Shopping with cognitive challenges

Picture of a shopping mall with a plain grey floor and shops on each side. Thre is a woodend bench with armrests and backrest. In the distance you can see more shops.Shopping for groceries is a chore for most people. But for people with reduced cognitive abilities shopping can be a major challenge. Researchers in Sweden carried out a study of 29 people with cognitive challenges to find out their coping strategies. They found very different approaches to coping, but in every case the coping strategy was underpinned by a “personal and strong wish to maintain individuality and independence”.

The researchers found some good points for retailers including: clear paths that connect the entrance and exits with check out counters, clear signage, places to sit and rest (and reduce anxiety) and creating a sense of feeling safe in the environment. The title of the paper is, Shopping with Acquired Brain Injuries, Coping Strategies and Maslowian Principles, by Andersson, Skehan, Ryden and Lagerkrans, from the Swedish Agency for Participation. As with most personal case study research this is an easy read.  

The recommendations are also good for people without reduced cognition. For example, reducing “visual noise” and clutter helps everyone to find what they are looking for, and a clear path of travel is good for people using mobility devices. Again, thoughtful design is universal design.

From the abstract

In Sweden the expected life span has increased with approximately 25 years during the 20th century. This study is based on interviews with groups of older persons who experience cognitive problems and relatives. The interviewees were asked about everyday activities like shopping groceries, clothes or other necessities. The interviewees identified problems and described a series of strategies for coping.

The strategies range from complete withdrawal, an increased dependency on proxies to the development of elaborate techniques to mask their problem and obtain assistance. Following the current trend in the design of the Swedish sales environment – large scale, abundance of goods and Maslowian strategies for making people stay longer (and spend more money) – accessibility in the built environment is often an absent friend.


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