15 July 2015
Targetting China’s Seniors: Clothing and Home Appliances
China is becoming an increasingly aged society. As of 2014, nearly 140 million people in the country were 65 years of age or older. The percentage of such individuals in the population increased from 7.7% in 2005 to 10.1% last year. According to the United Nations, China's population of over-65ers will increase by about seven million annually per annum over the next two decades, coming to account for nearly 20% of the total population by 2035. As the elderly population increases in number, the consumer demand in the sector will also grow. The value of this "silver" market is expected to increase from Rmb4 trillion in 2014 to about Rmb106 trillion by 2050.
In order to better understand the consumer attitudes and preferences of older middle-class consumers with regard to senior-specific products and services, HKTDC Research conducted focus group discussions in four major cities on the Chinese mainland in April 2015. In a bid to know more about the spending preferences of the elderly, clothing and those home appliances that could serve as self-care aids were selected as the focus of discussions with regard to daily necessities. Perhaps surprisingly, it was found that older consumers were looking for more stylish clothing than the market was offering. As for home appliances that served as self-care aids, both the elderly and their children agreed that there was a significant demand for such products.
Demand for Stylish Clothing
As China is a leading manufacturer of garments, there is already an ample supply of good value clothing and footwear products that meet the basic requirements of the elderly. According to the focus group participants, it is not difficult to buy these products. Despite this abundant supply, however, many respondents complained that it was not easy to get the kind of clothing that appeals to them. With regard to this issue, the typical comments were:
“Elderly clothing tends to look old-fashioned.”
“Mainly grey, black and brown in colour, men’s clothes look rather boring.”
“The clothes usually look bad on us as they tend to be too big and do not fit well.”
“The styles of footwear are very limited.”
As to why there was such dissatisfaction, the feeling of a number of the older middle-class consumers interviewed could be summed up by one particular comment:
“Since our living standards have improved, we want to wear more stylish clothing of a higher quality!”
As for the specific clothing preferences of the elderly, the views expressed at the workshops can be summed up as follows:
In terms of quality, older consumers prefer products of a higher quality, such as those made with cotton of a higher grade or other new materials. They also prefer garments made of lighter fabrics that are easy to put on and can keep them cool in summer and warm in winter.
In terms of design, they prefer more stylish clothing that can make them look younger, more presentable and, hence, more self-confident. In their own words: “Older people want to look gorgeous too!”
In terms of emotional needs, older people generally want to feel respected and not marginalised. Many respondents agreed that, while elderly clothing products were readily available in the market, there was a lack of clothing “brands” aimed at them. In their opinion, many existing mass fashion brands do not have senior-specific product lines, while the retail outlets for elderly clothing are usually confined to second-class shopping malls. They hope that a number of mass-appeal brands, currently focussed on young consumers, will also offer suitable clothing for the elderly. To them, this is a call for respect and part of their desire not to feel marginalised.
Among the elderly respondents, there was one who had spent more than Rmb800 on a pair of trainers. There was another who had bought a leather jacket and one who wore a pink down outfit belonging to her daughter to attend the workshop. Although frugality is obviously in the blood of the elderly Chinese – dating back to a time when the country faced great economic difficulties - they are now showing an explicit demand for mid-range or mid-to-high end clothing in line with their greatly improved purchasing powers.
It should be noted that in the vocabulary of older consumers, the word “brand” is mainly associated with “product quality” and “style”, rather than brand reputation and high quality as is the general sense of the word nowadays. Unlike younger consumers, the elderly are not prepared to pay an excessive premium for brand reputation. For them, branded products reflect their own pursuit of quality and a certain state of mind. They do not buy branded products in order to show off their ability to afford them.
In building a clothing brand targetted at the senior market, consideration should be given to positioning it as a “stylish brand for the mass market” instead of highlighting it as “senior-specific”. Middle-aged models should be featured in marketing activity so as to project a younger image and an appropriate impression. As for footwear, not only are the styles important, but they should also meet the other expectations of the older consumers. For example, the footwear should be light with a soft and non-slip sole, while being easy to put on.
Huge Market for Self-care Home Appliances
Throughout the workshops, it was found that many elderly respondents were not living with their children and, for a variety of reasons, had opted not to hire any domestic helpers. Even among those living with their children, they are typically at home alone during the daytime, assuming no domestic helpers are employed. Given this, there is clearly a substantial demand for those home appliances that serve as self-care aids for the elderly.
From the views gathered at the workshops, it was found that the need for senior-specific self-care home aids basically involve the following:
Devices or tools that help prevent older people from losing their way, such as devices with a positioning function.
Timers for those with deteriorating memories.
Bathing aids for older people who lack the ability to take a bath on their own.
Portable urinals for use at night to ensure greater safety and hygiene for the elderly user.
Older people with dementia or memory loss problems are notoriously prone to losing their way. At the workshops, respondents with elderly parents pointed out that their greatest fear was sudden memory loss affecting their parents. As forcing the elderly to stay home is out of the question, they are usually asked to carry a personal information card with them. Many elderly people with memory loss problems can still move around freely but, when they lose their way, they are reluctant to seek help. This is particularly the case with those suffering from dementia as they do not necessarily even recall how to make or receive a phone call.
The respondents were, therefore, particularly interested in those products and services that could help locate the whereabouts of the elderly. To them, a monthly fee of Rmb15-30 was reasonable as a subscription to a smart app offering real-time elderly tracking.
Another common concern was the forgetfulness of the elderly when it came to turning off stoves. It appears that the market currently does not offer products that can specifically tackle this problem. Many elderly consumers just place an alarm clock in the kitchen to remind them. It is, however, a burden to have to set the alarm every time they cook. So a timer that was easy to use, then, was seen as likely to enhance the safety of the elderly while they are cooking.
Taking a bath or shampoo can be no easy task for some older people. Products that provide the related support need to be developed. One respondent recalled seeing a wide-brimmed special shampoo cap for little kids that had a centre hole to keep water out of the user’s face. As a result, he suggested similar products could prove convenient for the elderly.
Older people often have the need to visit the toilet at night, and there was a concern that, while doing so, their befuddled state might result in a fall. While the most common solution was to place a urinal beside the bed, this was seen as leading to two further problems. First, such a urinal may not be safe to sit on. Second, the bedroom may become afflicted by unpleasant odours after each use of the urinal. This suggests a strong demand in the market for a toilet device that is both safer and more hygienic.
Due to time constraints, the workshops could not allow for a more thorough discussion as to the appliances that could most benefit the elderly while performing self-care tasks at home. It was clear, however, that there is already considerable demand for any such devices.
 China Report on the Development of the Silver Hair Industry 2014.
 The focus group discussions were held in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Wuhan in early April 2015, with two workshops being held in each city (eight workshops in total). The target respondents were older adults aged 65 or above (men and women in equal proportions) and adults who were carers of people 65 years of age or older either at home or in nursing homes. The adult respondents had a monthly household income of Rmb12,000 or more in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, and Rmb8,000 or more in Wuhan. The average monthly spending level of the over-65 respondents was Rmb3,300 or more, and all the respondents had bought senior-specific products or services in the last six months. The main product types covered in the survey include: daily necessities (clothing, shoes and home appliances that can help older adults perform self-care tasks at home); food (supplements and healthcare products); and healthcare and rehabilitation supplies. The services mainly covered nursing home service, domestic service, and culture and recreation services (including tourism). As regards the overall consumer preferences of China’s seniors market, please read the HKTDC Research article Targetting China’s Seniors: Consumer Preferences.