If you walk into any big box home improvement or electronics store today, you’ll likely find a full aisle dedicated to smart home products and solutions. You may find a lot of the same brands and devices, but the main difference between these retailers is where and how they place these devices within their store’s layout and how well they help their customers understand the value proposition of a smart device. Consumer education is key to expanding the use of IoT into the modern home – and retailers sit on the front lines of that effort.
It’s no secret that retailers have struggled in trying to sell the smart home within the confines of their traditional setups. In some home improvement stores, there may be a smart home aisle with a smattering of products placed across the shelves, sometimes organized by category or brand. In that same store, there might be other products that sit next to their non-connected counterparts.
For example, Nest and Honeywell thermostats tend to sit on the shelves next to regular climate control products without connectivity. The selling point is the sleek interface and the unique enhancements that Nest offers over a regular thermostat. It’s not presented with other smart home equipment and the idea behind a truly smart home isn’t communicated. After all, having one device with an app doesn’t equal a smart home.
Despite these challenges, the time has never been better for selling a smart home. The 2018 Consumer Electronics Guide from Crimson Hexagon found that consumers are increasingly optimistic about the smart home.
The report notes, “while smart homes may have begun as intriguing baubles for techies, they have quickly been adopted by a more mainstream audience that is looking for functionality more than futurism,” and credits categories like voice assistants, lighting, and security with dominating the conversation amongst consumers.
Another 2018 study from Parks Associates found that “of U.S. households with broadband, 32% currently own at least one connected device and more than half (50%) plan to buy a smart home device in the coming year.”
But how do retailers best communicate the benefits of smart home tech for an increasingly aware and engaged consumer audience? After all, it isn’t exactly easy to show how technology would operate throughout an entire home and how devices might be able to work together to create automations that make life easier, safer and more convenient – at least not in aisle 6.
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One major retailer that’s exploring a different model is Lowe’s Home Improvement. The DIY retailer has carried smart home goods for a while but in the past suffered from challenges in the way they displayed products and helped customers see their value.
Last year, they announced their collaboration with b8ta, the experiential tech retail store founded in California to build a “store within a store” for smart home tech. Lowe’s VP of customer experience design, Ruth Crowley, commented, “we developed Smart Home powered by b8ta to emulate a ‘lab-like’ atmosphere that empowers customers to make informed decisions.”
And it’s not just home-improvement stores that have partnered to add experiential smart home tech – homebuilders are increasingly getting involved with smart home tech providers to offer smart home built-in to new home models, with the value and capabilities of the technology shared in a live home environment.
Even e-tailers see the need to demonstrate the smart home in more tangible ways. In May 2018, Amazon and Lennar announced their partnership to offer “show-and-sell” experience showrooms in Lennar smart homes while home automation leader Control4 announced their Certified Showrooms program, with over 140 locations worldwide that allow homeowners, designers, architects, builders, and others interested in the smart home the ability to experience features before adding them to their home and projects.
Retail as we know it must evolve to better communicate what a smart home is, what it does and why consumers should open their wallet and jump on the connected living bandwagon. Once average consumers fully embrace smart home tech, we’ll also see the greater cultural acceptance of the IoT continue to blossom – a shift that will redefine the way we approach every aspect of our lives for years to come.