Companies like Microtek and Deck Mount certainly think so and have begun advertising. But experts think it's complicated.
COVID has squeezed our already limited healthcare resources, and has also forced those ailing and their families to look for means of self-care. The acute shortage of oxygen and oxygenated beds in hospitals over the last few months has resulted in people adopting portable oxygen concentrators.
Falling blood oxygen level is a common fallout of a COVID infection.
This device, which bears the form factor of a small indoor air purifier, separates oxygen from ambient air, and delivers it in a concentrated form. The concentrated flow makes it easier for COVID patients, with low blood oxygen saturation levels, to breathe.
These devices have traditionally been used in hospitals to treat respiratory disorders, and also in high altitudes (where oxygen levels are low). They vary in terms of litres of oxygen produced per minute. And the cost ranges upwards of Rs 40,000 for a 5-litre machine, and more than Rs 60,000 for a 10-litre one.
Industry reports suggest that pre-pandemic, around 30,000-40,000 oxygen concentrators were sold in India every year. These have been traditionally supplied by medical equipment marketers and manufacturers like Philips India, Invacare, Innogen, among others.
The demand has reportedly multiplied by over five times in the last few months. The sudden spike has caused the distributors to import the devices from global markets, like China.
It has also encouraged newer manufacturers to step in and cater to the growing demand. Over that, oxygen concentrator brands have also started advertising. While the full-page print ads from brands, like Microtek and Deck Mount, describe product features, they also suggest that the brands are looking for dealerships.
But can the spike in demand for this piece of medical equipment lead to the creation of a new consumer durables product segment? We asked a few industry experts about this.
Anil Bhasin, consumer durables industry veteran (former president, Havells)
People may have bought oxygen concentrators in a hurry, but I don’t think they will become a product category that will be regularly used.
The white goods business is mainly driven by televisions, refrigerators and washing machines. Even the microwave hasn’t been able to make its presence felt in the market because of non-awareness of the use of the product. It is mainly used for re-heating food, when it can do a lot more.
Now, an oxygen concentrator needs some technical expertise to use it... I don’t think it will really stand as a product vertical in any brand.
There are several product categories that have been launched with much pomp and show, but have failed due to consumer habits. Categories like water purifiers, air purifiers, air fryers and garment steamers sell really well for a few months post their launch, backed by marketing efforts, but soon fail to sustain.
Despite being good products, they’re just fillers and not pillars in the product chain of a brand. Even air purifiers are used only in critical cases.
An oxygen concentrator is a need-based product. They come in 5/10/50 litre capacities. The 5-litre device is for borderline cases. Once the oxygen need goes beyond that, you need hospitalisation. Relying on a device like this would only mean that proper medical care was delayed.
This COVID wave was so bad that it affected the availability of doctors and health facilities. Over that, we weren’t prepared. This has fuelled the current demand.
Praful Akali, founder and managing director, Medulla Communications
Based on COVID-fuelled demand, I don’t think oxygen concentrators can lead to the creation of a new consumer durables product segment. If I consider consumer durables as even 5 per cent of homes wanting to have one (an oxygen concentrator), then COVID would not achieve that. It would still be a rental-driven business, since every home does not need one regularly.
COVID has certainly fuelled emergency purchases in places like Delhi, where the rental equipment ran out, and it put a price on life. But I don’t think it will help oxygen concentrators become a consumer durables segment. Rental business may grow, institutional sales to societies and old age homes may also grow, but not for household consumption.
Having said that, with the pollution getting worse, oxygen spas being an active consumer trend and lung health coming to the forefront, there’s certainly an opportunity for oxygen concentrators to be reinvented within this space. This will help transform a one-time, emergency use product to a regular use product and, hence, fuel growth into a consumer durables segment.
If it needs to become a regular use and lifestyle segment, then the brands will need to add flavours, ambient material, supporting information to the product, et al – all inspired by the oxygen spa space.
Gauri Chaudhari, co-founder, Innerworld, a healthcare brand consultancy
COVID has definitely caused a demand surge, and there’s no doubt that it’s going to die down eventually. But some of these habits are set in the pandemic, like, the adoption of hand sanitisers.
People know about the product now. Its cost now is also high. Over that, unlike a TV or a refrigerator, it’s not going to be used daily. It’s going to lie in the corner of the house.
Oxygen concentrators are currently being bought by the middle class for societies, or associations, where they’ve become a shared resource.
Since people are going helter-skelter and buying anything that’s available in the market, if somebody puts out an ad and takes up the responsibility for the quality, it is welcome.
It is better than someone going to the market and getting cheated by a low-end player. It should be advertised.
Core healthcare brands are very different from consumer brands. They can’t be advertised the same way for two reasons. First, it’s unethical. Somebody could end up using the concentrator in a wrong way. Like, say, one doesn’t need 100 per cent oxygen saturation. Again, say, someone’s oxygen level drops below 90 and the person continues using the concentrator, his condition is only going to deteriorate.
There has to be responsible advertising, backed up with consumer education. Like, say, the communication could carry a prominently visible line saying that the device has to be used under expert guidance. It can’t be put out like that of a TV, or a refrigerator. It has to be less of engineering, and more of biology.