What is India’s Gen-Retired thinking? What does this mean for businesses? Dolly Majumder shares her story

Census data from a Times of India report shows that 9% if India’s population was over the age of 60. While 9 may not sound much, it becomes significant when one converts it to absolute numbers. 9% of India translates to over 100 million – the equivalent of the entire population of Mexico, Philippines or Vietnam each. That’s how large India’s Gen-Retired is! But what are they thinking? What are they planning? And what does this translate for businesses in India? Dolly Majumder, a former teacher at Don Bosco School New Delhi, shares her story (in italics) which we connect with demographic research conducted by Nielsen India.

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“It was on 31st March 2007 that I retired after having taught at the school for 26 years. As I walked back home, I did not have an immediate plan for the future. During my tenure, I had often wondered what retirement would be like. Now that phase had truly dawned upon me. I must confess that while I looked forward to some leisure, I was also apprehensive about suddenly having too much free time in my hands. After all, getting up and going to work was a daily certitude to which I had got accustomed for so many years. The weeks from April onwards were a mixed bag. I enjoyed the fact that for a change, I no longer had to set the alarm for 5am every morning. There was no rush to complete any syllabus, no question papers to set and best of all, no huge piles of notebooks to check. Yes, I did relish my morning tea at an unhurried pace reading the newspaper from end to end, but I did also miss the busy school schedule, and all the energy and vibrancy of the students and the camaraderie of my colleagues that accompanied it. But slowly, another routine fell into place. I could now do all the things that I had not been able to do so far for the lack of time. More importantly, I could choose what I wanted to do – experimenting with various interests using my time in hand. I went on long walks. I joined yoga classes. I did several things I had always wanted to try but my work-schedule had not allowed earlier. The bonanza was probably the freedom to travel without having to bother about official leaves, something that I had always wanted to do…..”

Nielsen’s research reaffirms that India’s senior citizens are willing to try new experiences. They have the time, and the urge to try out new things they did not have the scope to do before. Most of them have reasonable purchasing power. Today’s senior-citizens are shopping, eating-out and travelling much more than their previous generations did. As Nielsen’s report says, they are probably at their most experimental ever! This has also led India’s advertising agencies to target senior citizens with the TV-commercials, after spending the last decade pitching mainly to the youth target demography. The change in media consumption also necessities this; senior citizens spend more time on TV now while the younger lot is more obsessed with other media. The research states post-retirement priorities include spending time with family, staying mentally/physically fit, maintaining an active social life and eating healthy. All those businesses that meet these four needs may need to re-design their products to suit this target better; after all, the factors that drive customer loyalty and repeat-visits are often different across demographic segments.

 “…..I have been fortunate in having company to travel with. We are a group of friends, all retirees, and all share the travel-wanderlust. We have travelled extensively in India and abroad, and hope to continue doing so for as long as we can. British philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon had said, travel is part of education for the younger generation while it is part of experience for the elders. In that vein, our travels post retirement have been one of the most enriching experiences of our lives. We have been to places as diverse as Ladakh, Kerala, Gujarat, Kenya, Cambodia, Kailash Mansarovar, Sri Lanka and many more. We have had several interesting experiences during these journeys. For instance, our group is an all women group, though only by accident. Once in Bundi, a quaint town in Rajasthan, we stayed at a beautiful haveli that had been turned into a hotel by its owner, Bundi’s erstwhile royal. On our second evening, he confessed there was speculation as to our nationality, and they had concluded that we were Indians who were settled abroad! That was a big surprise to us. Subsequently we came across other groups like ours; and this does not include the big ones like WoW (Women on Wanderlust). More people are now traveling for pleasure and a significant number of those are who have retired and have the time. This is a change from our preceding generation when travel was restricted mainly to visiting relatives or social occasions. On a trip to Bhutan, we came across two senior citizen couples who had undergone major surgeries; in fact, two of them were cancer survivors. But it had not deterred them from indulging in what they enjoyed doing. This marks a change in the very outlook where retirement is looked upon as a beginning (of those things that we could not do earlier) and not an end…..”

As per Nielsen’s report, while many senior-citizens in India are now are more independent and self-sufficient than their earlier counterparts, this also means businesses have to relook at the way they deliver services. Till date, it was only the financial and insurance sectors that focused on this demography, and hence their services had seen changes to suit this target. But the same is not true for others. In retail, the industry is a long way away from creating the scale of facilities and assistance needed. This includes assistance with grocery-bags till the vehicle, wider aisles, electric shopping carts, aisles dedicated for ageing-needs products, in-store resting arrangements, easy-to-open product packages, smaller-portion packaging, etc. In tourism, most of the infrastructure in India’s tourist sites is inadequate for this generation’s needs. In the restaurant business, many menus are difficult to read. All these shortcomings divert this 100-million strong customer segment. At the same time, this generation is not tech-averse. Many have experimented with online shopping and digital options. Indian advertising is now becoming inclusive to accommodate senior citizens in promoting products across FMCG, consumer durables and e-commerce, not just in savings and insurance.

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“…..With nuclear families and children often having to work away from home-towns, parents have been living on their own for a length of time. They have got used to this independence – a space and routine of their own. For many, it is one of those things that they would like to enjoy for as long as they can. It is now eleven years since I have retired and this has been one of the most enjoyable phases of my life. I have been fortunate to have good health till now, good friends and a very supportive family. I do not know what the future holds. I do admit sometimes thoughts like illness, loss of mobility, inability to do things on my own cloud my horizon, but then I say, Que Sera Sera, whatever will be will be. Beyond taking some measures, one cannot secure the future completely. So, in the meantime, I plan to enjoy and tick off as many things as I can from my bucket list.”

This wish to maintain that self-reliance is corroborated by Nielsen’s research. But this also assumes the facilities are adequate to maintain the needs of this generation, which it often is not. Take housing needs of senior citizens. As per Wharton, specialized homes for the elderly gained traction in the USA in the early 19th century. As of now, it has ~2,000 specialized senior housing projects with more than 500,000 residents. In India, specialized housing for elders is picking up only now (like TATA’s Riva).

The fact remains: due to the current gap, India provides a significant opportunity to businesses across sectors to create products/services specifically suited for this generation. Those who can do so can leverage this 100-million strong opportunity better!

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