Japanese home electronics and appliance manufacturers are churning out expensive, high-grade products to take advantage of the growing number of free-spending consumers.
“For a high-definition recorder like this,” he said, “you expect to pay a lot. I’m considering getting it within a year,” said a 38-year-old man, declining to be named, from Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, who made the trek to Tokyo to check out the world’s first HD-DVD format recorder.
Toshiba Corp. launched its next-generation DVD recorder on July 27. It says the machine, part of a 21st century VHS-Betamax war over rival recording formats, can record high-definition images with six times as many pixels as conventional recorders.
Despite the whopping 399,800 yen price tag, many people are dropping into stores for a closer look. But others are boycotting the HD-DVD format and its rival, Blu-ray disc, feeling they are a losing proposition for all consumers, who must choose between incompatible formats.
Meanwhile, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. has unveiled a 103-inch plasma display TV set that is 1.7 meters high and 2.4 meters wide.
The TV screen, about the size of a semidouble bed, is advertised as providing the dynamism of a movie theater. It is expected to go on sale for 6 million yen.
The steep price tag was initially expected to keep interest in the low numbers, but Matsushita, known for the Panasonic brand, is getting inquiries almost every day, indicating general interest is high. It plans to begin taking orders Sept. 1.
Appliance makers have always been eager to add superficial functions to products to jack up sales, but what is driving the trend this time?
According to a Matsushita executive, more people are starting to spend significant amounts on health care, hobbies or attractive products.
However, Mamoru Takahashi, a senior researcher at Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc., said appliance makers’ efforts to add value to their products are finally paying off.
“Basic home appliances such as refrigerators were safe products because manufacturers could anticipate stable demand since they would always need to be replaced. But profit was low, so they need to add high value” to put higher price tags on them.
Interest is also high in other top-of-the-range home appliances.
For instance, a new Toshiba washer-dryer priced at around 270,000 yen, or about 100,000 yen more than a conventional machine, has been selling well, according to a unnamed sales assistant at a home appliance store.
During the three-day weekend in July, the store sold 10 units just days after the product’s launch, the official said.
The new model features, of all things, an air conditioner. First, it dehumidifies the clothes by blowing cold air on them. Then it blasts them with warm air to prevent them from shrinking.
In March, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. trotted out a rice cooker at the outrageous price of about 100,000 yen. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a big hit.
The gimmick in this case was an inner pot made of carbon, which conducts heat quickly. The gadget was promoted as cooking up the best-tasting rice yet.
Hideki Kakihira, an employee at home appliance chain Yodobashi Camera Co.’s Akihabara store, said the rice cookers are being picked up mainly by baby boomers with an interest in food, as well as health-conscious couples in their 30s.
He added that expensive appliances never used to sell well in the past but are attracting shoppers now “probably because some consumers may see the products’ prices as comparatively fair,” considering their “advanced” functions.
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