Source: CHEAA-run China Appliance magazine

The performance of smart toilet industry is confusing this year.

With all eyes on healthcare amid coronavirus, smart toilet, a health-friendly product, surprisingly gets little attention. In fact, the sector fell in both sales value and volume for this year’s June 18 Shopping Festival which had been expected to ignite the pent-up consumption desire of consumers.

The industry hit a plateau after years of buzz. What shall it do to change the game?

First slump in five years

The sales performance of smart toilets has been lackluster in the first half of 2020, particularly during the outbreak of coronavirus. For Q1 2020, online retail sales value of smart toilets (including toilet seats and one-piece models) posted 454 million RMB, down by 17.4% year-on-year, and online retail sales volume 198,600 units, down by 16.2% year-on-year, according to All View Cloud. This has been the first fall of the industry in market size since Wu Xiaobo’s article on smart toilet seats went viral in 2015.

As coronavirus gradually gets contained, consumption demands come back. Home furnishing industry starts to rally, offering a boost to the growth of one-piece smart toilets. For the first five months of 2020, online retail sales of one-piece models grew by 4.24% year-on-year in sales value and 11.26% in sales volume. Compared with the fast recovery of one-piece models, the performance of toilet seats is flat. For the same period of time, online retail sales of smart toilet seats remained unchanged year-on-year in sales volume and fell by 2% year-on-year in sales value. The gloominess is obvious given the 82% annual sales value growth on average at online market for the past five years.

For June 18 Shopping Festival that lasted from May 25 to June 21, online retail sales value of smart toilets came to 360 million RMB, down by 8.4% year-on-year, and retail sales volume 140,000 units, down by 5.3% year-on-year, according to All View Cloud.

An industry insider who refuses to be named says, “Last year, competition of the industry was fierce. Under huge pressure, industry players managed to survive and expand through price cutting. But this year, some enterprises are on the edge of bankruptcy. ”

Missed opportunities that come out of the coronavirus outbreak

The industry has encountered two big breaks in the past five years. Five years ago, an article titled “Go to Japan to buy a smart toilet seat” written by Wu Xiaobo went viral in China, making this product a hot item on everyone’s lips. The industry capitalized this opportunity and took off. Five years later, the outbreak of coronavirus drives people’s healthcare awareness to an all-time high. But for this time, the industry fails to seize the opportunity. In fact, we barely see any campaigns surrounding smart toilets during the outbreak. The few campaigns we saw did not receive much responses.

Speaking of this, an unnamed industry insider offers his insight. He points out that, consumers’ lack of knowledge, misconception of the products and their old habits still hinder the industry development. At this moment, product campaigns might improve exposure, but would not receive high returns, which makes industry players keep a cautious attitude with investments into promotions. Beyond that, the industry development is not healthy. Capitalizing on people’s fear of coronavirus could lead to the flooding in of substandard products, which is not what industry players want.

Smart toilet industry did not jump on the bandwagon. The overall performance of installation-needed smart toilets was lackluster in H1.

A way out

In fact, the industry has been looking for a way out in the recent years.

V&H, the smart toilet brand of Haier, opened experience stores to close the distance with consumers. For this year’s June 18 Shopping Festival, V&H saw sales volume of its smart toilet seats up 32% year-on-year and sales volume of one-piece models up by 297% year-on-year.

Bejoan believes in high quality, high standard and technological innovations. It also posted fast growth during June 18 Shopping Festival. The hot sales of the brand even led to inadequate production capacity in June.

Thanks to the efforts of mainstream brands in consumer education, consumers are more exposed to the product. But they still have some misunderstandings. For instance, many of them think the installation process is tiring, thus only choose to buy a smart toilet when they furnish a new house.

Plus, the fast-growing market size draws in a flock of small and medium-sized enterprises who undercut competitors to seek profit, leaving the overall product quality of the industry spotty. Yan Bangping, Vice General Manager of Lehua, a leading domestic bidet maker that has several brands including Arrow under its umbrella, reveals that, smart toilets will be ranked by quality in 2020 by relevant government bodies. It is learned that products will be grouped into three levels with Grade 3 indicating compliance to national standards, Grade 2 nationally leading products and Grade 1 world leading products.

Besides, CHEAA standard Installing service specifications for smart toilet, numbered T/CHEAA 0013-2020, has been officially released on May 27, 2020 and have since taken effect.

The R&D of the industry is also an issue to be improved. The small market size means limited revenue. And for this reason, some enterprises invest little into it. Most mainstream brands have 10-20 R&D talents, and some even do not have a R&D team.

The long-term outlook for smart toilet industry is promising as the product is aligned with consumers’ growing demand for quality life and domestic industries’ concept of creating demands through innovation. Still at its infancy, the industry needs to expand ground.

An industry insider points out that, “leading players have invested big into smart toilet marketing campaigns, but the market response is tepid. The efforts of one or two players is not sufficient.” He hopes industry players keep an open mind to cooperate, and expand the market jointly with efforts put into consumer education, R&D and product differentiation.