Posted : 2013-09-08 13:11
Updated : 2013-09-08 13:11

'Active seniors'

By Lee Hyo-sik

Every morning, Lee Ki-sung, 62, plays a round of golf, has lunch with his friends, spends some time reading the newspaper and meets his wife for dinner. The retiree, who resides in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, is part of a growing number of financially stable seniors who are gaining the attention of businesses.

Lee, who retired two years ago after a 30-year career as a civil servant at the provincial government, says he doesn't mind spending money on his new hobby.

"I didn't have time to learn how to golf while I was in office, but now I can do anything I want to without having to worry about time and money," Lee said. "I receive a monthly pension from the government and my wife still works. I think we are financially well-off."

Senior citizens enjoy brunch at a Blacksmith restaurant near the Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Thursday. The Italian restaurant chain expected to attract young women to its restaurant when it launched a brunch menu, but senior citizens make up the biggest brunch demographic.
/ Courtesy of Blacksmith

He spares no expense when it comes to golf, picking up the latest equipment and clothing as it hits store shelves.

"I purchased high-end golf clubs and other equipment. I regularly go to department stores to buy the latest golf wares to look fashionable on the field," Lee said. "Since I am exposed to sunlight for an extended period of time, I use a number of cosmetic products to keep my facial skin bright and resilient."

During his retirement, Lee also bought an expensive sedan made by a European automaker. He also sets money aside to travel abroad once or twice a year with his wife.

Yuhan Kimberly, Korea's largest baby product maker, sells Defend Style underpants for those suffering with incontinence. The company said its sales jumped 30 percent in the first half of 2013 from a year ago. It exports Defend Style to Australia and Israel. / Courtesy of Yuhan Kimberly

While Lee believes his finances are in good shape, he still works part-time at a drug wholesaler earning a substantial amount of money.

"I love to golf and travel but at the same time, I like to engage in productive activities and meet new people. The money is a bonus," he said.

Lee is part of a growing number of "active seniors," who are quickly becoming a mainstream consumer group in Korea. Retailers and business owners are paying more attention to these wealthy retirees, who are willing to spend money to improve their quality of life.

Yuhan Kimberly operates Golden Friends, a specialty retail outlet for the elderly. The shop is located in Jongno, downtown Seoul.

Who are active seniors?

Bernice Neugarten, a former psychology professor at the University of Chicago, began using the term to describe people in their 50s and 60s who are socially and economically active. Neugarten says active seniors represent a new demographic, as they buck the traditional sedentary lifestyle typically associated with retirement.

Many active seniors still work. They are Internet-savvy and financially able to afford a high quality of life.

"Active seniors accumulated wealth during Korea's rapid economic development in the 1970s and 80s through investments in real estate and stocks," said Kim Jeung-kun, a senior researcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI). "They are willing to spend big bucks to improve their looks and boost their health. They are also active in social and political issues, and are not shy about voicing their opinions."

Kim said the number of active seniors here will continue to increase as Korea's baby boomers (those born between 1955 and 1963) begin to retire. The institute estimates that 50-somethings account for nearly 14 percent of Korea's population and households headed by that age bracket are responsible for about 23 percent of private consumption.

This is an image capture of "Ohau," an online shopping mall exclusively for people 50 and older. GS Shop, one of the country's largest online shopping mall operators, launched the site in April. The site primarily sells cosmetics, medical equipment and clothes. / Korea Times file

According to Statistics Korea, consumers ranging in age from 50 to 64 spent a total of 12.8 trillion won ($11.5 billion) on various goods and services in 2002. That amount surged to 44 trillion won in 2010. It is projected to reach 148 trillion won in 2020 as more seniors retire.

"Active seniors were engaged in a variety of cultural and leisure activities when they were young. They want to continue that lifestyle and are financially capable of doing so," the SERI researcher said. "With more baby boomers retiring, active seniors will certainly emerge as a core consumer group. Many companies have noticed the trend, introducing a wide range of products and services to target wealthy seniors."

Companies go after wealthy seniors

Kim said the demand for healthcare, travel and other leisure services will increase significantly in the coming years as more baby boomers retire. Travel agencies, healthcare providers and cosmetics producers are expected to reap benefits from the nation's aging population, according to Kim.

Food producers are introducing an array of health-boosting items for seniors, while fashion firms launch clothes specifically for the age group. Electronics firms are manufacturing cameras, smartphones and other products that are easy for seniors to use.

