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Alibaba

It is easier to get into Goldman Sachs than be hired for this job at Chinese e-commerce giant

China’s largest e-commerce company wants two senior citizens to help it improve products and services for the elderly – and the pay is more than the median household income in the US 

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 February, 2018, 6:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 February, 2018, 11:47am

Getting hired by Goldman Sachs is harder than being accepted into Harvard University, but a newly-created job at China’s biggest e-commerce company, Alibaba Group Holding, is even harder to land.

Firstly, applicants must be above 60 years of age. Secondly, they must have a track record in community service and be an opinion leader. Thirdly, they must be good at square dancing.

Even with such stringent requirements, about 3,000 seniors vied for the two positions, translating to a success rate of 0.06 per cent. Goldman Sachs hires about 3 per cent of its applicants, Harvard accepts slightly more.

The prize for winning the coveted job? An annual salary of as much as 400,000 yuan a year (US$63,500), more than the average income of middle-class American families. The job description: help Alibaba better understand how older consumers shop online and improve that experience.

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With an ageing population, companies in China are intensifying their efforts to court the silver dollar, much as businesses have done in Japan and baby-boomers in the US. In China, many in this group, mostly retired, have ample savings and are sitting on gains from buying early into China’s property boom. They are also mostly offline and not participating in China’s internet revolution, which has seen companies like Alibaba develop the world’s biggest online shopping festival and Tencent Holdings pioneering advances in mobile payments. 

Purchasing online has completely changed my life ... I am confident to live to 90 or even 100 now, all because of shopping online
Li Lu, 83-year-old grandmother

Earlier this week, 10 of the shortlisted candidates gathered at Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou. Among them was 83-year-old grandmother Li Lu, an alumnus of the elite Tsinghua University who headed its alumni association for eight years. Apart from fruit and vegetables, which she usually buys with her husband on their daily strolls, Granny Li says she basically buys everything else on the Taobao e-commerce platform.

“I’ve been shopping online for three to four years. Purchasing online has completely changed my life. I don’t feel 80 is old at all. I am confident to live to 90 or even 100 now, all because of shopping online,” Li was quoted as saying in a China Central Television Station (CCTV) news broadcast on Monday.

Uncle Zhang, 71, as another applicant calls himself, is from Sichuan province, famous for its fiery cuisine. For a taste of home, he used to periodically carry several kilograms of preserved meat and chilli Sichuan to Hangzhou, where he now lives. Local media reported that Zhang only stopped after his son told him all of that is available on Taobao and it is cheaper, which got him started on online shopping.

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At the job interviews on Monday, the 10 shortlisted candidates shared some of their views on how to make it easier for the elderly to shop online. Among the suggestions: use facial recognition to authenticate identity and do away with passwords because many seniors have poorer memories; use bigger fonts; and feature a homepage that shows products and services relevant to the elderly.

About 40 million of China’s 772 million internet users are aged above 60, and the number is rising each year. A report released on Wednesday by China internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) said the over 60 age group in China accounted for 5.2 per cent of overall internet users last year, compared with 4 per cent a year earlier.

Statistics from e-commerce platform JD.com showed that users aged above 56 spent 2.3 time more time on the platform that the average user.

In the US, the silver economy is currently valued at US$7.1 trillion, and is forecast to grow to US$15 trillion by 2020, according to London-based research agency Euromonitor.

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E-commerce companies like Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, have to find ways to lower the barriers for this group to get online. On Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall platforms, 30 million users are aged over 50 and they spent an average of 5,000 yuan during the first nine months of last year. 

Zheng Jialiang, a vice-president of research with Zhongtai International, said internet companies are focused on younger generations who have high online participation rates but lower spending power. 

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The middle class is still the main force in terms of expenditure, as well as senior groups who are in better control of their wealth
Zheng Jialiang, Zhongtai International

“The middle class is still the main force in terms of expenditure, as well as senior groups who are in better control of their wealth,” said Zheng. 

Mobile apps that specifically target seniors are still rare, but the apps that are popular among elderly groups are focused on health care as well as utilities like magnifiers and flashlights.

Some of the suggestions from the Alibaba job applicant interviews on Monday are reflected in a new elderly-friendly version of Taobao, introduced in February. The new app features easier access to the most popular functions for seniors, including Tmall Supermarket, live-streaming programmes and customised shopping recommendations based on its previous search and shopping history.

An enlarged interface and short cuts on the app have also been redesigned. Senior users can register a Taobao account with their mobile number and link the account to their children, whose profile image will appear on every interface of their parent’s Taobao app. 

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By simply clicking the image, parents are able to initiate a chat or voice call with their children, share product links and make purchase decisions together. The children can then choose to pay for the products that their parents have selected. 

As to whether she will eventually bag the job and its considerable salary, Granny Li said, in remarks first reported in local media Qianjiang Evening News: “At this age, I don’t care about money, I just want to have some fun.”

Alibaba also raised its annual sales forecast on Thursday after posting strong revenue growth in its fiscal third-quarter ended December 31, boosted by record consumer spending during its Singles’ Day shopping festival in November.

The company reported a 56 per cent year-on-year increase in total revenue to 83 billion yuan (US$13 billion) in the December quarter, surpassing the 79.7 billion yuan consensus estimate in a Bloomberg poll of analysts.