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Low-priced "generic" home appliances gaining popularity

Mon, 01/20/2014 - 1:13pm
The Associated Press

TOKYO, Jan. 17 (Kyodo) — So-called "generic" home appliances have become popular among Japanese consumers placing priority on low prices and practicality over multiple functions and brands.

Generic home appliances use older generations of technologies and have limited functions while maintaining basic features. The name "generic" is believed to have come from "generic" drugs.

At an electrical appliance shop in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, a housewife in her 60s held a toaster oven costing several thousand yen, much cheaper than some of the latest models priced at more than 10,000 yen.

"Since I only want to toast bread and mochi rice cakes, the simpler the better," she said. "For elderly people or those living alone, this should be good enough."

In addition to toaster ovens, the Kojima Co. outlet sells other "generic" products such as electric heaters and electric carpets, attracting many customers.

A leading maker in the industry is Osaka-based Yamazen Corp., which produces a wide range of generic home appliances including "kotatsu" electric heater tables, fans, microwaves, vacuum cleaners and lighting fixtures.

Yamazen's home electronics business has been on a steady upward trend, with its sales totaling 28.4 billion yen in the 2012 business year through March 2013, nearly double the 14.3 billion yen recorded in the 2007 business year, according to the company.

"We assume that many consumers might have regretted purchasing expensive brand products, having ended up never using most of their functions," a Yamazen public relations official said. "We have developed products with a limited number of functions to help customers save money."

Yamazen, a trading and wholesale firm dealing mainly with industrial equipment and machine tools, expanded the lineup of its wholesale products during the 1980s when a number of home centers were built across the nation.

The company then developed and launched private-label products to respond directly to demand from retailers, and these became the first "generic" electrical appliances, according to the Yamazen official.

Dion Corp. based in Yokohama is a venture firm known for its Candela low-priced liquid crystal display television.

The 32-inch version with no recording function sold out within four months of its launch in February last year, according to the company.

The TV, which uses a light-emitting diode in its backlight and allows for high-definition broadcasting, is priced around the mid-20,000 yen level.

President Yoshinobu Akasaka said that Dion succeeded in cutting back on development costs as the product "employs a previous-generation large-scale integration system, the heart of a TV." The company was also able to join hands with a major manufacturer in developing a substrate.

Candela is "a generic home appliance in the true sense as it makes the use of 'obsolete' technologies," he said.

Akasaka also added that the company is planning to introduce new versions that incorporate a recording function, while keeping the price at affordable levels.

Major supermarket chain Aeon Co. also plans to increase the lineup of its private-label electric home appliances to 120 items during fiscal 2014 starting in April, up from some 40 items at present, according to a company spokesman.

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