Category Archives: Smart Technology

Smart Home survey Latam unveiled

CONTEXT recently expanded its smart-home survey coverage to Latam and Howard Davies, our CEO, presented the results at the recent GTDC conference in Miami.

This category is still in its infancy in Latam but, since things are now moving in the US and the UK, accelerated by the arrival of voice control with Amazon Echo and Google Home, we are keen to establish a baseline.

Here are some interesting findings from the survey:

  • Timescales given in response to the question, “When do you envisage you will have a smart home?” are shortest in Mexico. Brazil and Argentina are next, and Chile is some way behind.
  • It is open season on smart home for the channels – none has established themselves as the natural go-to place: in two countries (Brazil and Argentina) online retailing leads, in two others (Chile and Mexico) DIY is in front. Specialist technology retailers lag throughout Latam, which is surprising.
  • Awareness of voice control is high, in particular Apple Siri. This makes these countries fertile ground for the launch of Amazon Alexa and Google Home although, at the moment, people prefer to use smartphones to access smart home. We think this will change when they see the ease of access voice control provides.
  • Thermostats, lightbulbs, smart plugs, smart doorbells and locks, and smart cameras are the products people are most aware of. Lightbulbs and plugs are the entry products, the ones people are going to buy (intention to purchase > 4%). Smart doorbells and smart sound systems cross this threshold too.
  • Interestingly, leading reasons for purchase differ by country – security in Brazil and Chile, automation and making life easier in Mexico, lowering energy costs in Argentina. “Because it’s just cool,” scores very highly in Chile and Argentina – is this coming from tech lovers, early adopters, or just people for whom image is important?
  • Lack of understanding of benefits and lack of knowledge of products are key barriers, and this is unsurprising. But the strong vote for products that work together should be a call to action for the industry. The importance of integrated offerings is supported by the number of people who say that they don’t understand how the smart home concept fits together. The manufacturer or retailer who really communicates and delivers this will be in a strong position.
  • People are more concerned about the physical risks of owning a smart home product than the cyber risks. Product malfunction is the top risk in all countries.
  • The only country where retailers are doing a reasonable job of explaining smart home is Mexico.
  • There is a three horse race for the hub – Amazon Echo leads in Brazil, Google Home in Chile and Apple Homekit in Mexico. In Argentina, Amazon Echo and Google Home are neck and neck.

Smart Home in 2017 is going to be a battle of the giants! For more information, please click here!

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Smart Technology, Home automation, Smart Home

Latin American Consumers Ready for Smart Home

Over three quarters of consumers surveyed in Latin America’s leading economies say they want to know more about Smart Home products, according to CONTEXT’s new survey. With no one retailer dominating the Smart Home market in the countries surveyed, this potential demand for the new global wave in technology products and services presents significant opportunities for the IT channel in Latin America.

Carried out in January 2017, the CONTEXT Survey was announced at the Global Technology Distribution Council Latin American IT Distribution Summit in Miami, USA, and covered 2,000 consumers in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

The general picture for Smart Homes in these countries with a combined GDP of $USD4.4TN is good, with an encouraging level of awareness. However, it is clear that this awareness is not rooted in a deep understanding of the concept. This is partly down to limited exposure to Smart Home products or ideas, with very few people seeing or hearing things about Smart Home on a regular basis.

Such limited exposure is hardly surprising, given that no one channel is doing a good job of explaining or showcasing the concept. Where people have picked up on Smart Home, it tends to be from online sites – both retailers’ and manufacturers’ – rather than from in-person contact via things like store displays. This limits the degree to which consumers can interact and engage with Smart Home products.

As well as highlighting the opportunities, the CONTEXT Survey found that worries surrounding the idea of the Smart Home are prevalent, with 9 out of 10 people having at least one concern. Some of these are serious, including views that products may malfunction, causing harm or damage to the home. Privacy concerns and a fear of identity theft are also high on the list of worries.

When asked what user scenarios were encouraging them to buy Smart Home products, the top three responses were “arriving home”, “waking up”, and “advanced security”. In terms of the Smart Home hubs people would be most likely to trust, the Survey found that while there are variations across different countries, Apple, Amazon and Google dominate. Amazon has a clear lead in Brazil, while Apple leads in Mexico and Chile. Google is in the lead in Argentina.

In summary, despite the lack of deep knowledge and the barriers this creates, the good news is that across all countries there is an appetite to learn more. This is especially in terms of how they can save money, and how they can make home living more enjoyable, easier and better.

by JD

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Is Black Friday dead? A US perspective

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, CEO of IMS, Inc.

