Consumers demand more from electrical category

It seems that functionality, look and connectivity are all primary values for the electrical, fittings, light and accessories consumer, with modern shoppers proving to be highly demanding when it comes to new product development within this market.

General Manager, Retail Sales for HPM (a brand of Legrand), Jason Dove, recently reiterated the increasing demands of residential consumers, saying there are several new trends that have become more important than just the product price.

“Questions such as ‘how will it look?’, or ‘how will it function?’ are becoming more topical. Electrical fittings and accessories, such as switches and sockets, are also becoming an increasingly important factor in home design. As the options around aesthetics grow, so does the consumer’s desire to customise solutions to suit their needs. There is a definite move from ‘product’ to ‘project’. This involves a more holistic and in-depth view of how electrical fittings, lights and accessories are applied in residential applications,” Mr Dove said.

“What has really been ground-breaking in the last 12 months, is the proliferation of connected devices and how they are influencing the home. The notion of home automation is no longer a distant, futuristic thought – it is happening now. People can control their home even while they are away: from managing their lighting, to opening and closing blinds, to temperature control, everything is now possible with a simple push of a button or voice command. In other words, electrical fittings, lighting and accessories have become integrated with the user and have transformed a house into a ‘connected home’. Globes have also moved into this ‘smart’ category,” he said.

General Manager, Retail Sales for HPM, Jason Dove, said consumers are looking for much more in an electrical product than just low prices.

Ongoing changes in the segment include all fixtures moving to LED, according to Mr Dove, who said this is mainly due to LED pricing and performance continuing to deliver improved benefits to consumers.

“Major brands are no longer dominant, and many smaller players have emerged. Considering this, a need for a trusted and reliable national brand is still required to provide confidence to consumers,” he said.

Trends in product design and price

When it comes to the design of switches and power points, there has been a shift from the standard ‘normal’ white switch, due to a wealth of choice now available on the market, according to HPM’s National Account Manager, Retail, Darren Ingrey.

“There is an abundance of choice available – from authentic materials, to bold colours, to high-tech illumination, with electrical accessories also now designed to suit the unique style of every interior décor. An important factor here is also price. Gone are the days where extravagant design and fancy fittings will break the bank. Today, a good quality electrical solution for the home is an accessible and affordable choice for everyone,” Mr Ingrey said.

“USB charging products are also spearheading trends within electrical goods for the home. It is now standard to have GPOs with integrated USB options. The Type-C has also become the universal standard for USB charging. Recognising the impact that this will have on the market, and anticipating the growing need for Type-C USB charging of all kinds of devices, we have developed a number of solutions incorporating Type-A, Type-C and micro USB charging solutions.”

National Account Manager, Retail for HPM, Darren Ingrey said consumers are particularly enjoying the abundance of choice now available in the electrical market.

“Another emerging trend is that consumers are finding more ways to use lighting in their homes. For example, they are using outdoor feature lighting, or task lighting such as the kitchen, bathroom and living/dining areas. It is important that customers are up-to-scratch on the best lighting options to suit their needs. HPM’s LED downlights, for example, are well-known for being task lighting superstars, offering an energy-saving alternative to traditional halogen lights,” he said.

Category growth

It seems the ‘connected’ category has also continued to grow at a rapid pace over the past year. On average, users now spend up to two hours, 30 minutes every day on their device, staying in touch on social media, browsing the web, streaming or connecting to their home, according to Mr Dove. 

“To put this into perspective, in 2014, there were just under 14 billion connected devices. As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand, connected devices are predicted to expand across more than 30 billion devices worldwide by 2020. The pervasiveness of the internet combined with the use of smartphones is rapidly growing by the day,” Mr Dove said.

“In this digital age, the ‘user experience’ is now at the forefront of everything. As such, we need to provide the ultimate positive experience for consumers with products that are easy to set up, easy to use and enhance their everyday life in some way. Without this, we will see the category stall. Everything we do is focused around simplicity, instant access and more control for the user,” he said.

Mr Ingrey agrees that consumers have a major focus on the Internet of Things (IoT) and how this can enhance the way people live. 

“Generally speaking, IoT connects everyday devices to the internet. This means that any connected electrical device will have capability to interact with smartphones, home appliances, wearable devices, cameras, etc. I see this as a huge force now and envision it will play a major role into the future,” he said.

While energy savings do remain a concern for most of the population, Mr Ingrey believes that while electrical fittings are chosen for its aesthetic features, they are also chosen based on energy efficiency. 

“Back in 2007, world economic indicators showed that Australia’s energy consumption was at its peak per capita. However, this has been on the decline ever since. Although government initiatives were rolled out to become more conscious of energy usage, such as the NSW Energy Efficiency Action Plan and the ACT Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme, there has also been an influx of new technological developments that have had a huge impact on residential energy usage.”

“LEDs for example, have been a major game-changer for this decline, as they use approximately 85 per cent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. Fast forward to 2019, where we are now seeing a significant increase in the adoption of LED lighting in the home,” he said.

Category sales

When predicting the category’s sales growth over the next 12 months, Mr Dove believes this growth still lies within the smart home sector.

“While the concept of the ‘Smart Home’ has been around for decades, the influx of new technological advancements such as AI, 5G networks, mobile apps, data connectivity and sensors means that the connected home is now a reality. As a result, sales within this category are steadily increasing, and public interest is gaining momentum in the connected space. In terms of electrical fittings and accessories, USB charging and customised connected solutions are the new platforms to build upon over the coming decade,” Mr Dove said.

