The smart home has been a long-promised goal of the technology industry, going as far as 1939, when millions of visitors to the New York World’s Fair in Queens flocked to see visions of “The World Of Tomorrow.”
Among the world-changing technological wonders on display were black and white televisions with 5-inch tubes, fluorescent light bulbs, an electric pencil sharpener, electric typewriters and an automatic dishwasher. Heady stuff for the times.
By the fair’s closing in October 1940, almost 45 million visitors, many still scarred from the Great Depression and fearing the expansion of the Second World War, emerged delighted by the seemingly endless promise and optimism that technology could bring to their tomorrows.
Well, it’s taken about 75 years but the promise of better living through technology is finally catching up to the hype. Do-it-yourself home-automation products are flocking onto retail shelves at lower and lower prices. Seamless integration of different brand products, while not quite there, is becoming the norm. Most importantly, the simplicity of setup of this new wave of products is winning over consumers who have spent decades frustrated by complicated owner’s manuals and hours on phone calls looking for tech support.
But the sudden popularity of the smart-home category has been a conundrum for retailers. While products have gotten simpler to set up and less expensive to buy, they have become harder to merchandise in a way that properly explains all their capabilities.
Manufacturers are spending inordinate amounts of time and money designing packaging that can tell the whole story but find the average consumer’s attention span for specs and details to be shorter than needed. YouTube videos, QR codes and point-of-sale video demonstrations all help, but nothing, it would seem, beats a hands-on demonstration of a product’s capabilities.
Over the past year we have been chronicling various retailers’ efforts to incorporate interactive displays into their stores. Walmart, Staples, Sears, among others, have all launched major initiatives to simplify the purchase of smart-home technology.
The latest player is Target, which gave TWICE a sneak peek at its new Open Home concept store in San Francisco on the eve of its soft launch. Our friends at Theory Associates, a strategic branding agency with a deep retail perspective, conducted a walk-through of the space and came away impressed. What stood out to them was Target’s emphasis on solving the “real-world problems of real consumers.” Target seems to have set the bar with its latest effort.
It remains to be seen how other CE retailers adapt to the rapidly changing world of interactivity and connectedness. If you’re a retailer, consider it the most important challenge your business now faces.
Voting is underway for TWICE’s annual Very Important Product (VIP) Awards and will continue through the end of the month. We welcome our readers to weigh in on what products impressed you the most over the last year. After all, you are the real experts. To vote, go to TWICE.com and search VIPs. We appreciate your feedback!