Emporia Telecom’s January launch brought competition to a market segment currently controlled by Doro
In January, Emporia Telecom added much-needed vitality to the senior market when it launched in the UK, joining a segment currently controlled by Doro.
Tasked with spearheading the Austrian- based business on these shores is Chris Millington, who was appointed as managing director for the UK and Ireland towards the end of last year.
Millington, who spent over a decade until 2017 in senior roles at another well- established vendor for those aged over 65, Doro, says he has “unfinished business” in this seemingly niche market.
It’s a segment of the market he says is usually ignored and needs reinvigorating.
“This segment of the market needs to be reignited and we believe we can re-energise this at Emporia,” says Millington. “It’s dead right now and that’s disappointing, but we can change that.”
“I want to build the Emporia brand, but I also want to change the mindset of people towards the older user.”
Based in Linz, Emporia operates in 30 markets – mainly in central Europe – and has enjoyed particular success in its home market plus Germany and Italy, says Millington.
The company, founded in 1991 by Albert Fellner, initially specialised in general telecoms products for older people, with the first mobile handset for seniors released in the early 2000s.
Fellner stepped down in 2015 and the business is now owned by Eveline Pupeter, who joined Emporia in 2003.
In Europe, the company has partnerships in place with a number of key operators, including Vodafone, T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom, while distributor Eurostar Global is aiding Emporia with its UK push. Eurostar Global head of commercial and vendor management Steve Hankey says the distributor opted for Emporia based
on previous work Millington had done in the market and the segment’s value.
“Myself and Chris have worked together before, and I know he’s got some very sensible plans as he looks to replicate the success he had with Doro,” he says.
“There’s room in our portfolio for a service that encompasses easy-to-use phones for the over-60s. You just have to look at the demographics to see the UK is an ageing country.”
Millington says of the partnership: “We chose Eurostar Global because the company gives us the flexibility and capability to get out to market. It’s a proper partner and not a typical box-moving business, but instead is much more hands-on. I have every confidence in its ability to help us.”
Emporia has also listed its roughly 20 phones on Amazon UK’s website, and has recently gone live with mail-order service Scotts of Stow.
Raring to go
After Millington took a brief hiatus from this market segment, during which he did some consultancy work, he was raring to go again.
“I love what I do, having worked in this area for a long time,” he says. “I enjoy the complexity of it and the challenges involved in trying to convince people of the need for these products.
“For older people, having a phone targeted towards them is a way for them to quietly stay involved in the life of their family. When you’re selling to this demographic, you have to understand their needs are going to be different and their value for phones is completely different.”
He likens his task to the one he faced at Doro, where he helped grow the brand in this country.
“I managed to help build Doro from nothing in the UK to one that has now sold a few hundred thousand devices and I’m very proud of that – but for me, I feel like I have unfinished business and I’m not ready to accept the level the market is currently at.
“We plan to build through strong PR and marketing campaigns. It’s important to get out there to increase the reach of the brand. However it’s not just about the product; it’s also about the vision and strategy of Emporia.”
New ways to meet needs
Millington is driven by his search for fresh means to improve access for older customers.
“My passion is about finding ways to address the needs of the audience and helping them to become more technologically enabled and be considered by retailers and operators,” he says.
“This group should be a target for these players, but they just don’t know how to get through to this audience.”
Just over four million phones for the senior segment were shipped in Western Europe last year, according to IDC – the vast majority being feature phones, at 3.6 million.
And although shipments of senior-targeted phones have fallen each year since reaching 5.6 million units in 2016 (see graph), potential is shown by substantial growth in smartphone take-up at the expense of feature phones in this segment. According to IDC, smartphones rose from 379,000 in 2018 to 667,000 last year.
In the UK, meanwhile, senior-targeted phone shipments numbered just over 583,000 units in 2019 – making the country one of the biggest markets in Europe in this segment, behind Germany and France.
Simon Rockman, editor at CWJ Press and former founder of senior-targeted Fuss Free Phones, said: “It’s a massively underserved market and, although it’s hard to complete the sale, there is a real unmet need.
“The reason an older person buys a smartphone is because they want to be like their children or grandchildren, and they want to feel a part of that.”
IDC research manager Marta Pinto also sees a market for Emporia in the UK, and in the senior segment as a whole.
“There are definitely opportunities in this market,” she says. “Senior people today are going to be very different to the senior people in about a decade’s time. Within 10 years, there will be seniors that are very used to using these phones.”
Despite volumes being small in comparison to the overall smartphone and feature phone markets, Millington insists the senior segment is not niche – especially given current
According to Statista figures from 2018, there are more than 12 million people in the UK aged over 65.
“That’s a lot of people,” says Millington. “If it’s niche, then it’s a big niche – and the UK is an ageing population.”
To make the customer experience easier, all of Emporia’s handsets come with a step- by-step handbook detailing their functions and how to monitor data use and set up the SIM.
“This older group of people won’t want everything done for them,” says Millington. “That’s why we provide a handbook with each phone so that they’re able to gain the confidence to navigate the phone themselves.
Each handbook has spaces where people can write notes to help them remember certain actions, enabling Emporia to “take them on a ‘digital journey’ ”,says Millington.
To help educate this sector further, Millington says Emporia is planning later this year to offer training that will help to push both the brand and the notion of devices targeted at the senior segment.
“Training is something we want to push, ideally through some retailers, charity and local governments,” he says. “We want to train people around how to use technology and get them to see the value of a smartphone.”
But the potential in this market is sometimes viewed with scepticism, given that seniors are perceived to be savvier now than in previous generations and more at ease with existing phones.
Pinto says, for example, about iPhones: “The UK is one of Apple’s biggest markets and with Apple having such a user-friendly interface, this could be another challenge. Will these users want to go from an iPhone to a device for seniors?”
While Pinto believes there is a market for seniors, she thinks Emporia will face difficult competition from Doro.
“Emporia could struggle to compete with Doro in the UK. Doro already has a sizeable ecosystem,” she says.
Just the tonic
However, Millington says he is not worried about competition, arguing that it’s the tonic the industry needs to grow.
“The market has been in decline, but not because people don’t want to have a feature phone for the older user,” he says. “It’s in decline because there has been no advertising or promotional push to grow it.
“This is why I try to broaden the appeal – and not just necessarily for Emporia as a brand, but for the whole market. Even when I was at Doro, I wanted another brand to come in and succeed, and to drive the market to grow. In the last few years, it’s been evident to see the market has shrunk. However, I see gaps that can be attacked, especially around the smartphone in this sector.”
As for the question on the simplicity of an iPhone, Millington argues that these devices are designed for the younger audience.
“These brands such as Apple will push what they think the younger generation wants. They don’t think about the older person, none of them do. These brands will regularly update software and change things, and the seniors aren’t interested in this,” he says.
With Eurostar, Amazon and Scotts of Stow on board so far, Millington also hopes to strike deals with the network operators to further expand its presence. He adds that he has a patient, long-term outlook rather than expecting a surge in growth overnight.
“This is a five-year plan. The market is down right now, but I think we can grow this market, and I reckon by year two we’ll be able to see the results we’re looking to see,” he says.
“But the market size is there and this particular audience is growing. We hope to get a major network on board this year, plus a few retailers in the UK and Ireland by the end of 2020.”