2009 seems like three lifetimes ago in the tech world. Yet this was the year Whirlpool announced its plans to ensure that by 2015, all appliances it produced would be capable of receiving and responding to signals from smart grids. Far ahead of its time perhaps, yet today connectivity and the home appliance are near synonymous. And as Mr. Nobert Schmidt, Vice President Market Operations, Products & Brands, Whirlpool EMEA, put it, ‘If there’s any market in the works that’s ready for connectivity, that’s MEA.’ And the factors weigh in aptly. Connectivity penetration in the Middle East and Africa region is a massive 120%. It’s an incredibly young, diverse demographic, with 65% of the population being under 35. Which, as Ms. Esther Berrozpe, Whirlpool’s EMEA President and Executive Vice President Whirlpool Corporation, explained, was why MEA is the largest growing region for the brand, contributing over 10% of EMEA sales, valued at over $5 Billion annually.
The MEA demographic makes for an interesting opportunity, given the sheer diversity of products that are needed to serve the market, at every point of the value chain. And as Ms. Esther elaborated, Whirlpool has products to meet every market need, right from Value segment brands like Indesit [which they acquired 3 years back], Core brands like Ariston and Premium brands like Kitchen Aid.
At CES this year, the brand had announced smart assistant integration in its appliances, as also integration of recipe app Yummly. They also introduced Amazon Virtual Dash Buttons, which allowed Amazon Prime customers to order everyday products straight from their LCD screen on their appliances. As Ms. Esther put it, the brand views appliances as a world of possibilities, and are looking to change perceptions of appliances as mere white boxes, to smart and intelligent appliances with capabilities to communicate with consumers.
Admittedly, connectivity is still not a purchase driver currently in the region. Once you buy appliances, especially in the premium segment, it’s today more of an expectation. The onus thus being on manufacturers to explain fully to the end consumers the benefits to connectivity.
So what does connectivity ecosystems really mean for home appliances? According to Mr. Nobert, the real benefits of connectivity start post the purchase decision. “What we see in consumer cell phones is every 1 or two years consumers change their devices. Will that every happen to appliances? I honestly don’t expect that to happen. Appliances are still a monument in your home, they’re not easy to go by, they’re not easy to install, and they’re not easy to switch. What I think is going to change and what we’re going to drive, is we want to make sure appliances stay fresh and current throughout the life of the product. So while you may not swap your oven, we want to make sure you can upgrade your oven, that you can change the cycles. If we develop better ways to cook food, better ways to clean clothes, you can make full advantage of those improvements through connectivity. And that extends to service cycles are well. Much like software updates on your phone, we can keep the software currents, we can monitor performance and technology, throughout the life of the product. I don’t think consumers are going to swap their refrigerators every two years. Things aren’t changing that fast. But I think we have a chance to keep it current and to communicate with the consumer in a way we never used to be able to do, throughout the life of the product due to connectivity.“
Given the focus on the MEA region and Whirlpools investments in manufacturing facilities, a blend of the right innovation, infrastructure to manage information in the IoT era and strategic partnerships to serve consumers will prove key.