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Economy

For Chinese retirees, WeChat is the hangout of choice

App counts over 50m users aged 55 to 70 as seniors embrace smartphones

China's elderly are increasingly making smartphones part of their daily routine. (Photo by Naoki Matsuda)

SHANGHAI -- Chinese society is increasingly cashless and smartphone-driven, and seniors are emerging as a surprisingly active contingent.

One 65-year-old Shanghai resident, Xu Li, does not go anywhere without his smartphone. For everything from contacting friends to paying for goods at a store, Tencent Holdings' WeChat is his go-to app.

Xu even schedules hospital visits through WeChat. "I don't have to go to the hospital in the morning and wait in line like I used to," he said.

WeChat also acts as a directory of affordable vacation packages, which Xu browses every day. One group chat for the elderly recently listed a seven-day trip to Thailand for 1,999 yuan ($293).

Ctrip, which offers that group chat, and other travel bookers take existing reservations that were abruptly canceled and resell the packages at a discount to retirees who often have plenty of time to spare and can take off on short notice. "Since I'm not working, I buy plans that are scheduled for 10 days later as long as they are cheap," said Xu. "Sometimes I can get them for 60% off."

In China, men retire at 60, while women stop working at 55 -- or 50 if they hold blue-collar jobs. Tencent says that among active WeChat users during September 2017, for example, more than 50 million were in the 55 to 70 age bracket. That represents a jump from 8.46 million a year earlier.

Senior shoppers are also reportedly scouring Alibaba Group Holding's e-commerce platforms, Taobao and TMall, in increasing numbers. But while Alibaba and rival JD.com focus on the ease of searching for a desired product, another player, Pinduoduo, has struck gold among cost-conscious retirees by showcasing goods on its site in order of price. A dress could be had for a mere 28 yuan, for example.

China has seen a wave of apps frequently used by the older set. Many of them read novels with their phones, or upload videos of themselves dancing or singing karaoke. Unlike their peers in other nations, like Japan, China's elderly are not distrustful of smartphones and see the devices as normal tools for living.

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