Japanese firms seek to tailor products

04 September 2012

TOKYO: Companies like FamilyMart and NTT DoCoMo are introducing goods and services to specifically meet the needs of older shoppers in Japan, an audience which is set to grow as the population continues to age.

In 2011, FamilyMart launched a store in Daikanyama, Tokyo, especially for this group. It has a refined interior design and bespoke product mix, as shown by the fact the most expensive bottle of wine commands ¥3,000, up from ¥500 to ¥1,000 in its other outlets.

Buyers at Family Mart who are over 50 years old spend ¥600 per visit, rising to ¥725 for women, versus ¥540 across its customer base. FamilyMart also hopes to boost the share of its clientele drawn from this segment to 40%, compared with 29% today.

"As the baby boomers start to retire this year ... there will be many more active consumers because they will have more time, and their children are older so they don't have to support them," Hiroshi Iwasaki, head of marketing at FamilyMart, the convenience store chain, told the Financial Times.

Annual spending among households led by shoppers aged over 65 years old stands at ¥1.29m, beating the norm of ¥1.2m, government estimates show. This gap may rise, as 6.6m "baby boomers", born after the Second World War, are now due to retire each year.

At present, some 23% of Japan's citizens, or almost 30m individuals, are over 65 years old, a percentage share is forecast to reach nearly 40% by 2060.

In demonstrating the opportunity this provides, data from the Cabinet Office revealed that households headed by individuals within this demographic boasted ¥22.6m in savings, a figure 36% higher than the norm.

The Dai-ichi Life Research Institute also discovered households with a head over 60 years old spent ¥101tr from July to September 2011, equating to 44% of the total. "Japan's domestic demand is being supported by older people," Hideo Kumano, its chief economist, said.

NTT DoCoMo, the telecoms giant, sells a smartphone tailored for such buyers, with bigger symbols, pre-installed links to popular websites and a vibrating screen, offering a similar effect to pressing a button.

"Older people like to feel the touch of the key", said Tatsuya Kawaguchi, the manager of NTT DoCoMo's strategic marketing department. "They want to scroll their screens like everybody else," he added. 

For its part, Candid Communications has rolled out a social networking platform for web users over 50 years of age. "They are doing what they wanted to do when they were younger – realising their dreams," Rieko Zamma, CEO of Candid Communications, said.

To tap this kind of trend, Mitsukoshi, a high-end department store, is also running premium tours to the Hakone mountains priced at ¥200,000, with seniors very much in mind.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff