Can COVID-19 encourage changes in how we think about products within our homes?
Retailers and marketers have a clear role in stimulating demand for inclusive products by highlighting to consumers why certain products are easier to use and helping them identify products that better meet their needs.
Our Innovation and Change Officer, Ploy Suthimai, says retailers need to be more proactive in producing inclusive products for the home so we can all live and stay safe in our homes for longer.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a huge and unprecedented impact on our daily lives. We have been spending more time in our homes than ever before, and in many cases, we no longer have access to the community of support we had previously – our family, our friends and our formal or informal carers.
At the Centre for Ageing Better, we want to support people to live well and independently in their own homes for as long as possible. We want people to not only be able to perform essential daily tasks at home – like cooking, cleaning, or bathing – but for them to do so as easily and as safely as possible.
I think most of us can remember a time when we’ve had difficulty using a product, fixture or fitting within the home – whether it’s a bathtub that you struggle to get into, an impossible to open ring-pull can of tinned tomatoes, or a hard to turn knob that means you often leave the hot water running too long and scald yourself.
Now that we’re all spending more time at home, with less opportunity to go out and buy new products or have repairs done, we have no choice but to make our home and the products within them work for us in any way we can.
We do this through adapting our behaviour or the products themselves to better suit us: we strategically place furniture around our bathtub to aid us in getting in and out; we shove a knife under the tin tab to leverage it open; and we only use the hot water tap once in a blue moon, when really needed. While plenty of these ‘hacks’ can be harmless, many are not.
‘Hacks’ are by no means a new phenomenon in society. However, they are a behavioural trend that we need to be more acutely aware of in light of recent events.
With the majority of people still staying at home more than ever, and many no longer able to access the support they previously had, there is all the more risk of one of these work-arounds to result in injury.
Many consumers lack the knowledge about what products and features exist to support them and therefore often don’t intentionally look for, and purchase, inclusive products.
For me, this period of lockdown has really heightened the importance and necessity of more inclusive products in the home. This means products that don’t require ‘hacks’ to make them work well for us, and put ease of use as a crucial design factor – products designed with clear consideration of the needs of the majority of the population, and our different abilities and levels of mobility.
Our research has found that a number of inclusive products already exist in the retail market, from eye-level ovens and kitchen unit carousels to walk-in showers and lightweight kettles. However, many consumers lack the knowledge about what products and features exist to support them and therefore often don’t intentionally look for, and purchase, inclusive products.
There is a clear role for retailers and marketers in stimulating demand for these products by highlighting to consumers why certain products are easier to use and helping them identify products that better meet their needs. At the same time, one of the most significant steps we can take to make sure our home environment feels safe and comfortable, especially if a situation like this is ever to arise again, is largely personal.
We need to make the decision to more proactively plan ahead and consider not only our existing needs (as well as those of the people around us), but also our needs in the future: will this product, this kitchen, this bathroom, work for me in two, five, ten years’ time?
There is a tendency for people to ‘make do’ with the products they have – especially when they are smaller items of lower value – such as a kettle, knife or peeler. But we need to be better at recognising when the products, fixtures or fittings within our home aren’t working for us, so that when the time comes to make changes, we can actively seek out the products, and create the right home environment, that work best for us.