An ethnographic approach towards understanding the food shopping experience of the elderly consumer.




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Tsinghua-DMI International Design Management Symposium 2011



Peer reviewed



The elderly consumer has become more attractive to food retailers as they have a higher disposable income and set aside a larger budget for their groceries. From the literature review, it was found that very little studies have focused on their retail needs and research in the United Kingdom is limited. In addition, previous studies adopt a quantitative approach through surveys or questionnaires and the results may not be a true account of the current scenario. The aim of this research is to investigate the current difficulties and challenges associated with supermarket food shopping among senior consumers in the United Kingdom so as to improve retail service design for this group of consumers. A qualitative ethnographic approach, that combines direct observations and semi-structured interviews, was employed to discover ageing consumers’ natural supermarket shopping behaviours and their attitude and satisfactions of the current service from supermarket retailers. Aspects such as the use of trolleys and baskets; store layout and aisles; shelves and freezers; products; customer service; and the checkout experience were investigated. In this project, 14 elderly participants were invited and asked to undertake their usual shopping, followed by the task of finding and identifying 3 items at 2 different supermarket retailers. The purpose of the 3 items was to serve as a benchmark of issues that the participants faced at both stores. A box of icing sugar was chosen as it was found that its product location was inconsistent; the bottle of basil was selected as it was found that the packaging for similar herbs were identical; and the box of fish fingers would be a representative of the frozen food section and to find whether the glass doors were an issue. The participants were observed in a non-intrusive way and at the end of each shopping trip, they were given a face-to-face semi-structured interview to elicit additional feedback and to confirm the observation findings. The key problem areas that were found include access to products, size of packaging and signage. The problem of reaching high and low shelves is not unique to only shoppers in the United Kingdom and this barrier was also identified in other developed countries. In terms of the size of packaging, food products that were sold in bulk were unpopular among senior citizens as they were unable to transport them home and they would have a problem finishing the food. Lastly, in terms of signage, it was observed that because senior citizens were more likely to have eye ailments and poor posture, most of the signs mounted on the ceiling were less effective for them. This research has confirmed several key problems in the supermarket environment, and the study has provided greater awareness for retailers to consider their special needs and to build towards a more inclusive retail experience.



elderly consumers, retail experience, retail experience, supermarkets, food shopping


Pei, E. and Yin, Y. (2011) An Ethnographic Approach towards Understanding the Food Shopping Experience of the Elderly Consumer”. Tsinghua-DMI International Design Management Symposium 2011, Hong Kong, HK, 03 - 05 Dec 2011


Research Institute