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The University of Southampton
Winchester School of Art

Silver Shoppers: designing a better supermarket experience for the older customer

The Silver Shoppers project has enhanced UK and Chinese retailers’ understanding of addressing older customers’ unmet needs in the supermarket environment. Through social design research, industry engagement and exhibitions, Silver Shoppers has challenged attitudes to the everyday problems faced by older people in the UK and China when shopping in supermarkets. It has produced new products to improve the shopping experience for the older generation, such as an augmented trolley, and has drawn attention to non-inclusive characteristics of supermarket layout, signage and shelf design.


Silver Shoppers trolley test

By 2050, the world's population aged over 60 is expected to reach 2 billion. Given this demographic shift, older people represent an increasingly valuable target market for retailers, none more so than supermarkets, which have expanded significantly in recent years as smaller local shops, traditionally favoured by older consumers, have closed. The ESRC-funded project led by Dr Yin, Silver Shoppers, was the first systematic study of the shopping experience for older people at a national level in the UK and China. Collaborators included Tsinghua and Brunel Universities, Sainsbury’s and Age UK.

Research challenges

Ethnographic and social design research led by Dr Yuanyuan Yin has addressed the challenges that older people face in the supermarket environment in the UK and China. Researchers designed an ethnographic user study that used participant diaries, video-based interviews and observations, and ‘cultural probes’, an experimental technique to gather information for design inspiration, to analyse the shopping experiences in the UK, and Shandong, Sichuan and Jiangsu in China.

Several challenges for older people were identified: understanding where certain products were located; accessing products on high or low shelves; poor signage and labelling; and inappropriate portion sizes. Dr Yin and her team concluded that supermarkets could learn from research into new ways of applying digital support and ergonomic design within the shopping process and environment.

New designs and prototypes

The project team used these findings to co-develop design innovations to improve the shopping experience for older people in both countries.Ideas and prototypes for new products and services were developed, including an Smart Trolley which is smaller, easier to manoeuvre than the standard trolley and which guides customers around the store, allowing them to scan items via a shopping app on the attached iPad and an in-store ‘shopping café,’ where people can choose items via a touchscreen pad while socialising. The prototypes were exhibited at the 2017 London Design Festival and Dr Yin pursued a commercialisation plan to develop the Smart Trolley.

What was the impact?

The impact of this research is evident through the project’s collaborative activities with the public and key stakeholders, and in changing UK and Chinese retailers’ understanding of older customers’ unmet needs in the supermarket environment through inclusive design. The Silver Shoppers research project has engaged the retail industry, design professionals, age-related charities and consumers across generational divides to address inclusive design for everyday challenges.

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Staff MemberPrimary Position
Yuanyuan YinAssociate Professor, Design Management, Pathway Leader for MA Design Management
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