England & Wales, Scotland Communities and society, Economy and regeneration, Housing and planning, Welfare and equalities

The place for older consumers

A few weeks ago I reflected on my academic article output for 2020 and the surprise, to me at least, that I had achieved seven outputs.  I put this down to my co-authors, but did point out that this feat was not going to be repeated.

Whilst I am certain it won’t be repeated, my co-authors have got 2021 off to a flying start as two articles have been accepted and put into early view in January and February.  Whilst the papers are not related, there is a common theme between them, namely the older or ageing consumer.

Now it is strictly accurate that there is an increasing degree of personal self-interest in the subject of the older consumer, but that is not the origin of either of these papers.  There isn’t really an order to them, but I do think the topics are extremely relevant.

Dr Maria Rybaczewska and myself have authored a paper on “Ageing consumers and e-commerce activities’ for Ageing & Society.  This takes data from the Healthy Ageing in Scotland (HAGIS) programme (for which thanks to Dr Elaine Douglas and Professor David Bell) to look at the online behaviour of older consumers. We note that the ‘breakpoint’ for use appears to be 75 years old; somewhat higher than most academic papers and business practitioners tend to set it.  We also see some indication of single/widowed status or having lower usage, raising issues of isolation. The pandemic won’t have helped, this one suspects.

The second paper is co-authored with my Stirling colleague, also Deputy Principal, and Professor of Gerontology, Judith Phillips, together with Nigel Walford and Ann Hockey from Kingston and Anglia Ruskin Universities respectively.  It is entitled ‘Older people, town centres and the revival of the high street’ and is published in Planning, Theory and Practice.  The paper considers the potential multiple roles of older people in helping revive and rejuvenate town centres given the centrality of place for healthy supportive living, community and social participation and ‘ageing in place’.

Whilst on different topics, the common thread is the perception and value of older consumers.  Many companies have been guilty of ignoring older consumers when it comes to the internet. This is not to deny issues of access and use for many, but to point out the opportunity (and as we become more digital, the need).  This sense of opportunity and value also underpins the second paper and the benefits that can derive from seeing town centres as beyond retail, with a mixed use, inter-generational approach.  This is one aspect that underpinned some of the thinking in our recent Town Centre Action Plan Review recommendations. Rather than isolation (whether digital or physical), older people and older consumers can bring wider benefits for all society and places.

The abstracts of these papers and links to the Stirling depository providing pre-print access can be found here. Depending on your access and subscriptions the final published papers can be obtained by following the links below.


Rybaczewska M. and L. Sparks (2021) Ageing consumers and e-commerce activities.  Ageing & Society, 1-20, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X20001932

Phillips  J., Walford N., Hockey A and L. Sparks  (2021) Older people, town centres and the revival of the ‘high street’. Planning, Theory and Practice, https://doi.org/10.1080/14649357.2021.1875030


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