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Consumer

Humidifiers and hot plates lift Japan appliances sales to 24-year high

Cooped-up consumers also buy more high-priced toasters and big TVs

Iris Ohyama's Black Label line of appliances: White goods sold briskly in Japan last year. (Photo courtesy of Iris Ohyama)

TOKYO -- The coronavirus pandemic has failed to cool the trend among Japanese consumers for buying appliances.

Shipments of appliances edged up 1% to a 24-year high of 2.54 trillion yen ($24.4 billion) in 2020, growing for a fifth straight year.

This marks the third-highest level on record, data released Monday by the Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association shows, thanks to a windfall from stuck-at-home consumers.

As people raced to create a cleaner home environment to ward off coronavirus infections, shipments of air purifiers soared 57% to a record 88.7 billion yen. Manufacturers such as Sharp and Panasonic boosted production.

Iris Ohyama and Dainichi are churning out more humidifiers, a market that expanded 25% last year, with growth accelerating since autumn. A record number of air conditioners shipped, despite a decline measured by value.

Cooking appliances have been hot since March, as consumers prepare meals more often. Shipments of tabletop electric hot plates outpaced year-earlier levels for 10 straight months starting in March, with the annual figure surging 41%. Toasters and microwaves also cooked up year-on-year growth.

Balmuda, a design-focused startup, said its high-end toaster that debuted in 2015 has frequently logged all-time monthly highs since April.

In televisions and other black goods, flat-screen TVs rose 9% to 507.1 billion yen as COVID-19 lockdowns meant people watched more TV as well. Shipments of these TVs climbed for a third straight year, the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association said.

High-end models were strong, with 50-inch-plus TVs and organic light-emitting diode sets topping year-earlier levels every month. With streaming services gaining in popularity, Toshiba Visual Solutions said its streaming-ready V34 series sold well.

The increase in TV sales came as some Japanese dumped the sets they had bought before a government reward program for energy-saving appliances ended in 2011.

Japan's pandemic stimulus payments also encouraged appliance purchases. Consumers rushed to buy appliances before incentives for cashless transactions ended, buoying shipments of white goods to 307.3 billion yen in June -- a roughly 23-year monthly high.

But such robust sales are expected to wane, as pandemic shopping has to some extent only brought forward future demand. The black goods market overall -- including audio equipment -- posted a 0.5% decline in 2020 shipments.

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