China's E-commerce Sites Tap Growing Elder Market

A community volunteer offers training service on smartphone usage to senior citizens in Changsha, Hunan province, in January.

Taobao, China’s top e-commerce site, has introduced a browsing interface for older consumers. It is among the companies hoping to expand sales by making it easier for seniors to shop online.

On Taobao’s new interface, photos and words are larger, there are fewer buttons, and functions are displayed more clearly on the front page.

Nearly all links and information have been adapted to cater to the preferences of older customers. A recommendation list will show popular categories such as clothing for mature customers, groceries, gardening and medical and health products, according to Taobao.

During the Nov 11 shopping gala, Taobao’s voice assistant announced sales and promotions targeting older consumers. The function was still being tested and only some consumers were able to use it.

China had 123 million internet users aged 60 or higher as of June, 12.2 percent of the total of 1.01 billion users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. About 26 million more of those older users were added in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic fueled the trend, as more people stayed at home longer to avoid possible infection, the center said.

Some 30 percent of older users browse the internet for more than three hours daily, and 10 percent surf the internet over six hours a day, according to news portal people.cn.

Major e-commerce platform JD also recently introduced a version of its app designed for ease of use for older customers, adding special customer services and the ability to chat with family members on the app.

JD said seniors have been shopping online more frequently, doing the shopping themselves instead of relying on younger people for help.

Making health services and products easily available has been a hit with seniors. Sales in that category to online consumers 60 or older jumped by more than 10 times year-on-year, according to JD.

“Older consumers from more developed areas have higher purchasing power and bought more. Those from East China spend more than consumers from southwestern and northwestern China” said Liu Hui, director of the JD Research Institute for Consumption and Industrial Development.

“With steady economic growth, the income of seniors in China is moving higher. The older consumer market is still in the initial stage of development. More companies have realized that this group has significant spending potential, and they have expanded their product lines,” Liu said.

Older shoppers, who have more free time, are increasingly pursuing quality lifestyles and engaging in hobbies. Purchases of books, musical instruments, painting and photography equipment and cosmetics by seniors have surged significantly on JD this year.

More people in this group are purchasing professional services online, such as laundry service or pet care, and they also tend to pay for utilities online, JD found.

By 2050, the 60-and-above market is forecast to hit 100 trillion yuan ($15.7 trillion), accounting for 33 percent of GDP, according to the National Social Science Fund of China.

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