On Thursday 7th April 2016, John Lewis opened the largest Smart Home retail experience in the UK at the flagship Oxford Street store. I was invited to a preview to see the display before doors officially opened to the public later that morning. I’m thrilled to report that John Lewis have shown a very strong understanding of how to sell these products to a largely ill-informed public. The most recent consumer survey from the CONTEXT Smart Home Research Group shows that public interest has increased in Smart Home products over the past six months, and this growth of interest has been reflected in what we have seen being sold through the UK IT channel. John Lewis themselves today reported an 81% increase in Smart Home product sales over the last year; they, like CONTEXT, see a big market opportunity.
What excited me most about this new display is that it really is an experience. To understand the potential of the Smart Home it’s critical to get a feel of these products in a simulated environment. John Lewis divided the display into four sections: kitchen, entertainment, sleep, and home monitoring. Within each section is a variety of products connected to tablets for consumers to control and try, accompanied by custom-built displays to simulate night/day cycles, or a view from a window, placed around furniture and household appliances. Moreover, I was assured by the John Lewis team that there would always be a sales attendant on duty to show consumers how to interact with products and run them through use-cases. Once again, this reflects the results of CONTEXT’s consumer surveys which highlighted the importance of educating the consumer to bring down purchase barriers.
John Lewis’ proposition is similar to other excellent offerings I have seen in specialist ICT retail stores, particularly in France and Germany, but John Lewis is the first department-store chain in the UK to wake up to the unique requirements for selling Smart Home products successfully. Moreover, the John Lewis team has a clear understanding that consumers need to have a good experience on buying their first Smart Home product in order to secure return sales for more devices. They are also acutely aware of their position as a trusted UK brand, one which many consumers would be happy to allow into their homes for installation. The John Lewis team informed me that installation would be part of the offering, installation that often requires very specific training with accreditation from vendors. I am interested to see how this will operate, as finding a good source of installers is a headache for many Smart Home retailers in the UK.
Should you wish to see the new experience, it is on the 5th floor of the Oxford Street store and positioned adjacent to the TVs and other electronics. I would have liked to have seen the experience placed within the main home section on the 2nd floor where less typical consumers would have had visibility of these products as fewer shoppers will be visiting to buy a TV than cheaper home-wares. However, I am excited to see John Lewis’ move towards experiential Smart Home retailing. The Smart Home market in the UK can only benefit from more didactic efforts in retail.