Shopping Centres Catering to Booming Retirees

Consumers who are retirees or superannuated make up 21% of visitors to Australian shopping centres. While they don’t spend quite as much as some other occupational groups, they make a substantial contribution to turnover and play an important role in the social milieu of the modern retail centre. Furthermore, this age group is only going to get larger as Australia’s demographic shift to an older population continues in the forthcoming years.

For these older consumers, attractive public spaces are environments that foster convivial relationships; places where they can meet up with friends and family, find protection from the elements, feel safe and comfortable, and generally ‘hang out’ (if that’s not too youthful a phrase). For this, they need venues that are centrally located, on or near major transport routes, and that are perceived to be interesting, exciting and welcoming. Hence, the attraction of shopping centres.

According to Directional Insights 2013 Consumer Shopping Benchmarks, retirees and superannuants average $59 for every visit made to a shopping centre (compared with the average spend of $69). While they have a lower average spend across all categories, they do evince a good spread of expenditure. When making purchases, they average $51 on Food Retail, $54 on Apparel, $40 on retail services and $39 on Homewares. As with the overall averages women in this customer group spend more than men $64 compared with $48.

Spending does decline with age. Retirees and superannuants between 60 and 64 years of age average $67 per shopping trip, only just below the average of all customers. Those aged over 75, though average just $52 on each shopping trip.

A recent research project at the University of Tasmania investigated the shopping centre behaviour of older people and, based on extensive interviews, found a number of issues that compromised their experience. Many of these concerned mobility – how respondents travel to the shopping centre, and how they move about within it.

Making up more than a fifth of customers, though, these expenditure figures represent a substantial contribution to turnover. Catering to these customers, in addition to fulfilling a social role, is thus very important economically.

The researchers found that the main obstructions to older consumer’s mobility in and around shopping centres concerned car parking, floors,  seating, and escalators. Key issues for older people in shopping centres include:

Car Parking

  • More parking reserved for seniors, closer to the entrance, is required
  • Car parks located downstairs below shopping levels make access difficult
  • Trolleys left in car park impede access for older consumers
  • They would like more taxis and taxi stands


  • Slippery (dangerous)
  • Too hard (causes discomfort)
  • Uneven and cracked floor tiles (dangerous)


  • Large shopping centres need more seating
  • Arms on chairs and seating are needed to help customers get out of chairs which can  also be too low
  • More social arrangements for seating and more tables for public usage


  • ‘Travelators’ are easier to negotiate than escalators
  • Lifts are not always well located in relation to car parks
  • Alternatives to escalators are needed if they break down

Other issues included the need for larger signage, attitudes of management towards older people, long waits at supermarket checkouts, high noise or music levels and difficulties navigating maps.

Some of these issues can be solved relatively easily. Other structural factors take time and money, but new and re-developments should be sensitive to them – especially with the ageing of Australia’s population. Australia’s baby boomers, who have grown up and matured with shopping centres, still demonstrate an ongoing liking to spend. Their spending patterns will far exceed those of current retirees and superannuants cited above. Shaping retail environments to assist rather than hinder their shopping trips as they age will be a characteristic of successful shopping centres over the next 10 to 20 years.

Scholarly research cited in this article can be found at: Rob White, Julie-Anne Toohey and Nicole Asquith, ‘Seniors in shopping centres’, Journal of Sociology, 2013, pp. 1-14.