The SmartSpot stores that operate within three Lowe’s locations in California do not have walls. Walls are barriers, and barriers are friction. And when it comes to buying smart-home technology, a key friction point is the can’t-try-it-yourself part.
So a year ago, in November 2016, Lowe’s partnered with B8ta, a retailer that is more concept than commodity; a tracker of experience, not inventory. B8ta provides shoppers a chance to handle and try out a range of new technologies before buying them. It specifically showcases new smart and connected products that have not yet made it into other stores and therefore may only be available online.
In doing so, B8ta eliminates a key challenge for consumers and tech companies wanting to hook up — the getting-to-know-you part. Lowe’s, spotting a dovetail opportunity, wanted to liaison.
The test concept, called SmartSpot, invites Lowe’s shoppers to explore new smart-home products, from garage door monitors to Bluetooth-enabled deadbolts. It also injects an overlooked need into the technology shopper experience — hands-on retail expertise.
DIY Intimidation Removal
That a DIY chain is offering tech expertise is fitting — Lowe’s rival Home Depot was founded on the concept of having highly trained floor staff to teach customers how to use power tools and complete home projects. Smart devices are the new home tools, and require similar training.
The SmartSpot store-within-a-store concept, in Livermore, Burbank and Aliso Viejo, California, “demystifies and simplifies the purchasing process for customers,” Lowe’s stated in its 2016 press release.
It may have also powered a few light bulbs: Since Lowe’s collaboration with B8ta, Amazon and Best Buy set out to resolve the home-tech expertise barrier by deploying salespersons who visit homes and advise on smart-home technology.
SmartSpot differs in that it is a gateway to the broader B8ta store collections (which include a brain-sensing headband for meditation and a robotic lawnmower). Because many of the products B8ta sells are launched and sold only online, its five locations and those of Lowe’s may be the only places where shoppers can handle the devices before buying.
“We wanted to make sure to take away the intimidation in a market that’s saturated with these kinds of products and allow the customer the ability to touch and feel and experience,” Ruth Crowley, Lowe’s vice president of customer experience design, said a year ago.
Billons Of Reasons, Plus Four
Lowe’s should be able to nail the job of eliminating shopper intimidation, since it was essential to convincing homeowners they could install their own flooring, sinks and appliances. The do-it-yourself smart home venture could be a pretty smart bet for Lowe’s for four other reasons:
- It nails the solution. Smart-home products might not require trying on for fit and comfort, but understanding what is a good fit for the home can be vexing to consumers. A lot of research is required to keep up with tech-product capabilities, and that translates to friction for a lot of time-strapped shoppers who would benefit from smart-home devices. Coming into a store and finding new tech products at the ready for testing actually makes going to the store easier, and simpler, than shopping online.
- It’s a measurement tool. In addition to carrying dozens of smart-home products from brands including Google, Netgear, Nest and Ring, the SmartSpot shops carry Lowe’s own Iris home energy management devices, launched in November 2015. The side-by-side merchandising provides Lowe’s a line of sight into the complementary products shoppers buy and what influences these purchase decisions. Lowe’s can use these insights to extend its Iris line and develop new products that meet yet-to-be-established needs.
- It gets your hands dirty. Lowe’s falls behind Home Depot when it comes to attracting home improvement professionals, meaning it relies more heavily on residential DIYers. This could put Lowe’s at a disadvantage if the consumer segment declines. The chain has been investing in increasing its pro customer base, in part by acquiring Houston, Texas–based Maintenance Supply Headquarters in the spring. The SmartSpot test, meanwhile, exposes Lowe’s to a potentially lucrative and growing market. How lucrative? Keep reading.
- It offers level growth. The smart-home industry — seller of computer-automated appliances, entertainment, security, lighting, HVAC and other home features — is expected to expand to $53.5 billion in 2022, from $24.1 billion in 2016, according to the research firm Zion Market Research. That doubling means new products but also anticipated demand and acceptance. The retailers that remove uncertainty and provide easy-to-access understanding will likely capture those dollars sooner, and therefore longer.
Expertise may be one of the few constants consumers demand of their retail experience. No matter how informed the shopper may be about price, function and capabilities, the concern that a product won't work out well is real and persistent. It just makes sense that a smart home begins at a smart store.