Against the backdrop of an aging population, the establishment of an eldercare system that includes eldercare services and products comes up as a new task for Chinese industries including the home appliance industry who are facing the challenges as well as opportunities brought by the rising silver economy.
The expanded elder consumer group has become a significant part of the Chinese consumption market that cannot be ignored and is expected to have a bigger voice in the future consumption market. In recent years, many policies centered the silver-haired population are introduced, of which terms closely related to the future development of the home appliance industry such as smart healthcare for older adults and elder friendliness have been frequently mentioned, driving many home appliance enterprises to tap into the silver economy. Panasonic attaches great importance to the special needs of the Chinese elder group. It founded an elder care division in 2021 and joined hands with the Management Department of Zhejiang University in the establishment of a R&D center for the aging population and the elder care industry. Haier founded a elder care platform in 2022 that provides whole scenario in-home elder care solutions based on a whole house eldercare ecosystem, aiming to building a new smart in-home eldercare mode that is more suitable for China given its actual conditions. Midea rolled out its tech-powered, elder friendly brand Meiyixiang in 2022.
There’s no doubt that the elder friendly trend will bring opportunities for China’s home appliance industry.
The elder oriented trend of the home appliance industry is still in its infancy, mostly at the product level. Among the promotion catalogue of the products for older adults 2022 released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, major appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, kitchen appliances such as range and hood packages and low-sugar rice cookers, bathroom appliances such as smart toilets and showers, and emerging categories such as oxygen generators, smart mattresses, electric nursing beds, electric wheelchairs, and walking aids are listed. These smart, functional, elder friendly products are designed based on the physical and psychological characteristics of the elderly.
The elder friendly home appliances have been recognized as a new category thanks to the guiding effect of the policies. At JD.com, a search for “elder friendly TV” yields over 16,000 products to choose from. But after interviewing several industry insiders, I find that there’s no widely recognized consensus on the definition of the elder friendly home appliance yet. In fact, products that live up to the hype are not many on the market. Currently, many people still equate elder friendly products with products with simpler functions and bigger font size.
Zheng Guowei, Director of Product of health care division of the residential equipment BU of Building and Housing BD under the China & Northeast Asia company of Panasonic, believes that the development of elder friendly home appliances needs to address two issues which are the formulation of standards that clearly define elder friendly home appliances and the supervision of standard implementation to ensure fair market competition.
The rise of the elder friendly home appliances will undoubtedly offer older adults better and easier-to-use products, thus is expected to prop up the growth of the home appliance industry which is tapping into the silver economy. But if we zoom out and see the big picture of smart health care for the elderly, home appliance industry can do more than stay at the product level. Bigger opportunities lie in the establishment of the smart eldercare system.
Spending the golden years at home is a preferred choice for most Chinese, which means an elder friendly renovation that involves home appliances, furniture and health monitoring devices is a future necessity in great demand. At AWE2023, home appliance enterprises such as Panasonic and Haier displayed their eldercare scenarios including bedroom and bathroom, offering scenario-based solutions that covered many smart products. Beyond that, health monitoring, a critical part of smart eldercare, is valued by the silver haired population greatly. Smart eldercare fields such as healthy diet, health monitoring and health management are expected to bring new development opportunities for the home appliance industry.
It’s worth noting that smart eldercare is an ecosystem that integrates multiple industries including the home appliance industry. Yuan Wenzhong, Director of Smart Products at Definition, points out that, as there is no public technical platform for the relevant industries of smart eldercare to connect to, these industries develops independently with little interaction. He believes that the eldercare renovation should be based on a systematic overall planning to allow products and devices within it to better coordinate with each other.
Plus, the application of new technology and the improvement of related services will help home appliance industry expand in the eldercare market. For instance, the application of artificial intelligence technology and voice control technology will allow the older adults to use smart products easier; millimeter wave radar has an advantage in elder health care monitoring in many scenarios while ensures the user’ privacy.