Eyeing old-age consumers, Alibaba recruiting senior citizens for marketing

People walk past an advertising billboard showing the mobile app of Alibaba's Taobao consumer-to-consumer site at a subway station in Beijing. Photo: AP

A recruitment advertisement that China's e-commerce giant Alibaba Group published on its Chinese website last week has triggered strong reverberation among senior citizens, as the country's aging population is considered as one of the problems that could bring down the economy.

In the job advertisement, Alibaba showed preference to the old people aged 60 and above with rich experience in online shopping, saying that it wanted to hire two people as customer research specialists for the family-focused products designed for its Taobao marketplace, the country's popular online shopping website similar to Amazon.

The job candidates are required to live in harmony with their children, enjoy strong influence among their peers and be skillful in communicating with customers, with the members of neighborhood committees, lovers of square dance - a Chinese-style exercise routine normally performed by retirees in tune with music in squares, plazas or parks, readers of books about psychology and sociology and public welfare enthusiasts being given top priority.

If employed, they will be paid 350,000-400,000 yuan one year, an annual salary equivalent to that of a senior programmer, and will be tasked with trying out the family-focused products, regularly bringing together middle-aged and senior people for seminars where feedbacks can be collected, and collecting customers' needs through questionnaires.

Taobao is mulling the rollout of a family-themed edition, which will focus on enhancing the old people's consumption on the Taobao marketplace. With well-designed marketing strategies, Taobao is also planning to use the family status of this group of people to increase the online consumption desire of people in different ages.

With the recruitment advertisement being widely reposted on China's social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, Alibaba has received thousands of resumes, with one sent by an 83-year-old applicant who retired from the post of scientific researcher in Hangzhou where the e-commerce group is based, domestic media reports said, citing the company's recruitment officer.

According to statistics from Taobao, old ladies are more interested in the job than old men, accounting for 70 percent of the applicants. The statistics also show that more than half of the eligible applicants hold college degrees and mainly worked as teachers, public servants, police and legal staffs before retirement, with some even having overseas education.

Taobao said that the recruiters were busy with handpicking resumes and would soon arrange job interviews where Taobao's product managers would communicate with the applicants, domestic media reports said.

The recruitment drive is also intensely debated by the country's Internet users, including those young people who are jealous of their applicant fathers and mothers because of the high payment offered by Alibaba.

"What? My mother would earn much more money than me?" an Internet user wrote.

"It is inconceivable that my mother would be my colleague," another Internet user said, who is believed to be an employee of Alibaba from his/her comment.

"Is it OK for me to have a psychological age of 60 to apply for the job?" a young person joked online.

Many young people expressed their deep regret on the Internet, saying that they meet all the job requirements except for the age.

Some analysts said that Alibaba's old people-targeted recruitment drive indicated its confidence in the prospect of the "silver hair" economy, referring to the economy driven by the consumption of elderly people.

Currently, Taobao has 30 million registered users aged 50 and above, which the company sees as a major driving force for its sales performance.

Data from China's National Bureau of Statistics showed that as of the end of 2015 the population aged 60 and above was 220 million, accounting for 16 percent of the country's total population. The statistical agency predicted that this group of people would occupy one third of the total population by 2050.

The old people aged 60 and above are considered to have strong consumption ability as reflected in the fact that the number of old people traveling abroad is growing and the use of mobile payment services by old people is widening.

It is predicted that the value of China's old-age industry would jump to 106 trillion yuan by 2050.

However, with the rapid population aging, the Chinese government is worried the shortage of working-age population, which cause a slowdown in the country's economy, which has enjoyed a double-digit growth in the past decade due to the advantage of demographic dividend.

Fears of an aging population holding back China's economic expansion prompted policy makers to officially end the decades-long one-child policy in 2016 allowing all married couples to have two children, only to find that the birth rate saw a decline in 2017.


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