By Elizabeth Koh
SEOUL -- The roughly $500 billion home-appliance industry is
making a hard pivot toward hygiene as the coronavirus pandemic
shows no sign of moderating.
LG Electronics Inc.'s refrigerators have been retrofitted with
sterilizing ultraviolet lights previously used in its water
purifiers, while Whirlpool Corp. has touted washing machines with
built-in heating that removes germs and allergens from clothes.
Samsung Electronics Co. is scooping up scientists who specialize
in water and air quality, and Beko Electrical Appliances Co., a
Turkish manufacturer, recently rolled out "HygieneShield," a range
of appliances such as refrigerators and ovens equipped with
disinfection drawers. It is also offering a cleaning cabinet, a
stand-alone appliance that resembles a microwave oven but is
designed to disinfect everyday items such as wallets and mobile
According to Mark Choe, a senior vice president at Samsung's
digital appliances business division, "all of our product
development now is being done through the lens of hygiene."
Indeed, hygiene is driving the home-appliance industry's extreme
makeover. For decades, firms saw sales grow sluggishly, especially
in lucrative markets in the U.S. and Western Europe, churning out a
predictable cycle of dryers, ovens and microwave ovens. A push
toward digitized "smart homes" failed to captivate consumers who
saw little reason to track their milk levels through artificial
intelligence or get text alerts when the laundry was done.
But now, virus-weary buyers are perking up everywhere. Household
appliances are breaking down faster than before with increased use
as people shelter at home, and existing malfunctions have now
become more intolerable. As travel remains limited because of the
pandemic, wealthier consumers flush with cash are choosing to
upgrade household products or splurge on new purchases.
"The Covid-19 situation is not actually a crisis for us," said
Song Dae-hyun, the departing president of LG's home appliances and
air solutions division. "People now think of home as the safest
area -- and they're using their appliances more because they're at
Even with pandemic fatigue vexing virus-prevention efforts,
two-thirds of global respondents polled in recent months
prioritized staying home over leading a normal life, according to
Gallup survey results released in mid-November.
Months spent isolating in southern Spain prompted Jaime Gómez
Moreno to look for a top-of-the-line upgrade to keep his
four-bedroom home clean. In April, Mr. Gómez Moreno, a 31-year-old
entrepreneur in the city of Cádiz, splurged on a roughly $600 robot
vacuum cleaner made by China's Xiaomi Corp. It not only swept away
dust but also scrubbed his floors, he said.
"I spent more money because it was the latest model," Mr. Gómez
Moreno said. "Certainly we went a little crazy to have the cleanest
and, above all, sanitized house, without fingerprints, without
All the extra attention on the domestic front has also breathed
new life into existing offerings. There are monthslong backlogs for
refrigerators and dryers in the U.S. Nationwide sales of kitchen
appliances such as air fryers and slow cookers shot up 40% from
spring to the end of August, said the NPD Group, a market tracking
"There's a new set of needs being created as we speak," said Joe
Derochowski, a home-industry analyst for NPD.
Growth is most dramatic for products used in the kitchen and for
cleaning. From mid-March to the end of August, sales of vacuum
cleaners, fans, humidifiers and water filters grew 32% from the
year-earlier period, NPD said. Demand for washing machines with
purifying steam functions grew 46% during the May-to-August period,
while sales of air-treatment appliances surged 23%, according from
GfK SE, a market researcher.
Industry analysts forecast that the breakneck pace may slow
somewhat next year as vaccine breakthroughs herald a potential end
to the pandemic, though GfK forecasts demand for major home
appliances will still grow by 5% in the first half of 2021.
"The pandemic has changed how consumers think about being at
home," said Norbert Herzog, an expert on major home appliances at
For Samsung, Latin American vacuum-cleaner sales have more than
tripled in the first half of the year from a year earlier. In its
home country of South Korea, demand for a clothes steamer -- about
the size of a phone booth -- has doubled, with advertisements now
prominently pitching its disinfecting features.
Haier Smart Home Co., the Chinese company that bought General
Electric Co.'s appliance unit, tapped influencers to hawk products
on live streams to juice online sales as the pandemic forced many
physical stores to close. Domestic sales of its air conditioners
rose 27% in the third quarter, while dishwasher use in Europe
soared by 24%. In its most-recent quarter, Haier reported a 58%
rise in overseas operating profit.
Amid the rising demand for hygiene appliances, LG is
guaranteeing that some of its cleaning products with steam
functions "kill over 99.9%" of viruses" when sanitizing items like
face masks. It is also starting to sell what it calls a new
"wearable" air purifier. Worn over the face and made of plastic,
the gadget has tiny motors that direct air through a pair of HEPA
"People are being educated on how important hygiene is, and how
important cleanliness is," said LG's Mr. Song.
Sanam Ijadi and her family are building a new home in Great
Neck, N.Y. -- and they are spending extra throughout their home
because keeping the family safe and healthy is her top priority.
Deliveries for many of the appliances she has ordered have been
delayed for up to nine months due to backlogs, but the 43-year-old,
who helps with her husband's leather-manufacturing business,
doesn't expect life to return to normal for at least another
"We decided to use higher quality because we wanted to use
everything longer," she said. "I do think it's a change in your
Write to Elizabeth Koh at Elizabeth.Koh@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 02, 2020 08:06 ET (13:06 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.