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Seniors take cue from QR codes, embrace technology

By Ouyang Shijia | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-14 08:05
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A 75-year-old consumer uses WeChat Pay QR code to pay for a beverage at a convenience store in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on Oct 27, 2017. [Photo by Ge Chuanghong /for China Daily]

Elderly emerge as boom market for mobile payment firms, digital economy players

For more than a decade, Ma Wansheng ran a small food stand in a night market in Lanzhou, capital city of Northwest China's Gansu province, providing local snacks for people working overtime or hitting the bar.

Accepting payments proved a hassle for the 71-year-old, who often had to fumble in his pocket for change on chilly nights, while keeping an eye on food cooking in the oven.

Doing business became much easier after his grandson helped him to set up mobile payment apps like WeChat Pay and Alipay last year. A piece of paper with his QR payment codes has helped streamline the checkout process.

"About 95 percent of my customers pay with their phones. It's convenient for both of us," said Ma. "And giving the wrong change is no longer an issue."

Like Ma, an increasing number of China's senior citizens have embraced internet-based mobile technology and many have also started to enjoy the convenience of mobile payment apps.

According to a report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences at the end of 2017, the ratio of internet users who are 60 or above rose to 5.2 percent, up 1.2 percentage points in a year. (The CASS is yet to release data for 2018.)

"For many Chinese, mobile payments have become an essential part of their everyday lives. They not only change the lives of young people, but also provide convenience for the elderly," said Zhang Jianjun, an economist based in Gansu.

China had more than 241 million people aged 60 or above at the end of 2017, 17.3 percent of the total population at the time, according to official data.

Thanks to longer life expectancy and a shift in demographics, that will rise to about one-quarter of the population by 2030.

Si Xiao, head of the Tencent Research Institute, said the large elderly group is turning out to be a booming market in today's internet age, and tech firms should keep in mind how seniors could have tastes and requirements different from other users.

According to a recent report released by the TRI and Shenzhen University, China is witnessing a wave of tech-savvy elderly people.

The report said a growing number of Chinese seniors are embracing digital products and services, particularly driven by their social needs. As of September 2017, Tencent's WeChat messaging app had gained 50 million active users above the age of 55.

"China's demographic dividend is disappearing," Wang Bin, co-founder and president of the venture and technology-focused media platform iyiou, said during a recent annual innovation conference in Beijing, adding that seniors can be relied upon as a reliable market.

"The aging population will bring new opportunities to the market, especially the healthcare industry. And sectors targeting the senior group have proven strength in the periods of economic cyclical fluctuation," he said.

Higher incomes, and China's consumption upgrade, are also allowing people to increasingly surround themselves with new products and services to improve their lives, like smartphones, wearable health tech, air purifiers, or water filters.

Realizing that new technology can be an effective tool in solving many problems related to old age, the Chinese government has been promoting the use of technologies, such as the Internet and artificial intelligence, in the area of elderly care.

"I would ask more young people to help the old people learn to use digital products, which will help create a high-quality companionship," said Si Xiao, president of the TRI. "Statistics show that elderly people are actively embracing the digital world. So, their family members should try to be patient when introducing new stuff."

Two months ago, the ex-stall-holder Ma bought himself a smartphone and makes digital payments regularly. So much so, he often goes to the convenience store or the market without any cash.

"Whenever there is something new, I'm always willing to give it a try," Ma said.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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