My New Job! Supermarket service design for elderly consumers

EmpressWalk supermarket

I’ve been in my new (postdoc) job for six weeks now and am really enjoying it. Getting a position, either academic or non-academic, post-PhD is real worry for most doctoral students. Just as there are too many undergraduates passing through university for not enough graduate-level jobs, we get constantly bombarded with the fact that there are too many doctoral students chasing a handful of academic posts. Whilst you become highly qualified as a doctoral student, your area of expertise is always extremely specific. To give yourself the best chance of getting an academic job, you’re expected to have a brilliant PhD thesis, journal papers, teaching experience, admin experience and evidence of outreach work. Ideally, all within 3 years.

To be honest, I never bought into the pessimistic outlook. Whilst competition is tough, I knew I’d done everything I could do to improve my chances (although I never saw it that way – I just like going to conferences, teaching, tweeting etc) and a good PhD from a Russell Group university. Plus watching fellow doctoral students go before me, it always seemed to work out for people in the end. Luckily, it worked out for me very quickly and I got offered a great research fellow job at Winchester School of Art (part of the University of Southampton still, but under the business faculty) to start the day after my doctoral funding ended. The post is for 18 months working on an ESRC project. It is a perfect match for my multi-disciplinary social science/design background and uses the same methods as my PhD work but working on a different problem.

The project I’ve joined is called ‘Silver Shoppers: Designing a better supermarket service for the older customer’ with Dr Yuanyuan Yin and a research team at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The aim of the project is to investigate the problems older shoppers face when grocery shopping and to come up with some new design solutions. Some examples of previous design ideas can be found on the project exhibition website. The ESRC funding creates the opportunity to expand the research across the UK and across China, so we’ll be running a parallel study out there next year. My main role is to assist with the shopping-with-consumer observational research and conduct face-to-face interviews. The Chinese team will conduct the research in China but I’ll be over there for three months next year to oversee the process and ensure the methods we use match up. Exiciting! After the qualitatative research has been completed and data analysed we will be designing a large quantitative postal survey with shoppers aged 65+.

Whilst the project is predominately design-focused, I’m really interested in the social side of the story. Already in the focus groups, respondents have talked about the supermarket as the ‘community hub’ – the place where they bump into friends, get to know the staff and stop for coffee in the café. There is also a strong co-shopping theme, where the older but still very able respondents shop for their friends and neighbours, or give them a lift to the supermarket. With an aging population this research is timely and much needed, hopefully the ‘inclusive design’ outputs will be of benefit to all shoppers. I’ll try to provide project updates here as the research progresses and will be developing the project website in due course as well.

Image: “EmpressWalkLoblaws” by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine – Own work

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2 thoughts on “My New Job! Supermarket service design for elderly consumers

  1. penny says:

    Hi Emma – worth the wait, what a worthy and satisfying project. It’s great to hear that this type of retail investment is going on behind the scenes – congratulations! Penny

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