Jamie Rosenberg
Jamie Rosenberg is Global Household & Personal Care Analyst at Mintel, exploring trends and new business opportunities in household, beauty and personal care categories.

David Foot, an economist, trend spotter and professor from the University of Toronto is well known for the quote “demographics explain two-thirds of everything.” While consumer sentiment certainly overlaps across different demographic groups, marketers are inclined to segment consumers by age, race, income and numerous other factors because different backgrounds drive different life experiences and that shapes consumer preference.

Old age often supersedes other demographic traits as a driver of consumer choice because no matter what our background, we all succumb to the inevitable loss of physical capacity that comes with advancing years. As this happens, our product choice shifts towards solutions that help compensate for this loss.

As the global lifespan grows, so does the aging cohort that, more and more, wants to remain independent and in their homes, even though maintaining a home gets harder with age. According to AARP, 76% of the US population wants to stay in their homes as they age.

Household brands have an opportunity to cater to consumers’ desire to age in place. These brands have unparalleled insights into consumers’ homecare routines and are in a unique position to usher in a new generation of products that ease household chores for older consumers.

Yet, disruption from home automation is also on the horizon. So far, innovations with the greatest potential to render traditional cleaners obsolete come from outside the homecare market. Household robots that can vacuum, wash windows, mow lawns and clean pools are already commonplace. Robots that can cook, fold laundry and even lift a person off the floor have also arrived, but are still financially out of reach for all but the wealthiest consumers.

This is likely to change because robotics, networking and artificial intelligence are among the most dynamic technology areas. The first electric washing machine was invented in 1908 and in the years since, our homes have become exponentially more automated. The International Federation of Robotics projects that household robots will grow at a CAGR of 39.5% through 2021.

Automation is also becoming more relevant to seniors because of the ability to streamline control of multiple deceives through a common interface; and to do it with voice rather than less intuitive controls, will make automated homecare progressively more senior-friendly, especially for those with diminishing eyesight and dexterity.

What is driving senior-focused automation?

By looking at the forces of change, we can anticipate different ways that home automation will work its way into the households of elderly consumers. There are several key drivers:

  • A consumer-driven market: Aging consumers want to stay in their homes and whether automation becomes their chief means of achieving this goal depends on the development of less mechanized services. Many countries have an escalating demographic imbalance, where there are not enough young to care for the old. If there is a shortage of caregivers and organizations that bring services into the community, then automation would see strong consumer pull, especially when the alternative is a nursing home.
  • A government-driven market: We also have to think about the societal cost of aging and whether governments would push automation as a solution. In Japan, for example, nearly 30% of the population is over age 65 and 20% of Japanese are over 70, according to Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. Japan also leads the world in longevity, has a historically low birthrate and is a center of robotics innovation. With a shortage of young to care for the old, Japan’s leaders are pursuing robotics as a means to bridge the care gap. In particular, the government is funding the development of eldercare robots to help fill a projected caregiver shortfall of 380,000 specialized workers through 2025. Other countries with a similar age profile will likely follow suit.
  • Household brands and tech companies: It’s important to think about how the market will respond to the prospect of automated chores. If automation truly becomes an enabler of aging in place, some homecare brands will want to acquire their way into this domain, while some tech companies like Amazon, Google and possibly robotics firms will integrate into homecare. Tech companies are both potential partners and disruptors in this scenario, with the potential to reshape the market.