The Senior Zone: How the ‘elderly’ market in India is lucrative

A number of start-ups are catering specifically to senior citizens, be it retail stores, web platforms, healthcare or tutoring services. Find out how the ‘elderly’ market in India is a lucrative space.

The Senior Zone: How the ‘elderly’ market in India is lucrative
As per a 2017 report by New York-headquartered United Nations Population Fund, the trend of increasing size and percentage of elderly population in our country is likely to continue in the coming decades.

A chance encounter with Bengaluru-based Silver Talkies, an online magazine and social engagement platform for people above the age of 55 years, gave 72-year-old Chandrika Desai a reason to get out of her comfort zone and feed her passion for acquiring new skills. It started about four years ago when Desai came across an advertisement of a tailoring workshop that Silver Talkies was organising in Indira Nagar, Bengaluru, for senior citizens. She went in with no expectations, but came back feeling elated at having met people her age from different walks of lives, who had several stories and skills to share. “After that I went in for a few more workshops, including ballroom dancing, theatre and mosaic art, and each time I came across a different set of people. At one time, I also held a workshop where I taught cooking to a class of senior citizens,” says Bengaluru-based Desai, a former textile designing teacher. “I had this desire to learn various skills since childhood, but could never do it. In fact when I moved to Bengaluru in 1994, I couldn’t get a job because I was overqualified and ‘too old’ to teach. That’s not how Silver Talkies looked at me and people like me. So at this age, when I’m older and free from all responsibilities, I thought of giving it a try,” she adds.

Engagement programmes for senior citizens being organised by Seniority at one of their experience centres

Desai’s story is not a lone one in a country where senior citizens, or those over 60 years of age, make for the fastest growing demographic. As per a 2017 report by New York-headquartered United Nations Population Fund, the trend of increasing size and percentage of elderly population in our country is likely to continue in the coming decades. “The elderly population has increased from 77 million in 2001 to 104 million in 2011. By 2050, the elderly population is likely to increase by three times to reach around 300 million, accounting for 20% of the country’s total population. By the end of the century, the elderly will constitute nearly 34% of the total population in the country,” the report, titled Caring for Our Elders: Early Responses, India Ageing Report-2017, noted.

Empowerji holds a workshop for its members

This demographic has caught the eye of many first-generation entrepreneurs and healthcare practitioners, who sensed a gap in terms of products and services designed specifically for the 60-plus age group. “People generally tend to forget that while India’s population is growing at 2% year-on-year, the senior citizen population is growing at 4% year-on-year. These are the statistics that popped in front of us when we started looking for options to venture into three years ago,” recalls 30-year-old Ayush Agrawal, who along with Tapan Mishra, founded Seniority, a Pune-based retail company that offers a curated product portfolio of over 5,000 products ranging from medical to lifestyle for senior citizens. “At the same time, we saw this enhanced savviness in the age group. Not just in terms of technology, but also in the sense that they are now willing to spend more on themselves. Just about 10-15 years ago, senior citizens used to consider their income as inheritance to be given to their offspring. But that’s not the case anymore,” he adds.

A closer look into the market for senior citizens that has come up in the recent years reveals that every aspect of the 60-plus consumerism has seen disruption of some kind. There are companies that have an entire platform dedicated to products designed to solve everyday issues faced by senior citizens. Then travel companies have also begun to craft tours and travels meant only for the elderly. E-magazines that have a plethora of content relevant to the older generation have come up, and there is a whole market of products to feed the tech savviness of senior citizens, in terms of easy-to-use phones and providing tutorials to use smartphones and applications. Commercial banks such as ICICI, Axis, Kotak Mahindra have dedicated divisions to cater to the needs of senior citizens. Real estate groups such as Ashiana and Paranjpe have also forayed into the segment, creating properties only for the elderly. One of the earliest products meant for the elderly that instantly became a rage is the Carvaan radio launched by music label company Saregama.

Products specifically meant for elders like phones and Carvaan are all over the market

Statistics around the kind of niche services hint at an increasing demand in this segment. For instance, a 2013 report by market research firm Frost & Sullivan estimates that senior citizen travel is likely to grow seven-fold to 7.3 million by 2030. Tours and travel organiser Thomas Cook also notes that the 60-plus demographic accounts for 35% of its overall leisure business.

