Today (27th October), the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC-UK) and the University of Stirling are hosting an (online and physical) event on “How can retailers keep us healthy?” with an emphasis on Spending with Dementia – making the high streets dementia friendly. The main components of the day (the programme is here) are to launch a report by the ILC-UK and abrdn Financial Fairness Trust on “Retail therapy – helping people with dementia enjoy spending” and to showcase some of the work underway in Stirling in the broad area encompassing retail, towns, healthy ageing (see a couple of papers here) and dementia (see University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre), including design of buildings and space.
The relationship between the University and the ILC has been strengthened recently by the appointment of an Impact Fellow under the UKRI Healthy Ageing Challenge (directed by my colleague Professor Judith Phillips) to look at the retail sector and to link between academic work and the sector to influence actions.
I was asked if I would open the day by presenting on some aspects of retail change, towns and the implications for healthy ageing. This I was please to accept, though quite where my contribution lies, I am not sure. As ever I try to provide the overheads I use for public consumption, and these are attached here.
The flow of the presentation may be slightly familiar to regular readers, but some new and updated material is introduced prior to some thoughts on a couple of questions for retailers around ageing populations and their health:
- What roles should retailers be playing?
- What does our population need from retailing and town centres?
The early part of the presentation focuses on retailing and retail change and on key dimensions of the decentralisation, disaggregation and car dependency of modern retailing, the rise of the internet and the recent development of convenience in a number of guises. We are living through a radical reshaping of much of our retail sector and any concern for healthy ageing and shopping has to be seen in that context.
There is of course a wider context as well, seen in how we have emerged from and valued different retail aspects during Covid, but now overshadowed by the Cost-of-Living crisis. Whilst urgent, the climate emergency seems to have been slightly relegated by this current economic crisis. The two are of course inter-related but the current focus is perhaps understandable. With operational issues and volatility for retailers, there is growing dissonance between what consumers want and what retailers can offer.
Following a brief discussion of town centres and high streets, the presentation considers aspects of the aging population and uses a shopping diary (see an introductory paper here) to point to the inter-related aspects of ageing, transport availability and retail sector structure. Finally in setting the scene for the two questions, we consider the policy context for this in Scotland.
- What roles should retailers be playing? Retailers, like it or not, are social engineers and have power and agency and can play a positive role in shaping their environments to enhance population health, including healthy ageing. Better availability of personal data by consumers could lead to a transformed offer and behaviour. Retailers have opportunities as well as threats from the ageing population and need to focus on their location, the role of the internet and delivery and the redesign of shops to better suit their customers in this regard.
- What does our population need from retailing and town centres? There are many attributes of place that are important for all consumers and town centres being attractive, accessible, and active are key amongst these. This implies the need to think about density of place, residential accommodation, and multi-functional spaces. Many of these points whilst highlighted for an ageing population align with the approaches set out in “A New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres”. This will vary from town to town but does require a concern for all components of society and population
It is often too easy to focus on the ageing nature of the population and on the impacts of poor health, but these have also to be set in the wider contexts of change in retailing, towns and policy. Limited consideration of what retailers need, and how our systems have structured this (and the consumer demand patterns) could condemn well-meaning approaches to failure. We need to make sure all the elements are aligned, and that policy is driving us in the right direction.
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Great to read about the need for The High Street offer to be able to work with people faced with “The Cost-of-Living Crisis”. Might Scotland set up such projects as down here in Nailsea near Bristol to create a team of people with an eye to responding to folk in need of warmth /food and financial advice /support?
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