Li Changming just bought a new Huawei smartphone and the 70-year-old retiree is still a bit baffled by a high-tech device that Chinese lawmakers hope will help unlock spending for millions of older Chinese.
Undeterred, he is enrolled in a training session, a kind of “mobile phone 101,” which is part of China’s plans to help its legions of retirees keep up with a rapidly developing digital economy.
“I don’t understand all the functions yet, but I want to learn,” Li said, gingerly touching the screen.
“You are never too old to learn.”
He and his elderly classmates in the southwestern city of Chengdu sat and listened as an instructor explained the use of popular Chinese apps, navigating with map programs, and changing phone settings.
Demonstrating how to close background apps, the teacher tried to use terms that gray-haired students could understand.
“It’s like the room has become too crowded and you need to clean it,” he said.
China is launching a multi-year effort to boost domestic consumption in order to balance an economy that traditionally relied too heavily on manufacturing and government investment.
Electronic commerce is a central pillar.
Large and growing amounts of Chinese economic activity are now handled through digital applications that have become part of the fabric of life in modern China, led by Tencent’s WeChat Pay and rival Alipay, led by Ant Group, a spin-off. from Alibaba.
Together they dominate China’s huge online payments industry, characterized by shoppers scanning QR codes to make purchases instead of using physical cash, which has become antiquated in China.
– “I can not live without him” –
Brands around the world are chasing the so-called “silver dollar” and governments are also interested in having the savings of the elderly flow into economies to fuel growth.
But China’s aging population offers a particularly rich opportunity.
Chinese retirees are expected to number 300 million by 2025, and Daxue Consulting now estimates the size of the country’s elderly economy to be around 4.9 trillion yuan ($ 750 billion).
And Beijing says 98 percent of rural areas are now connected to 4G Internet networks.
Most retirees in China are eager to embrace new technologies and take advantage of a growing range of mobile services for them.
A report from the UBS banking group this year said older consumers “were already catching up” with the younger generation.
“We can’t live without smartphones,” says 61-year-old Meng Li, who also joined the Chengdu course and recently learned how to make mobile payments.
“I only knew how to make a call at first, but after my daughter showed me more and I joined training sessions like today, I can handle it now.”
– Covid boost –
In November, the government called for a national push to “strengthen the capacity of older people” to use digital technology, urging communities to hold training sessions and developers to create apps for older people.
This has become even more imperative in the era of the coronavirus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The blockages resulting from the Chinese pandemic forced masses of consumers to make purchases online and at home.
More than 36 million people connected for the first time between March and June of this year, official figures show, a number of potential new online spenders.
Simply moving during the pandemic requires digital fluency.
Public transportation and many other places in China require citizens to display a health app that rates their coronavirus threat level based on recent travel and other habits.
Another boost is the ongoing 10-year census of China to which, for the first time, Beijing wants most residents to respond online.
Still, nearly a third of the country’s 1.4 billion people are still offline.
Li and his peers, however, have graduated from the digital world.
After class, he used his digital wallet to buy chili peppers at a market, essential ingredients in Chengdu’s famous Sichuan spicy cuisine.
He’s also excited to be able to check restaurant ratings before eating out and use map apps to get there.
Looking at his new purchase through his reading glasses, the silver-haired retiree still has a lot of plans.
“There are still many things to learn. Mastering photos on my mobile is my goal for the next 10 years, ”Li said.