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Cell phone makers use big buttons to tap senior market

Inge Goglia grew frustrated at the itty-bitty buttons on her cell phone and complexity of trying to text message her daughter.

"So I got this Doro cell phone that has huge buttons, lights up in the dark with big letters and is much simpler," said the 70-year-old Bradenton retiree.

Yes, the cell phone craze has finally found the senior market.

The top-selling big-number cell phone in Europe — until now sold primarily by mail order in the United States — Doro is now being sold by Consumer Cellular Services at 800 Sears stores. The phone competes for seniors' favor from the likes of Samsung, Motorola and Pantech. And more sophisticated (and costly) features include iPhones with a magnified screen for the vision impaired, voice recognition systems that dial numbers and even reminders to take pills.

"The industry now offers a variety of handsets designed for the seniors market," said AT&T Wireless spokeswoman Sue Sperry. "It's important in Florida, because after a hurricane, texting will be the best way for families to communicate."

Doro's handlers hope U.S. sales of fewer than 1 million over the past three years will zoom tenfold now that more seniors can try one at Sears.

"Unlike Europe, cell phones have been sold in the U.S. by wireless service carriers that bundle in more and more features geared for young people that generate far more revenue for them," said Christopher Lundstrom, director of North America for Swedish Doro. "For seniors, we kept our phone very simple."

There's no contract. The clamshell phone costs $59.99 including activation with service plans starting at $10 a month through the Consumer Cellular network. The network has a royalty deal endorsement with AARP and buys and resells its minutes en masse from AT&T. Doro stuck with big buttons, easier to press for frail seniors who have trouble developing the feel for touch screen keypads.

"I have it mainly for emergencies," Goglia said, "So $20 a month for 300 minutes is plenty."

Publix spreads

Now in five states from Nashville to Key West, Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets is moving into Knoxville, Tenn. The first store opens next year. It's about 100 miles northeast of the closest Publix, in Chattanooga, one of 30 Publix stores in Tennessee.

Narrowing the Gap

Still trying to find its place in a changing fashion world, the nation's second-biggest apparel specialty chain is shrinking. The Gap Inc. plans to close 200 of its Gap stores in the United States in the next two years, leaving about 900. It's part of a larger plan for the company, which operates 3,200 stores under several brands worldwide, to stop losing market share to J. Crew, Forever 21, Zara and H&M by shifting emphasis to outlet malls and its healthier discount brand Old Navy. Old Navys are being shrunk into smaller spaces, already completed in Tampa's WestShore Plaza. Expect to see fewer Gap stores in second-tier malls.

The total 2 percent cut in 38 million square feet of retail space follows a similar trim in the past two years.

Chief executive Glenn Murphy foresaw no change in the footprint of Gap's Banana Republic.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Cell phone makers use big buttons to tap senior market 07/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 11:05pm]
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