Smart home appliance firms eyeing silver market
An elderly woman uses intelligent control systems on a tablet to operate home appliances at an elder care center in Beijing. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]
Retirees, others over 60 exhibit fast-rising desire for technologies to make their golden years shine bright
"Xiaoyou, I want to take a bath."
Wang Hua, an 80-year-old empty nester in Beijing, enters the bathroom, ready for a bath. Just as he talks to Xiaoyou — his smart home assistant — the water warms up and the bathroom heater is activated. Water at just the right temperature fills the tub and the whole bathroom is filled with warm lighting.
In addition, Xiaoyou can play Wang's favorite xiangsheng — a traditional Chinese comic dialogue characterized by two actors humorously talking back and forth — while he is bathing. After he finishes, the bathroom heater automatically dries the floor, the electronic towel rack dries his towel, and there are safety handles equipped in the bathroom so that Wang won't slip and fall.
This is a small example of how smart home appliances are serving China's seniors. As the country marches toward an increasingly graying population, elderly focused smart home appliances are an inevitable trend.
According to the 2022 Silver Economy Report issued by market consultancy QuestMobile, in August last year, monthly active users for smart home appliances among China's elderly consumers reached 33.38 million, up 73.3 percent on a year-on-year basis.
The report issued by internet-based home decor company Jia.com showed that in 2021, 65 percent of those between 50 and 59 years old were users of independently oriented smart home appliances like stand-alone smart microwave ovens, while 5 percent were users of entire residential-unit interconnected, interrelated smart home appliances. The top three most popular smart home appliances among them were smart locks, smart speakers and smart curtains, all of which feature several automated, hands-free functionality.
Data from JD showed that between 2021 and 2022, searches for shower seats targeting seniors surged 3,200 percent year-on-year, while commodes for the elderly and wall-mounted bathing folding stools increased by 6,000 percent and 20,400 percent year-on-year, respectively.
Data tracking firm International Data Corp estimates that shipments of smart home appliances had reached 220 million units in China in 2022. According to industry information network Chyxx.com, ever since 2017, China's smart home market has been growing steadily. In 2021, it totaled 580 billion yuan ($85.2 billion), up 12.75 percent year-on-year. With no specific data yet available, it is expected that the market had reached 651.5 billion yuan in 2022.
With the market booming, retirees, pensioners and the aged in general will boost demand for smart home appliances, industry experts said.
"Various figures have demonstrated that the elderly have gradually become a backbone for smart home appliances. Although there is rising demand for such products, aging consumers still face some difficulties," said Duan Mengyuan, an analyst at Beijing-based service platform for the elderly AgeClub.
Duan said a significant number of seniors still find it difficult to find the right buttons and switches on smart TVs and other smart home appliances.
"Before using, many smart home appliances need to be connected to WiFi, which is already a technical obstacle for many elderly people. The multiple functions of smart home appliances are also a challenge for seniors' memory and new-learning capabilities. In addition, many smart home appliances involve voice interaction. However, some seniors have speech and hearing difficulties as they get older, which more or less affects their voice interaction with intelligent products," she said.
"These pain points reflect elderly consumers' urgent need for senior-oriented smart home appliances," Duan added.
Chen Hao, executive vice-president of the Guangdong Elderly Care Services Association, said, "Some 70 to 80 percent of smart home products on the market have not been transformed for use by the aged."
A volunteer shows an elderly man how to use a companion robot in Hefei, Anhui province, in October 2021. [PHOTO by XIE CHEN/FOR CHINA DAILY]
The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development said the market size of China's home appliance upgrade for the elderly totals 3 trillion yuan. Elderly oriented transformation of smart home appliances, as an important part of it, contains great market potential.
In addition, smart home appliances can be integrated with intelligent elderly care products to shoulder the nursing needs of seniors while helping them lead more comfortable and convenient lives.
Shenzhen, Guangdong province-based research firm AskCI Consulting said the intelligent elderly care market has been constantly growing as well. In 2021, the market reached 6.1 trillion yuan, and is expected to reach 10.5 trillion yuan this year.
"With the home appliance upgrade for the senior market and the intelligent elderly care market booming at the same time, elderly oriented smart home appliances, as an overlap area, contain huge growth space," Duan said.
Market players are already investing in the sector. Chinese home appliance giant Midea Group said Meysion, its high-tech elderly oriented sub-brand, launched a series of senior-oriented home appliance products, such as smart water heaters and bathing chairs.
Home appliance maker Haier established a senior-friendly transformation platform. Through building an entire-house elderly focused ecosystem, the platform offers consumers an overall smart home care solution.
Zhao Xiangyang, research and development general manager of the platform, said: "China's smart home appliances sector needs more products suitable for the elderly. We will step up efforts to develop more senior-friendly products and create better elderly care solutions, so as to bring safer, more comfortable experiences in home care for China's aged."
Hangzhou Ezviz Network Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd, has launched a fall care kit for the elderly, which detects falls through cameras and fall detection radars.
"However, instead of working on senior-oriented smart home appliances, most of the enterprises focus on smart elderly care, paying less attention to how they can transform the smart home appliances to better suit the elderly. Elderly based smart home appliances in the true sense are still scarce," Duan said.
Guo Tao, deputy director of the China Electronic Commerce Expert Service Center, said: "As China is marching into an even more aged society, and e-commerce has been popularized, smart home appliances are expected to realize rapid growth among the elderly group. It is suggested that the operation of these products should be simple and convenient, and companies should further explore senior users' demand in monitoring calls for help and access to early warning functionality. Based on consumers' needs and personal characteristics, firms should extend the functions of smart home appliances so as to constantly increase user loyalty and satisfaction."
Yuan Shuai, executive vice-president of the Rural Revitalization Committee, said: "Smart homes should not be a concept only applied to young consumers. The elderly also have the right to enjoy the benefits of such advanced technology. With the development of related technology and enterprises' deepening recognition of aged-centric smart home appliances, the concept will become more friendly to seniors."
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