Dave Gilbert, senior vice president of Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Hi-Fi Sales, and David Wexler, co-owner of Mokena, Ill.-based The Little Guys, riff from the trenches on the present and future of the connected home.
Technology Integrator: What smart home products have you observed are the most popular “toe in the water” entries for consumers into the connected home/smart home realm? What are the top motivators for consumers to begin to want to “smarten” their homes?
Dave Gilbert: I see simple voice control by Amazon Alexa and Google Home as [motivators, as] many consumers’ entry into the smart/connected home – that, as well as smart thermostats and Wi-Fi security/surveillance cameras. In talking with customers and friends, they have them, or want them, because of the additional control and off-premises usage. Safety and maximizing energy efficiency are high on the list of anyone, regardless of economic status.
David Wexler: Ring doorbell cameras and Nest thermostats and cameras. These seem to be the starting point that gets people interested.
How are you leveraging the growing awareness level of consumers about connected home/smart home products - elevated by the market ubiquity of Google Home and Amazon Alexa products – into more lucrative sales of total systems?
Gilbert: We demonstrate voice not only of the basics, including audio, but more luxury products like control of motorized shading and lighting in our Lutron experience area, as CI (custom installation) dealers know these are two more profitable areas.
Wexler: By sending out e-blasts on the topics, we are trying to feed off of the Echo and Alexa energy. Unfortunately, those entry-level products set a very low bar, and it is tough to get the upgrade concept approved.
What are some of the biggest obstacles in the way of consumers wanting to add smart home complete solutions to their homes? Is it that they’re not interested – or are they concerned about the cost, or security issues – or any other reasons?
Wexler: It’s always a value proposition. ‘Is the Nest camera good enough? Do I need to control the lighting? Is using three different apps OK?’
Gilbert: Many of the obstacles are cost-related. Comments like, ‘I don’t want to spend that amount,’ after seeing what it costs to make many of the features of their home smart. Primarily, it’s the control system, and consolidating all devices under a single app.
Are sales of better-than-basic connected home solutions more difficult to achieve with home renovators or with consumers who are buying a new home – and why?
Wexler: Both. Consumers are overloaded with expenditures at that time, and most renovators couldn’t care less. Having said that, we have made great inroads with renovators over the past few months, and once they get into it in a simple (for them) way, they are a great source.
Gilbert: I don’t see a correlation here. It’s more about educating the client and their budget. Oftentimes, it requires a revised budget.
Would you say that smart home device product adoption is generational – meaning its appeal mostly limited to younger, tech-savvy homeowners? And if so, is that changing?
Gilbert: At first I saw smart home adoption by a younger clientele. Now I see a shift, as less-technical, less-youthful folks realize the practical features – not only the “wow” features. I guess it would be the ease of use that appeals to an older demographic rather than the “showoff” factor.
Wexler: No, not at all. Everyone wants some form of it. It’s just a matter of convincing them about high-performance control vs. basic, hope-it-works-this-time kind of stuff.
What form do you think connected home/smart home products will take, and what functions will be the most important that they perform, 5 years from now?
Gilbert: I see the next form of control and automation being location-based – meaning things happen in the house (lights, shades, music, temperature control) when a specific person enters a specific space. I recently had the opportunity to see and experience just such a product by Rhomby. It works with a control system and was developed by a team that understands the CI space and model.
Wexler: Obviously, the AI (Artificial Intelligence) part will become more sophisticated and we all will become more reliant on it. Total control of the home environment will become standard and it’s just a matter of how good the experience will be for the end user.