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by Michael Sansolo

It is hard to imagine that there is any study more important to consumer-facing businesses than demographics. After all, the study of who we are as people opens our eyes to a massive range of issues that can lead to success or failure.

An unexpected front in that study was opened recently by Stanford University and written about recently in the Washington Post; in my opinion, it demands focus from businesses that want to be relevant in the marketplace.

The gist of the article is relatively simple, even if the implications are anything but. Essentially, Americans in 2019 have a life expectancy 30 years longer than our grandparents - even despite recent studies showing a small decline thanks to opioids and social ills. The implications of those 30 additional years are profound.

People now worry greatly about outliving whatever money they put aside for retirement, especially as retirement now can stretch out to 40 years. Not surprisingly, we also worry more about finishing our lives with dementia more than we fear dying.

Consider that the vast majority of us finish our education at age 18 or 22, yet we now can expect to live as many as eight more decades.

We now have the likelihood of living with four or five generations of our own families gathering at the holiday table. Imagine all the holiday table arguments bound to be created.

The Post article highlights some of the new issues such a change in lifespan brings about, from how long we work to how we stay physically active and more.

It’s hard to read these findings and not find countless challenges for retail. Think about our staffers and how companies can creatively approach the potential of workers staying on the job into their 70s or later. Should sabbaticals, long just found in academia, become standard to help keep staffers fresh, charged and engaged? That might sound like a far-fetched idea, but imagine if you (yes you, the reader) could expect to spend another 40 years in your current job. Wouldn’t a year off to recharge or possibly re-educate yourself seem like a fabulous idea?

We also need think about the reality of having to manage 70- or 80-year-old workers. Might tasks need to shift to allow such experienced workers to have fewer physical challenges while still finding ways to utilize their institutional knowledge and experience? Also, might recruiting - always a challenge in retail - change to provide attractive jobs to retirees looking for ways to add part-time work to augment retirement savings?

And without question we’ll need think about the dietary and nutritional needs of a generation of older shoppers than we’ve ever seen before. At the very least, we’ll need to think about how to best use shelf space to serve these shoppers and to reconsider the type size on products, pricing and promotions to appeal to this demographic.

Needless to say, there are some simple answers to any of these questions and no doubt there are a thousand more questions that need to be pondered. But just as we need to understand the challenges of the current young generation delaying marriage, home ownership and child rearing, we need to consider the implications of those same shoppers having to deal with aging parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and maybe more.

Keep in mind that when it comes to demographics, the question isn’t whether these things will come to pass, it’s more a matter of how soon.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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