Our Smart Home consumer survey in August showed that only 29% of UK respondents had seen smart home products in a retail store, compared to 39% in Germany, so I decided to see what I could find out about the state of smart home retail in London. “Where are your Homekit products?” I asked on arriving at the Apple store in Regent Street. “What is that?” answered the front of store welcomer. Trying another ecosystem, I went to Currys PC World in Tottenham Court Road “Can you show me where the SmartThings products are?” The welcomer did better– he pointed me to a stand full of smart and connected products. But it was not the SmartThings stand, about which he evidently knew nothing. I then went to John Lewis’s to their Oxford Street store to see the new ideal home area which they have recently refurbished at multi-million pound cost. There were approximately 3 square metres of Smart Home Products in the technology area and nothing was to be seen in the ideal home area which sits on two floors. Smart home is definitely not front of mind in London.
To say that is to ignore one retailer – Maplin in Tottenham Court Road. Here it is almost the opposite extreme as they have developed a full merchandising concept of “Connected Home” with around 50% of the space branded under this banner. This includes cameras, tablets, home automation as well as TV & home entertainment, computer cables, hard drives, smart lighting – the connected home is shown off in its broadest possible definition.
If bricks and mortar retailers don’t make more of an effort they risk becoming irrelevant, and this is a missed opportunity, as consumers are asking for more information about smart home products, and every indication is that sooner or later, this category is going to grow exponentially. In our August survey, 60% said they did not understand enough about smart home products. The other risk is that they leave the space for online retail. 56% of survey respondents had heard about smart home products online. Some of the most successful players in the market are pure play etailers – specialists such as Vesternet in the UK and Conrad in Germany, and generalists such as Amazon across Europe. The specialists are becoming very good at explaining to customers what they need, and how to build a smart home. With Dixons recent announcement that they are launching a ‘home gadgets’ emergency service, they are getting closer to the consumer needs on smart home, but we need more imaginative displays and merchandising in store, as well as knowledgeable trained staff, in order to build up this category.