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Far too many older people find high street shops an unwelcoming place, with confusing automated checkout machines and nowhere to sit down for a rest.

That’s the key finding of a new report commissioned by older people’s charity Anchor. It also warns that unless high street shops change to cater for older people’s needs, they risk missing out on up to £4.5 billion in lost trade each year by 2030.

The report, entitled “Older generations to rescue the high street”, reveals that:

  • Almost a quarter (23%) of people aged 70-plus say the feel ‘shut out’ from the high street
  • 60% of older people are concerned about the lack of seating in shopping areas, including inside shops
  • A third (33%) of older people would feel embarrassed to ask for a seat in a public place
  • 24% of older people are put off by automated self-checkout machines.

Chief Executive of Anchor, Jane Ashcroft CBE, said: “Going shopping is something most of us take for granted and yet many thousands of older people feel excluded from our high streets. This is an issue not to be overlooked, as it increases older people’s isolation and loneliness, in turn affecting health and wellbeing. It’s also important for retailers who are missing out on huge amounts of revenue. We must value older people – everyone should have the chance to live life to the fullest, regardless of age.”

Now Anchor is calling for more to be done to tackle unwelcoming high streets, help reduce older people’s loneliness and improve their health and wellbeing. In particular, it is calling on more retailers to get behind its “Standing Up 4 Sitting Down” campaign – a national initiative encouraging shops to provide seating for older customers who need it. There are now more than 1,500 outlets across the country signed up to the scheme, including Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, but more are needed.

The new report warns that as baby boomers reach older age they represent a significant part of retailers’ target audience, and one they ignore at their peril. Unless high streets reinvent themselves as age-friendly environments they will miss out on billions of pounds of revenue each year and could seal their own demise. As greater numbers of younger people turn to shopping online, high street retailer will rely increasingly on trade from older people who still like to go out shopping.

Dr Frank Shaw is Foresight Director at the Centre for Future Studies, which compiled the new report on behalf of Anchor. He said: “Baby boomers are an economic force to be reckoned with. As they enter older age, their refusal to retire quietly is an opportunity to reinvigorate the high street, transforming it into a diverse, prosperous, and age-friendly environment. The alternative, £4.5bn annual losses and the death of the high street, will be devastating not just for older people but for everyone.”

Simple measures would make shopping a more enjoyable experience for older people, and give a competitive edge to those retailers which provide them. These include providing in-store seating where people can take a rest if they need to, and a return to good old-fashioned service by real human beings, rather than impersonal and sometimes confusing automated checkouts. For some older people, especially those who live alone, the social interaction they get while out shopping is extremely important.

Rather than rushing blindly to new technology just because they can, retailers should question whether they should, and what effect it might have on their older customers. Providing a mix of checkout options to suit the differing needs of shoppers would be a more sensible route.

You can read or download the new report, “Older generations to rescue the high street”, in full by clicking here. You can also find out more about Anchor’s “Stand Up 4 Sitting Down” campaign, including how retailers can join it, by clicking here.

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