July 20, 2015 1:00 pm JST
Free time, open wallets

For Japanese women, the spending starts after 70

SATOKO IDO, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- Women in their 70s are a powerful force in the Japanese consumer market. Free from the burdens of mortgages, child rearing and education expenses, they have more time and money to spend on food, fun and new experiences.

     Japan has 14 million women aged 70 and over, making up about 10% of the total population, and there are about 40% more women than men in this age group.

Hey, big spenders

According to a recent survey of family income and expenditure conducted by the Statistics Bureau of the internal affairs ministry, women 70 and over spend an average of 6,749 yen (about $54) on a skirt, more than 50% higher than the average and the highest among all age groups.

     The flagship store of Mitsukoshi, one of Japan's oldest department stores, is located in a historical shopping district of Nihonbashi, close to the ritzy Ginza area. In September, the store set up Re-Style Lady, a concept space targeting senior women. Its products range from walking sticks to reading glasses to fashion items specially selected for seniors. Re-Style Lady is a modified version of a similar space in sister store Isetan, which caters to women in their 30s and 40s.

     "Senior customers, say, those over 70, used to dress almost identically, but they began getting tired of ordinary clothing lines," said Takumi Odashima, a sales manager at Mitsukoshi. Re-Style Lady has done even better than planned, with double-digit sales growth in some months.

     The same survey shows that female seniors spend almost 40,000 yen per year on personal care services, the highest among all age groups.

     Sonoko Ito, 78, was having her nails done at a manicure shop in Tokyo one recent afternoon. "I'm a grandma, but if you just look at my nails, don't I look like a 20-year-old girl?" she asked. Her gel-polish manicure featured summery hues of light blue and yellow set off with spangles. Ito said she first tried a manicure five years ago, inspired by younger women.

     The shop has about 20 customers over 70 who visit at least once a month. Unlike working-age women, they tend to prefer elaborate designs, according to Chihiro Yamawaki, the shop manager. Average spending per customer at the shop is about 10,000 yen, but those 70 and older tend to pay 20% more.

    "Senior regulars enjoy chatting with nail technicians during their one-hour treatment," said a manager at Fastnail, a chain of 31 manicure shops.

Something new

This affluent age group also splashes out more on food. Their average spending per 100 grams of tuna, beef and ham, for example, is the highest among all age groups, according to the Statistics Bureau survey.

    "I often have Japanese dishes when I go on trips, but I like French cuisine, too," said Hiroko Shintani, 79. She and her friends were visiting a branch of well-known French restaurant Queen Alice, located in the Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu, for lunch. Their three-course meal, which included dessert and coffee, cost 4,000 yen per person, a 500-yen discount from the normal price. Shintani said she and her friends found a coupon for the restaurant in Yuko Yuko, an information magazine aimed at seniors.

     The magazine, which also offers discounted travel packages and deals on weekday meals, is delivered to approximately 1.5 million readers every two month. About one-third of the coupon users are over 70, of which 70% are women.

    The average lunch offer in the magazine costs around 2,000 yen per person. This may be a bit high, but "customers want a unique experience with delicious food and a luxury setting, regardless of the price," said Hiroaki Utsumi, a head of management planning of the publisher.

     Other foreign cuisine, such as Singaporean and Mexican dishes, are also popular. "Women in their 70s have conquered almost every type of mainstream fare," said Jiro Miyakoshi, a senior planner at Tobu department store. "To satisfy their gastronomic curiosity, you have to offer something different." 

More friends, more fun

According to another survey by the Statistics Bureau, 15.8% of women aged 70-74 named those who live nearby as their travel and leisure companions, a much higher ratio than the total female average of 5.8%. This age group also reported having more friends than the total female average.

     "It's difficult for all of my family members to get together at once," Shintani said. "I can't live without my friends."

     In addition to gourmet tours, a recent boom among the generation is female group photo shoots.

    A photo studio targeting the over-60 set opened in March last year in Sugamo, an area of Tokyo popular as a walking district for elderly people. A two-hour plan, including hair, makeup and the shoot itself, costs 19,800 yen. The studio sees about 80 customers a month, about three quarters of whom are over 70. Roughly 90% are female.

     Many customers over 70 say they want to take a nice portrait to be used for their funeral or to be displayed at home after they are dead. According to the owner of the studio, many customers come with their friends. The studio has an all-male staff, which may be another attraction for Japan's elderly but energetic women. "It looks like a host club," one of the regulars said with a grin.

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