Home >Industry >Retail >Demand surges for automated gadgets

MUMBAI : When the lockdown was imposed in March, freelance writer Deepa Nair was faced with an immediate challenge: how would she manage the mounting domestic chores of not only her family of four but also her elderly mother, who lives in a separate flat in the same building.

With her husband busy working for a leading grocery delivery company and domestic help locked out of the apartment complex, she turned to automated gadgets.

“Pre-lockdown we would never have thought about getting robotic vacuum cleaners for our household as it just didn’t justify the high cost. Yet, as soon as non-essential goods delivery was allowed, we bought both robotic vacuum cleaners as well as a dishwasher," said Nair.

These devices, according to Nair, don’t clean as efficiently as her trusted help. But weighed against the pressures of work, meetings, children’s online classes and the health concerns for their own families, she wasn’t about to complain.

Indeed, residents of her housing complex banded together (via Whatsapp) and facilitated bulk purchases to offset their high prices.

Suddenly, across India, smart contactless devices and appliances that once struggled to get a second look for their high prices are all the rage.

Rajeev Karwal, founder and chief executive of Milagrow Humantech, which normally sells robot cleaners for hospital and industrial needs, said he expects demand for domestic robot cleaners to increase from about 10,000 in FY20 to about 400,000 for FY21.

These devices that cost anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 are flying off the shelves, even without sales demos. In many cases, families are managing even the basic plumbing and electrical fixtures for dishwashers on their own, said manufacturers and retailers.

Milagrow Humantech makes bespoke robot cleaners for floors, windows, walls, swimming pools, air ducts and even robot lawn mowers.

“Until now the sales happened with pre-sales demos, but now retail sales are going through the roof. In fact, 95% of our sales are from the top 10 cities. Buyers are mostly senior citizens, double-income couples, families of four with and income level above 8-10 lakh per year. Of these 65% are dwelling in condominiums," said Karwal.

Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, which has been aggressively marketing its appliances, launched a robotic vacuum cleaner in mid-April. By May, 75% of the pre-orders had been booked by buyers in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Gurugram, Noida, Ahmedabad and Kolkata.

Electronics retail chain Croma has seen sales of appliances in May jump 25% from last year. Dishwashers and high-end vacuum cleaners are going out of stock.

“There is also a shift towards smarter kitchen appliances and air-conditioners as people are increasingly realizing the amount of labour that their domestic help put in cannot be managed individually. Smart devices are also selling because they can be pre-programmed to function without wastage of resources," said Rajeev Singh, group business manager (home and entertainment), Croma.

The big question for Nair and her neighbours now is, do they let go of their helps now that these devices are home? Not really. “In the long run, we expect these to be used sparingly," said Nair. “But right now the need is acute."

According to insights shared by e-commerce platform, Flipkart, in the past few weeks (since non-essential deliveries have been permitted), the demand for smart kitchen and home appliances has almost doubled with significant increase seen across dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and microwaves, apart from various categories indicating strong consumers preference.

While demand from metros remains constant, there has been a considerable increase from tier-3-and-beyond markets, accounting for almost half of the overall demand for home automation products.

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