Products with the X-factor

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Stunning aesthetics, simple ergonomics with intuitive functionality, the latest technology or the association with a famous designer’s name? Which one of these factors, separately or combined, make an appliance a designer product?

Does it really matter for an average customer who currently experiences a great financial strain whether the products they intend to purchase are labelled as designer appliances? Do these appliances make a meaningful contribution to the retailers’ and manufacturers’ bottom line? These are just some of the questions to which this report will attempt to find answers.

Many argue  “today’s consumer wants the full package, blending advanced technology, superior functionality, eco-efficiency and attractive design. If they are investing in a product then they want it to look good, as appearance is the first thing anyone sees. Consumers are keen to experiment with new finishes and designs, and many want their appliances to stand out and act as a centrepiece for the kitchen,” argues Gorenje’s marketing manager Ruth Ferguson.

A matter of definition

The understanding of ‘designer appliances’ varies widely.

“The term ‘designer appliance’ can be used to describe any appliance that is design or style-led. While the technology behind the façade remains all important, it is the aesthetics of these products that will form their main selling criteria. These collections most often come about through collaborations with some of the world’s most distinguished designers and architects, “ comments Rita Balestrazzi, marketing manager at Baumatic.

“Designer appliances are specially designed for customers looking to achieve a ‘designer kitchen look’ within their budget. But good design has to be more than skin deep if it is going to survive the rigours of the demanding consumer,” confirms Simona Bara, product marketing manager at Whirlpool.

However, appearance is only one of many differentiating features of a well-designed product. 

“’Designer’ is a rather well-used term for anything that has – or appears to have – an element of unusual, radical or simply different design.   ‘Designer appliances’ don’t necessarily have to be totally radical:  a brand can develop a reputation for well-designed and/or well-structured appliances without displaying any significant level of flair.  In our opinion, Neff qualifies as a “designer brand” in that the appliances are always well thought out, structured and designed; they are also aspirational and desirable, “ says John McLauchlan, Neff’s senior product manager.

Electrolux’s head of marketing, Graham Bremer, also argues that only appliances that can show how thoughtful design can result in enhanced aesthetics and superior performance can be called designer products.

And yet beauty is in the eye of the beholder. “Designer appliances are a matter of taste. If the consumer likes the look and style and it fits into their kitchen, then they will automatically find themselves drawn towards these appliances,” reminds Fisher & Paykel’s PR manager Heidi Janssen.

This reflects the importance of in-store displays and demonstrations. “For built-in products one of the most important aspects of any purchase is how the appliances help create a beautiful kitchen design. Adding the word ‘designer’ to a collection may have some immediate caché, however it is not the label, but the actual design that will sell,” advises Richard Walker, sales and marketing director of De Dietrich Kitchen Appliances.

The benefits

From the retailer’s point of view, designer appliances add value to the sale.

“Design and style certainly add value, but beware of the danger. Great design and stunning styling, without functionality and sustainability is a recipe for disaster. Design and style affords added attraction but if it fails to deliver on functionality then the credibility of the brand and the retailer will be harmed,” warns Whirlpool’s Simona Bara.

Many designer products sport that ultra-premium look that attracts attention and the desire to own them. If well displayed they are a perfect tool to attract consumers to the store. Especially in the current economic climate, they help to generate footfall and encourage consumers to stop and look around.

As the kitchen has acquired a key role in many households where most of the ‘living, eating and entertaining’ takes place, the design of kitchen appliances has become more important as they are now on display for everyone to see. “This means consumers have become even more discerning and aspirational in their choice of appliance. The overall impact of all the appliances together is also vital so manufacturers have also had to ensure that not only is the design of each individual appliance important – they must also coordinate beautifully across the ranges,” advises Electrolux’s Graham Bremer.

A number of leading brands have recognized the importance of offering consumers a range of aesthetically stylish and technologically innovative products – at affordable prices – and they have tailored their collections also to the needs of the financially and space-challenged customers. Helping customers to find appliances with a ‘wow factor’ but meeting their needs and budgets, a retailer could help them to enter ‘the design world’ and secure much higher margins in the future.

What’s on offer?

Gorenje, renowned for its designer collections, over the last two years has released several new design lines, including collaborations with famous designers Karim Rashid and Ora Ïto. Key for 2011 is the launch of its Simplicity range.

The Karim Rashid collection, sporting a minimalist design, features MoodLite technology with a LED light strip that can be alternated between seven different colours, to suit the consumer’s mood or lifestyle. With a brushed aluminium finish, it has a futuristic look. 