Healthcare rules

A lot of the first-generation entrepreneurs entered the segment driven by personal experiences. Take for instance the case of Somdev Prithviraj who co-founded an online platform and two offline retail stores in Chennai over a decade ago under the brand name Old is Gold. “I ventured into the space after I started to take care of my mother who was robbed of her independence due to sudden loss of eyesight. An otherwise fiercely independent person who did her own cooking, read a lot and someone who enjoyed sewing, found herself in a condition where even her mobility was challenged. My attempt was to restore her pride and independence by equipping her with the aids that would make her life less dependent,” recalls Chennai-based Prithviraj, who founded Old is Gold along with co-founders Jayashree and Sanjay Dattatri. The store went online almost instantly after its offline launch and sells a wide range of products, including mobility aids, toilet aids and safety products. There are convenience products, apparels, diabetic aids, adoptive clothing, arthritis support, bathroom aids, orthopedic support, food supplements and furniture also available on the platform.

Another platform that was founded due to a bitter personal experience is Portea. Launched in Bengaluru around five years ago, Portea serves as a one-stop-shop for all clinical needs of a patient at home. The company provides everything from physiotherapy services to nursing and even critical care to patients in their comfort zones. “While general healthcare has been of interest to me right from a young age, the turbulent experience that I faced while my parents were facing health issues between 2008 and 2010 turned this into a passion,” recalls Meena Ganesh, managing director and chief executive officer of Portea. “They got excellent service through in-hospital care, but it became extremely challenging to receive medical support when they were discharged and recovering at home. A lot of time was wasted each week as I had to run after people and scout for at-home nurses and caregivers. This experience left a deep impact on me and I realised the lacunae that exist in the home healthcare space,” Ganesh says.

Over 60% of the patients who take nursing or attendant services at Portea are above the age of 60. The amount of traction that the platform received from its elderly audience made it open a different segment by the name of Portea Health Prime to address the comprehensive health monitoring needs of those above 65 years of age. “We have served more than 1 lakh elderly patients in the last five years. The common thread in all cases is that families feel that their elders would have led more independent and healthy lives if they had been medically monitored earlier. Portea Health Prime addresses this very need by assigning a health manager to each elder, who works with the patient’s family and consulting doctors for constant monitoring of the patient’s health needs,” adds Ganesh.

As per Cyber Media Research’s analysis, in 2016, the home healthcare industry in India stood at $3.20 billion and is expected to grow to $6.21 billion by 2020. The need to expand this market becomes all the more important when, as per Ganesh, a hospital ICU setting costs around Rs 45,000 per day whereas a similar setup at home costs at a much lower rate of somewhere around Rs 8,500 a day. “We endeavour to keep our prices affordable so that more patients can use them. However, since we are the pioneers of home healthcare in the country, we have to adhere to the highest standards of service quality. All our solutions are medically supervised. All our clinicians are well trained on protocols, and get refresher trainings regularly. All the consumable materials used during services are of the highest quality. All this incurs significant cost, therefore, we do not get into deep discounts and never compete on prices with the local players,” says Ganesh. Physiotherapy services at Portea start from Rs 650 per session, nursing services begin at Rs 1,200 per visit, while critical care services are priced at Rs 2,500 and above per day.

Another critical issue is incontinence among senior citizens, which many companies are looking to tap. The current Indian adult diaper market stands at Rs 350 crore and is expected to “grow significantly due to increasing healthcare standards in the country”, as per consultancy Bonafide Research’s report, titled India Diapers Market 2021. Old is Gold has been the witness to massive demand pertaining to the issue. “Consumables that include adult diapers, under pads, mobility aids and toilet aids constitute a bulk of our sales,” says Prithviraj.

