Universal remote controls – Promote your remotes

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As every good retailer knows, add-on sales can be highly lucrative, so as ever, it’s of paramount importance not to overlook this product area. Here, we concentrate on the burgeoning universal remote control sector, fuelled by significant changes in the way that consumers watch TV and the equipment they require.
According to GfK data, the sector has seen significant year-on-year growth in both volume and value, while average price has seen only a very slight dip.

David Lewis, account executive at GfK sums up the sector’s performance, commenting: “The growing price diversity of current models, coupled with the increase in potential replacement sales created by the digital switchover and the introduction of new technologies (such as PVRs) points towards a strong future for the universal remote controls market in both volume and value terms”.

The growth in this sector can be largely attributed to various recent technological changes which affect the way consumers watch TV”.

Along with the rapid increase in consumers replacing their old CRT sets with flat screens, the digital switchover and the arrival of Blu-ray (and briefly HD DVD) decks and HD games consoles has resulted in consumers adding new pieces of equipment to their AV set-up. Where consumers may have once had just a TV and a VHS player, they may well now have a DVD player or combi deck, set-top box, PVR, hi-def player, games console, surround sound system and even a Freesat box.

When there are so many devices cluttering up the room, the last thing consumers want is a bulky controller to go with each one – which is where the space-saving universal remotes come in.

Hemco Artensen, European marketing manager at handset manufacturer One for All suggests: “The major influence is the merger between PC and AV equipment, resulting in more content needing to be viewed everywhere throughout the home. All the content needs to be controlled in an easy way. Also, the fact that more and more households now have LCDs, set-top boxes and PCs. It’s now a mass market situation, not for the techie few anymore. The digital era is now accessible to everyone”.

Ease of use

So what do consumers look for when buying a universal zapper?

According to Gillian Binks, consumer marketing manager for accessories at Philips, it’s “simplicity of operation and ergonomic design”. She goes on to explain that: “Philips conducts extensive research into the size and layout of universal remote controls to ensure that they are easy and intuitive to operate. The products also include features to guarantee that somebody who has never used a Philips control before can use the product pretty much immediately”.

Many universal remotes can appear extremely complicated and difficult to use for those with limited sight or dexterity. Several manufacturers have introduced models aimed at these customers. For example, One for All has developed a remote for elderly people – The Big Easy – which has bright white casing and large buttons shaped to represent their function.

Also high on the agenda for consumers looking to buy a controller is brand compatibility. It’s no good getting a universal handset if it doesn’t control all of your equipment. Thankfully most products from key manufacturers in the sector cater for almost every brand imaginable, but it’s always best to check the requirements of the customer so that you can be sure to recommend a suitable controller.

Installation and easy operation is also very important to consumers – so products with simple, logical remotes and housing that is comfortable to hold, prove to be the most popular.

Also don’t forget that some consumers may be after a universal remote as a straight replacement for a lost or broken standard zapper.

According to One for All’s Hemco Artensen: “There are two types of consumers; those who seek a replacement for their broken or lost remote, and consumers who want to replace their multiple remotes with one universal remote control”.

What’s new?

Following the current trend for eco-friendly products, One for All recently introduced the Energy Saver remote. As well as enabling users to control up to four AV devices, it incorporates a dedicated energy-saving button which switches off all the AV appliances at one, instead of leaving them on standby.

One for All has also recently introduced its Zapper range. The basic TV model offers the chief controls such as volume up and down and channel up and down, while extra functions are hidden out of the way under the colourful flip-up cover. A model which controls up to three devices is also available.

Philips has recently expanded its popular range of Prestigo handsets which also feature large and clear icon-based displays on a screen, along with scroll wheels and on the SRU9000, touch screen controls to reduce the number of buttons required.

Other manufacturers producing universal remote controls include Meliconi and Logitech.

Future innovations

So, what’s next for this flourishing sector? Philips’ Gillian Binks predicts that: “We would expect larger displays, more multi-function controls and increase in memory to store more devices and to give the ability for the control to ‘remember’ the preferences of individual users.

“Philips is also researching the ability of products to recognise the presence of one another and of the universal remote, so that they can automatically join the ‘network’ without the user needing to install anything”.

Hemco Artensen at One for All also expected that ease of use will continue to be a priority in the future, along with eco-friendly products, commenting: “We expect innovations that make life easier in various areas, such as remotes that recognise your voice when picked up and immediately activate your settings. We also expect remotes with no batteries to help the environment, and models that can be installed without a manual but just using simple on-screen commands”.

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