Supermarkets and the Elderly Couple

Topics: Grocery, Insights, Shopper, Shopper marketing

ShopAbility interviews an elderly couple on their supermarket shopping behaviour and needs, for Retail World Magazine.

In the first of a number of ‘shopper’s eye views’, here we interview Shirley* and Trevor* about how they shop for groceries and what supermarkets can do to make their lives easier.  An Adelaide-based retired couple in their 70s with adult children who left home 20 years ago, Trevor is on the pension and Shirley has superannuation.  It demonstrates the impact of changing lifestyles and living arrangements on shopping behaviour, and how shoppers of even modest means place more value on things other than lowest price when shopping for groceries.


What does a typical week buying groceries look like for you?


I tend to shop almost daily at the Foodland 5 minutes down the road from us, and I probably get 3 or 4 things a day there. It’s also close to the other non-food services like the post office, chemist, and bakery so I do it as part of a local shop.

We buy meat from Woolworths at Marion [super regional Westfield shopping centre], also so we can have a coffee while we are there. We can judge the quality of the meat better at Woolies than Coles because their packaging is better. Occasionally we will go to a proper butcher for cuts the supermarkets don’t have, like oyster blade steak.

We also buy our fruit & veg from a specialist veggie shop at Marion because the quality is better, although we might occasionally buy potatoes and carrots from Woolies or Foodland.


Woolies say they’re the Fresh Food People – their veggies are quite good quality where Foodland is not as good. We’re all about the quality for fresh, rather than the price, so we are a bit haphazard about where we get it from.

Otherwise, I shop a couple of times a week at the Marion Woolies 10 minutes away when I’m after specific things, particularly if I’m cooking a certain recipe, because I know they’ll have the things I need. I don’t shop at the Foodland where Trevor goes, because their range isn’t as good. Having said that, I used to think Foodland had less variety but it has become more attractive now that Woolies and Coles have so much home brand and Select, Select, Select. I think Woolworths has reduced the number of brands, and I only buy the well known brands like Rosella tomato soup, for instance. [This is typical of shopper studies we have run where we’ve found empty nester and elderly lifestages are rusted onto to longstanding brands they know and trust – ShopAbility].


Why do you shop there?


The Foodland is the closest supermarket so it’s convenient and I do the other shopping chores in the other local shops while I’m there. The prices are good, I know what is where and I can get in and out quickly. Also most of their products are Australian made, and the manager will get in specific things for me from time to time.


[Smirks] Foodland is Trevor’s social outing for the day, along with the pharmacy and the bakery. He likes that all the staff know him.

Where I prefer to just get all my grocery shopping done and get out as fast as possible so I can go clothes shopping in the rest of Marion. I couldn’t give a toss whether the people in the supermarket know me.

I would like to support Foodland because of their philosophy, and I will occasionally go there with Trevor for Australian made things, but the store is poky and hard to get around. Woolies is roomier, better set out and easier to find things. The new IGA on Brighton Road is brilliant, but I go to Woolies at Marion because there are other shops there, as well as the coffee shop.





What kind of shopping trips do you do?



I get whatever we need for that day or the next couple of days. [This means top up, emergency/run out, or destination trips – ShopAbility].

I reckon I would probably spend between $20 and $40 a day, depending on how many things I’m getting.



We don’t do the big stock up shops anymore. The issue with this is the stuff isn’t necessarily there on hand if I want to cook, I would prefer to have a stocked cupboard. But on the other hand, the good thing about Trevor going to the shops every day is that everything is always fresh, and it’s not me having to do it!

I only really go to the supermarket when I need specific things for specific recipes. [This is a destination trip – ShopAbility]. But I would spend maybe around $120 once or twice a week at Woolies.

[This means between Trev and Shirl they are jointly spending somewhere between $240 and $480 a week on groceries including fruit & veg and meat – ShopAbility].




What do you like and dislike about grocery shopping, and what do you think supermarkets could do better?



I don’t like the queues at the checkout. Express or Fast checkouts aren’t. They used to be 6 items, now it’s 15 and half the time people go over their 15 items. Express checkouts need to go back to 6. Also the signs at the end of the aisles only say what’s at that end of the aisle and not at the other end, so you wind up going up the next aisle and back around. There should be more detailed labeling on the ends of the aisles.

I do like the message you get at the bottom of the docket that says “You have saved $X on your purchases today”. It makes no difference to my current trip or what I just did, but it makes me feel a bit better about it.



I hate having to push past other people with trolleys. I like nice spacious aisles. The car parking at Foodland is too hard, I can use my disabled sticker for Woolies at Marion so I can park easily there. Coles’ layout doesn’t have enough detail in the overhead signs and their meat is crap.

I also don’t like them trying to tempt us to spend more, it’s pretty obvious what they’re doing. This is what the Rewards card does. The Woolies Sticky promotion I tried the other day, it’s a bit of a gimmick, a bit of a joke. With my $126 I spent I only got 2-3 stickers. I can save the same looking at the ordinary specials in the aisles. But I can see that it might make you try things you wouldn’t normally, or might make you buy additional things.



It’s clear from my above conversation with Shirley and Trevor that price is not the first consideration for supermarket shopping, and even overall value takes a back seat to convenience and particularly known, preferably Australian made, brands and product quality. The individual stores they go to are their perception of the entire chain.


For these guys, they value the practicalities of product quality and ease of navigation (and for Trevor, recognition) without obvious attempts to increase spend. And their weekly spend is already considerable. Stores attempting to break into these types of shoppers’ more frequent traffic consideration set (within a set location radius) should be looking at not just spend and saving mechanisms but promoting both the improved shopping experience, range and proximity to other services.


*names have been changed.