According to the China Internet Network Information Center, China’s online population grew to more than 770 million last year with approximately 10% over age 50 and 5% over age 60. A growing portion of people that are living longer, this “pre-digital age” older generation is fast-becoming tech savvy like China’s younger generation and mastering the internet.
Beyond typical pastimes and interests, like looking after grandchildren and dancing in the park, “surfing the internet” has become a popular activity for China’s elderly. Why? There are several reasons. The first reason, and probably the most important, is that it allows this older generation to keep up with the constantly evolving ways of carrying out every day endeavors, which is becoming a necessity in today’s environment. As advances in technology continue at a fast pace, the elderly risk missing out and being left behind if they do not join in.
The second reason is that in today’s environment of information accessibility, many of China’s elderly are using the internet to enrich their lives. They can video chat with family members and friends that are not close by and stay in touch. With online tools at their fingertips, they can more easily arrange for hobbies and activities, like exercise, health, travel, and neighborhood socials that are of particular interest. Some are even using emojis to effortlessly share congratulatory messages for special occasions and send good wishes for holidays. Most evidently, by staying in touch with family members and friends, it helps them overcome loneliness that often comes with being elderly and makes them feel young again.
The third reason that the internet has become widely accepted among China’s elderly is that it enables them to enjoy the easier lifestyle that technology affords. Shopping has become much simpler for this older generation since groceries and large, heavy items can be ordered online and delivered directly to their home. Other niceties include being able to simply book a car service via an app on their smartphone when they go out.
According to the Research Report on Internet Life in Middle-aged and Aged Chinese, a study conducted by Tencent and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in March, WeChat is often the first app China’s elderly learn to use and the one they use most frequently. This finding is not surprising since it is the most used social media platform in China with the highest rate of daily engagement. The report claimed that 99% of China’s elderly using the internet know how to use WeChat to chat with others, 82% know how to use WeChat Moments, and 51,5% know how to use mobile payments. The research report, based on a year-long study that involved big data analysis, questionnaires, and face-to-face interviews, also identified that many of this generation are reading news online, posting photos and videos, making e-payments, and using applications to hail rides.
Another reason why China’s elderly have successfully adapted to the internet may be that brands are developing more senior-friendly digital tools and apps that specifically target this aging generation. China’s elderly have been thought of as an “unconnected group” in terms of technology, because many struggle with the devices and processes necessary to access the internet. Based on their age, they also face different challenges, like weaker eyesight, shorter memory span, and less open-mindedness to learn new tools and methods.
Yet, China’s elderly are an ever-growing audience that provides new opportunities for brands as they follow news, search for and share information, shop, and stay connected with family members and friends by means of the internet.
Earlier this year, Alibaba’s popular e-commerce site, Taobao, launched a new channel to appeal to this aging generation of online retail shoppers. The channel enables China’s elderly to link accounts with their spouses or adult children to share purchases in private chat groups and to make payments for each other through a “pay-for-me” option.
Tangdou, the square dancing platform, is another example of an app that has gained popularity among China’s elderly. It enables users to watch videos about squ are dancing, join a local dance team, and socialize with others on its app as well as WeChat mini program.
Online music platforms, such as Tencent’s We-Sing, have created new sites for finding songs released in the 1980s and 1990s to appeal to China’s older population. These platforms let elderly Chinese users connect with other singers with similar tastes and even sing songs together.
Clearly, China’s aging generation has become accustomed to the internet, has taken to technology, and is becoming a legitimate force in today’s digital world. As they become more knowledgeable, they have learned to use their mobiles beyond just the phone to shop, create group chats, make payments, and more. Closing the gap between the elderly and technology can be an effective way to overcome many of the issues associated with digital and aging, while proving advantageous for brands.
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