Prices in perhaps the fiercest of the white goods sectors, that of home laundry, continue to fall. The average cost of a machine has fallen to such an extent that nearly 50% of units sold are under 260 [pounds sterling], say industry sources.
Overall growth is still there, but is seen to be slowing down, notably in the washing machine sector. For the year to the end of June, year-on-year growth (MAT) for washers was 3%, equating to 2,280,000 units sold. Value increased by 2.9% for the same period, giving a value of approximately 666.8m [pounds sterling]. This compares with previous growth rates of around 7%, and reflects a drop that is part of an overall downturn in consumer spending in the high street. There now seems to be a feeling that the home laundry market could be coming to the end of a rosy stint, which it has enjoyed since the early Nineties.
"The market for automatic washing machines has shown consistently high levels of growth year-on-year over the past five years but the situation is unlikely to continue being sustainable," remarks Ken Humphrey, marketing communications manager at Bosch.
"There has been clear evidence that there has been a 'flattening' in the market, for a product that is often regarded as a commodity and a distress purchase. This is echoed throughout the retail trade in general, as sales slow down from the 'heady' days of 2002."
One fact that remains unanimous among players in this market is that polarisation between the entry point and premium sectors of the market has not let up. Consequently, the middle market over the past year has been subject to further erosion.
"The washer market is polarised between the price-sensitive low end (1,000rpm) and the feature-driven high end (above 1,000rpm)," says Andrew Mullen, general manager of communications and new technologies at LG Electronics. "The higher end of the market has managed to maintain price levels."
Andrew Lawson, sales director at Siemens, reinforces this stating that "there has been polarisation at the entry and premium segment ends of the market. Siemens is particularly strong in the premium segment with its unique Serie IQ".
On a similar note, the build-in market is one area that, according to managing director of CDA Ian Kershaw, is performing particularly well, thanks to a trend for people buying a new home laundry product as part of a new kitchen.