Is Black Friday dead, or just rapidly waning? Data indicates the demise of the premier kickoff to holiday shopping in the US. It’s not just about the economy and consumer confidence, although those are key factors. The retail phenomena unfolding right now is about universal changes in consumer behaviour, regardless of socio-economic status.

Black Friday has declined in US retail … will the same trend happen in Europe?
In the not too distant past, stores were the premier focal point of holiday shopping. Black Friday was an event created by bricks and mortar retailers to entice consumers to come shopping on the Friday after US Thanksgiving, which always falls on the 4th Thursday of November. Since many US customers take off from work on Black Friday, it became the quintessential retailer marketing event to lure shoppers to the stores with “best deals” of the season. The theory was that if shoppers came early to find a deal, they would come back to stores for the rest of their shopping.

Not surprising, the UK and other European retailers adopted Black Friday as a promotional event to kick off the holiday selling season and draw traffic to stores. CONTEXT’s analysis of distribution trends in 2015 was very predictive for UK retail sales spiking for Black Friday. Will the trend continue in 2016?

Black “Friday” — death by a thousand clicks
Increasingly retail stores have been jumping the gun on Black Friday by offering Black Friday sales before the actual Friday. The result in the US is that there is no longer a singular event. Black Friday has suffered scope creep, and it literally has become a “Black Week” of promotions and deals.

More importantly, consumers don’t see Black Friday as just “stores” any more. Amazon and other online retailers have creatively capitalised on “Black Friday” by offering daily online deals across an entire week, or more. This has created a new trend for “Cyber Monday” which is the first Monday after the traditional Black Friday. In the US, workplace productivity actually drops on Cyber Monday as people at work scramble to get better deals on stuff they didn’t buy or couldn’t get on Black Friday. Cyber Monday is projected to be the single largest volume day of the entire holiday shopping season.

Did the same trend happen in the UK and other countries? Compared to the US, the UK has a higher % of sales occurring online, especially for technology. Many of the UK promotional ads in 2016 now in fact show the Black 5 days of deals: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Cyber Monday.

The net result is that today’s consumer is an empowered consumer. They are not bound by place or time of event. This translates into a much diminished effect of single retailer store events like Black Friday.

Large retailers have privately confided that Black Friday needed to “die”. The traditional approach of cramming all deals into a single day dramatically lowers prices and margin. It would be healthier for both if retailers and consumers could evaluate offers and spread shopping over a period of time. In fact, that is how today’s omnichannel shoppers are already behaving – shopping multiple days in multiple ways.

So what happened in the UK for 2016?
Were Black Friday sales up again this year? Or, did consumers shift more of their shopping purchases to Cyber Monday? How much of their Christmas budget have they spent? The final store sales numbers won’t be tallied for a couple of weeks.

However, CONTEXT is conducting consumer pulse survey right now. We are asking consumers when they shopped, and how much they purchased on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It will be interesting to see how much they expect yet to spend in the rest of holiday season.

 

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Filed under IoT, IT Distribution, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, PCs, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Technology, Tablet PCs

Google and Amazon lay the foundations for a virtual assistant to run our homes

The dream of the smart home always seems just out of reach. Everyone knows how it should work. You buy a new connected device, plug it in, and it instantly syncs with all your other devices. Of course the reality is often markedly different—one poor man spent 11 hours trying to make a cup of tea with his new kettle. This is not an isolated experience as many tech reviewers and consumers have documented their own valiant battles to control their devices.

The root cause of the frustration stems from the multitude of technology standards, but Google and Amazon are both making great strides trying to address it. They have realised that convenience is the key to making the category a success. And what could be more convenient than telling someone, or in this case something, to do a job for you? The Amazon Echo, newly available in the UK, has won over industry experts for its ability to search online for information, and control the home’s connected devices using simple voice commands. But it is Google Home that has many in the industry excited.

Google has always been a data company, with a mission to organize the world’s information. If you have a Gmail account, it’s been reading your emails for years. If you use any of its services such as Android, Chrome, Maps or Search it knows pretty much everything about your habits. A few years ago, it launched Google Now that aimed to map out your life as a personal concierge you could speak to. With Google Home, this goes one step further.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence mean that you can now converse with Google Home. After you ask it what’s on at the cinema, you can then ask it to filter by age-certification or genre, and then to book tickets. It will wake you up and give you a morning briefing based on the papers you read. It will alert you to any delays on your commute, and remind you about appointments. Plus, it can connect to your smart home devices—though not as many as the Amazon Echo—and operate them all by voice. Initial reviews have been very positive, and while there are discussions to be had about privacy and security, the promise is there for all to see.

