I recently watched again this Tom Cruise movie from 2002. Cruise’s character becomes a fugitive in a future world. I won’t spoil Steven Spielberg’s excellent plot by telling you how. The problem is that the world operates on retina scans. There are scanners everywhere. Travelling on mass transit is painless. The system recognizes you and automatically charges your fare to your account. He walks in to a GAP store of the future. His retina is scanned and his data retrieved. He is welcomed by name with a suggestion of clothes that will fit him. It is difficult for him to hide.
I have been wrestling with how to design experiences to attract and please the over 65’s. I need people, when entering an outlet, to carry a sign. This would describe their current “biological age” along all dimensions. There is no such thing as an average “over 65” (#070). We have seen in these Newsletters variety along every dimension. They can have widely varying levels of “intelligence”. Their backgrounds and how they use their brains today can influence all kinds of cognitive ability (#010).
We know that each individual actually lives in their own perceptual world. Their accumulated associative memories are different. These help to drive the pattern recognition that is perception (#031). From a motivational point of view they may or may not be driven by their own mortality (#033).
Until that future technology arrives firms have a problem of how to tailor experiences. That is, of course, supposing that they can create experiences for each individual. That might be possible in the metaverse. In the “real” world it becomes a lot more difficult.
The market opportunity of the over 65’s is the last growth market in many parts of the world. Firms will have to respond if they can. I have been speculating on alternative strategies they could adopt.
Fix the Obvious. Many of the changes discussed throughout these Newsletters are obvious. There is no age group that would not accept them. My wife treated me to a very expensive restaurant last year. The wine list came on paper one quarter of A4. It had been photo reduced to fit in an elegant folder. I defy anyone, of any age, to read it with or without glasses. Menus of the right size typeface, lit well enough for older guests will be attractive to anyone. Especially if they wear glasses. That would include an awful lot of younger people(#018). Technology can help. For example menus can come on computer tablets. This would allow people to adjust brightness and font size.
Rory Sutherland writing in the UK periodical The Spectator went one stage further. He argued that all services and products would benefit from being designed for the aged and infirm. He cites the UK telephone designed with large keys. It was for people with severe eye problems but became a best seller. Millions of people who wear spectacles take them off to sleep. They then found that they could not read the keys on the regular phone on their bedside table. The “large Key” phone solved the problem. In Japan, the “Raku-Raku” (easy-easy) mobile phone was for the elderly. It had larger buttons, a clearer screen and simplified navigation. It became the best-selling mobile in Japan. These features appealed to all age groups. The advent of the smartphone with backlighting and adjustable fonts may have superseded them.
Sutherland goes on to talk of the modern architectural design standards. These specify door handles not knobs to aid the severely arthritic. They do not have the strength to turn a knob. He points out how useful handles are when holding two cups of hot drinks! How many of the changes described in these Newsletters could be implemented anyway.
Self- Selection. Consumers are not passive recipients. With the help of Trip Advisor we are perfectly capable of selecting an experience. It would be appropriate for ourselves. A firm can create a lively bar targeted at a young happy hour crowd. A passing 65 year old will probably not enter. If they do then they will reset their expectations and might be satisfied. If TripAdvisor was age sensitive it would help. If it allowed reviews to be selected by the age of the author the process might be more efficient.
Self-Service. Customers will “hack” their experiences to fit their needs (#061). People carry their own pillows and cushions when travelling. We know, for example, that taste does change with age. We need more salt and more flavour enhancers of all kinds. The effect is multiplied if we are taking many of the drugs associated with old age. The restaurants can provide all kind of condiments on the table. Providing the chef will recognize the issue. Consumers can fit the flavour to their needs (Newsletter #022 ). They often carry their own tabasco anyway.
Real Time Customization. Areas within settings can be created to fit consumers with different needs. Customers can be “allocated” to them by staff or given a choice. Quiet Zones on UK trains are a classic example of this idea. People do ask for quiet tables. The experience is “customized” by the staff. They must be sensitive to the needs of the consumers. They have to have the facilities to modify the experience to fit. They have to be sensitive to all the different types of customers in a single space.
Hotels have been coping with this kind of problem for a long time. On any one day will have multiple different groups of consumers. They will be using their different services. These services often share the same physical spaces and staff. They will have individual “rack rate” customers, conference attendees and package tourists in their bedrooms. Their bars and restaurants will be full of these guests plus walk-in diners. The coffee shop at lunch time will be serving conference attendees. In the evening it serving the package tour guests. Their banqueting suites will contain meetings, events, exhibitions and weddings. Over the years the hotel managers and staff have learnt to juggle these different groups. They customize the service to fit each group. They manage the conflicts inherent with having them all in the same space and operation. They now will have to learn to cope with the biologically “young” and the “old”.
It is already happening. Many restaurants now have reading glasses available for guests. The Maître ‘D of a restaurant long ago learned to juggle the seating to fit the customers. They place noisy groups in the back. They place celebrity guests in the window. Given the correct infrastructure they can place ageing guests in parts of the restaurant where they will get the best experience. Not giving them banquette seats or placing them near sound system speakers. All they need is to understand the potential needs of those people.
The Changing Consumer World
What is clear that service firms compete through the consumer experience. As the “average” consumer ages, service firms will adapt. The whole curated world in which we, as service consumers, live will evolve. This is not a new idea. Retail formats have been evolving ever since retailing was first developed. It was 1909 that Harry Gordon Selfridge opened the London department store that still carries his name. He had the expressed intention of revolutionizing shopping. He wanted to turn it from a necessity to a leisure and social activity. His new concept was “theatre as retail”. For example, he held scientific and cultural displays within the stores. Little did he know how far his “theatre as retail” concept would spread.
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