The Future of Housewares: Hyperconnectivity, Disruption and the Smart Kitchen

The International Home + Housewares Show [IHHS] is one of the most ambitious events of its kind, providing buyers and media from around the globe a sneak peek into the new products and innovations that will be driving the conversation in the industry for the rest of the season. While presenting her keynote session at the show, Erika Sirimanne, Head of Home and Garden Research at Euromonitor International, observed a number of trends that are likely to have a big impact on the homewares and home furnishings industry in the future.

Hyperconnectivity: Instant access to anything, anywhere

Digitalisation has changed the lifestyles of consumers, creating instant access to anything, anywhere. Connected consumers can summon a taxi, book a flight, order food, watch a film or even chat with friends using internet connectivity. Smartphones are rarely out of reach, however, how consumers use their mobiles has changed over time. According to Euromonitor’s Lifestyles Survey, over 50% of respondents used a mobile to send a text message in 2013, but less than 10% did so in 2017. While we observe robust growth in online sales, only 10% of respondents said that they used their mobile to buy products in 2017, which explains relatively low online penetration in certain housewares sub-categories.

Disruptors reshape the path to purchase for housewares

Hyperconnectivity has ushered in unprecedented disruption, hastening the rise and fall of businesses. Disruptors include the likes of Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, Netflix and even Casper. The latter, an e-commerce mattress start-up, has reinvented the path to purchase for buying a mattress. Millennials are enticed by the low unit prices and convenient delivery options offered by bed-in-box companies like Casper, Tuft & Needle and Purple. In today’s digital climate, seemingly, well-established companies with long histories are susceptible to change and consumers are accessing goods and services in new ways.

In housewares, direct-to-consumer (D2C) companies such as Great Jones, Year & Day and Made In etc., are constantly emerging in categories which have traditionally been dominated by multinational manufacturers for years, including stovetop cookware, kitchen utensils and tableware. D2C companies capitalise on millennial demand for design, convenience and digital engagement. At the same time, store-based retailers turn to blended store formats to make the pre-purchase and purchase stages of the shopper journey less transactional. Macy’s augmented and virtual reality in-store furniture experience pushes the boundaries of experiential shopping and may reap rewards for the retailer in fewer product returns. Hyperconnectivity means that these days consumers expect to receive a service even before they have decided to make a purchase, and they do extensive research before buying. Housewares retailers and suppliers are gradually recognising the need to build engagement in the pre-purchase stage, e.g. Zwilling recently revamped its US website, repositioning as a holistic cooking brand, rather than simply a knife manufacturer.

Moving from the “connected” to the “smart” kitchen

The first wave of connectivity was driven by the arrival of computers into the home; the second was characterised by the arrival of the smartphone. This next stage of connectivity has been dubbed the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Euromonitor’s Lifestyles Survey, smart device ownership is currently concentrated in smartwatches and portable speakers, whereas the possession of smart home appliances is still relatively low at under 10% of respondents. The prevalence of connected appliances also varies by appliance type (e.g. microwaves, fridge freezers etc.) and by country. In the housewares category, smart products include the likes of HestanCue’s smart frying pan and induction cooktop, as well as the Tovala smart oven. Even Bosch launched its IoT campaign #LikeABosch in early 2019, promoting smart home applications, including the Mykie kitchen robot assistant.

Artificial intelligence (AI), currently observed in the form of voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, is increasingly enabling brands to move beyond recommendations and into anticipating customer needs. But, smart home adoption is not without its challenges; home ownership, language, functionality and privacy barriers exist and impede greater and faster smart home adoption. Indeed, because of low adoption rates for connected appliances and the niche status of smart products within housewares, most connected kitchens are non-integrated, i.e. connected products can only be controlled individually. However, housewares suppliers are inching ever closer towards integrated kitchen development which further supports the use of AI and the shift towards passive consumption.

For more information download my Digital Disruption: Consumer Trends Influencing Retailers of Tomorrow presentation here.