Sales are also expected to increase in the lighting sector, according to Mr Ingrey, who said this is due to the LED industry continuing to boom.

“The shift to LED lighting solutions is virtually complete in both the residential and commercial sectors. The performance, in the lifetime, light and quality of LED fittings, is far superior to the older technologies,” he said.

“LED technology has been a major game-changer in terms of energy efficiency, performance and product lifetime, compared with the old technologies (i.e. incandescent, fluorescent and halogen). Moreover, the quality of LED fittings is far superior when wiring an electrical system. Contractors now have more flexibility with streamlined installation, saving them a heap of time and money,” Mr Ingrey said.

Market competition

The electrical fittings, lights and accessories market remains extremely competitive, according to Mr Dove, who said many players are continuing to emerge, which is also why Legrand prides itself on being a market leader.

“We are a leader with new innovations, which has created further opportunities to work with other industry leaders to offer expanded solutions. However, it is important to note that leading the market entails more than just ‘being first’ – it involves unique design, rigorous testing and superior manufacturing to develop a top-quality solution for our customers. We also have innovations in the pipeline which are due to be released soon. The ranges will cover automation, weather analysis and energy management,” Mr Dove said.

Two such new smart home products to be launched this year include the Arteor with Netatmo, according to Mr Dove. 

“It is our latest radio-based solution for popularising the connected home and we have completely broken down how this fits into everyday living for consumers. We are a strong believer that in the end, proven brands which have support networks to assist and troubleshoot with consumers, will be most attractive. Confidence, reliability and education are key factors with these new ranges,” he said.

Mr Ingrey agreed that like any category, the market is always competitive but it is about having the right product that meets the consumer’s needs. 

“This means a product that is innovative, reliable and meets regulatory standards, giving our customers the best experience. IoT products are also fast entering the market. However, consumers need to know how this benefits them as an end-user. This is where education is paramount; we need to educate our customers on the notion of ‘connected living’ and what this means on a day-to-day basis.”

“We have demonstrated that we are already a major player in this field with the launch of our ELIOT Program back in 2017, an initiative which drives product innovation, and fosters our partnerships in the IoT space,” he said.

Through ELIOT, Legrand saw solutions such as BTicino’s Classe 300 Wireless Door Entry System, the NuVo Wireless Multi-room Audio and the Connected Doorbell, he said.

“We are continuing to harness this space with new connected innovations on the horizon. We are also expanding in the wireless sector, with the introduction of our wireless charging solutions, which took home a Good Design Award in 2018,” Mr Ingrey said.

Category issues

Low barriers of entry and standards are a key issue within the category, according to Mr Dove, who said lighting manufacturers must ensure that products are safe and fully comply with all standards. 

“For example, the product standards for lighting safety are set at a national level – all luminaires in Australia must comply with this standard.  The state based electrical safety regulators monitor compliance to electrical safety standards. Product performance is covered by a number of bodies – the ACCC, the Federal Department of the Environment and various state-based bodies, which all administer and control various aspects of performance and efficacy,” he said.

“Quality and safety are of utmost importance to us. For example, our products undergo stringent testing to ensure we are compliant with the National Association of Testing Australia (NATA). This is the national accreditation body for the authorisation of laboratories, inspection bodies, calibration services, producers of certified reference materials and proficiency testing scheme providers throughout Australia. Essentially, safety, sustainability and product quality should always overrule cutting corners with lower price or less rigid testing,” Mr Dove said.

There is always a higher risk when it comes to cheaper fittings, he said. A service, which is often overlooked, is the lack of after-sales support, according to Mr Ingrey who said making a purchase of this type could be challenging. 

“Imagine buying various cheap downlights for your home and they start to fail. You need replacements, but that downlight is no longer available. As a consequence, you end up trying to source a similar looking product. This is where many people run into problems. For example, the downlight does not have the same colour or colour temperature, it does not have the same design, and there is no security in how long the others will last.”

“This ends up becoming a much larger expense than choosing a reputable brand which offers all the above. Inventory redundancy is also an issue for distributors and suppliers. This is mainly due to the rapidly evolving new technologies, which are quickly relegating older products to the bin,” Mr Ingrey said.

High performing products  

Connected doorbells have particularly provided great sales in the past year and new products will continue to emerge in this sector, according to Mr Dove.

“Also, the charging product family remains very strong, particularly with Type-C.  Recognising the impact that Type-C USB charging is having on the electrical market, and anticipating the growing need for Type-C USB charging of all kinds of devices, we recently launched a number of solutions incorporating Type-C USB sockets such as HPM’s 3-in-1 cable. The cable is specifically designed for Type-A, Type-C and Micro USB charging, allowing the end-user to connect and charge any of their favourite devices.”

“Wireless and induction charging are also gaining greater demand. Wireless charging allows the user to charge their device without the need of a cable. Based on the principle of induction, it works by using electromagnetic fields from one device to create an electric current inside another. This technology brings total freedom and extra autonomy for the user and as such, we need to keep up with these needs,” he said.

Mr Ingrey agrees that Legrand’s USB charging products, such as power boards, adaptors and power points have been most successful. In this modern world, everyone needs to be connected and charged in this ‘always on’ era, he said. 

“Just like pens, you can never have enough around; except now, we are always looking for ways to stay connected,” Mr Ingrey said.