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Get Smart: Retailers Make Way For Connected Products

When one thinks of the term “smart home,” things like The Nest, Ring doorbell, Roomba or other household appliances may come to mind. And, there are many smart/connected items that are out of the independent gourmet housewares retail realm. However, the amount of connected household items is a trend to watch, according to industry insiders.

From “smart” coffee makers and thermometers that can be programmed through a smartphone to guided cooking products like the Hestan Cue, this is a segment that is poised to grow as more consumers adopt this feature into their lifestyle.

“This is an emerging trend and I am excited to see how quickly our customers become aware of items using smart technology in them. Overall, the pricing point of most smart connected devices are still not applicable to the everyday user, but I feel that in the next few years we will see a lot of movement in this category,” said Angela Skogen, owner of Williston, ND-based Cooks On Main.

Skogen noted that as Millennials continue with a more natural food approach and less processed foods, these types of goods will continue to give time crunched consumers more options to create healthy and home- cooked meals. Connected products, she said, enable users to spend their time multi-tasking instead of waiting for a pan to heat up to the proper temperature or constantly checking on a cut of meat.

However, said Darren Barker, co-owner of Centennial, CO-based Chef’s Corner Store, smart home products aren’t always a viable selling point with the customer.

“The temptation for manufacturers is to add technology as a way to stand out from the crowd. In our opinion, adding technology simply to say the product is smart home enabled is not a strong strategy and can come across as being overly gimmicky. Whatever feature is added truly needs to add value and simplify the user’s life. Examples include turning on/off a slow cooker or oven so a meal is ready when arriving at home, starting the morning coffee, or monitoring your brisket in the smoker overnight all make sense,” he said.

He also noted that there is an extra inventory issue that is prevalent with goods that include smart technology that is not present with standard lines for the independent housewares segment. That, he said, is the technology itself.

“If [retailers]were to offer the products, we would advise being cautious in managing inventory because of how rapidly technology can change. I would stay with brands that have proven product quality and customer support. Even then, I would suggest running very tight on inventory until the technology is proven and to avoid obsolescence risk,” he said.

But, as Skogen said, there is a place for connected goods in the in- dependent gourmet housewares market – albeit, they need to be the correct ones. While Skogen has noticed that sous vide, multi-cookers, thermometers and high-end coffee makers are more approachable for her customer base due to their integration capability with Bluetooth technology, through apps or by using Siri, Barker said there are a few other products that could also see a boon from this movement.

“Most of the smart home technology is going to be utilized in small kitchen appliances. I do see the value in a connected scale that has a very robust app to go with it for tracking nutritional intake. But the value in this case is all about the quality of the app itself and how the information is conveyed from the scale to the connected device. So, the scale manufacturer now has to invest in application development or partner with a leading nutritional app,” said Barker.

And, added Skogen, the time to prepare for the inevitable is now, as technology becomes more advanced, so does the demand for convenience.

“[Smart home customers] are coming and it will be here faster than we probably expect. I believe our customers are not only going to expect us to be experts in our products, but also on the smart home concept and how they can use it,” she said.

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