Why smart home technology is leaving Brits baffled

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

The retail experience is changing

Nearly 650 shops and restaurants, run by a handful of major chains, have shut since the start of 2018 or are at risk of closure with Maplin and Toys R Us sites accounting for half that total, according to a recent analysis by BBC 5 live's Wake Up to Money. The week preceding this article the BBC published another piece entitled ‘6 shops defying the high street downturn.' So what is really happening? That there is always opportunity for retailers they’re just not optimising it.

At the beginning of this year we published a study ‘Shopper Influencers’ which revealed that the bricks and mortar retail environment still plays a significant role in influencing shoppers purchasing decisions, especially across high value products and considered purchases. This hypothesis is supported by the European Hardware Association, whose recent research highlighted that specialist retailers are still sought after for hardware purchases demonstrating a greater need for knowledge.

We wanted to investigate these findings in more detail and decided to look at one of the fastest growing consumer categories - smart home tech and smart home purchasing behaviour among adults aged 18+. And the results from this study ‘Smart Home Shoppers’ are insightful for retailers.

The study found that 56% of adults have bought the latest must-have smart home tech including WiFi controlled security cameras, heating systems and speakers, but are left scratching their heads when they get them home as they have little idea what to do with the stuff they’ve bought. Over 30% 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 and many said they couldn’t get all their devices to connect – which is the whole point of having a ‘smart home’.

Coupled with this, nearly a third of adults said they never read instructions or manuals when they buy a new piece of kit and 21% admitted that although they have a love of tech, they are intimidated by the complexities of it.

45% of people said the trickiest bit of the kit to install was security equipment including app-controlled doorbells, motion sensors and CCTV, 28% couldn’t get their smart lighting to work and 35 per cent came unstuck when installing their smart heating system. 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 have purchased a smart speaker such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home don’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.

This is a great opportunity for retailers, especially 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, matching consumer needs to product performance, enabling a solution that fits the purpose.

You could argue that Maplin fit right into this space in terms of product portfolio, but it didn’t exactly entice the customer. It was a functional shop not a showroom that sold product rather than a lifestyle and, in the end, it just wasn’t offering what consumers need.

Traditional retailers have never been under so much financial pressure to adapt to today’s market conditions, so here’s my tips to ensure every customer visit is worthwhile:

Contextualise products by displaying them in a 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 sales staff so they become users and advocates with real life experiences that they can bring to the sales conversation.

Ask your suppliers, the 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 they should be willing to provide support on a campaign or ongoing basis to maintain continuity of the experience in line with the ATL marketing.

Daniel Todaro is managing director at Gekko

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