Department stores and other retailers are rearranging product lines and offering personalized services to attract more elderly shoppers.

GS Shop, one of the country's largest online shopping malls, recently launched an online store "Ohau" (, exclusively for those age 50 and older. The site primarily deals with cosmetics, medical equipment and clothes.

"In the past, 50-somethings were not a big fan of online shopping, but recently, more and more senior citizens are buying merchandise on the Internet amid the widespread use of smartphones and tablet PCs," GS Shop spokeswoman Hwang Kyu-ran said.

"We noticed this trend and launched the store for those over 50 on April 17. The revenue has jumped at a double-digit rate month after month."

Hwang said 50-somethings accounted for 63 percent of Ohau shoppers, with those in their 60s and above accounting for the rest of the sales. "Shoes, clothes, food items and healthcare products account for over 80 percent of Ohau's sales."

Home shopping channels and online stores-catering to housewives and young women have reached a saturation point, the spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, online sites, targeting wealthy seniors are growing.

"We think the silver generation, or people in their 70s and 80s, are not as consumption-oriented as 50-somethings and 60-somethings. The latter still has the financial means to invest in themselves," Hwang said. "They exercise, travel overseas and go to movies and concerts. Despite the overall sluggish domestic demand, the senior consumer sector has grown at a robust pace. We think young seniors will exert greater influence over the country's consumer market."

Knowing this, retailers like GS Shop make it easier for seniors to navigate their websites with large print and wide margins.

"We simplified product categories and removed pop-ups. We tried to make the site as simple as possible. For those unwilling to make online payments on the site, they can call operators standing by 24 hours a day. Or if they leave a message, our operators will call them," she said.

The dining industry is also jumping on the senior bandwagon.

Blacksmith, an Italian restaurant chain operated by Caffe Bene, expected to draw young consumers to its recently launched brunch service, but found older consumers flocked to the restaurant too.

"On top of young female customers, we found out that quite a number of people in their 50s and 60s come to our restaurants to enjoy our brunch menus," Blacksmith spokeswoman Choung Kyoung-won said. "Unlike previous generations, they have the financial means and know how to enjoy life. We expect more seniors, who have become a mainstream consumer group, to visit our restaurant."

Choung said the Italian restaurant chain plans to unveil new dishes and services specifically for elderly consumers.

Restaurants are not the only business catching on to this growing trend. Yuhan Kimberly, Korea's largest manufacturer of diapers and other baby-related products, has turned its eye to senior consumers amid rapidly falling birthrates.

"Several years ago, we introduced adult underpants called ‘Defend Style' for those suffering from urinary incontinence," Yuhan Kimberly spokesman Son Seung-woo said. "The concept behind the garment is to help seniors remain physically active. The product is a hit. We think the demand will continue to rise."

Sales of Defend Style jumped 30 percent in the first six months of the year, according to the company. It exports Defend Style to Australia and Israel, and expects to sell the product in other foreign countries in the near future.

Son said Yuhan Kimberly also plans to launch household products that make daily life easier for senior citizens. "Besides underpants, we plan to launch a wide range of products targeting affluent and health-conscious seniors in cooperation with small firms. We think the senior consumption sector will expand robustly and we will certainly take advantage of it."

More seniors continue working

A growing number of active seniors are working after retirement.

According to Statistics Korea, the number of workers over the age of 50 hit an all-time high in June. The number of workers over the age of 50 was 9.36 million in June, accounting for 35.6 percent of the country's working population. The ratio stood at 33.6 percent in 2012, up from 30.9 percent in 2010 and 28.7 percent in 2008.

"Some old people are forced to continue working even after retirement because they face financial difficulties amid surging living expenses and shrinking income. Active seniors, however, work to stay ahead and remain useful to society," Kim of SERI said.

Many senior citizens in the United States, the Netherlands and other advanced countries continue to work after retirement, according to Kim.

"Some have to work to pay bills, but those financially well-off stay economically active for health reasons. They believe work is the best medicine. I think this has already happened in Korea too."

For instance, Yuhan Kimberly hires senior citizens as sales clerks at its specialty retail outlet, "Golden Friends," in downtown Seoul where many seniors congregate.

"Nobody knows what senior citizens want better than themselves. That is why we hire the elderly at our store. Plus, they help market a wider range of household goods for this age group," company spokesman Son said. "Our employees are very satisfied with their career and physically able to work eight hours a day. They look resilient and happy."

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