“It’s beautiful, but a blooming nuisance!” – Snow, shopping, and older people

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“It’s beautiful, but a blooming nuisance!” said my 91 year old Grandmother looking out over her snow covered garden last week. In the early hours of 30 November, many parts of the country experienced an unseasonably large snowfall. While the snow may have been beautiful, it led to travel chaos, school closures and left many people (particularly older people and those with limited mobility) stuck at home.

My 90 year old grandparents were housebound for 4 days as they were unable to get the car out of the garage (this would have required clearing 20cm deep snow from the drive) and were afraid to walk to the nearby bus stop on snow and ice covered roads and pavements. In any case for the first two days following the snowfall, the buses were not running.
I am sure that many others were in a similar situation. Saga have highlighted the problems that older people face to get to the shops in wintry weather conditions and requested that local authorities make this more of a priority [1].
I then faced the challenge of how to help my grandparents get some food in, as their supplies were beginning to run out. The first idea was that I would go there myself with a few basic supplies, but with no trains or buses running and the roads impassable, I was not able to do this.
We then looked at the option of ordering groceries on-line. Unusually for people their age they do have a computer with internet access at home, but do not trust websites with their credit card details. Another option was for me to order (and pay for) their groceries myself and get them delivered to my grandparent’s address.
There was also a third option, at least with Sainsbury (the supermarket my grandparents usually use), which was that they could order groceries over the ‘phone by calling customer service, a possibility I had not previously known about. This appealed to my grandparents, who feel comfortable ordering things over the ‘phone. However, as the groceries would not have been delivered until the next day when it seemed certain, thanks to melting snow, that I could reach them; they preferred to wait for me to help them go to the supermarket.  What happens I wonder to older people who need to go food shopping in wintry weather and do not have friends or family to help out, who cannot go on-line, or do not know they may be able to order groceries over the ‘phone?
In his recent report on older consumers [2], my colleague David Sinclair found that many businesses are able to provide older people friendly services, such as telephone ordering, a member of staff to help with shopping, and home delivery, but do not always make customers aware of these possibilities. In addition, the report found that there were older people with disposable income they very much wanted to spend, but were not able to due to practical shopping difficulties. So not only are older people being inconvenienced, but businesses are losing out on potential customers. If another cold spell arrives this winter, perhaps local authorities and businesses, especially food retailers, could work together to make sure older customers don’t get left out (in the cold?)

Rebecca Taylor
[1] http://www.saga.co.uk/ros-altmann/news/ros-altmann-saga-snow-big-freeze.asp 

[2] http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/record.jsp?type=publication&ID=80

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