Categorized | Sondra's Musings, Features

Hello retailers, could you please extend a welcome mat?

Photo: Sondra struggles to read the minuscule font type on a bottle.



By Sondra L.  Shapiro

I meet my friend for dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. As we exchange pleasantries, the waitress hands us two menus, one listing sushi, the other the restaurant’s regular items. The colors and design are lovely to look at. I only wish we didn’t need to interrupt our discussion to seek out better light to read the miniscule type describing the dishes.

It’s a lazy, rainy Sunday, and I’m trying to catch up with back issues of my decorating magazines. Too bad I need a magnifying glass and every light turned on in the room to make out the tiny, fancy white type describing where to purchase the items listed in the articles.

During a supermarket run, I am forced to walk from one end of the store to the other for a loaf of bread and oranges. In between the excruciatingly long, narrow aisles, are grills, pots and pans, outdoor furniture and other items that have nothing to do with groceries.

Such practices are tough for consumers of any age, but most especially for us aging folks. Weakening eyesight, joint problems and hearing weaken with each birthday.

Not only is it unnecessarily challenging to traverse a supposedly consumer-friendly landscape, the trek makes me feel older than my 62 years. When I have to give up reading a magazine article or forgo a menu item because I can’t read the description, I feel frustrated and helpless and — old.

Far too often I go into a clothing or accessory store only to have music blasting so loud, I can barely concentrate on the merchandise. Not to mention, it makes me feel unwelcome.

At my weakest moment, I wallow in absurd thoughts that this is a deliberate attempt by businesses to snub their noses at us aging consumers. Realistically, our demographic hasn’t been on the radar, period. Yet, our numbers are difficult to ignore going forward since there are more Americans age 65 and older than at any other time in U.S. history, according to a 2010 Census Bureau report.

Sondra ShapiroAccording to a 2009 Gallup poll, baby boomers constitute the largest bloc of American consumers. Though we may be frugal, quality-minded shoppers, we are still spending money .

We aren’t fickle spenders like the younger generation, but we have more bucks to spread around. Who cares that we eschew youth-oriented, splashy and hip Abercrombie & Fitch for the more sensible, streamlined Chicos. All money is green, after all.

“Consumers have gotten better at being recessionary shoppers and now it’s up to the retailers to make sure they are delivering to the customer on multiple fronts,” Corinne Asturias, a consumer strategist for baby boomers said in a 2009 issue of Retail Traffic Magazine. That same article said that we budget-minded boomers are apt to frequent supermarkets, drugstores, mass merchants, office and pet supply stores and home improvement establishments — shopping habits that help stimulate the economy.

Because of our vast numbers, the Associated Press reported a while back that National Retail Federation members are slowly becoming more accommodating to us.

Retail anthropologist Georganne Bender concurs, singling out a drugstore chain that re-set its counters, and began to place its merchandise at a level that wasn’t to high or low in order to spare aging joints. Nice, but those accommodations are rare for these aging bones.

I had first-hand experience this weekend at the supermarket when I crouched down to the bottom shelf to retrieve some chunk white tuna and suffered sharp pain in my knees. I was so embarrassed because I had to slowly and calculatingly maneuver myself back up, while juggling six cans. And, I work out regularly.

So, I appreciate every little nod in our direction. If businesses begin courting us in earnest, I would greatly appreciate:

? My favorite health food market widening its rows and amping up the lighting. And, please, please get rid of the funky signage that is difficult to read.

? Coupons with simple colors and larger font type so I can easily read the expiration date and other coupon stipulations like whether it’s 50 cents off on one or two items.

? Magazines not running stories with white type on dark backgrounds.

? Restaurants using simpler, larger type for menu items (or at least provide magnifiers at each table). They could also improve lighting. True, low lights are mood enhancing. But, the gesture is counterproductive when patrons have to squint or jump from their seats in search of sufficient light to read the menu. Let alone rummage around in pockets or pocketbooks for magnifying glasses.

? Grocery stores reverting to the term. I’m not going to buy my gas grill from you. But, I will purchase my hotdogs, hamburgers and condiments at your establishment. Just don’t make me walk the million steps necessary to bypass all the non-grocery items to get my food and staple shopping done.

? Better lit parking lots at malls and other shopping venues.

With retailers’ willingness to make concessions to aging consumers comes the added benefit of helping people of all ages. Loud music, small, fussy type on signs, long, narrow aisles are not welcoming in general.

Since boomers have always been trendsetters, let our aging needs lead the way to universal consumer friendliness — A welcome mat truly meant for everyone.

Sondra Shapiro is the publisher of Fifty Plus Life. She can be reached at Read more at Follow her at  

One Response to “Hello retailers, could you please extend a welcome mat?”

  1. Ellen Jacobson says:

    I read your article and think I can add to it. Notice how many stores have no handicapped carts for people who have difficuty walking in these huge stores. When Kohl’s was building their new store in Northborough, I asked if they were going to have a handicapped cart there and was told they had no intention of having one. I have no intention of shopping there. On the other hand Michael’s and Ocean State Job lot now have them. A wheel chair is of no use to a person alone because it so difficult to maneuver if it has a cart on the front, and if it doesn’t have a cart there is no where to put your purse or your purchases. I have not been in a mall for four years due to not being able to walk around. This is a real problem for many of us who can walk but not very far or can’t stand for long periods of time. Personally, I feel that if these stores wanted my money they would find a way.


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