Continued innovation is vital for category strength, say cordless phone suppliers

Although suffering from the same market contraction that has affected other consumer electronics categories, suppliers of home phones are remaining optimistic that technology upgrades coupled with an aging population will lead to stability and even growth in this category.

“The rollout of the NBN will certainly allow for more features and for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) compatibility to take off with the traditional home phone,” said Brad Hales, senior national marketing executive at Uniden Australia.

Regardless of whether the originally planned, Fibre to the Premises (FttP) or the inferior Fibre to the Node (FttN) system is eventually rolled out, the NBN will vastly improve telecommunications infrastructure for all Australians.

The modern equivalent of the original copper wire rollout from a century ago, the NBN will provide a whole new range of benefits, many of which we cannot yet fathom, and a whole new marketplace for services.

Hales recognises this point.

“Landline connections will not only be mostly offered by the telcos but by all Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which will bundle it with their high speed data packages,” he said. “Already now, many of the ISPs are offering home line and internet packages but we will see a rise in VoIP data packages once the NBN becomes more readily available to most areas in Australia.”

Hales said retailers and consumers need not fear any compatibility issues in this brave new world: Uniden phones have been tested for two major telco networks (Telstra and Optus) and for the NBN.

“Our Phones are not just designed for one network use but engineered to work on all networks,” he confirmed.

Mark Franklin from VTech was similarly optimistic about the NBN’s impact on the category. VTech supplies the Telstra brand in Australia.

“Without doubt the biggest question facing resellers and customers of home phones is what impact the NBN will have on fixed voice calls and products,” he said. “With fixed voice calls being a key attribute of all NBN service provider offers to customers, the market outlook for fixed voice devices remains very positive.”

The impending retirement of the Baby Boomer generation — a long retirement due to low smoking rates and advances in medicine — means there is a new demographic entering the home phone market, provided the technology is there to meet this demand.

“With Australia’s ageing population, the need for big button and hearing amplified products will grow and shape the market,” Haled predicted.

He also said it was wrong to assume that older Australians would choose either a home phone or a mobile phone — most will want both.

“Bluetooth connectivity is a feature that seems to becoming a standard features on most mid-to-high level cordless phones and with the continued growth of smartphones, the Bluetooth cordless phone integration will assist the category to grow,” he said.

Although growth has been slow in returning to the category, Hales is proud to point out that Uniden has been a champion of the category, a point reflected in its sales performance.

“Retailers should invest in the larger and trusted brands such as Uniden. We are a brand that has the best sell through in the cordless phone category and the brand offers the best profit opportunities for retailers.”

Franklin from VTech agrees that there is profit to be had in cordless phones, though he demurred on the brand offering the best opportunities.

“The home phone category remains an extremely profitable one for retailers at a time when margins have become much tighter in other consumer electronics categories,” Franklin said. “Smart retailers should recognise and benefit from this by ensuring they maximise their sales in what remains a very strong category.

“The key is educating the customer quickly and efficiently about what’s available in home phones to complete a sale.”

Franklin said VTech will be launching a completely new range of Telstra units this month, including “Australia’s first” cordless phone with an audio visual doorbell component.

The Telstra 13950 DECT6.0 from VTech (RRP $199 twin) features a wireless and weatherproof Video Doorbell.

Uniden is also innovating, focusing on the aforementioned mature aged section of the market.

“We are also excited as a company to be growing our visual and hearing impaired cordless, corded and Emergency Alert Pendent series,” Hales said. “Uniden has spent a lot of engineering resources to enhance this new series to give it a solid launch.”

Hales explained how the emergency pendant slips around the neck of the person and can be worn underneath clothes for discretion. In the event of an emergency, at the push of a button, the phone will call for help to a number of pre-programmed phone numbers — these could be emergency services, family members, friends or neighbours.

“This is great peace of mind product for a number of people and by the touch of a button can potentially be a life saver for some,” Hales said.

To maximise sales, Hales said retailers should up-sell customers to higher end products and then cross-sell sales of long range repeaters, headsets and extra handsets.

When not promoting the great new features of the Uniden range, Hales is not afraid to take a crack at some the brand’s competitors:

“We have seen a couple of niche brands coming in with design-looking products but from a performance point of view, and also a sell through perspective, these don’t really compare to the quality of the big brands.

