The smart-home market in the UK is set to double to 7.7 million homes by 2019, but how can KBB retailers benefit from the boom and are smart appliances going to be as popular as some manufacturers believe? Francesca Seden asks a selection of smart-home specialists and KBB retailers for their views…
‘Those that can afford smart appliances, can’t see the value’
Jeremy Hill, managing director, Homemaker, Shaftesbury, Warminster and Bath
For us, where we are in the country, wi-fi-connected appliances are very new. The smart side of the appliances is mainly overlooked by customers. It’s very hard for us to recommend which smart appliances retailers should sell, because consumers just see connected appliances as more things that can go wrong. They really can’t see the point of a washing machine being connected to the internet. And another big issue is that many retailers don’t even understand it.
I know that the next stage of smart technology will focus on voice activation, and I think this technology could take off. An oven you can set with a voice command could be useful if your hands are covered in cake mixture, for example. I can see that the market is going to grow, but I wouldn’t recommend that retailers take on smart appliances. The people in this area who can afford to buy smart connected appliances are aged 35-plus. And that sector of the market doesn’t want them.
Consumers are also a bit suspicious of some of the functionality. I was speaking to a rep from one of the big manufacturers and the main selling point of their new laundry range was that, when it went wrong, it would automatically call an engineer out, or the customer would get a phone call from the manufacturer to say their machine needs a service.
So there needs to be a more in-depth look into the benefits and what consumers want. We’re just getting through to them with energy efficiency – they see the benefit of that as they save money. A pyrolytic oven that cleans itself after use – that is truly useful.
So the way I see it is that the manufacturers are dictating the market rather than the market dictating to manufacturers. And that should change.
‘Smart appliances are a huge growth area for Avensys’
Martin Jukes, head of retail, Avensys, Crawley, West Sussex
A ‘smart home’ should embrace technology and make life easier. At the moment, the SDA and MDA markets are playing catch-up with audiovisual, lighting, security, heating and comfort.
They have had a head start and there is a lot of catching up to do. It should be about a whole-house approach, but at the moment there is a mix of control and some smart appliances.
Latest developments include smart fridge-freezers, washing machines and ovens from the likes of Samsung and BSH that will talk to each other, suggesting recipes and fault-finding themselves if they go wrong. Coffee makers by Nespresso and Firebox that will give you perfect latte from an app. Smart robot vacuums by iRobot, Miele and Dyson that will map your rooms and take away the chore of vacuuming for you. The list is ever-growing of ‘smart appliances’ that are coming out, some more smart than others.
Customers want these products to make their lives easier. It is a huge growth area for Avensys with sales up 25% on the smart-home appliance category year on year.
The main benefit for selling these products is increased turnover, as the products command a higher price point than their non-smart options. The drawback is that they need to be demonstrated – you can’t just sell a box. Go with known brands with products that customers can relate to.
Smart appliance sales are growing at a very fast rate with our best-selling units being smart refrigeration. Customers love being able to see what’s in their fridge when they’re away from home (never run out of strawberries again!), keep tabs on use-by dates and have recipes on a touch panel.
The problem with smart appliances is they have some catching up to do. Some will link with control systems, but most require a separate app. Customers want everything on one device, be it a control panel, a tablet, a remote, or even just their phone. They do not want to go to lots of different apps to control multiple items. Manufacturers have got to join together on a standard platform and then more appliances will be sold.
‘The opportunity for retailers is fantastic’
Ashley Shorey-Mills, smart home manager, Hughes Electrical, Suffolk and Norfolk
We are still at a very early stage with regard to smart appliances, however almost every major MDA brand has now talked about and suggested that their range will include smart features, or even be totally smart, within the next couple of years. So this is positive for the industry.
It’s hard to know how much of this new technology is actually impacting the business directly, however, as we have seen from recent GfK figures, the MDA market online has hit a ceiling of sorts. So the opportunity for retailers to finally take advantage in a market that is “no longer falling” is fantastic.
