Retailers need to rethink inclusive products to better meet the needs of the over 50s
Inclusive products can be stylish as well as functional to suit all ages and abilities, but current products are failing to cater for the growing over 50s consumer market.
In this blog, Ploy Suthimai, Innovation and Change Officer, explains how retailers are currently missing the mark with inclusive products and why we need more on the market.
“Fatima has wanted to install a wet room and refurbish her kitchen for the last four years. Her vision impairment means ‘everything needs to work tactilely’; however, she doesn’t know who to turn to get the expert advice she needs.
She and her partner are paying off a mortgage, putting their children through school, and paying a cleaner for support with cleaning and other household matters every week. The financial implications translate to more pressure to ‘make the right decision’ and as she points out, ‘we can only afford to do it once,’ so she keeps putting it off.
They still feel vulnerable when faced with the prospect of an expensive and complex bathroom and kitchen refit. She just wants to be able to talk to a retailer or designer who understands her additional needs to help her finally make these changes.”
What new research is suggesting
Fatima is just one example of the many people we engaged with during our recent research involving over 50s consumers who want products that are easy-to-use and meet their needs but currently struggle to identify them in the mainstream retail market. Her inability to identify a retailer that can provide her with knowledgeable advice about products that could support her has stopped her from making the changes to her home that she needs.
Over 50s consumers are projected to spend £550 billion a year by 2040, which is notably £221 billion more than projected spending by younger households. And yet, products designed to support the needs of older consumers fail to stimulate the imagination. Older consumers don’t want to be treated any differently to younger customers and want aspirational products that are easy-to use, aesthetically pleasing, and good value for money, just like everyone else. But what they are left with are functional, medicalised products that while can support them to maintain independence at home, don’t encourage purchase until after a crisis point.
Our research revealed concerns from consumers over the price, aesthetics and stigma surrounding ‘specialist’ products designed specifically with the older or disabled customer in mind, such as grabrails or shower seats. Their attitudes towards these products often mean that purchases come too late, after individuals have reached a point of crisis, such as after a fall, and compromised their safety through dangerous behaviours, meaning they don’t benefit from the pre-emptive support these products could provide.
We witnessed one individual utilising old furniture such as unsteady wooden stools to get into and out of the bath, as well as a vision-impaired person using her own finger rather than a sensor to ensure hot water did not overflow in her cup. While some of these behaviours are used by people of all ages, the likelihood that they can result in injury will be higher for individuals who may face other challenges, for example around their dexterity or mobility, reinforcing the dangers – as well as the potential negative impact to quality of life – poor products that don’t adequately meet a person’s need can have.
Older consumers don’t want to be treated any differently to younger customers.
Our research has found that there is a growing and untapped market for ‘inclusive products’ – products that are designed to be easy-to-use for the majority of the population, regardless of age or ability. These are products that don’t scream out ‘I’m a specialist product’ but rather help to address needs (such as limited dexterity and vision) by being generally easy to use, access, adjust or maintain.
In our work with consumers, making the kitchen or bathroom ‘easier for me to use’ was the biggest motivator for purchasing products or making significant physical or structural changes to the home. At the moment consumers have fairly low expectations of finding suitable products that meet their needs. In the wake of COVID-19, as retailers look ahead and aim to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive economic climate, those who proactively market and design products that work well for consumers regardless of age or ability have an opportunity to widen their reach and more effectively meet the needs of consumers of all ages.
Our upcoming report, which will be published in May 2021, will explore this market opportunity and provide recommendations for how home retailers can stimulate the inclusive products market to better meet the needs of the burgeoning over 50s consumer group. It found that while some inclusive products exist, retailers need to be more effectively marketing these products to consumers. Additionally, closer work with over 50s consumers is needed to expand the range of inclusive products available. Often tweaking existing products can make them much more suitable to a new and significant group of consumers. Oxo Goodgrip products and the Ford Focus are examples of how inclusive design can have a widespread appeal.
Inclusive products are not a niche or specialist market and provide an opportunity to build a loyal customer base. So, retailers: if you could make your products appeal to a wider market whilst generating customer loyalty, why wouldn’t you?