22 July 2015
Targetting China's Seniors: Healthcare and Rehab Supplies
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. These workshops had a particular focus on consumer spending patterns with regard to various categories of elderly healthcare products and rehabilitation equipment. It was noted that, while most of the participants were willing to take supplements in order to improve their health, in practice they are not particularly “superstitious” about health supplements. The workshops also found that consumers hope to see more user-friendly and smart features incorporated into elderly healthcare and rehabilitation devices. It is believed that the health monitoring devices market will see greater growth if superior products designed to meet seniors’ needs are continually developed.
Seniors Take Supplements Despite Reservations
Non-staple food and healthcare products for the elderly are always in abundant supply on the mainland, even to the point of oversupply. The majority of the workshop participants were taking some variety of non-staple health food or supplement on a regular basis. Typically, this was for one (or more) of the following reasons:
To replenish the necessary body nutrients and micro-essential elements, delay degeneration of muscle and body functions
To boost body immunity and resistance against germs and viruses
To delay brain cells degeneration
To prevent and rejuvenate joint degeneration
To improve sleep quality
To relieve constipation problems
Most of the seniors regard the above as inevitable consequences of the aging process, rather than as symptoms of disease. In order to postpone or even rectify these “aging conditions”, the seniors generally believe that health supplements represent a good source of support. Despite their readiness to take supplements in order to improve their health, the seniors are also understood to have reservations about the efficacy of such treatments.
There were three main reasons given for their reservations with regard to health supplements:
Doctors have warned them against taking health supplements indiscriminately as a means of avoiding possible health risks.
The plentiful supply of health supplements in the market means their quality may vary widely. The efficacy of some supplements has been exaggerated in the past, thus undermining the trust elderly people’s place in such products.
For many seniors suffering from chronic diseases - such as diabetes, gastro pains, rheumatism and cardiovascular illnesses - taking supplements in addition to their existing medication could prove burdensome.
Amid the huge demand for elderly healthcare products in the mainland market, different categories of related products are in an equally abundant supply. The focus group discussions shed light on two ways in which the market could be further expanded. First, it was felt necessary to facilitate mutual recommendations among seniors. Apart from doctors’ advice, word of mouth is the key factor in influencing seniors’ purchasing decisions, given that they are particularly wary of the curative results. Seniors are more at ease when it comes to accepting recommendations from relatives and friends who have tried and benefited from products. Secondly, their children may serve as an entry point and can be inspired to purchase products for their parents. Even though the seniors at the workshops said they decided on and paid for most of their purchases, many of their children were still keen to buy and pay for the products for their parents.
Smarter and More People-centred Healthcare and Rehab Supplies
At present, two main categories of elderly healthcare and rehabilitation devices are available in the market - “body conditions monitoring equipment” and “healthcare and rehabilitation equipment”. Health monitoring equipment for daily use consists mainly of blood pressure meters, blood glucose meters and thermometers. Most of the workshop participants are found to be using certain foreign brands of electronic blood pressure meter and blood glucose meter, while some are still using the domestic brands. This situation is attributable to the established business ties between the renowned brands and the major sales outlets (chain pharmacies) with channel advantages. Trust in word-of-mouth reputation is another factor contributing to the continual dominance of the market leaders.
Unmet Requirements for Monitoring Equipment
In order to successfully enter the elderly health monitoring equipment market, manufacturers need to develop products that better meet the requirements of senior consumers. The workshops identified a number of currently unmet demands in the elderly health monitoring equipment market. These were as follows:
Accuracy concerns – many participants were concerned about inaccurate readings on their blood pressure meters. Some still use a traditional mercury meter to monitor their blood pressure at home, which is inconvenient to use and requires prior training.
More legible screens for readings – the participants would like to have larger screens on their blood pressure and blood glucose meters in order to facilitate easier and clearer reading of the data.
Audible readings and alerts – the participants would like to have audible data reporting and illuminated alerts after each measurement in order to help them understand and check results effectively.