The fact that we can then tie this in to new technology is a real bonus for a bricks-and-mortar retailer. Obviously, the technology is still in its very early days, and the actual smart aspect of some of these appliances is not necessarily massively important to every single customer. But this will continue to develop in the coming months and years, where the smart appliance will become everyday, like the smart TV.
Although consumers aren’t all sold on the benefits of smart and connected appliances, I still firmly believe that once the smart appliances can save the customer money using truly intelligent functionality, this will be the tipping point. I also think that once the MDA brands start working alongside more traditional CE and CI brands for control, we should then see far more joined-up thinking across a whole ‘smart home’.
In terms of advice for KBB retailers wanting to get into this market, I would possibly say it is best approached by using your existing customer base and upgrading them. Range products that are simple to up-sell from your core everyday sales.
Finally, invest in training and understanding of the smart home markets and network installation, so that you can go on offering something different from, and better than, your local competition. Gradually, the opportunity for you, in your own area, will become clearer.
‘Why push a customer into buying something they’re never going to use properly?’
Grant Everitt, owner, Vision Design, Oxford
A few years ago, we took on a few ranges of appliances – AEG, De Dietrich and Samsung. I got Samsung because it’s very connected – you can connect to apps and all sorts of things. AEG and De Dietrich are just getting into it, and then there’s Bosch and Siemens, which are all connected. However, after years of having connected appliances in the showroom, I’m finding that the take-up is very slow.
What I’ve noticed is that it’s young people that are more into connected, but those tending to spend £30,000 to £40,000 on a kitchen are older, and they don’t really see the benefit. I think certain things will catch on, but features like changing the temperature of your oven on your phone, or turning on your oven from your phone, I don’t see why anyone would really want that.
Fridges that tell you what you’ve run out of and allow you to automatically order replacements, are only as good as both the quality of the appliance and the person using them. Apart from very successful younger people who like to have the latest gadgets, I really, really cannot see the value in it. With most people, as soon as something seems complicated, they don’t want to buy it. Customers want simple products that look very nice, and work well.
I think smart appliances are going to go the same way as 3D TV – manufacturers have invested all this money in R&D, and it’s been wasted. Rather than giving customers something they really want. I think the appliance market is moving in the wrong direction.
I know the market is doing well, particularly with things like Hive, where you can turn on your central heating remotely, but why would you want to turn on your heating when you’re not home? You also have thermostats that can already do that.
My advice for KBB retailers wanting to get into this market? Don’t bother, it’s going to be a really hard sell, and why push a customer into buying something they’re never going to use properly?
‘We’re a long way off having truly smart appliances. I think they offer gimmicky benefits’
James Todd, sales manager, Grahams Hi-Fi, north London
The term ‘smart’ is quite vague, but what makes a smart home truly smart is almost invisible integration – things like smart lighting and heating systems that are programmable on a portable device or that can be programmed to come on at certain times in the year.
Integrated entertainment systems also define the smart home, and where it all becomes really smart is that all of those controls are integrated. So you might only have a single panel on the wall, or just everything controllable from a tablet. That’s what I call smart.
If you look at the functionality of smart appliances, they tend to operate on their own isolated applications and can’t work on the main central control systems, such as Control4 or Crestron. So I don’t think smart appliances make for a ‘smart home’. Appliances aren’t the first thing I think of when I think of the smart home.
There might well be a very slow adoption of smart-appliance technology. I think that once it does start to gain traction, there will be the usual race for manufacturers to include the latest functionality and people will buy into it, but that it will be like 3D TV in that everyone will have one, but no one will properly use it.
When it comes to things like wi-fi-controlled ovens, that’s not really something I want operating without me being present. What if it burns my food? Also leaving food in the oven all day to be cooked before you get home, and leaving it out of the fridge, doesn’t sound the greatest idea. So I think we’re a long way off having truly smart appliances. I don’t think they offer tangible benefits, I think they offer gimmicky benefits.
Retailers wanting to get into smart home should consider integration as part of the whole house and not just their remit of the kitchen or bathroom.
A lot of kitchen and bathroom retailers put in nice LED lighting, but don’t consider how it’s controlled at all. The lighting should be integrated with the rest of the home. Waterproof TVs for the bathroom are also fairly easy to install.