Catalyst

A golden opportunity in the silver space

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on July 11, 2019 Published on July 11, 2019

Finding the gap Ayush Agrawal & Tapan Mishra, founders, Seniority.In

Marketers have long ignored the senior citizen space, but an RPG group-backed venture, Seniority.in, shows the way to cater to this cohort

The Economic Survey for 2018-10 tabled in Parliament last week makes special mention of senior citizens. India has to prepare for an increasing number of elderly people, says the Survey, estimating there will be 239.4 million Indians over the age of 60 in 2041 against 104.2 million in 2011.

“India may be a young country, but it’s the senior citizen group that is the fastest growing demographic. And they are a lot more savvy,” says Ayush Agrawal, founder of Seniority.In, an ecommerce portal focused on this age group.

Three years before India’s policymakers got around to talking about this age group, the young entrepreneur had seen the golden opportunity in targeting the silver space.

The IIM-Lucknow graduate, who joined Harsh Goenka-led RPG Group as a management trainee and worked there a couple of years, pitched the idea of a senior citizen-focused online retail store in April 2016. A few months before, in late 2015, the group had launched RPG Ventures.

Recalls Harsh Goenka, chairman of RPG Group: “Almost four years ago, we set up RPG Ventures with the aim of incubating businesses that were built around new-age offerings or ideas. We even invited internal colleagues to share business ideas for RPG Ventures to support. Seniority was born out of this effort.”

“I applied and got through,” says Agrawal. A lot of the go-to market strategies were thrashed out by Agrawal and mentors from the group. However, the lack of an operations and supply chain specialist was felt. That’s when Tapan Mishra was roped in as co-founder — he was with clothing portal Vox Pop and had this expertise.

Seniority was first conceived as an omni-channel store — with both brick and mortar outlets as well as an online store. For the first store, which came up in February 2017, the founders zeroed in on pensioners’ paradise Pune, where they had shifted their operations to from Mumbai. The hypothesis was that youngsters would be buying online for parents, while seniors themselves would prefer to walk into an outlet.

However, says Agrawal, that myth was busted as the response online was phenomenal and they found that seniors were themselves buying. Almost a third of sales came from senior citizens buying for themselves. So they pivoted to a more online channel, and that helped them scale up faster as well. “When we launched we were servicing 5,000 pincodes, now we are serving nearly 20,000 pincodes and doing more than 1,200 orders a day,” says Agrawal.

The big gaps

When they launched Seniority the only sectors that were targeting senior citizens in a focused way were travel, real estate and wellness, says Agrawal. This was the gap they sought to plug by providing a variety of products across categories like lifestyle, wellness, leisure, gardening and kitchen. But an overwhelming 70 per cent of its portfolio is lifestyle and not wellness focused though products like motorised wheelchairs may be top sellers. “Exercise equipment is another big seller for us,” says Agrawal.

Are there enough products crafted exclusively with seniors in mind? Not many, in India, says Agrawal — that’s why many of the products featured on their website are imported from China, the UK and Japan. For example, there are interesting products like a talking clock which shouts out the time when a button is pressed and also projects the time on the ceiling.

There are exceptions like Saregama Carvaan, a nostalgic musical product aimed at the 50-plus, of course. Incidentally, that was first launched on Seniority, says Ayush.

Veteran adman and brand strategist Ambi Parameswaran feels that there is a lot of potential to be tapped by creating tailored products for this group. “The runaway success of Carvaan indicates that there may be many other product categories that could be tailor-made for the senior citizens. Carvaan simplified the process of listening to music. Can we think of a mobile phone that can make life easier for senior citizens? Can there be a Smart Watch that is not aimed at the millennial but at the elders? Coming to apparel, there is potential to target the seniors with special types of apparel that are comfortable, easy to wear and easy to maintain,” he says.

Consumer insights

After two years of retailing to seniors, any consumer insights? Agrawal says that the fact that more than 80 per cent of their sales comes from lifestyle products while medical items are just 10 per cent shows that assumptions like most older people want to pass on to their savings to their children are so outdated. That may have been earlier, but not today, he asserts, pointing out how for Thomas Cook and other travel companies, seniors are big spenders. Whenever anyone has come with a focused product for this age group — for example, Saregama Carvaan or Nobel Hygiene’s adult diapers — it has succeeded.

The other insight is that seniors do not want to be seen as buyers,. They would be rather viewed as partners and like to engage in conversations over a buy. Which is why there is a Whatsapp line open. Also why the company is trying to build a community at its retail stores. “In Pune, we do events like zumba sessions or karaoke or yoga, over weekends. We organise talks on physiotherapy or do book readings at our store,” says Agrawal.

Retail strategy

So far the company has four physical stores — one each in Pune, Coimbatore, Bhiwadi, near Gurgaon, and Chennai. But all have different formats. While the Pune store is a rowhouse converted into a store with a lot of open area and is designed more like a place to hang out, the Coimbatore and Bhiwadi stores have been set up in partnership with senior living realtors.

For instance, the Bhiwadi store is in partnership with Ashiaana Housing. So both these places have a captive senior citizen audience.

The store at Chennai was opened because a bulk of the online sales were coming from that metro.

Funder’s inputs

RPG group, says Agrawal, has been part of the Seniority journey since day zero. It’s not only the majority stakeholder but also the only investor having put in almost $6 million. “Chairman Harsh Goenka is more than happy to pull out his personal connections and help us,” says Agrawal.

In the early days before launch, when they were still testing products, RPG arranged stalls in corporate offices to see which items would resonate. Till date, the chairman takes personal interest in the venture and talks about it at various fora.

Goenka does sound like a fond parent. “From nail cutters fitted with magnifying lens to various mobility aids, each item available on Seniority is specially curated by the team. Seniority today has over 2 million visitors who visit the online site.

The market has huge potential with a growing senior population and Seniority will endeavour to make life better for all senior citizens,” he says.

Undeniably Seniority has got into a good niche. Even if the name could have been more nuanced — as Ambi Parameswaran says, Modern Maturity has a better ring than Senior Living for a magazine and similarly. However, the tagline “Live Evergreen” meets with his approval.

Published on July 11, 2019
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