A smart move

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Liam La Cumbre, commercial director at Exertis, explores how electricians can seize the opportunity presented by smart tech and help their customers on their journey to a connected home.

Over the last two years, smart speakers, from the likes of Amazon with its Echo range and Google with its Home product, have seen an explosion in sales in pretty much a two-horse race.  

A recent report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners showed that sales of smart speakers in the US had reached 66 million units, virtually double in number since December 2017. In the UK, the number of smart speakers is set to grow by almost a third in 2019, after doubling this year according to eMarketer research. Total smart speaker usage will grow another 31.6% to 12.6 million people. 

That forecast is understandable with prices continuing to fall and both Amazon and Google heavily marketing their respective products, the proliferation is set to continue with British households second only to the US in adoption. Analysts largely agree that awareness has grown considerably and there is a healthy appetite to invest in building a connected home.

The growth in the smart speaker market is important for two reasons. Firstly, they are often the introduction to consumers into the smart tech market and secondly, they help drive adoption of a wider range of smart home accessories and devices, becoming the hub to control a variety of products and appliances that are Alexa or Google enabled. 

Smart tech adoption is a journey that should provide opportunities beyond a single purchase. Interestingly, Futuresource Consulting’s Smart Home Devices and Appliances 2018 consumer survey revealed that 34% of UK households had at least one smart home device installed. So, there is clearly an appetite for smart tech in the home.

Of course, smart home gadgets that let you turn your lights on, control your heating or secure your property from your smartphone are appealing, but controlling a range of devices by simply using a voice command adds even more convenience to the home owner. 

As more smart home manufacturers have seized on the smart speaker opportunity, by default the speakers have become the hub that is controlling anything from lights to security cameras. Adding a display, either already built-in to the speaker or connected to a TV, that lets you see who is at your front door or back gate from the comfort of your living room is even better.

Whilst voice has certainly contributed to breaking down certain barriers to adopting smart home technology, there are still other concerns to overcome. The major challenge for the whole industry is the education of the consumer on the products, their features and benefits of having smart technology in the home. It’s the classic “If you don’t know, you don’t know scenario”. 

Retailers need to understand the benefits of the products they are selling – not easy when there are so many to choose from – and ensure that they fit within the customer’s eco-system. Smart tech, if sold properly, has the potential to drive incremental demand as products can be added over time so that lights, switches and sockets, cameras, sensors and audio systems can be gradually introduced. 

The electrical trade also has a great opportunity to both educate the consumer and increase their own value add service. There are increasingly more solutions that can be added to existing fixtures and fittings to upgrade them to become smart, improving the quality of life as well as protecting people’s homes and reducing their bills with more efficient technology. 

The opportunity can often be overlooked but many upgrades are quite easy to deploy yet offer incremental sales. A simple, “Did you know that your kitchen light switch can be replaced with a Google or Alexa enabled switch?” The customer often needs to hear it from the experts to be convinced it can be done!  

Whilst a certain number of smart tech products can be DIY installed, installation is often seen as a barrier and electricians and installers can therefore play a huge part in driving continued adoption. By ensuring that the products they install not only meet the expectations of the customer, but also meet the highest safety standards both in terms of security and privacy, electricians can become the homeowner’s trusted adviser. 

With so many me-too brands on the market that are less compliant but often cheaper, it’s important to stick with established brands that have built reputations based on the quality of their products. A successful installation is very likely to result in repeat business for the electrician and many independent retailers retain good professional electricians to increase the value of their proposition. People like to buy from people they trust, and independent stores are often seen as pillars of the community.

Of course, new properties can be constructed to accommodate a fully functional connected home. Demand for smart tech to be incorporated in new homes will be driven by millennials who will expect the technology to be part of the specification. Analysts suggest these homes will sell faster and for more money. 

But whilst, the light switch may not always be in the right place in an older dwelling, help is at hand with wireless technology. Friends of Hue push buttons have been developed, that enable switches to be freely positioned on the wall without the need for electrical wiring or installation. They can be placed almost anywhere even on surfaces such as glass or wood. In addition, they don’t need a battery. So, for those homeowners that don’t want to disrupt their décor, it’s a great solution. Indeed, we are starting to see more kinetic lighting controls – no wires, no batteries, no drilling, plastering or painting – extending the value and functionality of lighting for homeowners. 

Whilst security, in terms of hacking and privacy, has been raised as a concern, the government has worked with industry partners to develop a Code of Practice aimed at device manufacturers and developers to improve security and consumer safety and a document for consumers with guidance on securing IoT devices in the home. This should help to allay fears.

Retailers come to Exertis because we entered this market at its infancy, we know retail because it’s been one of our specialisms for over 30 years. We have an established portfolio of vendors with products across all of the key categories: lighting, heating, security, safety and voice. As a result, we have a great insight into the market and the opportunities for growth. Security remains a key category along with energy saving products. However, there is also an increasing demand for outdoor products, ranging from smart door bells and cameras to garden lighting.  

The Plug In To Exertis event on May 16 at Silverstone Circuit will feature a fully fitted Smart Home. Further details at www.exertis.co.uk/plugin