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London, 21.06.2019

Just how smart is smart home technology?

As part of our on-going partnership with techUK, GfK reports on consumer trends in the UK smart home market

Smart home isn’t a new trend, it has been around for several years now, on the cusp of being the ‘next big thing’ for consumer’s to enjoy.  But still only slightly over a third of UK consumers (38%) say they own more than one smart home device – most often a smart TV.

Three quarters of the same consumers say they are familiar with the term “smart home” – a figure that is essentially unchanged over the last three years.  And yet only around one in three find the technology ‘very appealing’. 

What is the cause of this contradiction?  Consumers say they are familiar with the idea of the smart home and a majority own some smart home products, but uptake outside a few core product areas is still relatively sluggish.

We believe the crux of the issue is the “smart home“ term itself. There is much diversity packed into each half of that term - what counts as “smart“?  Which products are covered by the “home“ reference.  This lack of clarity limits the sense of momentum that often accompanies the rise of new technology categories.

Consider the promise of smart homes controlled with the touch of a smartphone, where appliances “talk” to each other, order groceries automatically, open the door for deliveries and dim the lights automatically when I sit down to watch a film.  And compare with the reality of most “smart” TVs  … Much as viewers value the content they devour through Netflix and iPlayer, they still do so with the help of remote controls that look like they came straight from 1990!  We believe that for all the noise and futuristic promise, consumers have lost visibility on what the “smart” in smart home really means.

In our annual survey, we ask consumers how appealing they find various categories of smart home products.  We also ask whether they would pay a premium for some of the benefits of smart products (e.g. “a smart product that accurately monitors my health”) as opposed to traditional alternatives.  In all categories, consumers were more likely to say they would pay more for the advantages than to say they found the vanilla category of products very appealing.

While we asked about smart home benefits in relatively simple terms, the effect is striking.  It shows that consumers are willing to pay for the features that smarter appliances/devices can offer – at least they say they are willing to pay. 

The message for manufacturers is to balance how they communicate about products – explaining how smartness will provide advantages to buyers – and not to claim everything as “smart”.

The importance of this balanced communication is supported in the graph below, where we looked at those people who own a smart speaker or TV, and compared how appealing they find the smart entertainment category over the last two years.

With extreme appeal declining amongst owners, it suggests a mismatch between what the consumer expected and what they experience with the product in everyday life. Arguably brands may have alienated a section of the market, promising “smart” features which have lost their sparkle when reality hits for owners. On the other hand, consumers may have expected something above the possibilities currently available, from things they have seen or heard, which have not been clarified by brands. Communication is key. 

The next stage for the smart home market is clear – brands need to cut through the diversity of the term ‘smart-home’ and deliver truly smart experiences. Attaching the “smart” slogan to new models without really delivering “smart-ness” is beginning to wear thin on consumer’s patience. 

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Article first published as guest blog on techUK

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