Present important information in pictorial, verbal and tactile formats. For products popular with seniors, have large typeface instruction sheets available, and offer one to the customer.”

Related: 6 Psychologist-Approved Tricks for Effective Merchandise Arrangement

Spend time socializing

Younger shoppers are often “on a mission” when they visit a store to quickly obtain what they need and leave immediately after. But for seniors, shopping is a much more social activity. Spending a little extra time chatting with older customers will help build store loyalty and set your business apart from the big-box stores.

“Seniors are more likely to shop at a local store where they feel more of a relationship with the staff,” Sanders explained. “In chain stores, there’s a higher staff turnover, and seniors put a high importance on familiarity.”

Train your staff to be a patient when older customers want to talk and to show genuine interest in their lives. Asking about their grandkids can go a long way to making them feel welcome in your store, said Sanders. Work to understand their lives, then explore ways your products and services will benefit them.

“The schmoozing should go beyond idle chatter. It should be addressed toward understanding problems presented by the shopper and then helping to resolve those problems. If a senior comes in with a need or want, and it’s satisfied in a social way, that’s going to be a bonus for the individual.”

Related: The Friend Zone: Boosting Sales by Focusing on Relationships

senior men socializing over drinks

For seniors, shopping is a much more social activity. Spend extra time chatting and getting to know these customers to build a loyal customer base. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Provide smaller sizes

Super-size products might be a boon for growing families, but they tend to deter seniors. Stock up on smaller packages to help your store appeal to these older consumers.

“Smaller size packages are easier for older hands and arms to lift from the shelf and accurately place into a basket. Seniors also prefer smaller sizes because perishable products can spoil too quickly if the customer is no longer living with a full family. And the elderly often have limited storage areas at home,” said Sanders.

Similarly, seniors may find aisles easier to shop if they’re shorter and the shelves are smaller.

“The psychological advantage is that shorter aisles look less intimidating,” he said. “In areas of your store where you stock merchandise primarily of interest to elderly shoppers, divide up long aisles with cul-de-sacs. If you can fit in a bench on which a shopper can take a brief break, all the better.”

Related: Why Your Business Shouldn’t Skimp on Retail Packaging

Give back to the community

With more time in retirement, some seniors fill their schedules with hours of community service. As such, stores that give back to the community will be more appealing to older shoppers, said Sanders. They may feel that shopping with you is helping their efforts to build a legacy for the next generation.

“Altruism is especially important to elderly consumers. Seniors like to give their business to retailers who are compassionate, and they like to view themselves as generous,” he said.

Hosting community-service events, in which you invite customers to participate, will make your store more attractive to seniors — and give them an opportunity to socialize, said Sanders. Consider collecting toys for a local children’s hospital, running a pet-adoption event or arranging a neighborhood cleanup with your staff and customers.

“All this opens up opportunities for you to build relationships with older consumers. Whenever you organize a charitable activity, include ways for your older customers to pitch in to help. Then after they’ve helped, recognize their contributions with a fancy certificate of appreciation that includes your store’s name and logo,” suggested Sanders.

Related: Cheap, Easy Ways to Embrace Corporate Social Responsibility

By providing accessible spaces, being sociable and giving seniors a little extra attention, your store will see business grow and develop a reputation as a friendly place for an underserved group of people.

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