Experience matters

A different story entails the set up of Seniority, another brand in the retail space for senior citizen products. It stemmed from the need of its founders Agrawal and Mishra to create a platform where the elderly could ‘discover’ anything and everything they would need to live comfortably. “We were seeing a lot of established companies and brands coming up with dedicated services and verticals for senior citizens, but there was a gap in terms of a dedicated portal where people could discover these products. That’s how the idea of setting up Seniority came to us and we decided to carve our niche in this space,” says Agrawal, who co-founded the retail company in February 2017. The company was launched as an e-commerce platform, but soon the co-founders launched two offline stores in Pune and Coimbatore, which are more like ‘experience zones’ and not just retail showrooms, and where the company organises zumba classes, yoga sessions and therapy talks for senior citizens.

Since travel and engagement in leisurely activities are of prime importance for the mental wellbeing of people, Senior World, a platform that provides content, products, services and avenues for engagement to seniors, has made conscious efforts to make tours as rich in experience as possible for the elderly. The Gurugram-based brand began its operations in October 2015, and is widely known for its Easyfone (a cell phone designed for the elderly) invention and tech-enabled services. “Our travels are extremely well-designed. I assign one person to take care of every 20 senior citizens, which is not the case with other market leaders. I also send two tour managers from my end just in case something goes amiss,” says Deepu MP, co-founder of Senior World. “Also, other travel companies encourage a younger family member accompanying the elderly, but we do not encourage this. For us, tours for senior citizens are just for senior citizens and no one else. We take people in the age group of 55-95. We have taken people who are over 90 years old as well. I have customers that old who have been refused by other travel companies, but we are more than happy to welcome them on-board,” he adds. Not surprisingly, almost 55% of Senior World’s customers come back for more.

Competitive market

Platforms catering to making products for everyday needs and to treat ‘conditions’ faced by senior citizens hold the largest share in the space. Besides dedicated platforms like Seniority and Old is Gold, e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Flipkart also retail products like walkers, foot protectors, diapers, shower benches and the like, making the market pretty competitive. For instance, an adjustable back rest is priced at Rs 1,709 on Seniority and at Rs 4,630 on Old is Gold’s online platform. However, on Amazon, the price range of the back rest is anywhere from Rs 1,100 to Rs 4,500, which gives consumers plenty of choice. Despite the differentiated pricing, the exclusive retail platforms maintain that their approach and vision is far different from e-commerce behemoths.

“Other portals might have delivery charges, etc, but we provide free delivery across the country, and value-added services so our products come out to be relatively cheaper at the end of the transaction,” says Agrawal of Seniority. “Plus we have a lot of exclusives on our platform that one cannot find on Amazon. Even if one does, the delivery takes three-four weeks because they are imported from the countries they are manufactured in. We have brand tie-ups and, therefore, are the only ones selling these brands within India which takes only about 10 days to deliver,” he adds. Peta (UK), Tenura, Etac, Comfeet are some of the global brands that have exclusive tie-ups with Seniority.

Clockwise from left: Meena Ganesh (Portea), Reshmi Chakraborty and Nidhi Chawla (Silver Talkies), Ayush Agrawal and Tapan Mishra (Seniority) and Aparna Thakkar (Empowerji)

“Another way in which we differentiate is how we attend to our customers. On our website, there are options to place an order via WhatsApp or call. So a customer who visits our platform can directly get in touch with our customer care executives and it would be a human answering at the other end of the call, not a bot or an automated call, which one would face while getting in touch with e-commerce giants,” adds Mishra of Seniority. “We understand that the audience we are catering to is a very sensitive group, so we train our customer care executives the right way to deal with them. Like most companies aim to reduce the conversation, we encourage our customers and executives to engage in as much dialogue as possible so that the queries and doubts of senior citizens are all answered comprehensively,” he adds.

Prithviraj also concurs that e-commerce giants don’t work too well in this space because of a ‘haystack’-like situation they create. “Finding a needle in a haystack could be very challenging, especially so when you have little clue of what exactly you are seeking. Most elders are looking for a solution to cope with a condition that has confronted them rather than a product they are familiar with. We believe that as a store focused on elderly needs, our patrons are in a space that is less foreboding and easier to navigate with lesser distractions to wade through,” he adds.

