Connected appliances will shape future sales and high street retail experiences. So shouldn’t kitchen designers and retailers get on board now?
Remember when a mobile phone was exactly that, just used to make calls?
Now a mobile phone is used to surf the net, access social media, take photos and videos, watch TV and films, play music and games…the list goes on and on.
We are already living in a connected world and it is influencing the way we live in our homes, too.
Smart TVs have been joined by connected heating, security systems and home appliances from major manufacturers.
And with voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Home growing in popularity (with YouGov reporting one in 10 households in Q1 of 2018 now have this technology), connectivity in the home is only going to further drive appliance design.
In fact, innovations manager at BSH Group Peter Wadsworth offers the chilling warning: “In two years, anyone who hasn’t fully embraced the technology in their showrooms will already have been left far behind.”
Significant sales development
Albeit from a low starting base, connected appliances are certainly gaining traction, as Steve Macdonald, business director of the freestanding division of Hoover Candy, reports: “Smart appliances have developed significantly over the last 12 months”, adding: “Sales have considerably risen beaten our expectations set out in our 2020 vision plan.”
And with manufacturers setting out to broaden their connected appliances offer, they can only edge ever closer to becoming the ‘norm’ for kitchen projects.
Whirlpool has recently expanded upon its connected laundry appliances with a connected dishwasher and is soon to add to this with its W Collection of built-in ovens.
Miele has incorporated connectivity in its latest Generation 7000 Collection – spanning ovens, dishwashers and cooker hoods and Smeg launched its SmegConnect range which includes ovens dishwasher and wine coolers.
And most recently, Neff has introduced a range of connected appliances, including a voice controlled Slide & Hide oven.
Starting with laundry
For retailers looking to start a journey into connected appliances, it seems laundry still provides the greatest sales opportunities.
Marketing director of Whirlpool Marco Falaschetti comments: “Generally, laundry is making headway and certainly leading the way within connected appliances, with washing machine volume sales teaching 527,000 units in 2017.”
And Steve Macdonald of Hoover Candy UK agrees: “Washing machines remain our most popular smart appliances and laundry is the one category we expect to continue to lead the way.”
However, connectivity is making headway across all appliances, as Marco Falaschetti continues: “Connected fridge freezer volume sales also saw an increase in the same period. There was an increase of 53%, which saw 238,000 units sold.”
And category manager for kitchens at Miele GB Neil Pooley points to the popularity of connected cooker hoods.
He exclaims: “One of our most popular connected/voice controlled appliances is our cooker hoods, which can be connected to Amazon’s Alexa system, allowing customers to change the power and lighting levels with ease while cooking.”
Consumers may tentatively enter the market with a singular purchase, rather than rushing to kit out a smart home, but once experienced, it is likely they will go on to purchase more.
Certainly that’s the view of head of marketing strategy for SmartThings at Samsung Electronics UK Stuart Mayo, who explains: “We’re learning that consumers are adding smart devices one experience at a time – when they see how connected devices add value and work seamlessly they gain an understanding of how they can use others too.
“This will lead to households having a huge variety of products fully connected to each other.”
While some kitchen retailers may already have jumped on board to serve their tech-savvy customers, those who have consumers less familiar with connectivity can take heart.
Connected appliances are based on ease of use and energy saving – topics familiar to everyone– and offer real up-sell opportunities.
Neil Pooley of Miele GB explains: “It’s important to simply the smart home – demystify the confusion around the complicated sets up and show the real benefits.”
Equally, it is important to demonstrate the technology is not a gimmick.
Neil Pooley comments during the development of its Generation 7000 appliances “200 households trialled prototype models to help determine the technologies, which were incorporated into the final design.”
Whether it’s remotely checking on the progress of a meal with real-time images sent to a smartphone, a dishwasher re-ordering tablets or a washing machine choosing the best programme to remove stains, the benefits are vast.
Product manager of Smeg UK Lucy Dunstan says being able to control the oven remotely is a key function which is grabbing the imagination of consumers: “The ability to remotely turn your oven on/off and change in the setting is the function that stands out.”
However, it could be argued that identifying the benefits of connected technology could be the most difficult part of the equation, as connectivity is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Peter Wadsworth of BSH Group comments: “Take smartphones, for example. When comparing the setup of your iPhone with someone else’s it soon becomes clear that these fundamentally identical, out of the box devices are anything but – once in the hands of a user. We expect it to be the case with connected appliances.”
But kitchen designers and retailers are best placed to find out their customers’ needs, and with the aid of training from manufacturing, will be able to match the connected appliance benefits to their lifestyle.
Of course the best way to introduce connectivity is to demonstrate the technology in-store, as Marco Falaschetti of Whirlpool sources TimeInc Smart Technology Survey 2017, stating: “60% of the population claim they do not entirely know what the connected home really entails.”
This revelation puts the retail in a positive position to demonstrate their expertise as “40% of consumers agree a lack of knowledge of products available is the main reason holding them back from spending.”
It’s a concept that cannot be brought to life easily online, and so connected appliances could help further equip the traditional high street store against the challenge of online sales.
Interactive showroom displays can create entertainment in the showroom, giving it stand out appeal on the high street and making it a true destination.
Stuart Mayo of Samsung Electronics UK continues: “Having smart appliances in store allows retailers to improve shopper engagement through interactive displays”, and continues: “Ultimately consumers want their imagination sparked and showrooms having more experiential set ups is a great way to do this. We envisage showroom displays with supporting media to demonstrate how the appliances can talk to each other and make lives easier.”
And UK Lucy Dunstan of Smeg agrees, adding the practical advice: “How to videos, apps with demo mode, explanatory literature, showroom mode on appliances help to communicate features, ease of operation and benefits.”
In fact, it seems the only barrier to a wider acceptance of connected appliances is the price which seems to remain at a premium.
Peter Wadsworth of BSH Group points out: “At this time, we’re only offering connectivity on our higher-end appliances”
And Mario Falaschetti of Whirlpool agrees pointing to GFK Insights which found “over a third of respondents in a recent survey quoted it as a barrier.”
For kitchen designers working in this area of the market, this shouldn’t be an issue and for those with consumers with more modest budgets there is connected technology filtering through.
Stuart Mayo of Samsung counters “Historically connected appliances have been seen as the preserve of premium shoppers but that is increasingly not the case” adding “as the market opens this technology up to more customers, accessibility is also increased.”
Connected appliances are only going to grow in importance for kitchen designers and retail showrooms.
They will not only shape future sales but also the design of high street environments and the ways customers relate to and experience a retailer’s business.
So why not get a head start in what will ultimately be the future route for appliances?