Failure of Edinburgh Woollen Mill highlights peril of focus on older shoppers

GlobalData Consumer 15 October 2020 (Last Updated October 15th, 2020 13:34)

Failure of Edinburgh Woollen Mill highlights peril of focus on older shoppers

The looming failure of Edinburgh Woollen Mill signals that retailers which are heavily reliant on an older demographic will struggle during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shoppers over the age of 65 are currently less likely to venture out for non-essential shopping missions than other age groups. In a survey conducted between 1 and 11 September, 58.4% of 65+ respondents had not visited a non-essential store since they reopened in June.

Not only that, of those older shoppers that did venture out, 60% said they knew what they wanted to buy from a specific retailer and didn’t browse other stores. While this mission-based approach to shopping is common to all ages to some degree during the pandemic, younger shoppers are much more at ease with shopping around, with 61% of 18-24s saying they tended to browse multiple stores when out.

The effect of the pandemic is dampening 65+s’ desire for shopping more than it is for other age groups. The most cited reason for not visiting shops is that they just don’t feel the need to buy anything, something that is outside of retailers’ control. It is essential that retailers follow safety measures and communicate this in their marketing, but this alone won’t be enough to entice the vast majority of them back.


*Data from GlobalData’s Consumer Views survey of 2,000 shoppers between 1-11 September 2020.

While shoppers have been using online more, older shoppers tend to be less likely to do so. According to GlobalData’s Covid-19 Tracker Consumer Survey, only 35% of 65+ shoppers in the UK said they would shop for clothing online more than they did before Covid-19. Retailers with a significant proportion of older shoppers will struggle to entice them back into stores, and so need to convince them that shopping online is easy and convenient.

So, which other retailers are likely to be affected by the great elderly stay-away? According to GlobalData’s How Britain Shops survey in March, Edinburgh Woollen Mill shoppers had the second oldest age profile of all UK clothing retailers, just above Bonmarché in third (which is part of the same group), and narrowly behind Cotton Traders in first.

*Data from GlobalData’s How Britain Shops survey of 10,000 shoppers in March 2020.

The largest clothing player in the top ten of ageing customers is Marks & Spencer which only recently ceded total clothing market leader position to Primark (in terms of market share by value). While it has been more focussed on the revitalisation of its food proposition and the expansion of its online grocery business with Ocado, its general merchandise offer is likely to continue to struggle until the pandemic is truly over.