Switch on to smart appliances
From voice control and remote activation to smart functionality, which can save the consumer time, money, energy and reduce food waste, we explore the latest in connected appliances and how manufacturers are identifying needs in the marketplace
According to a 2021 report (the most recent we could find) from GFU Consumer and Home Electronics, the organisation that helps to organise the IFA show, only 3% of UK homeowners said they had smart domestic appliances or used that functionality. This begs the question – why are so many manufacturers focused on it?
For starters, as GFU noted, this low base does make for “plenty of potential for the future” as 33% of British respondents said they could imagine using smart functionality in their major domestic appliances in the future, and 21% said they would be interested in using smart functionality in small domestic appliances. In addition, most of this smart technology helps to promote sustainability, with moneysaving features dominating the list of what consumers see as most useful.
These might include things like auto-dosing for washing machines, remote activation to make the most of cheap energy, technology to keep food fresher for longer and cut down on waste, or Holiday Mode, which can set the fridge-freezer at a specific temperature to maximise efficiency.
Smart diagnosis for easier fault finding and repair will also help to drive the smart appliance market.
Furthermore, as system integration and eco-system management systems improve, or better ones are brought online, the whole process of smart connectivity and control will improve. This is something we’re already seeing with Matter – a new global, open-source standard that aims to simplify the smart-home ecosystem. It allows internet connected devices from different manufacturers to communicate with each other in a simple and secure manner. This unification will make our lives easier, more convenient, and more enjoyable.
How GFU data has changed to reflect more recent sales remains to be seen as we couldn’t find the figures at the time of publication, but it’s likely most of the opportunity in this market is ahead of us.
In terms of UK consumer perception, we spoke with Euronics UK chairman Steve Scogings, who said that it is the case that people are interested in smart connected appliances, but that they are nervous about the technology or simply not confident in operating it. “We are finding that the middle class and affluent consumers who are shopping with the independents, just want appliances that work, and they are interested in this technology but they don’t know how to use it. Or in some cases, they’ve got it and don’t know they’ve got it.”
Jonathan Mickelborough, a designer at the Tom Howley kitchen showroom in Brentwood, meanwhile, notes that smart technology is something that their clients “tend to shy away from”.
“As soon as they hear that there’s an app for this or that, their eyes widen in panic, he says. “We’re currently going through a huge transitional phase where almost every new kitchen appliance is introducing a range of smart functions, which can be overwhelming to the end user whose only experience with smart technology might be as little as having an Alexa in their home and an iPhone. All of a sudden, we’re talking about wi-fi connected fridges, ovens that you can turn on in the car and voice control abilities.”
Mickelborough believes that time is needed to get used to this new way of working in a kitchen, and that adoption won’t happen overnight. “Smart tech integration is going to work best when the user doesn’t realise they’re using it. If it’s something that imperceptibly improves the user experience without feeling like a chore, then it’s doing its job right.”
Scogings adds that the ‘smart home’ in general is something Euronics is investing in, in terms of training and advice for its retailers, and manufacturers certainly see smart appliances as a lasting trend, so they seemingly are the future or will provide part of the answer to the questions around improving sustainability.
And, despite the apparent consumer reticence about smart appliances, brands are pressing ahead with technology such as voice activation, and app control, which they say can combine to offer ultimate convenience. All of our manufacturer contributors this month include one or the other, or both, and early adopters will already be familiar with much of this technology.
As Franke sales and marketing director Jo Sargeant points out, consumers’ adoption of smart functionality is certainly growing but the rate varies depending on a number of factors like familiarity with technology, ease of use and perceived benefits. While some consumers fully embrace and integrate smart features into their daily routines, others might still lean toward familiar usage patterns.
According to Sargeant, voice activation is particularly important to the adoption of smart technology because it makes products very simple to use for people of all ages and technical abilities. Current stats show that over 40% of UK adults use voice search at least once a day, so products that can be controlled via voice commands are naturally among the most popular.
“This trend is something that has influenced our product development, and we now offer a number of cooker hood models that can be controlled via Amazon Alexa as well as via the dedicated app. This duality of control gives users more control over how they operate their hood depending on their individual needs and preferences.” LG also says it has seen growing consumer interest in the benefits of being able to control appliances remotely, and use voice control. Its appliances work with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, while the ThinQ app enables users to monitor and control their compatible appliances remotely through their mobile device.
