High-tech toilets see US growth after paper panic – 台北時報

Luxurious toilets complete with heated seats and cleansing jets of water are so common in Japan that they have become synonymous with its culture. They are now taking off in the US — thanks in part due to pandemic-induced shortages of toilet paper.

Japan’s largest toilet maker, Toto Ltd, which introduced the Washlet in 1980 as a high-tech version of the bidet, said sales of the device more than doubled in the first quarter of 2020 from a year earlier, and jumped 18 percent in the first quarter of this year from a year earlier.

The outlook for further growth is bright, despite the “toilet paper panic” being over, company executive Shinya Tamura said.

Photo: Bloomberg

“Although Washlet sales in the US have grown significantly, they are still far behind the penetration rate in Japan,” said Tamura, who manages Toto’s housing equipment business in North America and Europe. “I still see a great room for growth in the US.”

Toto originally introduced the electronic Washlet for hospital patients with hemorrhoids. According to the Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association, more than 80 percent of Japanese households now contain such a toilet, and such devices are now ubiquitous in hotels, restaurants, department stores and other public restrooms.

Their appeal is also growing internationally. The company reported first-quarter overseas sales of ¥39 billion (US$278.14 million) across their product lines, an 8 percent increase from the same period last year.

China accounted for 43 percent of sales, followed by the US at 32 percent.

Toto started exporting the Washlet to the US in the 1980s and spent decades familiarizing foreign consumers with the product and developing networks.

The spike in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic was “a situation where the seeds sown for decades are finally flowering,” said Nariko Yamashita, who worked as part of the marketing team in the US during the pandemic.

In 2017, Amazon featured the Washlet in its Thanksgiving gift ranking, which Tamura said “paved the way for the sales boom when the pandemic hit.”

The product “flew off the shelves” in the US in 2020 as “kitchen paper, tissues and toilet paper completely disappeared from supermarkets,” Tamura said, adding that social media commentary about the benefits of bidets helped drive demand.

In addition to the US, Tamura sees potential in Taiwan, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian nations.

Sales in China, however, are “quite sluggish” amid COVID-19 lockdowns and government efforts to suppress property prices.

“But this just means that the market scale has grown big enough to be sensitive to and easily affected by the economy,” he said.

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