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Selling to Japan’s Silver Surfers

4 February, 2009, Written by 0 comment


Japan’s growing ranks of cashed-up senior citizens present a significant market opportunity for any company targeting Japanese customers. This is the decade during which the Japanese baby boom generation is looking to enjoy the fruits of their life’s work in retirement and increasingly they are getting online and searching for websites that are relevant to their interests and needs.

A study by Goo Research found that almost 95% of seniors (over 60 year old) in their survey used home computers every day.  Web browsing was a popular activity for 62%. The internet is commonly used for online shopping, hobby and living information by at least three quarters of the group. The Japanese government is encouraging training in computer literacy for the elderly and government departments are continuing to roll out access to public services online so these usage numbers are likely to increase in coming years.

A different survey by JR Tokai Express Research found that more than half of Japanese net surfers aged 50 and over would be interested in using websites targeted specifically to older generations but presently only about 7% were doing so. There seems to be a popular need for travel, lifestyle and health related information on the web.

So if all this represents an important market opportunity, what do we need to consider when building websites that cater to the elderly Japanese web visitor?

  1. Accessibility. Consider how users with visual or physical impairments are going to access your site. Remember that not everyone knows how to adjust the font size in their web browser so make sure any content you are displaying is big enough for people with diminished eye sight. Consider adding button on your site to increase the font size. Remember that some people prefer the TAB key for navigating websites because of diminished neuro motor skills or lack of confidence with using a mouse.
  2. Low Spec Computing Platforms. Most seniors get computers at home for simple tasks, not for resource intensive online role playing games. So their monitors and CPUs are more likely to be at the lower end of the hardware spectrum. Also they may not be comfortable with, or see the need for updating browser versions or having the latest release of Adobe Flash on their machine.
  3. Alternative Payment Systems. Most of Japan’s elderly have grown up in a cash based society. They are often reluctant to embrace online banking, suspicious of internet payment systems and infrequently use credit cards. They are more likely to use domestic bank transfers from their local ATM (furikomi transfers) or pay cash on delivery. If you must rely on online payment, be sure to emphasize the steps you have taken to ensure payment security.
  4. No English. Younger generations might have some basic English communication skills but for the older generations, many have not had the opportunity to learn or practice foreign languages, so they feel intimidated by websites written in English. Make sure your website has a complete Japanese language version written by a Japanese native speaker. Online translation tools rarely do a good job.
  5. Avoid Computer Jargon. If you have instructions for your website visitors to follow make sure you avoid language like “click on the icon“, “scroll down the page”, “select the checkbox“. Even in their native language some elderly people might not know what the words “icon”, “scroll” or “checkbox” mean. Use diagrams and examples where possible if you want your user to perform some action.

Consider adding a button on your site to increase the font size.

Japan’s online seniors may be one of the few target markets which are relatively unaffected by the current economic slowdown. Most of those in retirement have received or are about to get comfortable pensions and with the rapid appreciation of the Japanese Yen, they are actually seeing their purchasing power for foreign goods and services dramatically increase. You can help your business succeed by thinking about how to cater to Japan’s silver surfer generation.

A short video on how some imaginative companies are targeting Japan’s gray market.

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