“Uniden has been the number one brand for the last 12 years and if you want guaranteed sell through then Uniden is the only choice.”

Uniden’s SSE 37 + 1P (RRP $199) includes a corded and cordless phone for versatility and includes a splashproof emergency pendant.

Hales’ interesting comments regarding niche brands with design-focused products could very well be a subtle dig at Mint Technology, a new entrant to the category with two product lines: Eclipse and Solo.

These two lines are definitely eye-catching and this new approach to design has been rewarded. The Eclipse has been recognised for its new approach to the home phone at the both the Australian International Design Awards and the iF Product Design Awards in Germany.

“The circular design of the Eclipse makes it totally unique, consisting of a base unit and handset seamlessly embedded together in a single and continuous loop,” said Mint Technology managing director Kuni Ishii.

“The curved contours and chrome gloss finish combined with the hidden keypad and screen contribute a minimalist and sculptural aesthetic, challenging conventional assumptions about telephone design.”

Ishii formerly worked at Uniden Australia before heading up Mint Technology, which adds an extra level of interest to this nascent rivalry.

“It is not enough to market something that is unique and totally different in design if the product does not compete with rival products from a practical and functional standpoint,” he said.

“However, Eclipse has gained traction in the retail segment because it does deliver, with a truly inspirational design backed up by quality manufacturing and a host of desirable functions, not to mention voice quality and clarity second to none.”

Having a design focus is clearly Mint’s main appeal point for consumers. The Eclipse is supported by the Solo, which has a contoured retro style handset that mixes 70s style with a dash of futurism.

“Australians are houseproud and open and accepting to new technology, especially when it is aesthetically stunning in design and adds ambience and appeal to their surroundings,” Ishii said, before rattling off some of the non-design features. “Looks aside, these telephone systems are fully featured, with an integrated digital answering machine, superior sound and DECT 6.0 technology.”

The iDect Eclipse 8035 from Mint Technology (RRP $149 single) has been recognised by the Australian International Design Awards.

Panasonic has launched of a new range of cordless phones, with a new model that integrates smartphone functionality with the traditional landline feature set to cater to a new market of cordless phone users.

The brand has recognised that for most modern consumers, a cordless phone is an additional device that supplements the convenience and portability of a smartphone. According to Nicolas Cauzac, product manager for home communications at Panasonic Australia, the new range unites the two technologies into one experience.

“Australia has one of the highest penetrations of smartphone use in the world,” said Cauzac. “As a global leader in home communications, we’re excited to announce Panasonic’s newest landline telephone, which embraces mobile devices and introduces new ways for the two technologies to work together.

”The new Premium Design Range represents a breakthrough in home telephony, giving users the ability to use their own iPhone or Android device at home through Wi-Fi to make and receive calls via their landline.”

The range includes the compact KX-PRW120 (RRP $169) with the ‘smartphone connect’ feature that allows users to make and receive landline calls via their mobile and offers other functions such as intercom mode and three-party conference calls. Also in the line-up is the minimalist KX-PRS120 with talking caller ID and a function that can forward voicemail messages via SMS.

In mid-December, the brand will also launch an additional Key Fob accessory. When called from either of the new model phones, the fob beeps allowing users to quickly locate their keys.

Speaking to Digital Retailer about the cordless phone market, Cauzac said retailers should advise consumers of the benefits of choosing a product from a trusted brand such as Panasonic.

“We know larger, well-known brands, such as Panasonic, sell well in this category,” he said.  “Panasonic also offers a strong level of sales support, training and marketing.

Cauzac said retailers should focus on ensuring that when consumers enter the replacement cycle, they are upsold to the higher-end, better featured units. He said modern styling and versatile pack configurations are a great incentive for consumers to enter the market and then spend more money on their new home phone.

“Products in this market combine the latest features with a sleek and stylish design that both meets consumers’ needs and fits the style of their homes. Range is key in the home phones market to meet individual requirements. Panasonic is pleased to offer Australian consumers a strong range that combines innovation and style.”

The minimalist Panasonic KX-PRS120 (RRP $99).

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