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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Grey Power Fuels Japan's Changing Retail Focus

Okay... so we all know that Japan has a growing senior citizen population. But, I never expected that I would see the day that adult diaper sales would exceed baby diaper sales.

Sign of the times, Japan.

For reasons why, you can read THIS blog.

According to Unicharm Corp., sales of adult diapers in Japan soared past those for babies.

Along with Japan getting older, it means that companies are beginning to change their focus to the elderly. It's not a small chunk of money either.

Japanese consumers over the age of 60 spent ¥109 trillion (US/Cdn $1.4 trillion) during the year end as of March 31.
Aeon, a huge retail chain in Japan,  has noted that Japanese folk over 60 spent more than any other age group in the year ended March and accounted for 44 percent of Japan’s consumption.

Wow. Of course, you also have to realize that in October of 2011, the number of Japanese over the age of 65 made up 23.3 percent of Japan's total population—that's 29.8-million people per data culled by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

With the country getting older it only makes sense to streamline your goods and services for the people who will use it more.  

Aeon, for example, is adding medical offices to some of its locations - trying to become a one-stop shop for the aged mom and pop.

It's not just the product, however, that attracts the consumer - more often than not, what propels the sale is the package.

For the senior citizen who no longer has an entire family to look after, purchasing single-packs of food, or perhaps smaller packs of laundry detergent (who needs to lift such heavy things) will go a long way to determining what products will get purchased. 

In Japan, as long as the product in its package is convenient, price is not really an important factor for the senior citizen. They have money.

Now, before you run up to grandma and ask to borrow money, note that Japan's senior citizen's    spend their money on things they like. They don't really like you. You are a relative. They tolerate you.

Adult Diapers
At various grocery store outlets, there are many single, pre-cooked foods out there. I used to purchase them for my dinner all the time. It was the only way I could eat healthy Japanese food without having to spend the time and effort to make it myself... not to mention the time and effort to learn how to cook. 

These single or, perhaps for the Japanese person, double-serve food portions were a godsend for myself. Nowadays, stores and actually producing a smaller single-serve portion that is being produced specifically for the senior citizen who may not eat as much as a 20-something. 

Want more proof that Japan's red and white flag is turning grey? The Daiei supermarket chain has slowed down its escalators by 1/3 - making it easier for the (perhaps) less spry senior citizen to get on or off.

As well, Daiei has begun using shopping carts made out of aluminum because it is lighter and thus easier to push. No word on whether or not the shopping cart will still contain one wonky wheel, but you have to applaud their efforts to look after the senior shoppers and increase their sales.

Japanese seniors don't have to eat cat food!
Some Japanese retailers have even begun handing out special 'seniors cards' offering a discount with their purchases, including Daiei, Aeon and Seven-Eleven.

The Seven-Eleven one confuses me. In countries such as the U.S. and Canada, many, many retailers offer a senior citizen discount. Rather than having to present a 'loyal customer card for seniors', senior citizens in those countries just have to prove their age with a form of ID.

Hell... Toronto's transit system (the TTC), for example, has been offering cheaper rides for senior citizens for decades.

But I, again, am confused by 7-11... it's not a Japanese company... so why are they following the Japanese way of doing things? Why were they not offering a senior's discount before as a matter of policy? Why does the discount require a loyalty card? I'm just asking. I have nothing against 7-11 at all. In Japan I thoroughly enjoyed eating the triangular rice balls filled with tuna et al.

Speaking of which, 7-11 is now sending out trucks to areas in Japan that are short on retailers to sell their rice balls and sandwiches to seniors.

I am dumbstruck. I lived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken 20 years ago. When asked to explain what life was like there I was only partially joking with my oft-repeated joke that I could throw a rock in any direction and have it hit a rice field or a 7-11. Both were everywhere! How is there a shortage of 7-11's anywhere in Japan?

And still... these trucks are driving to a particular place in a town and awaiting seniors to come up and buy food? Great... I guess 7-11 must have products seniors respect and like! They do tend to offer a lot of single-serve products, come to think of it.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph
As for that photo up above: that is Tosuka Tsutomu, 74, who won the Japan Masters Bodybuilding Championship, seniors division in 2009. Now that is grey power! 
By the way... I used to look like that (minus the grey hair, of course), until that elevator accident in 'Nam.

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