China’s society is aging fast. According to the latest census data, released in May, 264.02 million people in China are 60 or older. That’s 18.7% of the population. There are 190.64 million people 65 or older, accounting for 13.5% of the population. Life expectancy in the country has also increased. 

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Ashley Galina Dudarenok is the founder of Alarice and a renowned China marketing expert.

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Taking into consideration the number of people over 50 and the slowing birth rate, it will be crucial for companies to pay close attention to the needs of the silver-haired generation in the coming decades. They have savings; they want to improve their own, their children’s and their grandchildren’s living standards; and the consumption channels they use are increasingly digital.  

People who grew up without credit cards or internet banking are now using their phones regularly to both make and receive payments, pay bills, hail taxis, shop, and purchase property. 

Digital literacy plans 

As of June 2020, only 10.3% of internet users were 60 or older, according to the China Network Information Center. More than 60% of people over 60 in China do not use the internet, but surveys show that they have a strong interest in digital services for shopping, entertainment, socializing, accessing healthcare services, and staying connected with their family members. To bring more seniors online, the Chinese government has asked websites and apps to redesign themselves to be more senior-friendly through modifications like bigger fonts and deleting pop-up ads. 

A profile of the digital silver generation 

China’s silver-haired generation is often perceived as traditional grandmas and grandpas who find tech incomprehensible, but those that are online are some of China’s most committed users. 36.69 million over 60s have a high school education or higher, and some already rely heavily on their mobile phones, using  mobile apps at least five times a day. Elderly internet users start using apps and surfing on their mobile phones at 5 a.m.-7 a.m. (link in Chinese). The influx peaks at 9 a.m. before dropping. Qutoutiao also reports that the average daily usage time of those over 60 is 64.8 minutes per day, which is 16.2 minutes longer than users over 40, and that they tend to stick to short video platforms. 

Silver-haired internet celebrities 

There are more and more older influencers and wanghong—people who are “internet famous” and focused on commercial activities and marketing. 

A recent Questmobile study shows that the ratio of influencers (who are usually called key opinion leaders/KOLs in China), older than 46 was 11.4% on Douyin, 10.2% on Kuaishou, 9.1% on Weibo, and 8.4% on Xiaohongshu.

One example is Grandpa Kang, who goes by kangye1937 on TikTok, Douyin, and Instagram. He became very popular on Douyin (China’s internal version of the app) and TikTok (the international version of the app), showing his fashion sense and how older people enjoy life in the big city. 

Screenshots via Douyin © @Kangye1937

Silver-haired wanghong are also live streaming. “I am Grandma Tian,” has gained 33.37 million fans on Douyin and achieved sales of 1.5 million RMB in her live broadcast debut in May last year (source in Chinese) selling primarily snacks and drinks.

Screenshots via Douyin © @tlaolao

Another example, “Grandma Wang,” a popular older influencer who specializes in skincare products, says she “only wears high heels.” She achieved sales of 5.3 million RMB in a single live broadcast.

Screenshots via Douyin © @wnn111111

Covid-19’s effects on shopping 

Due to Covid-19, elderly people found new ways to shop for fresh groceries. According to Deloitte, 25.4% of the new users for fresh grocery apps during the Lunar New Year, 2020 were 41 or older. Fresh grocery shopping app MissFresh (Meiri Youxian) found that its users over the age of 40 increased by 237% (source in Chinese), and that 90% of these older users surveyed were doing mobile grocery shopping with the help of their children.

This has accelerated online shopping becoming a habit for some in the older generations. According to CBNData and Age Club (source in Chinese). The number of over-50s shopping via live e-commerce is increasing year by year, and more than 60 million middle-aged and elderly people are making purchases during live streams. On Taobao, 24% of users were born in the 1970s or earlier, and there are about 1,000 Taobao Live broadcasts every day aimed at the middle-aged and elderly market.

Older users are mainly attracted by low prices and good deals, according to the study. 18% of middle-aged and elderly people say they feel lost if they don’t get good deals during live broadcasts. That’s why they tend to engage during live streams and share links with their children. 

Digital products and services for the elderly 

Even before Covid-19, China was increasing its use of technology for services for the elderly. For example, the facial recognition app laolai.com was used by the government to confirm identities and social security payments for the elderly. Laolai also has an official WeChat account to help seniors get important information about digital services. 

Screenshots via 老来网 laolaiwang

WeChat also introduced helpful features several years ago when tech giants were encouraging users to use family accounts to help older family members and arranging courses to teach older people how to use apps and shop online. There are also special apps that combine these kinds of services like one called Oba (translation: “Dad”).

 Screenshots via 偶爸 Ouba

The need to cater to the needs of seniors is also being mandated. In February 2021, the Ministry of Transport ordered that major ride-hailing companies like Didi, Dida etc. upgrade their apps to make it possible to hail a taxi with just one click.

We’ll see in the next few years how China’s digital space transforms to meet the needs and interests of elderly people and how marketers pay attention to their online lives. They have very strong purchasing power, so brands need to keep up with grandma and grandpa.

Ashley Dudarenok

Ashley Galina Dudarenok is the founder of Alarice and a renowned China marketing expert. She is also the LinkedIn Top Voice in Marketing in 2019, Asia-Pacific's Top 25 Innovator, 3-time Amazon bestselling...