Over the past decade, the shopping experience has changed beyond recognition. Online shopping and contactless payments are the norm, same day deliveries are becoming common place. Oh and guess what - drone deliveries are just around the corner.
While this is exciting in many respects, it’s not good news for everyone. As many high streets sink into the shadows, shopping has become less of an inclusive and social experience. It is a sad fact that 1.7 million older people feel completely shut out of the modern high street.
But our high street is by no means a lost cause. Small changes can be made to revive the shopping experience and make it a welcoming destination for all. A lack of seating, for example, is an issue that 60% of older people are concerned about when thinking about shopping. This is an issue that is no doubt exacerbating the death of the high street, yet is unbelievably simple for retailers to fix.
Standing Up 4 Sitting Down (SU4SD) is Anchor’s campaign asking retailers to include more seats in stores for use by older people and anyone else who may need to pause for a rest.
And since our launch in 2016 we’ve had some great successes.
So far, partners who have committed to increasing or maintaining the number of seats in their stores include Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Hotter and over 250 independent shops across England. And we’re delighted that over 80 Virgin Money stores have now become the latest big-name brand to back the campaign, which also has support from more than 20 organisations, including Age UK and Care England.
To help gather even more support, we’ve launched a new tool that allows the public to find out how many seats their local high street retailers should provide in order to cater for the older population. The Seating Calculator puts the issue into perspective, allowing people to think whether their retailers could be doing more to cater for the older population.
SU4SD isn’t fighting the case alone; there are plenty of other notable initiatives doing great work to improve the lives of older shoppers on the high street. The pedestrianisation of Oxford Street is brilliant news, as long as it comes with plenty of new seats; and there is also a network of Age-Friendly Communities across the UK, supported by the World Health Organisation.
But, as our latest stats show, there is still not enough being done to welcome older shoppers. Despite the fact that the majority of older people are concerned by the lack of seating, a third would feel ashamed asking for a seat in a public place. Faced with a lack of seating on the high street, a quarter of older people report feelings of anxiety and tiredness, whilst a third suffer from physical pain such as leg and back aches. Furthermore, 24% of older people are put off shopping by self-checkout machines.
This must change. By 2030, one in five of us will be over the age of 65. This is thanks to the amazing advancements in our medical care and overall improved quality of life. However, as our population ages and the baby boomers enter into older age, it is vital that older people’s needs are catered for.
Doing so will be key to preventing rising rates of loneliness and ensuring that all older people have access to opportunities that could boost their health and wellbeing. This is because, for many, shopping isn’t just the means to an end, it’s a way of retaining independence, socialising, and getting exercise.
Doing more to cater for older shoppers would also have huge benefits for business and the economy. In a new report we commissioned as part of SU4SD, we found that, if current trends continue, by 2030 we face the complete demise of the high street with the disappearance of banks, estate agents, and many well-known brands – something that would seem to be confirmed by specialists Begbies Traynor reportedly predicting a marked rise in insolvencies in the new year. In this scenario, we’ll be left with just 120,000 shops nationwide and the economy will be losing out on up to £4.5bn each year as it loses out on the grey pound.
Our work with the Centre for Future Studies (CFS) showed a positive alternative to this bleak forecast. With straight-forward changes, such as the inclusion of seating and general accessibility improvements, high streets can transform into exciting, diverse and inclusive community hubs.
But the process to achieving this requires support from across the board. Retailers and businesses must listen to the economic argument; baby boomers must continue to demand that shops meet their needs; and we must all recognise the universal benefits of an accessible high street and the importance of Standing Up 4 Sitting Down. So next time you are in a high street, look out for Anchor’s SU4SD sticker, and if retailers haven’t got one on their window, pop in and ask them why not!