Gone are the days when three generations of a family lived under the same roof with the elderly passing on the reins of the household as well as their special needs to their children. With migration, nuclear families are becoming the norm, and the elderly are mostly left to fend for themselves. When we see older people struggle with smartphones to perform seemingly easy tasks, we realise the dearth in the market for products designed for them.
This might be because we have never viewed this section as avid consumers. But there has been a major shift in their consumption patterns as well as attitudes. The silver surfers don’t see the need to hoard savings anymore as the next generation does not want or need to depend on their wealth. This leaves them free to spend all that money on their own comforts. This new mindset sure has been inculcated, but the market for products and services targeting the elderly has hardly developed at the same pace.
Rahul Upadhyay explains why he started Senior Shelf. “It came out of a personal experience where it took me four hours to find an ordinary blood pressure machine for my mom. It was just not available at the normal pharmacies. It turns out most of my friends had similar stories to share when it came to buying even simple things like walking sticks or walkers for their parents. That is when I realised that though India has undergone change, the products for this demographic and their availability is underdeveloped in the offline world,” he says.Here’s a crucial determinant: India has the second largest elderly population – 100 million – in the world. And this number is set to treble in the coming years, according to Rahul. The section retiring in these coming years were all 40-somethings when the internet boom happened in the early 2000s. This generation will be technologically savvy, financially comfortable and will not remain dormant in the consumption space.
Rahul has been gathering domain expertise to get ready for the change and tap that demographic when the senior citizens get ready to become ‘recycled teenagers.’ This gave rise to Senior Shelf, an online marketplace aggregator showcasing all products targeted to them, to simplify their life and multiply their luxury at one place. Taking on the Rs. 35,000-crore segregated market for these products, which is set to grow at a CAG of 29 per cent to Rs 96,000 crore in the coming years, Senior Shelf is one of the first few portals leading the charge.
“The biggest challenge, of course, is that the industry does not exist in India. Unlike international markets, senior care industry in India is at a very nascent stage and product availability is a big challenge,” Rahul says.
Four in 10 of the elderly live independently, yet specialist senior care services remains limited to specific cities, with a substantial need in Tier II and III cities. “So, products and services aggregation has also been difficult, but we are solving that. We have built up a domain understanding matched by no one. I have personally spent almost 18 months speaking to the customers, the elderly, to understand what they need and how they think,” he adds.
Innovations and inventions made to assist a modestly perspicacious senior citizen are aplenty, but aren’t available at a single stop physically or virtually. Chains like Walmart in the western countries have sections dedicated to products for the elderly. Such segregation and specialisation is yet to be witnessed in India, as the country is still at the cusp of having its first breed of independent senior citizens who will want to consume such customised services.
Senior Shelf is simply bringing all these products together, for the convenience of shoppers looking for very specific things. “We are a marketplace, with no inventory of our own anywhere. We are an asset-light company with value maximisation as the core philosophy,” Rahul says. He has been turning down requests from vendors who want to showcase products other than those for the elderly to keep his platform focused.
The internet penetration rate among the elderly in India is also feeble - at six per cent. So Rahul has currently positioned his one-of-a-kind brand to target their online children. “Given the strong family ties that Indians have, this works well for us,” he explains.
“We currently get around 30,000 to 35,000 monthly visitors on the site. Our challenge is not just sales but awareness; bulk of our visitors are just exploring and learning about things that can help an elderly lifestyle. Hence, we also offer assistance and advice on what to buy.” Rahul says, adding that he himself took many calls to interact with customers, until three months ago.
With close to 300-350 monthly transactions that are an average of Rs 2500, Senior Shelf has grown eight times in transactions and around three times in year-on-year revenues.
“It was a huge milestone for us when we sold a Rs 3.5-lakh wheelchair online a few months ago to a customer in Rajamundhry,” Rahul says. Not only does it indicate that the Indian client has finally begun to embrace shopping in the face-less virtual world, it also proves that the need for products for the elderly exists.
“The biggest rewards have mostly come in terms of customer appreciation by both the elderly and their extended family members, all of whom have faced issues while trying to take care of their elders and appreciate that now there is a place which understand their problems and can help resolve them,” Rahul adds.The company was bootstrapped initially, with a passionate Rahul taking a hammer to his PF savings. But soon enough, the venture attracted pre-seed capital from two independent HNIs. “This has lasted us well since we have very stringent cost control mechanisms. We now aim to raise around Rs Six Crore for the next leg, to increase our services footprint, through tertiary care delivery at home,” he says.
Website: Senior Shelf