Mystery shoppers help businesses be their best for seniors

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It may come as a surprise to some, but older people spend more on food, beverages and entertainment than most other age groups, with the majority choosing to shop at local ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses rather than online. With the number of over-65s set to double in Australia in the next 40 years, creating better retail experiences for seniors makes simple sense.

Recently the City of Adelaide teamed up with North Adelaide businesses, the North Adelaide Precinct Association and residents in the Age Friendly Business Project. The aim of this pilot project was to better understand what might hamper seniors when they’re out and about and what businesses could do to increase their appeal to older shoppers.

The good news is that small changes can have big impacts. Actions can be as simple as offering a choice of meal sizes, providing menus with larger fonts, rearranging a store layout to create more room to move, good lighting and reducing ambient noise such as loud music.

Annie Campbell is a consultant who specialises in community consultation to improve the way people live in and experience communities. She worked with the City of Adelaide to advise on and implement the pilot and believes that addressing the needs of older customers can pay dividends on both sides of the counter.

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“Older people are loyal to businesses they love and who treat them well; in close neighbourhoods or village settings it isn’t uncommon to hear of people shopping at the same shops their parents frequented."
Annie Campbell, community consultation specialist

“Many businesses build friendships with their customers and contribute to their wellbeing, and businesses often help in times of need, for example by making home deliveries when someone is ill. Businesses recognise the opportunity afforded by increasing numbers of people who are living actively for longer, and there is a growing interest in encouraging age-friendly business practices.”

Around eighteen businesses are participating in the pilot*, including a chemist, travel agent, shoe repair shop, dentist and podiatrist, and several cafes and hotels, among them, the Lord Melbourne.

“Many of our customers are older so we wanted to see if we tick the required boxes to provide an exceptional experience for our existing older customers as well as for future customers. For us it’s about identifying areas for improvement as well as having a better understanding of what we’re currently doing for our older customers.”
Stephanie Tran, general manager Lord Melbourne Hotel

To evaluate how well the businesses are doing, North Adelaide-based mystery shoppers have been visiting them. The shoppers attended a workshop to learn what it takes to be an age-friendly business and then did their drop-ins, armed with a check-list into which they also had input in creating. They looked at design, service and products, respect, experience, comfort and availability of information.

We can’t share the names or faces of our mystery shoppers for obvious reasons, but their input is greatly valued.

One couple (let’s call them Mystery Shoppers A), have a long history in retail and hospitality.

“It’s wonderful that the Council has initiated this project and wants older people to have a say in what they want and what they find isn’t suitable. There’s a good cross section involved, and retirees do spend money,” said Mystery Shoppers A.

“We’ve found there are some very well operated businesses here in North Adelaide, and some of the business offer discounts for seniors, which is important if your budget is limited."

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“One of the issues we’ve come across is merchandise overcrowding, making it hard to move around in a shop and impossible for wheelchairs and walkers. Other things we looked for included respect from the staff and ease of getting around.”

Another mystery shopper (Mystery Shopper B), is active in the North Adelaide community. She combined forces with another mystery shopper to visit a restaurant they hadn’t been to before.

“I find that most of the places in North Adelaide are pretty age-friendly, but one issue I’ve found is noise in cafes and restaurants – you can’t hear anybody talk to you.

“I’m really excited about being involved in the project. I’m retired, I’m only 70 - which I’ve decided is the second middle age - and it’s nice to be out and about and meet people, and to have a reason to go out.”
Mystery Shopper B

With the mystery shopping completed, participating North Adelaide business have been provided with surveys for their customers to fill out. All the feedback will be collated by the City of Adelaide and then used to help these businesses on their journey to becoming more age-friendly.

* Participating businesses: Adelaide Podiatry, Barker Ward Wealth Management, E for Ethel, Fitness on the Park, Lord Melbourne Hotel, Melbourne Street Family Dental, Ruean Thai, Terry White Chemmart Melbourne Street, Virgara Hair & Beauty, Booked at North Adelaide, Charcoal on O'Connell, The Doll House, Flight Centre, Flying Fig Cafe, La Tapita Spanish Kitchen, Metropolitan Fresh Fruiterers, PodPlus Footwear, Sam's Shoe Repairs and The Wellington Hotel

Article by

Paula Stevens

Paula Stevens

Discovering the unfamiliar in the familiar

Paula has called Adelaide home her entire life and has spent many years exploring its nooks and crannies. She is excited and inspired when uncovering a new story, a hidden place, and hearing the stories of people who add to the colour and life of the city.