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Business Leadership China Marketing

The ‘new elderly’: is this a golden age for marketing to China’s silver-haired consumers?

By Michaela Zhu, Marketing executive

Emerging Communications


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November 11, 2022 | 8 min read

As the population ages, if your marketing doesn’t appeal to older people you’re missing out on a major market. Michaela Zhu of specialist agency Emerging Communications argues that nowhere is that truer than in China.

An elderly Chinese couple

What can we learn from Chinese efforts to recenter older people in their marketing? / Jaddy Liu via Unsplash

Older people in China are emerging as the nation’s big spenders.

With plenty of disposable income, generous state pensions and mortgage-free homes, these ‘silver-haired’ spenders are driving trends across the nation. From the Chinese travel industry to the wellbeing, luxury fashion and online shopping sectors, companies are waking up to new realities for elderly customers.

So, who are these new (or not so new) Chinese consumers, and how can brands impress this discerning group?

China’s silver-haired economy: an overview

The Chinese market is facing an aging population.

People aged sixty or over account for over 18% of the total population, a figure predicted to rise to at least 30% by 2050.

Meanwhile, people are staying active for longer and investing in their health and wellbeing. Average life expectancy is just over 77 years, a figure that is steadily rising. A recent report on the Development of the ‘Silver Industry’ forecasts that the spending power of China’s elderly population will skyrocket to 106tn RMB by 2050.

These so-called ‘active seniors’ are concentrated in first-tier cities. They’re self-sufficient, discriminating and prioritize high-quality products with strong brand reputations.

New opportunities from the ‘new elderly’

While Chinese gen Z and millennials often capture the limelight for spending power, the ‘new elderly’ are shifting this balance.

Often retired, they don’t have full-time jobs to worry about. They’re more adventurous, health-conscious and making the most of their golden – sorry, silver – years. Indeed, luxury health foods and supplements are some of the fastest-growing sectors.

Opening exciting new marketing opportunities in China, older consumers value the ease of online shopping. These senior netizens are increasingly using smartphones and adopting various apps: WeChat and QQ for social networking; Taobao and Alipay for shopping; and iQIYI for shows and movies.

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Silver-haired attitudes and shopping behavior

China’s older generations embraced online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic, a trend that’s held firm ever since. In fact, 92% of Chinese seniors now prefer shopping online.

As well as shopping and entertainment, educational apps are particularly popular. With more free time, seniors often gravitate toward apps targeted at skills and hobbies such as art, languages and travel.

On online shopping platform Taobao, customers over 60 outnumber all other age groups. Their spending on the site increased by 21% over the last three years.

In terms of categories, intelligent home appliances and electrical goods are among some of the most popular products among older consumers. These purchases are about improving quality of life, monitoring health conditions and investing in technology that genuinely saves time.

Some of the most common issues for elderly shoppers include poor-quality goods, inadequate customer service and incorrectly fitting items.

So, how can you adapt your Chinese strategy for silver-haired spenders? It’s about specialized services, laser-targeted toward ‘real-life’ issues elderly people face.

How can brands impress and retain ‘silver-haired’ shoppers?

Despite increasing mobile adoption, there’s still a digital divide between elderly consumers and the latest Chinese social media trends. This poses a dilemma for brands trying to drive elderly user growth through social media and content marketing channels.

There are ways of successfully bridging this divide though. Here’s how two China digital brands did it.

1. Taobao’s ‘elderly hotline’

In direct response to this digital dilemma, Taobao launched a new ‘hotline’ offering elderly customers online shopping guidance, anti-fraud classes, social conversation and even “taxi-hailing teaching.” It’s aimed at older adults who don’t have young family members around to help them make everyday purchases and reservations.

With growing usage among China’s over-60s, Taobao also launched a specialized Elder Mode on their shopping app. With large, clear fonts and simplified operation, it allows silver-haired shoppers to take control of their online shopping.

Another innovative feature involves the ability to search for medical products (and receive advice) by simply taking a picture of existing medicine bottles.

2. Douyin’s ‘silver shine plan’

Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) also launched a three-tiered campaign to cross the generational digital divide. As part of this, it boosted content on silver-haired interests (relating to hobbies and greater free time), such as opera, fishing, square dancing, pets and chess.

Douyin also launched a ‘Smartphone Lesson Challenge for the Elders’ to complement this content. They called on creators to teach the elderly how to use smartphones, explain internet basics and strengthen interactions between young people and their elders.

Last but certainly not least, Douyin invited feedback from elderly users for its “aging-appropriate upgrade” and opened a phone line dedicated to answering any questions.

Download our Retail Lessons from China report to unlock marketing opportunities in China and supercharge your brand’s Chinese strategy. From silver-haired spenders to youthful gen Z, you’ll understand how to succeed in the competitive China market.

Business Leadership China Marketing

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