Gifts Today magazine

Internet connected slow cooker could be future

The Connected Home has potential in housewares say panel in Chicago

As the Internet of Things becomes more tangible for consumers and more and more household products become “smart” the potential is huge for the housewares industry, a panel of manufacturers, consumer editors and technology experts told an audience at the 2014 International Home + Housewares Show, which took place from March 15-18.

But housewares manufacturers will need to be smart, as well, about introducing those “smart” housewares products to consumers, the panelists said.

Moderated by Rich Brown, executive editor of CNET, the panel discussion titled “The Internet of Things at Your Door: The Connected Home Goes Mainstream,” included Ohad Zeira, director of product management, WeMo, Belkin International; Lori Gonzalez, vice president and general manager, Jarden Consumer Solutions; Melissa Beam of Mindsview Innovation and Sharon Franke, director, kitchen appliances & technology at Good Housekeeping.

The panelists agreed that the growing Internet of Things trend will provide tangible benefits to their end consumers, and Gonzalez pointed to the crockpot as an example. “The crockpot is all about making dinner on the consumer’s time,” she said. “It enables the busy consumer to them to adjust the time and temperature of their food on their terms. The consumer is ready for this innovation, I think.”

Beam added that an Internet connected slow cooker won’t be viewed as such by the consumer. Instead, she said, “They will look at as something that fulfills their needs. That’s how Internet connected products will need to be marketed. These products should solve a problem that consumers don’t even know that they have.”

Beyond crockpots, Franke noted that there’s been interest from consumers in an Internet connected refrigerator. “If a door is left open and the refrigerator can send an alert to the homeowner, that would be a great application,” she said. “Also, everyone hates it when their refrigerator breaks down, they have to wait for customer service or a part to be delivered, so if a refrigerator could do diagnostics and tell you what’s wrong with it, that would be a great time saver. It would solve a problem. Ultimately people should feel that they can’t live without their Internet connected refrigerator. That’s how it will succeed.”

Is 2014 the year the connected home goes mainstream? While all of the panelists agreed upon the potential, they also noted that several hurdles would need to first be overcome.

Said Gonzalez, “Two-thirds of Americans own a smart phone and in general, we are all moving towards a connected life. Behaviors are changing so rapidly and this is an opportunity to deliver on consumer benefits. The kitchen is the next logical place where things should happen. There are a lot of opportunities for us to redefine the categories. But the appliance can’t be smart for the smart’s sake; it has to have a purpose. As manufacturers we need to have very specific insight into how consumers are using a product.”

“Research has shown that 70 percent of consumers want smart products and 30 percent think the kitchen should be the smartest room in the home,” Beam added, “but consumers are wary because of the cost factor, so you have to have a value proposition. Also, there is still a small percentage of consumers that don’t want too much technology.”

Franke said one hurdle that has been overcome is that many housewares, like microwaves and coffee makers, are programmable and have been for a while. “But the truth is that people haven’t used those programmable features. So while “smart” appliances have potential, there will need to be a better user interface so people will use them,” she explained. “The simple factor of the appliance will make people embrace them.”

Another concern is data security, accord to Zeira. If an Internet-connected appliance sends data to a homeowner, is that data secure? “We have found that some consumers are pulling back on giving out their personal information and have concerns about privacy, so that will be a challenge,” he said. “Manufacturers will have to build trust with consumers on privacy issues.”

Still, Gonzalez said that the potential for Internet-connected housewares is huge. “Look at what happened with cell phones,” she said. “From the first car phone to flip phones and now we have smart phones. The engagement of smart appliances will be quicker as a result of how we are living our life tethered to our smart phones. There will be some consumers that will come along faster, and others will take longer. But this is a great time for this industry.”

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