Calls for Coles and Woolworths to introduce 'boomer hour' slammed as 'ageist'

The concept isn't going down well with retail experts.

A consumer expert has hit back at suggestions from young Aussies that elderly people are getting in the way while they shop – with some going as far as to suggest Coles and Woolworths should restrict access for older customers to "boomer hour".

Such a proposition has been branded as an "expression of ageism" by retail strategist Barry Urquhart, who was unimpressed with the call.

"At a time where the cost of living and the cost of doing business is acute, suggestions that businesses should be turning off or marginalising any group of consumers, regardless of their age, is really ill advised," he told Yahoo News Australia.

While Mr Urquhart said recent calls from younger Facebook users to limit shopping hours for older Aussies were "understandable", he explained that they're "misplaced".

Elderly woman shopping at Woolworths supermarket
Some Coles and Woolworths shoppers say older customers should be restricted to a 'boomer hour'. Source: Getty

"The one thing we've got to recognise is that Australia per capita has the second largest household debt in the world after Switzerland," Mr Urquhart noted, adding that the country needs older citizens to keep the economy moving.

"Where there is money to be spent and where consumers are spending money is predominantly amongst consumers aged 50 years of age and older. They're the ones who are countering the effective contraction in discretionary purchases because they have the cash, the money, the inclination and the satisfaction of going out, expending and having a good time, which is for the betterment of themselves, and for Australian business."

Facebook debate boils over

The debate on restricted hours for older people boiled over on Facebook, when a user claimed "boomers" were taking up too much space in the aisles while they stopped to socialise, and were getting in the way of time-poor workers and busy parents. But others slammed the suggestion as "appalling" and "disgraceful".

Elderly man shopper at supermarket checkout
Older people have been accused of taking up aisle space and taking too long at the supermarket checkout while they stop to socialise. Source: Getty

Supermarkets should 'prioritise older shoppers'

Instead of marginalising older shoppers, Mr Urquhart says supermarkets should be embracing them and working to improve customer service. "What we should be doing is thinking more about extending trading hours and increasing the number of frontline service providers interacting with the consumers, because if the older consumer is spending more time talking to peer shoppers and service providers, it means they're staying in the premises longer,” he explained.

And when you hang around inside a shop, you're much more likely to buy more than what you came in for. "We need to capitalise on the fact that in Australia around about 32 cents of the dollar is spent on impulse and spontaneity by purchasing," Mr Urquhart said, "and that is very attractive for anyone in business today."

Coles weighs in to 'boomer hours' debate

In a statement to Yahoo News Australia, Coles said it's working to make everyone feel happy in store. "We are always looking at ways we can meet the differing needs of our customers by creating a shopping environment in which our customers and team members feel comfortable," a spokesperson said. "We currently offer Quiet Hour which is a low-sensory shopping experience that's easy on the eyes and ears and is offered at participating Coles stores every Tuesday between 10.30am to 11.30am."

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