Gorenje’s Simplicity range, including freestanding and built-in products, was developed after extensive research which showed that consumers first of all expect ease of use and simple operations. Therefore the collection has features and programmes that simplify users’ domestic chores. The range stands out from the crowd thanks to its sleek black design.

Baumatic’s Studio Solari collection by Alberto Solari, “blends seamlessly into the modular kitchen, built on the principle of one design concept rather than individual machines. With Studio Solari minimalism is key, with sleek black glass, a stainless steel brushed frame and handle-less design enabling the appliances themselves to become one with their surroundings,” explains Rita Balestrazzi.

For 2011, Indesit has a new built-in cooking collection designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro (a famous car designer).  He has brought Italian features to Indesit’s oven range, including panoramic glass doors, ergonomic control dials, and flat fascias. The 2011 range of hobs has also been updated to include a sleek finish that co-ordinates with the ovens. Indesit’s latest designer appliances combine style with practical features, and they are unlikely to break the bank.

“For Samsung, our premium ‘designer’ products are those that feature the very best in technological advancements because that’s what the consumer is paying for with a product of this nature,” explained Gino Grossi, Home Appliances manager. They include Dual Cook steam oven, Eco Bubble washing machine and G-Series range of no frost combi fridge freezers.

Fisher & Paykel started its designer range in 2006. It incorporated products that brought together design appeal and functional elements. Its recent products with innovative designs are CoolDrawer, the world’s first multi temperature cooling drawer, and a 90cm wide DishDrawer dishwasher in a drawer.

The biggest development for Electrolux Major Appliances in the last two years was the launch of the AEG Neue Kollektion in spring 2011. “Good design is absolutely crucial in built-in.  A strong design signature connects across the Neue Kollektion range and creates an aligned, integrated look. Horizontal lines give a sense of flow and integrity, while vertical lines delineate the intuitive control panels,” says Graham Bremer.

Six product ranges from the AEG’s Neue Kollektion have won the iF Design Award in 2011’s Household/Living appliance category.

De Dietrich, renowned for its technological innovations, has always concentrated on stunning design for its appliances. Winning the Judges Award for Innovation at the KBB Innovation Awards in May 2011, the 93cm Piano Induction hob, featuring a colour TFT control panel, combines sophisticated design with state-of-the art functionality of zoneless cooking. Featuring ‘automatic pan detection’ across the zone, the hob has a Power Tracker function. If a pan is lifted from the hob and re-sited anywhere on the cooking zone, the temperature will remain constant.

Neff aims to offer product designs that appeal to everyone, with several models suiting most budgets. Most Neff appliances can be coordinated with others throughout the range, not just from a selection of specialist design models.  Its oven SlideAway door is a good example of an appliance that not only looks good but has a innovative functionality.

Whirlpool has three collections of appliances with distinct aesthetics and features. The most advanced is the Glamour collection, including the recently launched Glamour Bronze line, which won the iF Product Design award.

Whirlpool’s Fusion collection represents an elegant combination of glass and steel in a modern, minimalist style. The range encompasses ovens, hobs, hoods, microwaves, cooling products and dishwashers. Immense research has gone into offering the consumer the most flexible features at affordable prices.

The Ambient built-in range boasts elegant aesthetics combined with smart features, sleek handles and slim, easy to read displays.

Aspirations help sales

The latest designer appliances collections from the leading brands are far from representing ‘style over substance’. To the contrary, they are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, genuine customer benefits and superb ergonomics, making everyday chores not only easier but also more pleasant.

However their ultra-premium look (that often comes at an affordable price) gives them aspirational appeal which is so important at a time when consumers are reluctant to spend and all their purchases are more considered.

Recent launches of consumer electronics products, such as the iPad, demonstrated that British consumers’ thirst for latest technology and design is undiminished by the recession. Domestic appliances have some way to go yet in this respect but the European examples suggest that the ambitions to have a designer kitchen are becoming more common, especially in the urban areas. 

It is also worth remembering that a decision to make a significant investment in the kitchen is usually taken by both partners, and men’s and women’s priorities are not always the same. While, in general women, will look for a products which are easy to use and look good, men are likely to be impressed with their technological features. Most of the ‘designer appliances’ are equipped with all these characteristics in an equal measure, so a gender-specific approach to selling ‘designer appliances’ is likely to be more effective.

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