We surveyed 2,500 European consumers about their hopes for the smart home, and only three per cent thought they needed a hub to control all their devices. But it’s looking more likely that a device like the Echo or Home will be the gateway to your home’s other devices, with users enticed by the ability to search and manage other aspects of their lives.

The price points are within consumer expectations, though they do not leave much room for purchase of additional smart home products. Thirty per cent said they’d pay up to £150 for smart home devices over the next year, exactly the price of the Echo, with Google Home set to retail in the U.S. at $129. Fifty per cent would pay more than £150, meaning these devices are accessible, and could well act as the catalyst for people to buy more smart home devices. Indeed, Google is pushing its Nest thermostats and IP cameras anew on the back of the Home launch.

By choosing voice as the input method, Amazon and Google have removed the cumbersome user-experience of finding the relevant app on your smartphone for the lights, and then navigating to another app for speaks. It is choice that could usher in mainstream acceptance for having a virtual assistant in our homes.

by AS

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Chester Gould was Right

It wasn’t until I was loaned Apple’s new Watch Series II that I put one on. When the Watch was launched I decided it would not be something I’d wear, much less buy. But I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised to get it, and welcomed the chance to give my 26-year old Rado a rest while I tried the Watch out.

I’m not going to get into the technicalities because a watch is for wearing, it’s personal, apart from saying what an amazing piece of kit the Watch is: beautifully crafted, fabulous screen, snappy performance, even GPS, and so easy to set up and incorporate into living alongside an iPhone.

But when I first put it on, it took a while to get used to the sheer bulk of the 42mm screen, and the gold colour with a beige woven nylon strap was to my taste a bit bling. It took a few days to get used to having it on my wrist, and get through the inevitable mixed reactions from staff, family and friends.

Then I started using it, responding every time the haptic tap alerted me to a message, meeting, or exhortation to stand up, or breathe. I discovered Siri on the Watch – and started leaving text messages everywhere to try out, in the style of Chester Gould’s comic book detective Dick Tracy, the experience of talking to your wristwatch. It worked very, very well. I got hooked on Activity monitor, and was thrilled the day I completed 230% of my daily exercise requirement.

Interestingly, Apple seemed to have learned from the Series I that their Watch will never make it as a desirable piece of luxury jewellery along the lines of a Rolex or Cartier, despite sales – according to the company – ranking the Watch as number two in the world in terms of value. Instead, sensibly, the Watch is now pitched at the health, leisure and up market lifestyle sector and in that vein, especially with the GPS, I reckon it fits very well indeed.

As I said at the beginning, a watch is a personal thing. I wonder if everyone who has a Watch goes through the same stages I did: first, fascination for and playing with the technology. Second, using every alert and app available so that the taps on your wrist begin to run your life. And third, settling down to a modus operandi where only the important things that complement the Macbook/iPhone partnership are allowed through.

I was sitting on a plane writing this blog, and as the steward leaned over dispensing snacks, I could see a silver colored Apple Watch – with metallic strap – sitting on his wrist.
“Aha,” I said, “an Apple Watch. Is that a Series I?”
The steward saw my Watch. “Is that the new one?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m trying it out,” I replied. “What do you think of yours?”
“Actually, I never wanted one,” he said. “I was given this as a present.”
“Do you like it?” I asked.
The steward glanced at his Watch, paused for a second, and replied, “It’s growing on me.”
Which just about sums it up. Apple’s Watch – it’s growing on me.

by JD

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Allez Les Bleus in Tech Retail!

Last week at Paris Retail Week I met a number of French people who all repeated the same mantra to me – you are so innovative in retail in the UK. Well sacré bleu this is French negativism at its worst. The reality is the French are darned good at inventing new retail concepts – the hypermarket was an invention by Carrefour in the 60’s; international food retail was pioneered by Carrefour and Auchan in the 1970’s and 80’s; recently Auchan piloted the shop and collect drive-in format which was taken forward by Leclerc. And if you look at the area of retail which really interests us, a trip around Paris should remind any Brit that French creativity is not to be ignored in tech retail, and particularly connected objects.

