Many people are afraid of smart tech, don’t understand it or how it can make life easier. This is where independent retailers have a golden opportunity, says Daniel Todaro, MD of field marketing agency Gekko
Gekko has once again proudly collaborated with ERT on this year’s Turning Point survey as part of the ERT Awards. It will be interesting to see what the findings are this year in relation to the smart home.
Last year’s survey revealed that 38 per cent of independent retailers that responded didn’t believe that selling the smart home was for them.
Now, I may not have a crystal ball, but I do have a clear view of the category’s growth since then and would be shocked if the figure remained this low in 2018.
I have commented a great deal over the past couple of years that the smart home is something to be embraced and is a category where physical retailers have an opportunity to outsmart their online competitors. It is early days for the category and there is the potential for a lack of understanding on the part of the consumer, made worse by scepticism about the real-world benefits.
Concerns about security are also a factor and so an assisted sales approach, where shoppers can properly experience products and talk to an expert, can make all the difference. In providing a superior customer experience, sales and your customer base can be developed to achieve smart profits.
What is for certain, the smart home’s popularity isn’t going to fade – it’s no fad. This is evident from the fact that three-quarters of people have heard of the term smart home compared with just over half (57 per cent) in 2015. And with a current average of 10 connected devices per UK household, we aren’t scaling back on our connected addiction.
BBC’s Panorama recently predicted that by 2020 there would be 420 million connected devices across the UK. The smart home now even has its own ‘week’ – May 21-27 this year. This was a showcase for the very best in smart, connected and integrated home technology.
Its purpose was to inform, educate and reassure UK consumers about the benefits and opportunities of living in a smart, connected way.
Research conducted by Smart Home Week forecast that 42 per cent of consumers see the majority of UK homes being smart within the next 10 years.But I think it will be higher and sooner.
From my point of view, running an agency that loves both tech and retail, we’re passionate about understanding how the smart home is being marketed and identifying what the appeal is for the consumer, so we can support our brands in retail as best we can. Key to achieving this is identifying consumer purchasing habits and the sales opportunities the category presents.
One area to consider is what to range and sell. A lot has been said about smart speakers and voice-enabled AI devices integrating with home entertainment and that these are perhaps an easy, and relatively affordable, route into the world of smart technology. This is true, but we shouldn’t ignore some of the other product areas.
I think that smart home appliances is a category the general public is becoming increasingly aware of. While smart fridges and washing machines have been around for a while, high prices and doubts about their true benefits have meant they haven’t see adoption by the masses.
Hoover Candy has been active recently with above-the-line campaigns talking about their app-enabled products.
While some may see a remotely accessible camera in an oven as unnecessary, many will warm to their Vision oven, where an integrated touch-screen provides recipes, instruction and a live view of what’s cooking. As lifestyles change, so do our opinions and habits. What we may have considered a ‘novelty’ may now be relevant to the lifestyle of the generation that these products are aimed at.
Smart tech is also extending to SDAs and outside into the garden space. Smart robotic vacuum cleaners are increasingly popular and a new device to me is the iRobot Braava mopping robot. In the garden, robotic lawnmowers are a desirable piece of tech and the market is expected to grow 20 per cent by 2022.
Apart from what type of smart products to consider selling, I think the approach taken in-store by sales staff should also be factored in – and I don’t mean reviewing sales skills, but rather appreciating how the end-user uses smart tech.
To better understand the consumer, we wanted to take a slightly different tack from previous studies and look at those who have bought into the smart home, how they use their products and what their concerns are.
Gekko’s Smart Home Shopper poll delivered some useful insights that can help brands and retailers increase their profits.
The study found that 56 per cent of adults had bought the latest must-have smart-home tech, including wi-fi controlled security cameras, heating systems and speakers, but had been left scratching their heads when they got them home as they had little idea what to do with the stuff they’ve bought. More than 30 per cent of the consumers we asked said they regretted buying at least one or more items of smart-home technology because it proved so difficult to get up and running, while many said they couldn’t get all their devices to connect – which is surely the whole point of having a ‘smart home’.
Coupled with this, nearly a third of them said they never read instructions or manuals when they buy a new piece of kit and 21 per cent admitted that, although they had a love of tech, they were intimidated by the complexities of it.
Forty-five per cent of people said the trickiest bit of kit to install was security equipment, including app-controlled doorbells, motion sensors and CCTV, while 28 per cent couldn’t get their smart lighting to work. And more than a third (35 per cent) came unstuck when installing their smart heating systems. Yet, these are the most popular items to purchase within the smart-home tech product portfolio.
And despite its current popularity, 30 per cent of adults that had purchased a smart speaker, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, didn’t understand all its functionality and smart features.
There’s clearly a customer need here that’s not being fulfilled by retailers. Smart-home tech is popular, but people don’t know how to fully utilise it to meet their lifestyle needs – whether that’s convenience, money saving, leisure time or learning.
One significant barrier for shoppers is concern over how secure smart home devices are. Our study highlighted this, as did the findings from Smart Home Week, which found that 62 per cent of people were worried about the threat of smart homes being hacked. So be prepared to overcome this potential barrier and offer up some security advice as part of the sales process, or at least be able to point customers in the right direction.
All this is a great opportunity, especially for bricks-and-mortar retailers, to enhance the customer experience within the smart-home category by developing an environment where consumers can ‘play’, and a retail team that can articulate the features of each product in detail and match consumer needs to product performance.
The customer journey in retail needs enhancing to increase profitability and as the smart home establishes itself deeper across multiple categories, the approach in store must evolve to meet trends and the popularity of smart products.
Through an increased effort, what you do at the point of purchase will keep people coming back to traditional bricks-and-mortar stores for experiences they’ll never get online.
Top tips to sell smart tech
- Show products in a proper context by displaying them in the way that consumers will use them, emphasising real-world use and benefits.
- Demonstrate usability by linking the smart gadgets to one another as some clever retailers have done in selected stores, emphasising that they don’t have to be standalone products.
- Seed or loan products to your sales staff so that they can become users and advocates and bring their real-life into the sales conversation.
- Ask your suppliers and brands for support. Product training for your sales staff or brand ambassadors to engage with shoppers at peak times will all help drive business and a positive in-store experience. Whether directly, or using an agency such as Gekko, encourage brands to provide support on a campaign or ongoing basis to assist in maintaining continuity of customer experience in line with the advertising messaging.
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