The Trouble with Home Automation at Retail

I’m sharing a link to a detailed article on home automation because of how this technology can simplify aging-in-place. It has some good analysis of the different product platforms and the retailers promoting them.

Target, Sears and the Trouble with Home Automation at Retail

Sears Connected Solutions: flagship home automation experience center in San Bruno, Calif. (CLICK IMAGE to view slide show)

By Julie Jacobson, CE Pro Magazine

Target and Sears build impressive showcases for home automation, but the breadth of offerings and confusion around ‘smart home hubs’ expose inherent flaws of retail IoT channel.

… It seems every major brick-and-mortar retailer has gotten into the IoT business in the past year or two, usually with flagship home automation launch partners – Home Depot (Revolv and Wink), Best Buy (Peq), Staples (Connect), Lowe’s (Iris) and to a sad degree Walmart.

Amazon established its online home automation shop in 2013, which brings us to the Sears smart-home initiative. … (MORE)

My Comment (directed at industry professionals)

I’ve known Julie Jacobson for years, think of her as a true expert in this field, and loved her in-depth analysis in this article. I’ll be sure to link to it in comments on some of my own articles, including http://www.mhealthtalk.com/elusive-smart-home/.

Julie’s point about overwhelming confusion is well put, and it reminds me of mattress retailers with dozens of SKUs on the show floor, making it especially difficult to make a decision or even notice much difference between one bed or another. To make matters worse, there’s the fear of making the WRONG decision. What if I went with Insteon and then later needed an application or device that its proprietary protocol didn’t support?

To show the value proposition, simplicity is paramount, and that means removing the clutter, product inventory, and alternative products from different vendors that do the same thing. But I agree with Julie that valuable retail space is better used for other purposes, and I think a better solution blends online experience centers with a place to buy locally for instant gratification.

This reminds me of the winning formula Microsoft used at the huge COMDEX & CES trade shows. The challenge for any exhibitor was to get noticed above the clutter, since there was so much to see, and holding anyone’s attention was challenging. To address that challenge, Microsoft would divide its huge exhibit area into (1) stage show theaters, (2) product demo pedestals, and (3) floating experts. As I describe each below, think of how that might be done online, and the challenge of doing it in retail.

Seating for 2-4 stage show theaters would accommodate 50+ guests, allowing them to rest their feet and enjoy a 5-minute theatrical performance highlighting one or two application scenarios. Each performance drew people in (buns on seats) with simple and entertaining but powerful messages, and afterwards visitors were directed to product demos on surrounding pedestals.

Stand-up pedestals were staffed by attractive & articulate young people with well-practiced demo scripts that stressed just 3 messages before moving the audience to the other demos. Each stand had two displays – one embedded in the table for the presenter, and one high behind for the audience, allowing presenters to better maintain eye contact. Most presenters wore lavaliere mics connected to directional speakers so they could start with intimate chitchat with one visitor and attract others just eavesdropping. Once the crowd was large enough (say 5-10), they’d begin the demo with key messages but no detailed questions.

Roaming product specialists would handle questions offline (away from the crowd), not for secrecy but to avoid delaying the next demo. The results of this approach were amazing. Where other companies struggled to keep conference attendees for more than 2-3 minutes, Microsoft was able to keep them for 15-20 minutes or more. And with the ability to move from app scenario to in-depth questions, they always got good press coverage. I’m surprised that the company no longer exhibits at CES, since their approach worked so much better than most.

Having a good call-to-action and follow-up strategy is always important at trade shows, and it’s just as important for selling IoT products in retail or online. That’s where presenting the interoperability of products comes in, and directing customers to where they can see each of them.