Is America Ready for Smart Homes? Staples Says Yes

Discussion
Sep 25, 2013

Staples is looking to become America’s go-to place for home automation with a new concept called Staples Connect that will make it possible for people to network and control a wide variety of devices in their residences.

Beginning in November, the office supplies chain will offer software that will serve as the system’s backbone, enabling home owners to manage climate control, lighting, security, etc. using an iOS or Android device.

Staples will be going up against cable companies, home security firms and others in the smart home arena. The retailer plans to display the Connect concept in a 12-foot case within its existing technology centers. According to reports, the rollout will be limited, with no set store count announced by the chain.

The idea of the smart home goes back decades. Back in the late 1980s, companies were touting smart homes as the next big thing. More than 20 years later, the question is: how much closer are Americans to automating their homes?

Peter Gerstberger, a category merchant at Staples, told VentureBeat, that the company will need to educate consumers to get them to spend hundreds on smart home devices.

"People will only start caring about this when we start giving them scenarios in which the technology is going to make their lives easier. We have to move it away from a novelty and closer to utility," Mr. Gerstberger said.

Are Americans ready for smart homes on a large-scale basis? What will it take for Staples to succeed with its Connect concept?

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10 Comments on "Is America Ready for Smart Homes? Staples Says Yes"

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Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

IoT (Internet of Things) is emerging as a hot topic with lots of players trying to jump on board to make a buck.

There’s a novelty aspect to controlling things from a mobile app with some practicality thrown in as well. That’s the key: with likely a hundred similar apps to control stuff around the home and add some “security,” what will differentiate one from another and add REAL value? If Staples wants any true success and wants to be more than yet another IoT purveyor, that’s the question they need to solve.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

As George points out, this isn’t new technology, or even remotely new technology.

So, if the technology has been around forever (in technology years) and people haven’t adopted it en masse yet, what is the “trigger” that will cause a broad base of consumer acceptance now, thereby justifying Staples’ expanded inventory?

The answer is, there is no trigger.

Staples Connect has to first build the case and that will involve a large marketing and education campaign. In the absence of such a campaign I’ll bet those new cases will be selling mobile phone accessories by this time next year.

Dan Raftery
BrainTrust

For sure. Anyone who owns an iPhone, iPad, etc., and who is not currently a smart home advocate will be soon. Wise of Staples to offer the remote devices needed in such a system. Also needed: installation support. Plenty of electronics service provider out there who do this now. If Staples wants to be a big player, they might want to consider some way to align with these contractors. Another fit: parts for replacement and system expansion. I’ve been a regular consumer since BSR offered systems pre-1980. The devices burn out and need to be replaced.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Many specialty and big box retailers have tried and failed with home automation products over the last 25 years. So kudos to Staples for making this a test in limited stores.

Over the last 20 years, home automation devices have become easier … much more plug and play. The challenge with home automation is not the ease of deploying the smart home devices. The challenge for home adoption is changing deeply ingrained habits of the consumer.

Peter Gerstberger from Staples has identified perhaps the two most critical success factors:

1) Staples can’t merely display devices, they must proactively educate consumers. (Do Staples stores have Associates and training to educate consumers?)

2) “We have to move away from a novelty and closer to utility.” Mr. Gerstberger is right that they have to CREATE real life scenarios that are compelling enough to change ingrained habits. (Does Staples have the store platform and infrastructure to deliver real life scenarios which create compelling usage scenarios for everyday home life?)

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

I’m pleased to see this move by Staples, as I recently toured Vision House in Innovations at Epcot Center and walked away thinking how much I’d like to be using smart house technologies.

I like that Staples is teaming with Zonoff software and the smart home platform is a centralized operation on a Linksys hub. I think this will work nicely for customers, who can download the Staples Connect app and begin with one or two products, then add more enabled home devices as they become comfortable with – and accustomed to the convenience of – the app.

It is a smart move to have the focus of the 12′ interactive in-store display be educating customers on three core product groups and giving them the opportunity to learn how to use the Linksys hub and Smart Connect app.

This is exactly what Staples needs to be doing to succeed with Staples Connect.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Home automation is coming. There are many players in the field with both technology and “feet in the street” ready to launch, install and train the homeowners. I give Staples credit for the initiative. But I don’t think they have the reputation or experience in this field to be successful.

gordon arnold
Guest
Smart homes are a thing of the present, not the future. The interest has already evolved into a desire for inclusion for new homes and updates for the existing. Wireless communication is simply making it easier for homeowners to install and use the software and devices. What is missing in the retail outlets that wish to include the smart home devices is an interactive kiosk that will allow a consumer to instantly download an app ad begin activating and setting or scheduling sample devices right in the store. The app should have a temporary password key with a 15 – 30 minute life before shutting off. It should be able to be renewed one or two times at most per day. Placing the app on the consumer’s smart phone will go a long way towards closing the deal simply by showing the consumer success with what they already own and operate. I am comfortable with suggesting that the biggest critical impasse in the sale of these devices is convincing the prospect that they can indeed use the product with ease. Interactive kiosk design and implementation is not just a solution for this market it should be viewed as a critical… Read more »
Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Americans are ready for smart homes for the right cases. Is it large-scale? Not yet but with the right applications, people will jump when they come out.

Now the real question is, will Staples succeed in this market? They will get some traction because they are doing it but unless they change their image and reputation, I don’t think the consumer will look to Staples for this service. IMHO

Martin Mehalchin
BrainTrust

I like this move by Staples. Since this is an emerging category, I think it is something that consumers need to see and experience firsthand before they understand the appeal of having a connected home. By using its physical space to offer a consumer orientation, Staples is leveraging an asset (stores where floor space is not at a premium) they have that is hard for the cable and phone companies to replicate.

To make this work, Staples will need to make sure that store associates are equipped to interest consumers in the display, answer their questions and sell the offering. Also, although the set up all sounds very DIY easy, Staples will need to have a great customer care strategy in place to ensure that everything works for the consumer in the actual home.

If they can make the initial pilot work, I think this could become a great business for Staples for the value of the offering itself plus the likelihood that it will drive incremental traffic to both their stores and their eCommerce properties.

Shilpa Rao
BrainTrust

The technology over decades has significantly improved from jini over a decade back to upcoming internet of things, all attempting to make you and your home smarter.I think currently what most smart home solutions lack is the “experience” selling. While most TV adds promise you so many things, the call to action is difficult.

Staples venture into this market makes sense and with more and more people working from their home office want to make their homes smarter when they are not around. All the best, Staples!

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