Catalyst

A sonic shift during the pandemic

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on July 09, 2020 Published on July 09, 2020

Work from home, workout from home and study from home are fuelling a boom in audio products

Last year, during the economic slowdown and depressed consumer sentiments, one category that boomed big time was audio. The sales of speakers, headphones and earphones kept moving.

A report from International Data Corporation showed 443.6 per cent growth in the earwear category during 2019, making it the fastest-growing consumer electronics segment. Music and millennials were the big factors in this growth.

This year, during the disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, audio continued to record high-decibel growth. But the demand triggers are different now.

“Work from home, workout from home and study from home are leading to the current spike,” says Aman Gupta, co-founder, boAt, the start-up that plugged into the audio category four years ago, sensing a gap. With funky products, it positioned itself as a lifestyle accessory company. The current boom in the audio category is fuelled by utilitarian reasons. It has become essential, points out Gupta. Everybody on a Zoom call needs good noise-cancelling headphones. “We are a noisy country,” as he points out.

It’s no longer just the millennials who have something dangling in their ears. It’s almost the entire ‘work from home’ population today. Increased consumption of OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime has also led to spike in sales of soundbars, headsets and ear accessories.

All plugged in

If music is a perennial driver of audio, then meditation has become a new push factor. The pandemic has seen a spike in usage of apps like Headspace. Voice assistants like Alexa are also fuelling consumption. “Hearables are the new Wearables,” says a recent IDC report, calling attention to the growth in new designs, features and products. IDC defines hearables as products that hang on or plug into the ear. Apple’s airpods, Samsung’s Galaxybuds, Xiaomi’s airdots are all in this category. Many of these wireless products plug into the health and fitness fad and are considered an essential lifestyle accessory.

Covid-19 has seen shifts in the types of audio devices consumed too. New patterns are being seen. Streaming audio devices have suddenly witnessed a spike.

 

“We are keeping our ears open to new tech and trends. We work closely with Google and Amazon,” says Gupta. Products have been evolving from wired to wireless, from earphones to ear-buds. Bluetooth chips keep upgrading, he says, adding the company has six people at its R&D centre constantly working on innovations.

“We have launched Alexa-enabled devices. We have done voice-enabled devices,” he says.

An indicator of how strong the audio category is can be gauged by boAt’s growth. From ₹27 crore in the first year it more than tripled to ₹108 crore in the next. This year, Gupta is confident of further tripling revenues, lockdown and supply issues notwithstanding.

But competition is strong. Besides Apple, Samsung and JBL, players like Xiaomi are upping the ante. During an interaction with Xiaomi last year, the company had expressed, to this writer, its intention of focussing aggressively on audio, and gaining leadership in the area.

Vocal for local

As the battle for dominance of the audio category heats up, Gupta feels boAt is in a good place now with the ‘vocal for local’ trend. As he points out, a significant number of customers are becoming averse to Chinese brands. While boAt products are made in China, Gupta argues that the brand is Indian. Plans are being firmed up to move manufacturing to India and make it a 100 per cent Indian brand.

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Published on July 09, 2020
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