Smart data archiving, enquiry and analysis – the seniors hope that a storage and analysis capability built into the device could save all their historical self-check data to the Cloud. It was also felt desirable that smart data analysis with basic diagnosis and recommendations could be provided at the same time.
Lack of Standards Facilitates Entry of New Products
A number of focus group participants in each of the surveyed cities talked about their “frequency-spectrum sauna room” at home, with each such unit costing tens of thousands of yuan. It reflects the fact that today’s seniors have a strong demand for healthcare and rehab devices and that such products are also being marketed successfully. This is an era when all types of elderly healthcare and rehab devices are freely available in the market, with “head-to-toe” full body care equipment in plentiful supply. Such products range from foot massage machines, electric footbath buckets and massage chairs, to waist and neck massage belts and massage mattresses, with each costing from as little as a few hundred yuan to tens of thousands of yuan. At the workshops, it was observed that, despite the rich array of products, there are still prospects for new products to enter the market. This can be explained by three factors: the absence of product standards, which allows room for product differentiation; different therapeutic effects benefitting different individual users, and consumers being continuously on the lookout for better options.
At the workshops, the seniors gave varying - and even contrary - opinions with regard to their use of the same category of products. Some participants, for example, said they had used the frequency-spectrum sauna room every day after purchase and believed that their health had improved as a result. Other users, however, said they had felt dizzy after trying out the sauna. As these products are non-standardised, a slight adjustment to the functions could easily result in different effects. Overall, seniors are always on the lookout for a more suitable product for their needs, thus creating numerous opportunities for new products.
Seniors Seek More People-focussed Products Offering Greater Convenience
In terms of what respondents found most dissatisfying about current products in the market, a lack of portability and problems with ease-of-use were frequently cited as issues. For instance, one highly popular multifunction footbath bucket comes with no wheels attached. Even though this is designed to prevent the bucket from slipping when in use, many seniors said they felt exhausted when using it. Moreover, a number also felt that design of the bucket drain could be improved.
The respondents said that they preferred the footbath bucket to be easy to operate rather than multifunctional. They regarded the many switch buttons on the device as confusing when they looked for the function they wanted to use. However, from a competition standpoint, multifunctional capacity is essential for product differentiation and the enhancement of price-performance ratio. As such, the seniors indicated an appreciation of devices that combined both multifunctional capacities with an easy-to-use mechanism. Even though the respondents did not specify how smart healthcare and rehab devices should be, desirable smart design features were envisaged as those offering greater individuality and differentiation to a variety of users, thus helping to raise the product’s appeal.
In addition, some respondents complained that they did not know how to contact the repair team in order to repair a faulty device. Moreover, the manufacturers of some inexpensive devices do not provide home repair services at all, meaning that have to be discarded if they cannot be repaired.
Free Trials and Thoughtful Service Effective Tactics
In terms of marketing healthcare and rehab devices, the three most commonly used techniques are:
Product sampling and free trials at wet markets and within densely populated communities – many elderly people are very interested in trying out the rehab devices and could be easily talked into buying products.
Promotions at chain pharmacies – chain pharmacies are often frequented by seniors, who tend to be more receptive to the products displayed and promoted there. The seniors are more willing to try the products, thus increasing the chance of purchase.
Working with the resident committees of the respective streets and districts to organise elderly healthcare talks – these programmes generally attract the seniors’ attendance via giveaway items. It is also worth noting that some of these talks have been found to be scams, with some elderly consumers having consequently become more cautious about attending them.
At the workshops, it was observed that the seniors typically purchased large rehabilitation devices usually only after a significant number of free trials. Many elderly people are very interested in free trials of rehab devices. Although they may insist on trying out the equipment many times, this is the most likely means of persuading them to make an eventual purchase. In addition, attentive care and thoughtful service by sales staff during free trials are essential in influencing seniors in their purchase decision.
 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.