Here is what I saw on the Paris Retail tour and in a visit yesterday to some additional stores:

  • the new Orange store in the Champs Elysees – you walk into a store with VR demonstrations on Samsung Gear headsets happening as you walk in (or at least you did last week, this week they were sadly missing) – this is a tech destination showing off smart home, health, connected car, fun gadgets, and a workspace for repair. The layout is airy and modern, the displays very Apple. My only disappointment was that the “coach” experience did not work as it should and I was left to wander round by myself. This concept store being rolled out all over Europe is part of an omnichannel strategy linking the on and offline journey of the customer. 8/10
  • Fnac Connect is on the Champs Elysees and has a small selection of connected objects and a large space dedicated to mobile phones. There is little visibility of store staff and it has not moved on since it was introduced nearly two years ago. But it is there and is being invested in as new stores are being rolled out over France in the Connect format. Inside the main Fnac store on the lower ground floor was excitement – the first display of Oculus headsets, on sale only in Fnac stores. I was underwhelmed as they were piled high next to a similar pile of HTC Vive. This is the biggest opportunity for tech retail to bring in the crowds as the Orange store has proven with the Samsung Gear and as clearly highlighted in our consumer survey on VR 7/10
  • Darty – I went to the Beaugrenelle store as I had read that it was a concept store for them. It has a dynamic welcome with a connected back to school campaign, and had a very full offer of connected objects ranged over multiple gondolas and displays. There is no doubt that Darty means business with connected objects. But what is still missing is the engagement with shoppers. What does it all mean? You are left to work it out for yourself. 7/10
  • Boulanger’s flagship store in Opera was our last visit and was a true delight. The welcome was a huge smile from the security guard – very un-Parisian. The prominent space on arrival is the collection point for the click and collect goods. Evidently this is a new generation omnichannel store. The gondolas were beautiful, airy and the signage was clear. The connected objects range was not as great as Darty but the store makes you want to shop and find someone to explain. Even as we left, the cashiers smiled at us. Boulanger has brought the warmth of the North of France to Paris and that is an unforgettable plus 9/10

On this visit I did not go to Lick, another specialist store for connected objects which we have covered previously in our Paris visits. The news is that Lick is extending its reach through a recent link-up with BHV to bring the flair of connected objects to this rather old-fashioned department store. I also saw the flagship Publicis store on the Champs Elysées which has introduced a connected objects offering (placed between champagne and wine on one side, and perfume on the other). I am not sure that they will get much traction from this as the selection of products was small and eclectic, but the overall conclusion is that the French are experimenting with tech retail, and for that I give Paris 10/10 – allez les bleus!

 

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Get big, get specialist, or get out!

You’re a brave person to be the only representative of a titanic eTailer in a room full of established and independent retailers. This was my thought last week at the PCR Bootcamp where I was lucky enough to evangelise on the subject of Smart Home to the brightest and best in the British ICT channel. Time and time again the name of a certain rainforest popped up when the subject of tough competition was mentioned. Having scanned the attendance register earlier that day, I knew that one of the Amazon team was probably in the audience, but if they were they had decided to wisely remain reticent and keep their head down.

In fairness, the presence of Amazon in UK retail is nothing short of terrifying. Amazon is now the first port of call for many consumers for just about everything from laptops to t-shirts suggesting that the 40th President of the USA was an undead monster. Indeed, in the last CONTEXT consumer survey on Smart Home, 80% of respondents in the UK said they would look to buy Smart Home products from Amazon, followed by Maplin with 60%. There is a lot to be wary of when in competition with Amazon, however that’s not to say that traditional retailers do not have a play in the current retail environment – even the mighty Achilles had a dodgy ankle.

Towards the end of the panel discussion, Rich Marsden (MD VIP) made the comment that in today’s world it’s “…get big, get specialised, or get out”. This resonated with everything I had tried to admonish during my own speech. The owner of a very successful Smart Home eTailer recently confided to me that a significant portion of his customers were those who had bought from Amazon but ended up returning the products because the post-sales support was not sufficient to help them set up their purchase. This particular eTailer has a fantastic technical support service and pride themselves on their very low return rate. Smart Home products won’t sell themselves and are not your average plug-and-play devices.

Consumers need to be educated, if possible in store and in person. Moreover, some products cry out for home installation and partnerships with trusted service providers. Many consumers struggle with resetting their fuse box, let alone fitting a new thermostat. As Rich went on to say “…there will always be a market for people who want to walk into a shop to make their purchase.” With emerging product categories such as Smart Home (and soon, VR), the experiential is far more important than convenience of purchase. It’s time for retail to bring back a little theatre and hands-on salesmanship, something an online transaction cannot currently capture.

by JW

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Filed under Home automation, Mobile technology, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology