Source: China Appliance (run by CHEAA)

Exciting market performance

With recognition of consumers improving and market demands climbing, robot vacuum cleaner sector saw a hike in market size. Statistics from All View Cloud suggests that both sales volume and value of this category are ramping up year by year, with aggregate sales volume posting 1.78 million units, 2.39 million units and 2.74 million units and sales value 2.3 billion RMB, 3 billion RMB and 3.8 billion RMB in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Xian Ce, CTO of Haier TAB, reveals that, “The overall sales volume of Haier’s robot vacuum cleaners is exciting. We expect sales volume of our robot vacuum cleaners to double in 2017 from last year. This sector is a blue ocean with vast potential. We have great faith in its prospect.”

An unnamed officer from Ecovacs points out that, “As the 80s’ and 90s’ generations grow to be the main force of consumption, demands for smart products including service robots are clearly rising. Besides, accelerated by urbanization of China, the fast pace of modern life reduces household time and brings out people’s need for robot cleaners. Currently, the penetration rate of this sector is rather low, meaning there is a vast market potential to fill as per capita disposable income of China continues to rise.”

According to China Market Monitor, China’s home service robot market is set to surge. The compound growth rate of sales of China’s domestic robot vacuum cleaners is expected to be around 20% from 2017-2020. Zhang Li, Deputy Sales and Marketing President and General Manager of China Region of iRobot tells China Appliance that, “we’ve done some research, and believe that China will evolve to be the largest global market of robot vacuum cleaners in years to come. We hold high expectations for China’s domestic market.”

Fiercer brand competition

China’s robot vacuum cleaner market started to draw eyes in 2010 and has since experienced a fast development. With emerging domestic enterprises including Ecovacs, Fmart, Haier and Midea and established foreign brands including iRobot, Philips, LG and Dyson putting more weight on this sector since 2010, robot vacuum cleaners have been iterating fast, drawing more and more attention.

Coming with the fast development of this sector are a flock of entrants. What’s worth noticing is that budding Internet enterprises, including Mi, are actively deploying this market, and have won recognition of many consumers. The increased number of entrants, especially Internet players deft in operations, intensifies market competition as well as uncertainties.

Long-established brands have more advantages, as brands with strong independent technologies and core competitiveness at the market are rather few. Li Nan, Product Director of Fmart, says, “Few robot vacuum cleaner enterprises in China have independent R&D and manufacturing as Fmart and Ecovacs do.”

Searching with the keyword-robot vacuum-through, China’s leading online retailer, China Appliance reporter finds that Ecovacs, Fmart, Haier, Mi and Midea lead the domestic brands by sales while iRobot, Proscenic, Dyson and Philips lead the foreign brands. These top sellers have one thing in common-strong technology. Besides, domestic brands, being cost effective, have a better performance than foreign ones in general.

Efficient cleaning system and strong navigation

Improving cleaning efficiency is a pressing issue for all enterprises.

When it comes to cleaning, most products feature two modes: suction and brushing. Suction mode, developed to clean hairs, offers tangle-free cleaning experience, freeing users from cleaning the robot after it has done its work. Brushing mode is designed for dust cleaning.

What’s more, an efficient cleaning system is what makes a brand stand out. The iRobot Roomba 980 adopts a 3-stage cleaning system. Using its multi-surfaced brush, edge-sweeping brush and suction equipment, it loosens, sweeps and suctions dirt and dusts on multiple kinds of floors, including carpets and mats. Its high-efficiency filter is capable of capturing 99% of particles as small as 10 microns. Ecovacs uses blue whale cleaning system 2.0, featuring strong suction and large capacity. With a water tank as large as 300ml, it cleans a room with only one tank of water. Proscenic’s cleaning system enables it to go cross over 0.4-inch tall obstacles and 25-degrees slope easily. Dyson boasts its cyclone technology, tank tracks and digital motor V2, which allow its products to move across different floor types, go over obstacles, and suction allergens.

Navigation, especially visual localization, is also what enterprises strive to improve. iRobot uses its iAdapt 2.0 navigation with visual localization; Ecovacs and Neoto are equipped with LDS technology; Dyson adopts its unique 360 vision system; Mi is loaded with a self-developed sensor, which is designed based on NeotoLDS technology.

An unnamed officer from Ecovacs believes that, key components of robot vacuum cleaners including sensors and chips will be smaller, more integrated and more efficient. And by collecting data through sensors, optimizing algorithm and analyzing data, this product can be smarter.

Online market heating up

Estimated statistics from All View Cloud suggest that, online sales volume of robot vacuum cleaners registered 1.66 million units, 2.2 million units and 2.46 million units in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively while in-store sales volume posted 0.19 million units, 0.28 million units and 0.32 million units for the same time respectively. Online market is heating up.

Where further improvements needed

China Appliance reporter notices that, with a promising prospect lying ahead, this sector does not have sufficient national standards to reflect its pace.

“China Compulsory Certificate is the only mandatory requirement for this sector currently. The government is preparing to roll out more standards to accommodate to the needs of the industry.” Xian Ce from Haier TAB stressed.

Li Nan from Fmart tells China Appliance that, “With a cord connecting to power source, traditional vacuum cleaners have strong cleaning power. Yet being a product free to move, robot vacuum cleaners have limited storage of batteries and low voltage. This is a challenge.”

Zhang Li from iRobot points out that, “The robot might be carried away by kids from one place to another.” This requires it to be able to do logical judgements.

Regarding the shortcomings of robot vacuum cleaners, Chris Jones, Vice President of Technology at iRobot, have high confidence: “enterprises will put more investment in to find optimized solutions, make innovations and iterate products.”