Silver lining in the aging population: Free online deliveries, clearer price tags

Silver lining in the aging population: Free online deliveries, clearer price tags
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The elderly in Singapore are spending more on groceries - growing at 18 per cent each year - while the younger generation are spending less, according to a report by market research firm Nielsen released on Tuesday (April 5).

While the government has made strides in recent years to help the elderly through handouts such as the Pioneer Generation package, the private sector in Singapore is still playing catch-up - despite their growing demographic and purchasing power.

Many retail stores lack benches for the elderly to rest, while there are hardly any dedicated aisles for our pioneers.

These are some of the common gripes by 300 Singaporeans aged 55 years and older, who were surveyed in a Sept 2015 poll by Nielsen.

"You can't expect me to walk continuously for 15 minutes without having to rest," said Mdm Avtar Kaur, 74.

The retiree suggested that retail shops have narrow benches for the elderly to rest.

"Sometimes, there are long lines at the supermarkets. They should all have dedicated queues for senior citizens, especially when they are carrying baskets," Mdm Kaur added.

Other common complaints by the elderly include a lack of wheelchair-friendly facilities, unclear product packaging and labelling.

"The silver generation faces a number of challenges when navigating the retail landscape in search for products and services that meet their specific needs," said Joan Koh, managing director, Nielsen Singapore and Malaysia.

In the land of the rising sun, the aging population can be a double-edged sword, and a useful case study for Singapore retailers.

While the Japanese government grapples with declining fertility rates, retail shops have been capitalising on the world's oldest population to make the shopping experience more elderly-friendly.

Over at the Aeon Mall Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture, the shopping mall has been making active attempts to target the elderly with silver-friendly shopping, medical facilities, and leisure activities, The Japan Times reported.

Marketing of health and beauty products, which have traditionally targeted younger audiences, have been tweaked to feature mature models.

Nostalgic packaging and the idea of "embracing aging" rather than "chasing youth" are some of the other attempts by Japan's retailers to capture their affluent silver generation.

According to Singapore's population white paper, one in four Singaporeans will be over 65 years old by 2030.

Besides clear labelling and packaging on products, some wishlist items by the elderly polled include products targeting their special dietary needs, chairs to rest and wheelchair-friendly facilities, and free online deliveries.

"No matter what kind of glasses you wear, some of the letterings on the product labels can be hard to read. Besides providing magnifying glasses, it will be good to have broader, bolder, and dark-coloured fonts for the elderly to read," said Mdm Kaur.

Recognising the growing segment of seniors in Singapore, NTUC FairPrice has started piloting stores in the Bukit Merah and Lengkok Bahru areas that are catered towards elderly or disabled customers.

"Some of the features found in the stores include wider checkout lanes, larger signages and clearer price tags, rest areas with benches and water coolers, and call buttons and magnifying glasses around the stores," Mr Gerry Lee, deputy CEO, Singapore (Operations), NTUC FairPrice told AsiaOne.

"Additionally, we offer a 2 per cent seniors discount on Tuesdays for those 60 years of age or older, and a 3 per cent Pioneer Generation discount on Monday."

Similar moves have been implemented at Cold Storage.

"We look to our staff, many of whom are long-serving employees in their 50s, for their inputs and advice on how we can make the stores more convenient and safe for the seniors," said Mr Victor Chia, CEO of Cold Storage.

"From their feedback, we have introduced a number of senior-friendly features. For example, our store aisles have been widened and the number of block stacks have been reduced.

"We have also lowered our shelves, especially in the Wellness For Life section, to make it easier for customers to pick up the products they are looking for," Mr Chia added.

40 per cent of the elderly polled by Nielsen also wanted more attentive staff.

To that end, Cold Storage has trained its staff to identify customers requiring assistance, such as helping carry their customers' shopping bags to their vehicles. NTUC FairPrice has also sent 100 of its frontline staff for specialised training on how to serve seniors.

"In the next two years, we plan to send a total of 500 staff for training. Moving forward, we will continue to look for ways to better serve the needs of the elderly and smaller families in Singapore," added Mr Lee.

"We are targeting to have five more stores installed with senior-friendly features by end of this year."

With a sizable aging population over the horizon, there may be a silver lining in the greying economy.

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