Women love to shop. And the women’s love for shopping does not fade by age. One Thursday at 9:30 a.m., I passed by a supermarket and saw five to six women making a line in front of the supermarket. They were all around aged the late 60s to 80s wearing walking shoes. Some people held their shopping carts, and others held mobility aids. “Why do they come early even to wait for opening the supermarket? ” I wondered. There were not any bargain sales at the store. There were not any senior discounts for the store, either. When I saw these people again, I noticed that they were chatting with smiles. They did not look tired of waiting for opening the store. When the door was open at 10 a.m., they walked into the store slowly but firmly. I saw the same scene the next day. I wondered again. So, I entered the supermarket to find out what attract senior women to come for shopping so frequently.
More Than Buying
Shopping groceries can be a burden but can be a pleasant experience, too. Grocery stores such as supermarkets in Japan carry a wide range of groceries such as vegetables and fruits from Hokkaido to Kagoshima. They also carry several brands of packaged foods so that consumers can select brands that they like. In-store cooking demonstrations and tasting services of foods give their customers about cooking ideas and their tastes before their purchase. Such products and services are available in grocery stores anytime. Therefore, senior women do not have to go to supermarkets every day to have these experiences. But they go there frequently. Shops like supermarkets have something more attractive to senior women other than just buying groceries.
Shopping for Socializing Opportunities
Besides shopping, grocery stores such as supermarkets offer socializing opportunities to the senior. In other words, senior women who live alone or unable to do social activities meet people on the way of shopping activities. For example, the women who waited for opening the supermarket met and had chats with other shoppers. In the supermarket, they also have chances to interact with store people. One woman talked with a store clerk who offered a piece of apple in the season for tasting. At the cashier, a female store clerk was talking to a woman around age 70, saying, “Hi, you look healthy. But let me help you to move this basket there.” The woman replied to the store clerk with a big smile, “Thank you! It’s a great help.”
Shopping for Physical Exercises
Shopping can be a physical exercise in the sense of walking to the store or walking around in the store. Several women whom I saw in front of the supermarket wore walking shoes, probably walking to the store. That reminds me of a short conversation with a woman in her 80s in the neighborhood: “I go shopping because I need to walk.” Walking around in the supermarket can be physical exercise, too. When I was in the supermarket, I saw several senior women walked aisle by isles slowly as if taking a walk. A woman with gray hair walked around inside the store for more than 30 minutes to look for products on shelves. I don’t think she walked around there as physical exercise, but it did become her physical exercise.
Shopping for Stimulating Brains
A wide range of foods and daily goods in stores can be brain stimuli for shoppers. Compared to watching TV programs at home, senior people have more interactions in stores: seeing and touching new items in their eyes and hands and feeling the season from seasonal vegetables and fruits in the store. When I was in the supermarket, I saw a senior woman thoroughly examined how fresh a bunch of spinach before putting it in the basket. I also heard a conversation between a woman and a store clerk about a cooking recipe using mushroom at the vegetable corner. She probably cooks the mushroom with that recipe at home.
Genger Differences in Shopping Behaviors
Now, the question is about senior men. Compared to senior women, I did not see many senior men in the supermarket. This observation is consistent with what I learned from the white paper of the aging society, published by the Government of Japan. According to the Annual Report on the Aging Society Japanese in 2018, women aged 65 and older are more likely to go shopping by themselves than men. In particular, the paper said that 70% of women aged 75 and older go shopping themselves while 62% of men aged 75 and older go shopping themselves. Notably, 51% of women aged 75 and older go shopping by walking while 24% of men go shopping by walking. In other words, women have accustomed to grocery shopping from their younger age, but men have no such shopping habits. Men probably engage in socializing by meeting people from their previous work, through their hobbies and taking a walk or playing sports for their physical exercises.
Those are the situations of senior people in urban areas.
Challenge: Store Closures in Rural Areas
The situation is different for the senior in rural areas. They suffer the problem of no grocery stores nearby. The decline of the number of stores has been significant in the countryside where the population decline while the proportion of senior people become high. “Kaimono Nanmin (shopping refugees)”, seniors who do not have grocery stores nearby is a huge problem in Japan. There are several local services, which try to solve this problem. For example, local communities in rural areas offer shuttle services for senior people to a supermarket far away. There are local delivery services for the senior, too. However, shopping refugees become serious issues nationwide. They miss opportunities not only for purchasing foods and other daily goods but also for socializing and cognitive stimulation. They may feel more troublesome to go outside than before.
Opportunity: Evolving Roles of Retail Stores?
Retail stores have offered not only places to buy, but also other values to shoppers. In the past, shopping streets used to offer a wide range of daily necessities for local people. Senior people enjoyed shopping and talking with people in the shopping streets nearby. With the decline of the shopping streets, supermarkets have taken the role of offering daily necessities for shoppers in the areas. Now, supermarket chains start closing stores with low revenues. So, how can we offer the benefits associated with your shopping experience? It is still an open question.