Grey future in store for baby boomers with cash to spare

Widely credited with inventing youth culture, the baby boomer generation is about to reinvent old age, which a new report says will have dramatic consequences for retail.

Pre-sexual revolution morality, porcelain shepherdesses, tan tights and pipe tobacco will soon give way to free-loving, iPod-swinging, Miyake-clad old folks.

According to recent research by Verdict, by the year 2017 consumers over the age of 65 will be spending 75 per cent more than the current equivalent generation. They will be worth approximately £64bn to UK retail.

In the face of this spending power, every aspect of retail is likely to be affected, from product design through to packaging, graphics, marketing and the in-store retail experience. Retailers and designers must prepare for this revolution, recommends The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Grey, published by Verdict this month.

‘Pitching to the older consumer has traditionally been seen as dull,’ says Verdict director Neil Saunders. ‘But over the next ten years, this will no longer be the case. The older shopper of tomorrow is simply not the same person as the older shopper of today: the blue-rinse brigade is steadily being replaced by the evergreen shopper, those consumers who want to stay young both physically and emotionally.’

Unwillingness to grow old gracefully is likely to boost the personal care sector, with the over-65’s spend in the health and beauty categories predicted to grow by 51 per cent by 2017. In addition, baby boomers are anticipated to spend 30 per cent more on music and video products and 64 per cent more on clothing than the current generation of 65- to 74-year-olds.

‘We won’t see clothing for older people in Topshop as we do special lines for tall and short people or pregnant women,’ says Saunders. ‘To actively target the old could alienate young people, who will always want to be the ones driving new trends.

‘But we could see retailers for older people take a youthful approach. They will have a much greater presence on the high street than retailers for older people – such as Alexon and Windsmoor – do now,’ he adds.

Of all retail categories, electronics is set to benefit most from the grey pound. Over the next ten years, spend on electrical goods by 65- to 74-year-olds is forecast to rise by 73 per cent.

‘A big trend in the sector has been product shrink, but this does not go well with deteriorating eyesight. Product designers will have to take this into account, as will packaging and graphic designers,’ says Saunders.

Oval Books art director Vicki Towers says, ‘Graphics does not accommodate the requirements of older people, but that will change. Print need not be enlarged; by adding leading and air, you make type look better to anyone’s eyes. My generation spent our youths campaigning on political issues, and we still have the desire to shape the world we live in. As we get older we are even less afraid of complaining.’

Change is already afoot, as seen in the current Marks & Spencer advertising campaign featuring Twiggy. ‘Twiggy is youthful and aspirational, and she has real resonance with the older consumer,’ says Saunders.

‘The use of inspirational role models will become more prevalent. This generation demands quality and is very vocal about its needs. We are on the cusp of change at the moment, but over the next three or four years we are going to become aware of a massive escalation of that change.’

A question mark remains over which retailers and manufacturers will be the first to develop dedicated products and stores for older people. But whether it is Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Next, Arcadia, Sony, Nokia or Apple, design groups could do well to stay ahead by pushing the grey pound agenda with clients.

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