Did you vacuum your house this week? How about this month? If you’re like 15% of Americans, you only vacuum when necessary. While robotic vacuum cleaners have been on the market for more than a dozen years, they continue to evolve as manufacturers add more cleaning power and new convenience features. The Roomba 800 Series, the latest edition from market-leader iRobot, launched in November 2013, puts the emphasis on cleaning performance, claiming to remove up to 50% more dirt, dust, hair, and debris than previous Roomba models. The Ecovacs D9 series from Ecovacs Robotics, launched in December 2013, on the other hand, highlights convenience features, including programming and control via smart phone or tablet and automatic charging and dust emptying.

In the meantime, leading makers of standard upright and canister vacuums continue to defend their turf by focusing on cleaning performance. Notable early 2014 launches include the Dyson DC65, which the company claims has twice the suction of any other vacuum and a self-adjusting cleaning head that shifts automatically as the vacuum moves from hard surfaces to carpeting, and the Bissell Symphony, the first floor cleaner, according to the company, to offer simultaneous vacuuming and steam cleaning.

Robotic vacuum cleaners continue to gain market share but remain a small portion of the total vacuum cleaner market. Just 7% of vacuum cleaner owners report currently owning a robotic vacuum cleaner.

Many vacuum cleaner owners remain skeptical of robotics. Nearly half don’t think a robotic vacuum cleaner would clean as well as a regular vacuum cleaner.

However, the owners don’t always hold regular vacuum cleaners in high regard either. Just 13% say they enjoy vacuuming, and many voice complaints about the vacuums they use most often. Some of most common gripes are associated with the vacuuming experience, including difficult maneuverability, excess noise, weight, and messy emptying.

The latest wave of advances from leading robotic brands should ensure that robotics will continue to gain share, especially in the top tier of the vacuum cleaner market. While these new models carry price tags as steep as $700, they’re better positioned to demonstrate the potential of robotics than more stripped-down models that have also appeared and that, at $300 or more, are still expensive compared to most conventional vacuums on the market.

For the makers of conventional vacuums, the increasing presence of improved robotics clearly changes the competitive landscape. Focusing new product development on a more pleasant, quieter, and more seamless user experience may be a better defense than the next boost in suction.

John specializes in the household and home care market and has also provided in-depth analysis and insight across a broad range of related categories and topics, including  health and wellness, food and beverages, consumer lifestyles, and retail

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