In China And Around The World, More Seniors Than Ever Before
A curious headline caught my eye recently: “In A Chinese Village, Elderly Farmers Are Now Yogis.” In the rural hamlet of Yugouliang, where the average age is 65, a government-sponsored yoga program is all the rage and is credited with reenergizing senior citizen residents. The program leader, a senior himself, learned yoga using YouTube videos and touts ambitious plans to expand the program to neighboring villages.
This heart-warming story highlights an important demographic trend that is shaping business and tech culture here in China – the graying of the population. According to the United Nations, China is aging more rapidly than any other country in the world. By 2050, the number of people in China age 60 or older is expected to reach 487 million – more than one-third of the total population. This will be a huge shift from previous decades when younger people, with many working years ahead of them, formed the bulk of the population.
This staggering statistic is writ large in daily life here, and the trend is not unique to China. Countries around the globe are experiencing a similar growth of their senior populations, as the babies born during the post-WWII boom age into later life. By 2050, there will be 1.6 billion more seniors living on the planet than there are today.
This trend fascinates me both personally and professionally. In my own family, I have seen firsthand how tech and eCommerce innovations like FaceTime and grocery delivery enrich the lives of my parents and in-laws. Bigger picture, I am interested in how the needs of this mushrooming senior cohort will inspire tech advances and drive economic growth around the globe.
Seniors Will Power Global Retail Growth
The growing number of senior shoppers will create a global “Silver Economy” that represents a vast economic opportunity, particularly in the retail sector. Consulting firm AT Kearney projects that the global spending power of the over-60s will reach $15 trillion USD by 2020. In China alone, the market for goods and services for elderly consumers will reach $17 trillion in 2050, making it one-third of China's economy.
This is a remarkable shift from previous decades, because the biggest spenders of the future will be the elderly, not the youthful Millennials who so often dominate boardroom conversations.
We are at a cultural turning point, and it is an important time for business leaders to recognize the elderly as the seasoned consumers that they are. Serving this demographic is an important strategic objective within PepsiCo China. As the company strives to continue our almost four-decade legacy of bringing delicious and nutritious products to consumers of all ages, we recognize that meeting aging shoppers’ needs means going well beyond “bolting on” a senior strategy to re-thinking every aspect of the business from a senior’s point of view.
Here are three ways to think about better serving senior shoppers.
Strategy 1: Create Retail Experiences that Put Seniors First
While retail buzzes with an emphasis on “experience,” we often think through a millennial lens (e.g., pop-up shops and social media-worthy merchandising.) What could happen if we defined “great experience” with Silver Shoppers in mind?
Japan is known for already having a sizable senior population, and the country’s retail sector provides some great thought-starters. For example, Japanese retailer Aeon recently remodeled stores to better accommodate senior shoppers, including exercise spaces, complimentary green tea stands, resting areas, and a curated assortment of items with senior appeal. I can 100% see my mother-in-law becoming a devotee of an in-store exercise group, how about yours?
In the grocery sector, 7-Eleven stores have broadened their assortment to become a one-stop-shop for elderly shoppers who may find it more difficult to visit multiple destinations. These so-called “hubs” of the senior community now offer an expanding array of items, including: meal kits, home goods, healthcare items, bill pay, ticket purchasing, and meal delivery services.
I can only imagine that own my in-laws in Dallas would enthusiastically embrace a similar one-stop-shop solution.
Strategy 2: Make It Easy for Senior Shoppers (and their families too)
Companies can and should become an important link to ensure seniors do not end up on the wrong side of the digital tech divide. In China, NGOs and businesses have mobilized to make sure that older citizens are able to benefit from tech innovation.
In February, Alibaba’s Taobao launched a new shopping channel designed specifically for seniors. The company simplified their interface, stripping away a lot of what seniors didn’t need and making it easier to register, browse, and gain product recommendations.
Alibaba also recognized the difficulties that come with shopping for aging parents and built a family feature into the new platform. Senior parents can share products they want, ask questions, and consult with their adult children from within the app. For their part, the “kids” can use the “Pay for Me” option to digitally pay for purchases.
I applaud this initiative, which highlights the great transformation that can happen when a company aims to simplify with senior shoppers in mind.
Strategy 3: Innovate to Improve Seniors’ Quality of Life
I am inspired to think that sound initiatives for courting the lucrative senior market can serve the dual role of helping seniors live richer, happier lives. To fuel innovation, companies should keep in mind that silver shoppers are willing and ready to be inspired, challenged and counseled. In the aforementioned Drum study, 76% of senior respondents said that companies and brands should play a more important role in improving their quality of life, while 60% think that brands should play the role of life coach.
PepsiCo’s Quaker brand provides a nice example in this arena. As the #1 global oats brand, Quaker is committed to ensuring that the concept of whole grains is brought to more households across China, including those of seniors.
This mission comes to life through innovation and education. In 2018 Quaker is launching Chia Multi-Grain Instant Oatmeal, bringing enhanced nutrition to seniors. Quaker is also partnering for the first time with TangDou, a very popular app with over 50MM senior users that focuses on square dancing, a common activity for seniors to stay active and enabling Quaker to educate more around the importance of whole grains. All of these products meet and guide the needs and desires of senior shoppers, who have shown a robust and growing interest in healthier food options in recent years. We are also partnering with the CNS (Chinese Nutrition Society) to give senior shoppers access to good nutritional advice during the annual National Nutrition Week and through ongoing marketing activities.
All of these examples inspire me to think about the huge potential for doing business with seniors while doing good in their lives.
Approaching the “Silver Economy” with Optimism
I am excited to continue to find new and innovative ways to serve Silver Shoppers. As we collectively plan for the tremendous opportunity the Silver Economy provides, let’s see beyond the data point of this huge demographic trend to serve the people, finding ways to meet their unique needs along the way.