Why new means better

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The domestic appliance market in the UK is a mature one, with most sales being made as a result of replacement purchases. Although those working in the industry would like to think otherwise, the sector does not hold popular consumer interest in the way that cars, motorbikes and even consumer electronics products do, which is supported by regular readership of specialist magazines. The popularity of home improvements and related TV programmes has helped to raise interest in the performance of major appliances, but we have yet to see ‘What vacuum cleaner’ or a similar title at news stands.
As a result, when people make replacement purchases, perhaps after several years, they are not aware of the developments that have taken place in the meantime, and of the features and benefits that have been incorporated in appliances to facilitate their everyday lives.
Energy matters
Climate change and the growing cost of natural resources have brought household energy consumption into public focus. Therefore this could be a starting point of the consumer education about the benefits of early appliance replacement. Well publicised research from the Energy Savings Trust shows that there are some 15.4 million ‘old’ appliances in the UK of which 11.7 million are inefficient fridges and freezers. They operate at a high cost to the environment. For example a C-rated fridge freezer of around 10cu ft (285 litres) manufactured in 1998 consumes an estimated 511kW electricity per year, whereas an A-rated model from 2008 uses just 350kW, a saving of over 150kW or £15 per year. For example, a A++ model such as the AEG-Electrolux Santo S70318 with a 308 litre capacity, uses a mere 200kW per year, at a unit electricity cost of 10p and a saving of £30 per year on a typical ten year old model.
Smeg’s national sales support manager, Joan Fraser, explains that “Ten years ago, energy consumption and running costs were scarcely a consideration”, while Sovereign’s managing director, John Graham, adds: “Consumers, prompted by the huge hikes in their electricity and gas bills are becoming more aware of how much their appliances are costing them to run”.
Use of water in washing machines and dishwashers has also been significantly reduced: a factor that will be increasingly relevant as more households install water meters. Miele claims that since 1990 the company has reduced water consumption by 42.4% and electricity consumption by 29.2% in its washing machines with the help of electronic controls and sensor technology which allows optimisation of wash, rinse and spin functions.
Fit to measure
A key consideration for consumers replacing an appliance is whether it will fit in the original space. In shops, consumers often produce tape measures to determine the dimensions of fridges, washing machines and cookers, often using inches whereas most retailers display product dimensions in metric terms. A simple conversion table and even a supply of tape measures may help consumers to complete their purchases.
Dimensions of the built-in cooking appliances tend to be determined by kitchen furniture sizes. For example, ovens are not easy to replace since there is a limited range of heights of oven housings on offer, originally 600, 720 and 900mm options. This issue gets even more complex with the introduction of compact ranges, integrated coffee makers and warming drawers which require heights of 380 or 450mm. Hobs are generally easier to replace as even 700mm wide models fit into the space previously taken by a 600mm wide hob.
Well into the 1980s, freestanding cookers were offered in imperial widths. In 1982, Belling claimed the first 600 mm product, the Belling Format, which fitted flush with fitted units. Even in the 1990s, 21in-wide gas cookers were made for the replacement market. Many of these products may still be in use.
Modern kitchen appliances
As the kitchen changes it primary role and becomes the hub of a wide range of family activities, the design of the kitchen and size of domestic appliances evolve accordingly. For example this trend has been partly responsible for the development of both range cookers and American-style fridge freezers, which are manufactured in a wide range of widths, and in the case of the American SBS fridges/freezers of depths, adding further to the dilemma for customers when selecting replacement appliances.
Many modern appliances not only have larger external dimensions but their capacity has increased enormously. In refrigeration products, greater internal space has been created due to the use of different insulation materials. Drum sizes of washers and dryers offer much greater capacity which differ widely depending on the model. Many of the modern washing machines can now take loads of 7 or 8kg and this has been achieved without changing the basic footprint of the appliance from 600 x 600mm.
Only relatively recently, increased wash capacity has become one of the key features and customer benefits. Ten years ago the load of a washing machine was only mentioned in the technical sheets of a product brochure. However, although some customers may benefit from the increased capacity, for others, especially single and two person households, it may be less relevant. Research from Miele shows that most people wash only 3.5kg of laundry at a time, therefore the company took the decision to focus product development on improving wash performance and offer only 6kg machines.
Electronic controls and information panels on all domestic appliances reflect the momentous progress made in order to make the products easy to use, while at the same time utilising sophisticated technology. While the choice of washing and cooking is nowadays almost limitless (for example washing machines not only wash the clothes but also refresh them for instant use), the customer has an option to go for automatic settings where all the guesswork is taken out of the operation.
Electric hobs have advanced from a mix of solid plate and ceramic ones to offer flexibility in size and shape, with induction moving from a highly priced niche to a wider market. Induction technology not only offers energy saving benefits but also safety, a crucial fact not only for families with children but also in older and disabled people households.
Reducing noise levels of appliances is particularly important in modern households, where families entertain in the kitchen and where household chores, such as vacuuming, may have to be done at all times of the day.. Ekkehard Rabold, group marketing manager at BSH indicates that the continued development of noise insulation and noise prevention measures have reduced levels on dishwashers from an average of 62 decibels in 1974 to the present level of 40 decibels.
The finishes on modern appliances are not only protective but make their cleaning an easier task, such as ‘finger proof’ resins on stainless steel appliances. Many refrigeration products have antibacterial coatings and removable seals for easy maintenance, while pyrolytic cleaning is seen as a major benefit for the customers who never again need to clean their ovens. Smeg offer this option on all models for an extra £80 which makes it accessible for households on lower incomes. Moreover, Stoves latest ovens include a SteamCleanse function which releases steam to clean the oven.
Small appliances
The changing role of the kitchen has influenced the styling of small kitchen appliances. New collections of kettles, toasters and coffee makers are introduced in coordinated styles to proudly sit on the work surface. In this sector product lifecycles are much shorter as many products are often bought as fashion items, yet they incorporate the latest technical innovations. Kettles now have concealed elements which make for easier cleaning and large water windows for easy viewing of water level. Energy saving can be achieved by using just the required amount of water; a message which Breville now displays on its kettles. Illumination on kettles, from Breville and Morphy Richards, helps to add interest while also showing boiling status. Other developments include ergonomic design to help in lifting and pouring, which is of particular importance to older users, quiet boil, filters to improve water quality and keep-warm functions. Modern toasters feature countdown timers which show the progress of toasting, while a ‘pause and check’ facility on Morphy Richards’ toasters was introduced to eradicate burnt toast.
In floorcare the product improvements are numerous. They not only include improvements in suction power, considerable noise reductions, greater hygiene and antiallergy protection but also improved ergonomics. Presently vacuum cleaners are not only much lighter but also they are easy to move around. For example, Hometek’s Shoulder Vac weighs only 3kg and can be easily transported around the house. It offers 190W of suction power from an 800W motor for good dust pick up. Hometek managing director Jamie Lennox stresses that it is suction power on which cleaners should be compared rather than actual motor power.
The heads and nozzles of vacuum cleaners are now designed to get into the difficult to reach areas and at awkward angles. Turbo brushes are added for effective pick up of pet hair while special filters eliminate their odours. An increasing number of cleaners effectively deal with different types of flooring.
Why to replace?
As environmental consideration will play an increasingly greater role in customers’ purchasing decisions, the product developments described above will have a greater appeal to consumers who will be looking for the cost savings on the latest models – even if not all of them will have an altruistic desire to save the planet.
Meanwhile, as their lives are becoming increasingly busy and time short, they will be more appreciative of the product innovations which were developed to make their everyday chores easier, and the advice of well informed retailers will become more important than ever.

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