Retail in Asia

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Alibaba is swooping in on a surprising consumer market in China


Taobao just launched an “elderly-friendly” version of its app that the company hopes will capture the attention of aging Chinese. There are currently 222 million people aged over 60 in China and, by 2020, that number is expected to hit 255 million— almost 20% of the country’s population.

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To gain access to this growing consumer base, Taobao‘s customized app is designed to be easier for older shoppers to use and can link straight to their children’s account who have the “pay-for-me” option if they are inclined to cover their parents’ purchase costs.

The customized app also displays a photo of their child on every page so users can easily share products or start a conversation via phone or text. It also has a larger, less crowded interface, and uses more shortcuts for navigation.

“By launching this simple and user-friendly option for the Taobao App, we will make online shopping easier for our senior citizens and help them stay connected with the younger generation and the community,” said Ding Jian, Senior Product Manager at Taobao, who heads the development of this new channel, said in a statement emailed to Business Insider.

It’s a sound financial move by Alibaba.

In 2017, according to Taobao, shoppers over age 50 in China bought, on average, 44 products spending nearly $800 shopping online. Accounting for just senior citizens over 60 puts a possible total spend at around $200 billion a year.

Currently, Taobao has just 6 million users aged 60 to 69. Last month it began recruiting for two employees aged 60 or over who will work to get feedback from elderly users to improve the customized app.

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But the company is not alone in trying to tap the “silver economy.”

After Nestle previously launched a milk line for Chinese drinkers over age 50 and in Japan, where senior citizens account for more than a quarter of the population, Apple and IBM developed a modified iPad for the elderly which also had larger text, simpler interfaces and a modified FaceTime to easily speak to family.