Retailers who adopt seven design principles for the development of virtual online stores targeting older adults, formulated by researchers at Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centre for Software, should have an advantage getting a larger share of consumers’ annual online spend of $4.9 trillion (€4.2 trillion).

Virtual stores provide an alternative way to shop online, enabling walk-through shopping in a three-dimensional environment, replicating the shopping experience in a physical retail store to a large extent. Post covid-19, many retailers across the world are developing virtual stores. Some Irish retailers such as the Kilkenny Group have recently launched virtual stores.

In the paper, How can Older Adults Shop Online in the Future? Developing Design Principles for Virtual-Commerce Stores, the Lero researchers outline the seven design principles they have formulated employing focus groups and semi-structured multi-lingual interviews.

Research Fellow at Lero and the Innovation Value Institute, Maynooth University Rehan Iftikhar said that while consumers show a growing preference for a memorable shopping experience in interactive environments, such as virtual store environments, over acquiring products on a traditional website, older adults (OAs) can find virtual stores difficult to navigate and use.

“While the early uptake of new technologies by older adults is still limited, especially regarding interactive technologies, such as virtual reality, retailers should not dismiss these technologies for older adults as the overall technology usage among this group is increasing substantially,” he added.

Professor Markus Helfert, Director of the Innovation Value Institute and project coordinator said the requirements of OAs have not yet been sufficiently considered in the design of most VR and augmented reality (AR) applications, even though these types of applications may help overcome certain aspects of age-related challenges and limitations they experience.

“Our research aims to establish a set of design principles for VR designers to develop v-commerce stores that are OA-friendly by answering the following research question: What are the principles that can guide the design of non-immersive v-commerce stores considering the requirements of older adults?” added Prof. Helfert.

The seven principles take account of age impacted vision deterioration and cognitive abilities such as processing speed, attention span and the recognition of letters and numbers and reading skills in the paper published by the European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS) 2021, according to PhD candidate Gültekin Cakir, a research Fellow at Lero and the Innovation Value Institute, Maynooth University.

“These seven design principles address the key elements of the shopping experience in the v-commerce store, such as navigation in the store, display of products, and general store design, and typical requirements of OAs, especially regarding their motoric, cognitive, and emotional needs and preferences,” he added.

The seven design principles described below from the paper How can Older Adults Shop Online in the Future? Developing Design Principles for Virtual-Commerce Stores are outlined here.

  1. Integrate the key touchpoints of the physical store in the composition of the v-commerce store. For example, if the physical store employs someone to welcome customers, this should be replicated in the v-commerce store. 
  2. Provide an adequate amount of information concurrently, limit the number of elements and amount of information concurrently visible on the screen and ensure that it is easily identifiable and understandable
  3. Allow a tolerance for errors in the interaction with elements of the v-commerce store. For example, adding a confirmation requirement before a new phase can be entered. Further, an “undo”-button could be provided to undo actions made by mistake easily. 
  4. Provide easily accessible, simple, and timely assistance that guides a v- commerce store user— for example, a tutorial at the beginning or an always available and easily accessible help button. This allows OAs to use the v-commerce store independently without help from others.
  5. Provide a complementary set of formats for information provision and a choice between these formats. For example, product information, like product details, price, and delivery time, could be provided by a textual description, complemented by a button to play an audio file that reads the information out loud.
  6. Make different types of v-commerce store elements distinguishable from each other. For example, designers could use a colour coding scheme for separate store elements or reduce complexity in patterns and shading. 
  7. Make navigation as simple as possible, for example, by implementing predefined paths in the v-commerce store. Another option could be to choose an easily understandable layout (e.g., having only one or a few aisles).