Millions of over-65s will struggle with design barriers when shopping this Christmas

Despite their rising spending power, millions of older consumers are set to face difficulties when buying and using products this Christmas because of the poor design of many goods, retail spaces and services, a new report reveals.

Research by the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK) for Age UK published today shows that while accounting for a growing slice of the nation’s spending – nearly £100 billion a year – consumers aged 65-plus are facing design barriers at every stage of the shopping experience, from accessing money and shops to unwrapping and using goods.

Survey results show many over-65s struggle with poor design.

According to an Age UK/TNS poll:
• nearly half of over-65s can struggle to take lids or caps off products such as plastic
  milk bottles or jars because of the packaging (48%)
• over half have difficulty reading the instructions on food products as the print is too
  small (54%)
• despite being more likely to own a TV set than the rest of the population, one in ten
  over-65s say they can find it hard to use remote controls because of the small
  buttons (11%)
• one in five say kitchen tools such as salad spinners, potato peelers and scissors are
  uncomfortable to use (20%)
• one in five over-65s also report having difficulty using a mobile phone because they
  are too small (20%)

Design barriers can be found throughout the shopping experience, the survey shows:
• one in seven over-65s can find it hard to use cash machines because they cannot
  read the screen (14%)
• nearly one in five admit to avoiding shopping on the High Street because of lack of 
  public toilets (17%)
• when stopping for a restaurant meal, one in four over-65s struggle to read the
  menu in restaurants as the print is too small (25%).

Many of the barriers that people in later life face are, at worst, indicative of market failure. At best, they are evidence that the needs of older consumers are often not well met. A variety of research highlights the factors which need to be considered for the consumer market to better meet the needs of an ageing society.

These include:

• product design
• the retail environment
• payment mechanisms
• the digital divide
• consumer protection
• marketing and the media.

It is important to recognise that while the consumer market is important to older people,they are also important to the market.

The older consumer market is large and it is growing. The older market is forecast to grow by 81 per cent from 2005 to 2030, but the 18–59-year-old market only by 7 per cent. (1)

“Just because I’m over 60 nobody wants to sell me anything any more.”
— Germaine Greer (2)

So why are so many marketers continuing to shy away from directly targeting this market?

This report concludes that ageism undoubtedly influences the consumer market. Marketing and advertising, as the public face of the consumer industry, provide some of the most striking illustrations of ageism in the consumer industry and demonstrate the context in which older people operate in the consumer market.

Is this because as Stroud and Batchelor argue that:

The western and much of the eastern world is institutionally ageist. Youth, youthfulness, vitality and modernity always trump age, maturity, wisdom and experience. It is not surprising then, that living in a culture where young is good and old is boring, marketers behave as they do, This is not a value judgment, it is a fact of life. (3) 

What are your thoughts on this issue we would really like to hear more from the marketing community?


(1) Patrick Dixon (2008) ‘Marketing to Older Consumers’, interview for Marketeer, October. Available at: (accessed 30 September 2010).
(2)  Quoted in Jane Silk (n.d.) Interview in The Marketer, (accessed 26 October 2009). Available to subscribers at:
(3)  D. Stroud and A. Batchelor (2008) ‘Meet the Charmed Generation’, Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice 10: 43.
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