While perusing the exhibition halls at the recent IFA 2014 in Berlin, it became apparent to me that there was a major focus by the participating exhibitors on showcasing appliances and technologies that enhance lifestyles. The star products at IFA 2014 were cooking appliances, juice extractors, coffee machines and air treatment products. In addition, the smart home concept of connected appliances was also on show through refrigerators, washing machines and dishwashers.
Expanding smart appliances to smart home
While smart appliances at previous IFAs focused on smart features within a single product (ie washing machines with a smartphone), the 2014 edition of IFA saw the concept evolve distinctly into a total home package, ie smart home. Leading the charge, Samsung’s Smart Home showcased the applicability of smart appliances in everyday life, when one is at and away from home, using and controlling appliances via smartphones interactively. Similarly, LG Corp’s Homechat, leveraging on SNS, allows consumers to control/operate their appliances from remote locations. Not to be left out of this emerging niche, European companies are also committed to building their presence in smart home technologies. BSH Bosch & Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH introduced Home Connect, which controls and provides service assistance with ovens and dishwashers, as well as offering a database of recipes and video tutorials to help with cooking. Miele demonstrated its smart home network system, which uses apps to control appliances. As the possibility of a commercially viable launch of the smart home concept appears brighter with each passing IFA, this year, the main concern raised was how to build platforms with appliances across different brands as well as commercialising products in actual markets.
Cook, eat, drink
The introduction of new products and product technologies centred on food and drink preparation was exceptionally dominant among the appliance companies this year. Cooking demonstrations were held throughout the exhibition area, with appliance companies marketing their ovens and cookers through chefs who showed how to use the appliances to cook pasta, meat dishes and quiche, among others. Ranging from BSH Bosch & Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH’s cooking sessions to manufacturers such as Whirlpool Corp, Amica Wronki SA and Conair Corp, there was a focus on educating consumers on how to whip up varying cuisines with healthy benefits, rather than just detailing product features alone, so that consumers could connect food with products more efficiently.
As a continuation of recent trends, coffee machines enjoyed another stellar outing. Given the strong sales growth globally, there were crowds of people at coffee lounges, such as that of Nespresso and Nescafé Dolce Gusto, seeking to learn more about the different machines, coffee brands and coffee beans.
As a guest speaker for the IFA+Summit, I shared my views on the rise of global obesity and how consumers are searching for appliances that aid weight management. I was pleased to see juice extractors well represented at IFA, on a par with the presence of coffee machines. Leading manufacturers such as Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV and Hurom LS Co Ltd brought to the table new product marketing that zoomed in on the nutritious aspects of consuming vegetable and fruit juices, with the latter carrying a slogan that suggests that “you can enjoy healthy life till 100 years old”.
Europeans’ growing interest in air quality
Beyond appliances for food and drink preparation, there was also noticeable product interest in air purifiers at IFA 2014. Given the low sales growth for air purifiers in Western Europe historically, it is surprising to see this renewed product interest. In recent years, Asia Pacific has generally been perceived to be the regional market that had to contend with severe air pollution as a result of urbanisation and, thus, the need for improving indoor air quality. However, both the views of manufacturers and the needs of consumers seem to have changed, with many manufacturers, including Blueair Inc, Plaston Holding AG, Airfree - Produtos Electrónicos and Philips, showcasing a series of air purifiers positioned to clean indoor pollutants. There is, however, a distinct difference in the marketing approach from that of Asia Pacific in that manufacturers are trying to convince consumers more in terms of potential particles that cause respiratory or other diseases rather than air pollutants from outside the home.
Moving forward to a different era
Key buzz words for IFA have been quite consistent over recent years – spanning across “energy efficiency”, “connectivity” and “smart appliances”. With average lifespans increasing across both emerging and developed markets, “health” was introduced with a heightened focus at IFA 2014, and this is reflected in how manufacturers are leveraging on technology to improve and enhance basic lifestyles. Henceforth, I believe competition between manufacturers is likely to go beyond better technology and towards understanding consumers’ intuitive demands in appliances.