Its latest refrigeration offering is perhaps the Korean brand’s techiest yet. The appliances feature ThinQ with Smart Learner AI technology and wi-fi connectivity so users can use and monitor the appliance remotely, whether it’s to change the temperature or activate Express Freeze ready for loading the weekly food shop.
On the question of whether consumers actually use all this technology, LG’s senior product specialist for home appliances, David Palmer, asserts that these hi-tech fridge-freezers are among their most popular appliances. “As consumers invest in more connected home technology, we’re seeing a desire to have this network of connected appliances that help make regular tasks easier. LG will continue to listen to its customers and respond to changes in consumer behaviour and demands when delivering future product ranges.”
While the example from LG shows that its customers are happy to buy into the techier side of appliances, installation and operation nevertheless needs to be as simple as possible.
“Adoption largely depends on personal preference, as well as how the smart functions are presented,” Fisher and Paykel head of product, Jo Jackson says. “For example, if a lengthy installation process is required, then many consumers are likely to lose interest, opting to operate their appliances in the same way they’ve previously done.”
Most brands recognise this fact, and Fisher and Paykel, as well as the other manufacturers we’ve featured offer simple ‘plug-and-play’ installation, where getting the thing working is as simple as installing the app and then connecting it to the appliance.
BSH Home Appliances head of connected home, James Kington, goes on to say that even though they are aware that their number of monthly active users is growing, BSH also knows that we as consumers “can all be guilty of sticking to what we know – so our first challenge is getting consumers on board with changing up their routines in order to reap the rewards of the connected home”.
To make it as easy as possible to get the most of the appliance’s functionality, BSH has developed a ‘favourites’ feature, accessible via the Home Connect app, or via the control panel of the appliance itself.
Finally, it’s worth spending a few paragraphs on smart diagnosis, as this is another genuinely useful feature that can save the consumer a lot of hassle if there is a problem, while also promoting sustainability, as fixing should be easier and more cost effective, than replacing.
BSH’s Kington asserts that smart diagnostic tools are “the future of the industry”, adding value to the consumer experience by saving time and money, extending appliance lifetime, reducing engineer call-outs, and providing tips on efficient appliance use.
Currently, BSH focuses on guided assistance via the Home Connect app giving access to self-help support, manuals and its contact centre, but Kington says that in future, these diagnostic tools will go further by improving first-time fixes and predicting faults before they occur.
This, he says, will ensure that engineers are sent to more complex call-outs and that smaller issues are fixed quickly and remotely.
Scandinavian appliance brand Asko also places importance on smart diagnostics and Jessica Rhodes, product & marketing manager, believes this will become a clear focus and more important, in the near future.
“With smart diagnostics, we can assist the consumer quickly by examining the appliance data and remotely controlling the appliance for troubleshooting,” she says. “We can also alert the consumer before a possible issue arises, making life a lot easier. Furthermore, we will provide preventive maintenance features so the consumer can keep their appliance in good condition and detect potential issues before they turn into more serious ones. This will decrease downtime, but also increase the durability of the solution and lower the environmental impact with fewer service visits by car.”
The ultimate key to selling connected appliances in 2023 and beyond will be with retailers and the way that they demonstrate functionality and educate the consumer on the benefits and the ease of use, because, as LG’s Palmer notes, “much of the language of this category does not lend itself to mass consumer understanding”.
He adds: “Retailers must be up to date with the latest appliances within the range and how various functions differ from one another and how each one is beneficial to ensure the consumer makes the right choice that will meet their needs when they make their purchase.”
BSH’s Kington adds: “Sharing real-life use cases and understanding the needs of individual consumers are crucial in helping them make the right decision on an appliance that will continue to make their lives easier day-to-day.
“For example, consumers may not understand the value of ‘dishwasher tablet auto-replen ishment’, but they will understand the pain point of going to start their dishwasher and realising they have no tablets left. Therefore, they can start to understand the value of never having to think about buying dishwasher tabs, with Home Connect automating that process.”