Low-priced ‘generic’ household appliances gaining popularity

by Satoshi Toi

Kyodo

So-called generic home appliances are growing increasingly popular with consumers who place priority on low prices and practicality over multiple functions and brand recognition.

In the industry, generic home appliances are “no-brand” products or ones coming from little-known brands that use older technology. They offer limited functions while maintaining basic features.

At an electrical appliance store in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, a housewife in her 60s was getting ready to buy a toaster oven for a few thousand yen, much cheaper than some of the latest models priced at more than ¥10,000.

“Since I only want to toast bread and ‘mochi’ rice cakes, the simpler the better,” she said. “For elderly people or those living alone, this should be good enough.”

In addition to toaster ovens, the Kojima Co. outlet sells other no-brand products such as electric heaters and electric carpets, attracting many customers.

A leading maker in the industry is Osaka-based Yamazen Corp., which produces a wide range of low-priced home appliances, including “kotatsu” electric heater tables, fans, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners and lighting fixtures.

Yamazen’s home electronics business has been growing steadily, with sales totaling ¥28.4 billion in the 2012 business year, nearly double the ¥14.3 billion recorded in 2007, according to the company.

“We assume that many consumers have regretted purchasing expensive brand products after ending up never using most of their functions,” a Yamazen public relations official said. “We have developed products with a limited number of functions to help customers save money.”

Yamazen, a trading and wholesale firm dealing mainly with industrial equipment and machine tools, expanded the lineup of its wholesale products in the 1980s when a number of home centers were built across the nation.

The company then developed and launched private-label products to respond directly to demand from retailers, and these became the first generic electronic appliances, according to the Yamazen official.

Dion Corp., based in Yokohama, is a venture firm known for low-priced liquid crystal display television series under the brand name Candela.

The 32-inch version with no recording function sold out within four months of its launch last February, according to the company.

The TV, which uses a light-emitting diode in its backlight and allows for high-definition visuals, is priced between ¥20,000 and ¥30,000.

President Yoshinobu Akasaka said Dion succeeded in cutting back on development costs because the product “employs a previous-generation large-scale integration system, the heart of a TV.” The company was also able to join hands with a major manufacturer in developing a substrate.

Candela is “a generic home appliance in the true sense as it makes use of ‘obsolete’ technologies,” he said.

Akasaka added that the company is planning to introduce new versions that incorporate a recording function, while still keeping the price at affordable levels.

Major supermarket chain Aeon Co. plans to increase the lineup of its private-label electric home appliances to 120 items during the coming business year, up from some 40 items at present, according to a company spokesman.