Older shoppers wield considerable buying power.

Consider the numbers: Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s wealth belongs to Americans over 50. And spending for these households is expected to increase by more than $900 billion in the next two years, according to the U.S. Census and Federal Reserve.

Many of them will shift from a need for material possessions to a desire for more enjoyable experiences with friends and family. As a result, this demographic will largely dictate consumer demand for leisure products, including pools and spas.

This, in turn, presents a golden opportunity for retailers, provided their stores can attract and accommodate these consumers.

By following a few basic principles, vendors can make their outlets an inviting destination for mature shoppers.

The right service and products

Today’s retirees are far from sedentary.

Persons 60 and older feel as rushed in their retirement years as they did while working, according to studies from the AgeLab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They keep busy working part-time, volunteering, or caring for friends and family.

Though the health of seniors has improved over the past two decades, according to the U.S. Census, approximately one in five older Americans suffers a chronic disability.

Nevertheless, they’re doing a better job of managing diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and arthritis, says Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin, AgeLab founder/director.

How can this benefit industry retailers? Coughlin suggests discussing with older shoppers how certain products promote well-being and extend vitality. For example, a customer who recently underwent knee replacement would rather know how a spa helps expedite recovery vs. the number of jets it features.

Because many of her older customers like to keep fit, Brenda Murr carries an array of aquatic aerobic equipment, from water-resistant dumbbells to pool therapy workout belts to exercise floating devices.

“Grandparents are staying active longer, especially because of the grandchildren and the pool,” says Murr, owner of Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio Inc. in Anderson, Ind. “They want to be able to play and have some stamina.”

In fact, grandparents spend nearly $1,700 on every newborn grandchild, according to a joint study by Grandparents.com and Focalyst, a baby boomer and mature consumer research company.

What’s more, this demographic spends heavily on getaways to high-end resorts and cruises, Coughlin notes. Why not help them re-create their vacation experiences at home by investing in backyard retreats, replete with inviting pools and/or spas — and other amenities?

Retailers such as Pools of Fun in Plainfield, Ind., are producing more marketing brochures and store fixtures with images of “real” grandparents surrounded by pets and children.

It’s also reflected in the products a store carries. The customer base at Accents Backyard Essentials by J. Tortorella in Southampton, N.Y., is largely composed of seniors. So the store carries furniture that is lightweight and easy to maintain.

All chaise lounges include legs with wheels. And retail manager Gail Heinzerling prefers to sell movable, cast or rod aluminum patio sets over those made of cast iron.

Built-in safety

A whopping 46 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, the vast majority of them over 60, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

This means everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs, bending or kneeling can become huge tasks. The solution? Take subtle steps to create a safe retail environment.

Begin at the door. Do you have doorknobs or handles? For many seniors, twisting doorknobs is a difficult, often painful chore. Consider replacing them with handles.

Next, check your displays. Are the products within reach? Lowering certain items to an accessible height makes life easier — and safer — for these shoppers. Though some older customers have no trouble getting to items in an 84-inch fixture, others may struggle with a 60-inch gondola.

As for products on floor-level shelves, either move them higher or prepare to offer assistance. Try to save your very top or bottom shelves for backup merchandise.

Seniors typically prefer to shop within aisles as opposed to the end caps, where they may be bumped or jostled, says Craig Childress, COO of research firm Envirosell Inc. in New York. He advises retailers to widen aisles, noting that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires retail store aisles to be a minimum width of 36 inches.

Murr created “pods,” or areas off the main pathway, for different product categories — such as toys and accessories — where all customers can shop comfortably. At the same time, she places products geared toward older customers, such as bathing suits for grandchildren and aerobic equipment, on the display racks facing the main pathway, so they will attract attention.

Then there’s the floor. Experts suggest nonskid (even when wet) surfaces such as fabric or textured material.

Not long ago, Sandy Bradbury placed carpet runners at each entrance to Bradbury’s Waterin’ Hole. The mats avert potential accidents by preventing shoppers from tracking in mud and water, says the Columbus, Ind.-based retailer.

Finally, when designing a new store or renovating an existing one, Childress recommends leaving out stairs altogether.

Unless it’s a multistory space, stairs can be easily substituted with a gradual, built-in incline, he says. Again, take ADA requirements into account. (For the ADA Guide for Small Businesses, visit ada.gov/smbusgd.pdf).


When Bradbury takes her 80-year-old mother-in-law out to dinner, often they are seated toward the back of the restaurant, she says. It’s an inconvenience that she’s vowed never to duplicate.

So when her store underwent renovation 20 years ago, she made sure it included multiple entrances and checkout points. This prevented customers from having to trudge long distances from their vehicles to the door, as well as from anywhere inside the store to a cash wrap or exit.

A similar concern is stamina. Older shoppers take more frequent breaks than their younger counterparts. And most prefer to rest on thick cushions and deep seating. So managers at Accents Backyard Essentials placed plush chairs throughout the store.

Not only does it encourage seniors to shop longer, but it’s also helped sell more chairs, retail manager Gail Heinzerling says.

“Younger customers will enjoy these rest stops; [older ones] depend on them,” says Georganne Bender, professional speaker and retail consultant at Kizer & Bender Speaking! of St. Charles, Ill.

Another area to consider is lettering on signs, brochures and other printed items.

It’s no secret that people don’t see as well when they age, so think about bumping up the font size on your brochures and sales contracts. Bender uses a formula based on the average age of the oldest customers. By dividing that number in half, she arrives at the smallest type appropriate for signage. For example, if the most senior shoppers are about 70, use font sizes of 35 and larger.

Better yet, you may opt to remove the text from your signage and point-of-purchase materials altogether. Childress cited The Home Depot, which uses color-coded signs to identify its insecticides. The large display charts feature a picture of common pests, and designates a color for each one. This helps shoppers quickly pinpoint the product they need without having to deal with tiny labels or lettering.

Lighting also can impact a shopping experience. Aging eyes typically require two to three times more light to see clearly than their younger counterparts. Solution: Provide more ambient light throughout the store so there are no dark areas.

Because the lens of the eye becomes more dense and yellows with age, this may affect color perception and contrast sensitivity. Shades of blue and red become more difficult to see. Black on white or neutral colors are typically easier for aging eyes to process.

Finally, keep displays simple. Elaborate or cluttered signs may discourage older consumers if it’s hard to tell what’s being conveyed or sold.

Loud music or extraneous noise can be discomfiting as well. Many older adults, especially males, have difficulty hearing high pitches. In such instances, it’s better to take the customer to a quiet area than to shout at one another.

Finally, make sure your Web site is simple, efficient and interactive, says Jim Gilmartin, president of Coming of Age, a baby boomer and senior marketing consultant firm in Wheaton, Ill.

Seniors comprise 65.1 million online users, the largest such group in the nation, says JupiterResearch, an Internet/technology research firm. It pays to tap into that demographic.