Auction sites are old hat. In 2019, Japan is all about flea market apps.

Rakuten’s own consumer-to-consumer (C2C) platform Rakuma is one of the industry’s major players, and it’s growing fast — particularly after joining forces with Fril in 2018. But one growing demographic in the C2C market is putting the rest to shame: Japan’s silver surfers.

As the nation’s aging population gradually adapts to modern consumer technology, C2C apps like Rakuma are offering a fundamentally different shopping experience and proving to be an indispensable tool for this increasingly convenience-focused demographic.

A 30-fold jump in new senior users

Between 2016 and 2018, Rakuma saw the number of newly registered users in the 60+ age bracket skyrocket by a factor of 30. Growth was even more pronounced among users in their 70s, increasing by a factor of almost 50, with the 80s cohort not far behind.

The rise of Japan’s silver surfers hasn’t caught anyone by surprise, but their newfound love for high-tech lifestyle solutions has. The key appears to lie in accessible smartphone technology.

“More and more seniors are using smartphones these days,” explains Shinano Ide of Rakuma. “Research from the Mobile Society Research Institute revealed that for the first time, Japanese people in their 60s owned more smartphones than feature phones. As of last year, more than half own smartphones, while for people in their 70s, it’s around 30%.”

Over half of Japanese people in their 60s own smartphones as of 2018.

Over half of Japanese people in their 60s own smartphones as of 2018.

Preparing for the end?

Senior Japan’s newfound love for C2C apps could be, in part, a product of a somewhat morbid phenomenon dubbed shukatsu. The word is a play on the Japanese term for job-hunting, and refers to the preparations made before death — funeral arrangements, coffin attire and even post-mortem hair and nails.

In the context of shukatsu, it seems that many elderly people could be using Rakuma to declutter their houses of old possessions in a way that minimizes waste. One user in her 60s commented that sorting out the many items left behind by her late parents was a task that she didn’t want her own children to have to undertake, and was therefore trying to reduce the number of things she owned.

But perhaps the desire to declutter isn’t all so morbid. “It’s really just a fun way to dig out old possessions that have been lying around the house for years, sell them on to someone else and earn a bit of money,” Ide says. It seems that seniors are indeed earning a bit of money, with data indicating that they sell items at 23% higher prices than their younger counterparts.

Seniors selling on Rakuma deserve their silver reputation: Data indicates they sell items at 23% higher prices than their younger counterparts.

Seniors selling on Rakuma deserve their silver reputation: Data indicates they sell items at 23% higher prices than their younger counterparts.

Decluttering the home; Buying local food staples

Data from the second half of 2018 supports the decluttering theory. The categories seniors sold most in consisted primarily of luxury items: jewelry, wallets and bags. Meanwhile, homewares and crafts such as tableware and pottery also ranked highly.

Purchase data told a slightly different story: Many seniors are using the platform to buy food — fresh fruit, vegetables and rice — citing the low cost, high quality and convenience. “For things that are difficult to transport home, like bags of rice or vegetable boxes, Rakuma is a very attractive option,” Ide adds.

The data highlights a stark generational gap in shopping habits. For users in their teens and 20s, musical and pop-culture paraphernalia dominated — K-pop-related products, trading cards and cartoon character goods.

So while it’s usually the tech-savvy digital natives that find themselves in the crosshairs of product marketing and business strategy, marketers in Japan can no longer afford to ignore tech-savvy silver surfers. With over a third of the population over 60, seniors are becoming one of Rakuma’s most important demographics.