In the past two years of its run, Seniority has a solid over 3 lakh customer base, and is converting 1,000-1,200 orders everyday. The RPG Group remains its sole financial investor and has invested ample sum into the company’s business, while it has entered into strategic partnerships with other players in the senior citizen ecosystem. Its store in Coimbatore is in partnership with real estate developer CovaiCare, and the company has signed agreements with Axis Bank, ICICI Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank for marketing and co-branding activities. Going ahead, the brand is planning to launch a mobile application by the end of the year and will be launching two ‘experience zones’ in NCR and Chennai this year.

As for Old is Gold, it has collaborated with Tzmo Global makers of Seni Adult Diapers, Retirement community provider Harmony Homes, and signed MoUs with HDFC New Zeal, Health above 60, One life home healthcare. “We also have co-branding arrangements with Mahindra Bliss, etc. We represent Ostrich Mobility for the range of powered wheelchairs in the city of Chennai. We are also exclusive distributors in Tamil Nadu for a range of products under brand names Mobilita, Commodita and Caremax,” Prithviraj says.

Online guides

It’s no secret that senior citizens need more of tutoring than an average person in the world of technology. Even though the elderly are increasingly becoming more tech-savvy than they were a decade ago, there is still a dearth of ways to teach the grandfathers and grandmothers of the world how to use a smartphone, laptop, etc. Disrupting this space is the mobile application called Empowerji, which was launched in December 2018 by Mumbai-based Aparna Thakkar with the aim of bridging the gap between seniors and technology so that they can live independent lives. The app is a free learning medium for seniors and has short videos on how to use other apps, sites and more. For example, ‘How To Pay Your Mobile Bill Online’, ‘How To Book A Cab’, ‘How To Order Medicines Online’, etc.

“Since seniors need repeated help to master new processes, the Empowerji App allows them to watch videos of other apps and sites repeatedly till they can independently use the application. The app is available in Hindi, English, Gujarati and Marathi to ensure seniors can learn in the language they are most comfortable in,” says Thakkar. The venture was initially bootstrapped, but in the months to follow, Thakkar managed to get some strategic angel investors on board. Since its inception, the Empowerji team has conducted 50 physical workshops in Mumbai and taught over 5,000 seniors personally through workshops and offline activities. It has 18,000 downloads so far. Going ahead, Thakkar plans to launch an online learning platform for seniors where anyone can sign up, pay a nominal fee and learn how to use technology from the comfort of their homes. “Right now our objective is adoption and scale. Once we scale with our online platform, hopefully we will be able to break even by next year. As far as our paid online courses (to be launched) go, we will be offering users live classes with instructor interaction, choice in language of instruction, support post-course and added support of the Empowerji learning app. This will be value for money for our senior customers,” she adds.

Another venture that is aiding the growth of senior citizens from a holistic perspective is Silver Talkies that has a free e-magazine in place where the content put up is carefully crafted keeping the senior citizens’ interests and needs in mind. They also organise community building activities every month in Bengaluru where seniors interact, thus helping them dissipate loneliness and break free from caregiving duties and also finding an active social life without having to plan their social engagement calendar. The platform also has a separate portal for job listings where workplaces can post their needs for senior citizens in different roles. “We started as a small blog in 2011. But, over the years, we have developed into a digital magazine while our focus has remained the same—share content that highlights, celebrates and tells the stories of and around elderly Indians, their achievements, struggles and lives,” says Reshmi Chakraborty, who co-founded Silver Talkies along with Nidhi Chawla. “These days, with our country ageing rapidly, mainstream publications and popular websites also focus on elderly along with other topics, but at Silver Talkies, the spotlight remains exclusively on them,” she adds.

The venture is still completely bootstrapped and Chakraborty and Chawla have been fortunate to get positive feedback resulting in people writing contributory pieces for the platform. “We are a team of four (including co-founders) that take care of most things in-house. However, we do work with a team of freelancers as and when required on a pay-per-piece basis. We are fortunate to have professionals and subject experts from various fields across law, health, nutrition to geriatrics who are happy to write expert articles for us. Most of the expert articles are contributory as these professionals are passionate about spreading the right information across the senior demographic,” Chawla adds.

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