August 12, 2009
Financial Times / FT series Japan's greying market
Business cashes in on older consumers

Following customers up the age pyramid has become vital for Japanese businesses. In spite of ventures catering to needs that are specific to the elderly – nursing homes, “mobility enhancing” robot helpers – most companies sell to a wide audience and must make subtle and often difficult adjustments as buyers age.

How they fare will serve as a lesson to businesses elsewhere, experts say, as societies from Europe to China follow Japan into a greying future.

Hiroyuki Murata, a writer and consultant on business and ageing, says: “As people get older, their tastes and needs become more similar. Japan is a living laboratory.”

Other markets that seemed to be equally obvious targets have turned out to be tougher to read. Many real estate developers were banking on a U-turn of pensioners, returning from Tokyo and other big cities to country towns. That has not happened.

Mr Murata says: “It’s usually the wife who objects. The husband might want to spend his retirement working in a field back home, but the wife usually likes the convenience of the city.”

The result: a higher premium on urban condominiums within an easy walk of train stations, and ever falling prices for rural retreats.

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