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Xiaomi's Mi Robotic Vacuum cleaner
Xiaomi's Mi Robotic Vacuum cleaner

Lockdown drives demand for home automation appliances

  • In the absence of household help, several busy families and elderly households have turned to home automation solutions like robots for cleaning, smart contactless devices and appliances that were "not feasible" in pre-covid times

MUMBAI: When the lockdown was imposed, freelance writer Deepa Nair was faced with the overwhelming task of managing chores of not only her family of four in an upscale Mumbai neighbourhood but also that of her elderly mother who resides in the same building. Her husband, who works for a leading grocery delivery company, was also unable to pitch in due to his busy schedule. This is when she discovered that home automation solutions could bail her out to an extent.

“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 when it became clear that the society wouldn’t allow domestic help entry in the near future," said Nair.

Though the devices were not as efficient as her trusted help, the pressure to manage work, meetings, online learning schedules of children as well as the health concerns for her family member prompted her to go for these purchases. She is not the only member in her society's WhatsApp groups. Several families actually deliberated and put together bulk purchase orders with discounts to procure these appliances.

In the absence of household help, several busy families and elderly households have turned to home automation solutions like robots for cleaning, smart contactless devices and appliances that were "not feasible" in pre-covid times. Some robotic appliance manufacturers have scaled up their demand estimates to up to 4,00,000 in FY21.

Families in gated neighbourhood have taken to procuring these devices in bulk to offset some of the high cost as they expect to continue without access to their trusted domestic help due to the pandemic. These devices that cost anywhere between 25,000 and 60,000 are flying off the shelves without pre or post sales demos. In most cases, families are even managing the basic plumbing and electrical fixtures on their own, said manufacturers and retailers.

Rajeev Karwal, founder and CEO of Milagrow Humantech that usually provides robots for hospital and industrial needs, said that they expect the demand for domestic robots to increase from about 10,000 in FY20 to about 4,00,000 for FY21. The company makes floor robots, window robots, wall robots, lawn robots, pool robots, air duct cleaning robots, humanoids and robotic STEM education kits which are currently selling without extensive pre-sales demos.

“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 top 10 cities. Buyers are mostly senior citizens, double income couples, families of four with and income level above 8-10 lakhs 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 and by May received 75% of pre-orders from top 10 cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Gurgaon, Noida, Ahmedabad and Kolkata.

Electronics retail store chain Croma has seen sales of appliances in May jump 25% compared to the same time 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 realising 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 & Entertainment), Croma.

According to insights shared by e-commerce platform Flipkart, over the past few weeks, the demand for smart kitchen and home appliances has almost doubled with significant increase being witnessed across dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and microwaves apart from other various categories indicating strong consumers preference. While demand from metros remains constant, there has been a considerable increase in consumer demand from tier-3 and beyond markets, accounting for almost half of the overall demand for home automation products.

But will Nair and her neighbours let go of their help now that these devices are home? Not really.

"In the long run, we expect these to be used sparingly, but right now the need is acute," said Nair.

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