The pandemic has breathed new life into this struggling consumer durables segment.
It’s only human to not enjoy doing daily household chores, like taking out the trash, doing the dishes, mopping and sweeping the floors, among many other things. But things that need to be done, need to be done.
Prior to the era of social distancing and lockdowns, Indians would rely on others (like domestic help) to take care of these routine tasks. The ongoing lockdowns and precautionary social distancing norms have ensured that all help remains inaccessible.
This scenario eventually put technology in charge, as a rescuer, solutions provider, help, and also hope. Two interesting consumer durable product segments that emerged from this scenario include dishwashers and robot vacuum cleaners. While the dishwasher offered to clean the dishes, the robot vacuum cleaner took care of the ‘jhaadu-pochha’.
We’ll be discussing the latter today. (We’ve already explored the dishwasher business in this article.)
Technology company Xiaomi recently launched an ad campaign, featuring comedian Biswa Kalyan Rath, for its Mi Robot Vacuum-Mop P. It is an autonomous vacuum cleaner that not just cleans, but also mops the floors. The product was launched under its ‘Smart Homes’ category in April last year.
The device has multiple sensors, which are used for mapping the house. Cleaning can be scheduled and controlled via a mobile app and the robot returns to the charging dock to recharge. Device attachments need to be changed in order to switch between sweeping and mopping.
Mi Robot joins a few other players, like Roomba (iRobot), Milagrow Robots and RoboVac (Anker). Interestingly, the product category, despite being a big hit globally, couldn’t succeed in the Indian market. The causes behind the failure were many, including cheap cleaning costs and low adoption of technology/automation in Indian households.
Also, in terms of competition, Xiaomi’s robot, like many of the company’s new launches, could get an upper hand due to brand presence. Xiaomi happens to be the market leader when it comes to smart TVs, smartphones and smart wearables. It has penetrated a lot more households than its rival cleaning robot brands.
The prices in the category range upwards of a few thousand rupees and can go over a lakh. It varies depending on the features and areas, like suction power, size of motor, capacity, etc.
In conversation with afaqs!, Mi India’s CBO Raghu Reddy says that despite the visible consumer demand (on social media, etc.), even Xiaomi was in two minds about bringing the product to India.
Till 2019, only around 6,000-8,000 units were sold in India annually. In comparison, around 30 million vacuum and floor cleaning robots were sold globally between 2016 and 2019 (according to International Federation of Robotics).
“We still weren’t sure if the demand will pan out and continue to be big.”
To better assess the situation, folks at Xiaomi India put out a crowd-funding campaign (in April 2020), asking interested customers to actually place an order by paying the whole price upfront. The company announced that if it met a certain target (number of orders), it would launch it in India. Around 7,500 customers placed an order and it was launched.
Today, Reddy says that the overall category has grown 8-10 times of the pre-pandemic volume.
"The demand has multiplied by at least 3-5 times in April and May over the numbers that we saw in January/February."Raghu Reddy
“We started seeing a lot of interest in January, February and March because people started seeing value. We saw another spike with the lockdowns returning in cities. The demand has multiplied by at least 3-5 times in April and May over the numbers that we saw in January/February. With more people getting acquainted, we expect the growth to continue in 2021.”
Reddy says that an important task at hand is to communicate that the product is as good as traditional alternatives, but with automation.
“The first set of customers are typically more tech-savvy. They have heard of and seen the device globally and, hence, made the purchase decision quickly. But to communicate the value that this device can bring to a household, it has to go beyond talking about the core functionalities,” he adds.
Speaking on the campaign with Rath, Vineeta Wagh, lead product marketing, ecosystem category - Mi and Redmi (India), says that since the category is new, the approach was to educate first. Among the most common question that the customers asked on seeing the round device was, if it will clean corners and wipe properly.
“These concerns were very relevant. Our strategy was to get them out of the way and then introduce what all the product can do,” Wagh says.
For the video with Rath, the Xiaomi team came up with the top customer concerns, based on research, and decided to address them.
“We don’t want people to get intimidated by looking at the product. We wanted to let them ease into it and understand that it does all of those things that one thinks it might not do,” adds Wagh.
"We don’t want people to get intimidated by looking at the product."Vineeta Wagh
The product is targeted at the busy urban couples aged 35-45 years, who are gradually experiencing the idea of a smart home. It is also seeing a lot of interest from people with pets and elderly parents. A key demand was also to allow the devices store maps for multiple floors of the house.
However, the product has come to the fore only due to the impact of pandemic. What happens when it subsides and things return to normal?
Reddy responds, “The demand may go a little up and down. But once the category has been introduced and a sizeable threshold of people are using the devices, there tends to be an organic demand that comes in. It may not be like the demand we’ve seen in the last few weeks, but at an overall level, there will be an uptrend.”