NTT DoCoMo targets grey market

21 June 2012

TOKYO: NTT DoCoMo, the mobile telecoms company, is placing greater emphasis on attracting older customers in Japan, forging ahead in an increasingly important area as the country's population ages.

In an effort to woo this audience, the company will soon roll out a smartphone version of Fujitsu's "Raku Raku" - or "Easy Easy" - handset, which has bigger fonts and easier-to-use functions.

It already provides discounts on models aimed at older subscribers, and held 1,100 seminars for these consumers over the year to April 2012, helping them understand such mobile devices.

To date, 2m subscribers have also downloaded an app developed by NTT DoCoMo which, like Apple's Siri, lets people control their phone vocally. This tool has proved especially appealing to older consumers who find keypads difficult to use.

Currently, 23% of Japan's population is 65 years old or older. Only 6% of this group own a smartphone, versus 51% of 20-29 year olds, according to D2C, the research firm, but longer term potential exists.

"Growth for a consumer business in the coming decade relies on cultivating the elderly market," Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Research Institute, told Business Week. "They tend to be affluent and loose on their purse strings."

Indeed, older Japanese consumers boosted their expenditure by 0.4% last year, when all other age-groups reduced their outlay, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication reported.

NTT DoCoMo is Japan's largest carrier, but also the only one not selling Apple's iPhone. At present, of the "big three" mobile networks, DoCoMo holds a 48% share of the country's 125m subscribers.

This figure, however, has fallen from 52% four years ago. In this period, Softbank - the first player to provide the iPhone - has grown from an 18% to 24% share, and KDDI has remained flat on 28%.

"DoCoMo has been struggling because of the expansion of iPhones in Japan," Shinji Moriyuki, an analyst at SMBC Nikko, said. "Introducing handsets targeted at the elderly will probably help DoCoMo win back market share."

It is estimated that users over the age of 60 years old make up 24% of DoCoMo's user base today, leaving the firm well ahead of its rivals.

"We're trying to lure elderly customers from the NTT group by offering discount rates for those who use both our group's fixed-phone and mobile-phone services," said Keiichi Sakurai, a spokesman for KDDI.

Data sourced from Business Week; additional content by Warc staff