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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

‘Silver market’ needs better safeguards

A Consumer Council report has highlighted the problems encountered by elderly consumers. In our rapidly ageing society, government and businesses need to do more to address the changing needs of consumers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 8:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 9:51pm

A silver lining in our ageing society is the development of goods and services to suit the needs of an expanding pool of senior citizens. Sadly, the opportunities arising from the so-called silver market have yet to be fully appreciated, as reflected in a Consumer Council report on the woes encountered by the elderly. As we prepare for the burden arising from a greying population, it would also do well for the government and businesses to address the changing needs of consumers. According to a survey commissioned by the council in 2016, seven in 10 older people felt that there were insufficient choices catering to their needs. Nearly two in five said they had encountered unpleasant consumer experiences over the previous 12 months. Dissatisfaction with telecommunications, catering and tourism services was particularly high. The problems were also reflected in the complaints filed by senior citizens, with one in four related to telecommunications services.

The findings should not come as a surprise, though. Despite being a sophisticated economy, Hong Kong is still lagging behind in terms of consumer rights protection. Older consumers are even more vulnerable to abuse, as they are often unfamiliar with new trends and development. Selling gadgets that are too complicated to use or expensive mobile phone packages with excessive coverage are just some of the common problems experienced by older customers.

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Contrary to the misconception that such an age group is generally retirees who are poor and thrifty, many senior citizens are indeed reasonably well-off and educated. Changing mindsets and lifestyles mean they may be even more willing to spend than other age groups. It makes no sense to treat them as inferior customers or a target of abuse. The appeal by the watchdog to create a more elderly-friendly consumer environment deserves support. The growing emphasis on getting prepared for a greying population has given the impression that ageing is a burden to society. But the grey dollar can also present great economic opportunities. With one in every three people aged 65 and above by 2043, the silver market is set to be lucrative business. That makes safeguards for elderly consumers all the more important.