Tag Archives: smart technology and connected devices for the home

SH&BA – Convergence of the transformation of our digital lifestyle

The SH&BA – Smart Home and Builders’ Association – Retailer & Manufacturer Panel met this past week in London. The attendees were truly a reflection of the convergence of the devices and technology in our homes and lifestyle. Participants represented a variety of industries and sectors including: manufacturing, vendors, retailers, associations, government agencies as well as academia and industry experts. What does such a diverse group of attendees gather to discuss?

Panorama

Smart Home – The hub of a digital lifestyle
IoT (internet of Things) devices have been in existence for a couple of decades. They enable connecting a variety of devices to the internet to send and receive data. That capability is not very exciting for most customers. But the ability to use IoT to monitor household utility connections to save money becomes a much more compelling reason for consumers to consider a “smart” home.

Many of the examples discussed in the SH&BA forum were about the increasing ease of use for consumers, and the value the smart devices play in making life convenient. Steve Moore from Dixons Carphone illustrated how their Honey Bee becomes a hub to connect many devices in the home. And even more importantly, it becomes the homeowners’ support centre where they can get answers to questions about devices they own. Steve Moore perhaps best summarised the key to Smart Home expansion by saying that we are at the stage where our “Goal is to take the friction out of life”.

Maybe we shouldn’t be calling it “Smart”
Rick Hartwig from the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) made the interesting point that we shouldn’t be using the term “Smart” home. Smart implies futuristic … a long way off. Mr. Hartwig argued that in many ways aspects of the digital “smart” home are already here. Most customers who are online already have at least one device beyond a PC connected to an internet. In the near future, energy and power consumption will be prime drivers for the home owner to adopt “smart” connected technology which adapts its settings to hours of the day in order to save energy.

The Power of Voice is rapidly accelerating adoption
One of the most exciting buzz factors in the smart home arena is the power of voice control. Initially propelled by Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple and Microsoft are all rushing ahead with voice control speakers which become more humanised “hubs” for a variety of smart devices throughout the home.

Keynote speaker Theunis Scheepers brought some cutting edge examples from the evolution of the Amazon Alexa ecosystem. The speaker is the “human portal”, but the real genius is the Alexa cloud platform. The Alexa cloud is essentially an API system that enables partners to connect their devices to Alexa for voice control. In reality the Echo device is an array microphone and speaker – the “smart” is in the cloud that enables the customer to interact in a very natural way of using their voice to direct their digital lifestyle.

Theunis Scheepers

The Future of Smart Home
Adam Simon, from CONTEXT and Chair of the SH&BA Association, updated the group on the latest CONTEXT Smart Home Survey. The trends are clear, and consistently upward.   More consumers are aware of “smart home” and more plan to purchase a device for their home, but the patterns vary significantly by country.

From a consumer perspective, smart home adoption is still a “mid-term” play with purchases planned on 3 to 5 year horizon.   The exception is in the builder market where whole house adoption is accelerating because it is “built in” as the backbone of the home and constitutes a relatively small part of the overall home market.

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If there was one clear consensus and predictor for Smart Home it is that the power of voice will rapidly accelerate adoption. Amazon reported that Echo is now selling at 9X the holiday rate, and the Echo Dot is being bundled as a 6 pack so consumers can cover every room of their house. With the speaker hub and API cloud system we have now reached a stage similar to that of the smartphone with apps that make a connected life possible and convenient.

The next Retailer & Manufacturer Panel will be on 14th November, 2017.

For more information about SH&BA or if you are interested to attend the SH&BA panel please email marketing@shaba.eu

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, IMS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology

John Lewis Gets Experiential with Smart Home

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.

by JW

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

Full service in ICT Retail

One idea which captured the imagination earlier this year was the Darty panic button – you hit the button and you are put in touch with a call centre which can help. There are many ICT retailers who are going to press a panic button if they don’t get their service model right, because they risk losing out.

A whole new generation of products is emerging with wearables, smart technology and connected devices for the home. Cisco estimate that in 2018 there will be more than 7 billion machine-to-machine devices in the world, almost twice the number of smartphones. That is a lot of devices to sell. Some retailers are also targeting small and micro-businesses with a Retail-to-Business or R2B Channel. The winners know that they have to put in place a full service offering whilst maintaining a keen cost structure:

  • listening to customer needs with skilled in-store staff
  • holding a broad enough range of products to meet those needs
  • providing an omnichannel solution which allows customers to go from web to store and back again
  • and the all-important after-sales service of installation, warranty and general hand-holding

Here is why. Traditional retailers are already losing market share to etailers, but new threats are emerging: utility companies such as British Gas are linking the installation of new boilers to the creation of a smart home, with, for example the installation of smart thermostats and other kit. DIY retailers are trusted for service and installation, so how long will it be before they create a smart package with the installation of a new kitchen. Specialist retailers are emerging which are dedicated to the sale of wearables and connected devices. One of our keynote speakers at the Smart Channels Summit in DISTREE Monaco in February 2015 is Stephane Bohbot who has set up the Lick stores in France – in an interview with him in the FT he said that his salespeople are “coaches”. In the world of connected devices, a practice which was once taboo is now becoming commonplace –manufacturers are establishing direct links to end customers – unless retailers find a way to maintain their customer intimacy as retailers like Staples and Lowe’s are doing with the creation of a hub, retailers will lose out.

This journey involves investment in people, training, product availability, partnerships with other providers. Currently I am trying to order a Nest Thermostat so that I can walk the talk of a smart home myself. Two leading bricks and mortar retailers offer a solution through their call centres and websites but none has been able to assure me at the moment of passing an order that I would have both the product and an installation date. One of them told me I would have to go in store to get it ordered. No-one I spoke to really knew what a Nest Thermostat was. The question is – who is prepared to give full service to their customers, and win the prize of a new generation of products and customers.

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Filed under Retail in CONTEXT