Nothing ticked off 90-year-old Kamal (Name changed) more than his family members constantly prodding him, to use a walking stick or to employ some other kind of support. His son, an astrophysicist, contacted Anisha Srinivasan and Nirav Parikh, two Bengaluru-based founders of an ecommerce startup known as www.eldersmart.in. The youngsters visited the father and spoke to him for a good two hours. Almost spontaneously, they convinced him to open up and describe all his woes. Soon, he was equipped with anti-slip mats, special toiletries, a tripod walking stick, and a redesigned bathing area – all geared to his convenience. Today, Kamal is very happy and relieved with these specialised amenities. This is just one example of how e-commerce has recently entered and begun enriching the lives of senior citizens, who possibly need its services more than so many others.
E-retail has tapped into every demographic and sector imaginable. Fashion, electronics, books, houses, and vehicles – you name it. And yet most of it caters to people under 50, only because these websites do not expect senior citizens to login and indulge in ‘tech-savvy online transactions’. But there are two very obvious flaws in this assumption. Firstly, seniors constitute roughly 160 million of India’s population, a mostly untapped market. Secondly, just because most senior citizens do not use the Internet to shop, can’t they be made to do so?
And this is exactly what some players have understood and starting doing. Take, for instance, Elder Smart. Started in September last year, the initiative keeps the problems senior citizens face, in mind. “Anisha and I one day sat and had a conversation about our grandparents. As we did, we both realised there was a big void in the market for anything senior related. We decided to do something for elders to make life easy for them,” says founder Nirav, who is an interior designer. According to him, one of the biggest problems senior citizens face is of procuring products such as adult diapers or anti-slip mats, which they do not even know are available in India. So, an e-commerce portal providing all these products was the best way to reach out. However, this is just the beginning and their idea is to be “a one-stop shop for all essential needs and care”. They are in the process of providing medical facilities, physiotherapists, doctors, nurses, and masseuses on the website.
Elder Smart has been targeting NRIs with parents in India, so that the former can fulfil the latter’s needs conveniently through the Internet. Nuclear families are swiftly replacing joint families, and many of these families are shifting abroad leaving elders to fend for themselves. Initiatives like these attempt to bridge the gap between elderly parents and their children. On the response to the service, Nirav says, “It’s been mixed. There are a whole lot of inquiries we get for products that we haven’t yet procured or aren’t even available. But we’re a startup; we’re getting there. We’ve been working on how to get into multiple verticals. Concierge services, the e-retail bit, retrofitting, financial services, legal services, as well as cab services. We're at an inflection point of figuring out what to concentrate on.” He also spoke about the reluctance of players to enter this industry, delineating that it is very labour-intensive and requires great involvement.
Even in this market, people have managed to focus on different aspects. Seniorshelf.com has been there since 2013, and its primary concern is to harness the power of the Internet’s penetration. State-of-the-art and in some cases even regular products are not available to senior citizens in smaller towns. The startup sources these listed items and has them home-delivered to their doorstep. It also has certain physical stores in Mumbai, NCR, and Rajasthan.
Founded by Mumbai-based Rahul Upadhyay, the website very has a convenient “Shop by Condition” section, where everything from Footcare to Arthiritis related products are listed. Here again, it is not business interests but genuine care and sympathy for older individuals, which is the overriding thought behind the initiative. Upadhyay told yourstory.com, “It took me four hours to find an ordinary blood pressure machine for my mom. It turns out most of my friends had similar stories to share. This is when I realised that products for this demographic and their availability is underdeveloped in the offline world”.
The first to arrive on the scene was oldisgoldstore.com, based in Chennai. Although it ships only in South India, its online portal is quite useful since it includes an ‘information centre’ that publishes numerous interesting articles related to senior citizens. Some of these are “staying safe and allergy-free this Diwali” and “Advice on how to age gracefully”. Additionally, websites such as healthkart.com have a special section named ‘senior care’.
India also seems to be moving at a faster pace than other countries when it comes to caring for the elderly. In the United States, www.senior.com is perhaps one of the only e-commerce websites for older consumers, and it has been around since 2009. Yet, not many have caught on to it. The market feels drab and stale even before it has taken off. That may be because of ‘traditional wisdom’. No one expects those above fifty to use technology comfortably but the scenario is changing gradually.
According to Marcia Kaplan of PracticalEcommerce, “[Senior citizens] are fairly affluent, well educated, comfortable with technology, and willing to try new products.” In the same article, she speaks of statistics regarding seniors in the US - "Research firm Ipsos, in cooperation with Google, found that 57 percent shopped online and 45 percent looked for coupons or daily deals.” Although these statistics may not be truly representative of India, they do point to the general spontaneity of elders when it comes to trying something new or different. In the light of this, online services should open their arms and embrace the elderly.