Bajaj Electricals is one of India's old electronics brands - the company was founded before independence, and we've all probably owned a Bajaj appliance at some point. The company has made everything from lightbulbs, to mixies, to clothes irons for consumers, while also having done public infrastructure projects such as lighting, solar energy, and more. At a time when most attention is focused on smartphones and other gadgets largely being brought in by foreign companies, Bajaj is trying to reinvent itself, and it's placed a big bet on IoT.
The company recently announced Project Evolve, a plan to bring its products firmly into the Internet age, with IoT solutions for both consumers and businesses. "The original thinking on digital as a company started long ago in 1997, when we launched our website, which will be completing 20 years on August 15," says Anant Bajaj, Joint Managing Director, Bajaj Electricals. "It was always on the cards to eventually have e-commerce as well, so to that extent, the company was always on the path towards digital, but at that time of course, there was no sense on where it will reach, how it will happen."
Now, with a new IoT centre in Mumbai, the company wants to explore a larger digital footprint, and to that end, is working with outside consultants to help shape its digital focus. "The end consumer is moving heavily towards digital and our own products will also sooner or later need to match the need of the end customer," says Bajaj.
Bajaj wouldn’t say how much the company is investing in Project Evolve as it's an ongoing process, but he does tell us that it's a company-wide shift, and one that's being invested in heavily. The IoT centre in Mumbai is one that's oriented towards industrial customers, explains Bajaj, adding that the company will be launching more consumer-focused apps and experiences in the near future as well. "The idea is to get people to experience IoT, see the benefits, and then they can go back to the website and actually buy the product," he explains.
One of the areas Bajaj is exploring is building compatibility for Amazon's smart speaker Alexa. "The Alexa has connectivity with different products," says Bajaj. "So we can create the products and services in such a way that when a customer buys an Alexa device, they will be able to use the Bajaj product with it."
Higher price, higher value?
One of the challenges that the company is going to face is that with the addition of IoT sensors, the products will likely be more expensive. "But the features, the consumer experience, will be wonderful," counters Bajaj. "Like an air cooler that can show you the temperature, the level of water in the tank, and if there are more people in the room, it can automatically adjust the speed settings to better cool the room."
"Going forward there is also a possibility for a model where you can lease the product instead of buying it, though this is still early days for an idea like that," he adds. "It will happen for sure. Think about people who get a job transfer to a new city, or for students for example, buying such products can be a big challenge."
Apart from the leasing model, Bajaj also says that the prices on products themselves will also come down quickly enough. "Initially the cost of volume will be a little restrictive but with higher adoption the pricing will be stabilised," he says. "But we're selling on the experience and not on the price itself. When you're buying a fancy premium product, a branded product, then you have to be open to the pricing that comes with it. Why should I compromise on the price? There will be no compromise on pricing."
He added that the products themselves will be value-for-money, and that cheaper products might also deliver something good, but you can't count on them to be reliable.
The company also plans to use IoT for analytics, which could be used to drive product development, and create better offerings down the line, improving the value proposition, Bajaj added. "We intend to use it in a number of ways - analytics, ease of usage, and a tool for preventive maintenance are some of the areas where we can see it being applied," he says. "We can send an alert to our customer and to our customer care centre, which is a very very interesting project that will become very useful in the consumer experience."