In this Issue: We examine the current direction and future trajectory of CE and appliances retailing and manufacturing in China, with insightful interviews that will help our readers put all the dynamics into clear focus.
In this Issue: We examine the current direction and future trajectory of CE and appliances retailing and manufacturing in China, with insightful interviews that will help our readers put all the dynamics into clear focus.
We have a lot of exciting coverage to offer readers in our Dealerscope March issue.
As we move into 2021, we cover Virtual KBIS (the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show). Our staff reports on the highlights of this exciting venue that incorporates the best of tech within the kitchen and bath space. In Stephen Silver’s article, on “5 Retail Trends to Watch in 2021,” Express Delivery using drones is discussed. Also this month, we interview the CEO of Neato Robotics, Thomas Nedder. Thomas talks with Stephanie Adamow on the “household companion of the future,” pointing to the fact that the robotics sector is growing faster than ever.
Then, we explore the world of electric vehicles with Brett Solomon. This growing area is introducing a new stream of innovative products into the aftermarket.
In addition, we examine some of the keys to delivering great customer service during a pandemic, and view the lineup of high-end audio company Cambridge Audio, with a focus on CD players.
We continue our new column, “Retail on the Run,” where we catch up with Electronics Expo CEO Leon Temiz on his new store in Wayne, N.J. And our Unboxed column looks at and evaluates some new Kanto products.
And please make sure to see our special China section, which trains its focus on China’s retail and manufacturing innovations. We include an interview with Ivan Zou, Director of Category Management for CE & Home Appliances for Alibaba.com. Also, Bjorn Ognibeni of ChinaBriefs describes the many new retail concepts in China that could be a part of our future.
Finally, there’s our Warranty Roundup, where our editor in chief, Nancy Klosek, presents executive comments on this business sector during COVID-19. It saddens me that this is Nancy’s final issue as our Editor in Chief. Nancy is retiring from full-time editorial work, as she plans to pursue her dreams of post-pandemic travel. Starting in April, Nancy will become a contributing editor for Dealerscope; I wasn’t going to let her go entirely. She will cover a show or two, once the world becomes normal again, so you may see her on and off in the field. I have been blessed to have a wonderful Editor in Chief at my side, and an even better friend, whom we will miss.
As ever, please send us your feedback. We want to hear from you.
Tony Monteleone, Publisher
This pandemic period undeniably has posed great challenges for many sectors of our industry. But by the same token, it has been a boon for businesses that thrive on making the home more comfortable for those in extended confinement.
And that industry subset certainly includes businesses who cater to seniors that are still living on their own, and who are tech-savvy enough to be able to learn to negotiate the technologies that will enable them to stay independent for as long as possible.
Yes, the “aging in place” industry has grown light years in a relatively short period – well beyond an emergency button tethered to the end of a lanyard that’s meant to serve as a rescue valve for seniors who have taken a fall in their homes.
That business – the “age tech” industry – is what our contributing writer, Susan Schreiner, spotlights with her article in this March issue of Dealerscope. It is a broad and wide category, encompassing not just products and solutions for the elderly; it also extends to all health and wellness solutions that can work for people in every age category.
Schreiner cites a report which indicates that, come the year 2030, more people worldwide will be over 60 than under 10. AARP further reports that 87 percent of those 65 years old and over say they want to stay in their current homes and communities.
If you are a consumer technology retailer, it very much pays to pay attention to the needs of this population segment. Luckily, our industry isn’t just about entertainment options; we are known for regularly coming up with ingenious solutions to every possible lifestyle problem – including aging. So there are plenty of options for you to have at the ready for your customers – and it’s a smart idea to promote them, especially during COVID-19.
Turning to another matter related to aging, this column represents my signoff as Dealerscope’s Editor in Chief. I won’t be completely fading into the sunset, but will segue into contributing editor status for the magazine, with an article in each issue.
I so look forward to continuing my industry relationships – all of which (including those with my Dealerscope and Connected Design colleagues) are precious to me – and I expect to be adding to my collection of lanyards – the ones that hold show badges! – for many seasons to come.
Thank you all, dear readers, for making this job both challenging – and fun.
Stay well, and hoping to see you in person very soon…
My warmest regards,
BY BRETT SOLOMON
Brett Solomon is the lead reporter and writer on 12V products and retailers for Dealerscope. He has been covering the mobile electronics industry for over 20 years.
It can be said that Tesla was the manufacturer that made electric vehicles ‘cool’ – as vehicles with real technological horsepower. But going back just 10 short years ago, electric vehicles were not ready for primetime. Back then, what we all wanted (and still want) was the ability to help reduce carbon emissions, but lithium-ion technology was in its infancy, and quite costly. Additionally, charging stations were not just few and far between… they were virtually nonexistent. Now, we are getting used to the sight of charging stations, even if they are not as prominent as the Mobil, Texaco and Shell stations that dot our nation. As the Tesla vehicle lineup grows (along with the company’s stock price), legacy automakers and startups are introducing their own electric vehicles. Some of them have technologies that would make even Mr. Musk do a double-take. Moreover, we will be seeing even greater proliferation of charging stations, so the possibilities of an all-electric road trip are becoming a reality.
GM is locking horns with Tesla to capture some of the electric vehicle market. At CES, the General was bullish on electrification. “General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe, working to establish a safer, greener and better world,” said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.” Right after the show, the company announced work being done with the Environmental Defense Fund. The goal is to have all of GM’s light-duty (meaning passenger) vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035. Fifteen years does not seem that far away for the phasing out of the internal combustion engine in cars. But it is a lofty goal that seems attainable with halo vehicles such as the GMC Hummer EV ‘Supertruck.’ Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp is working with GM to make all-electric happen: “With this extraordinary step forward, GM is making it crystal clear that taking action to eliminate pollution from all new light-duty vehicles by 2035 is an essential element of any automaker’s business plan. EDF and GM have had some important differences in the past, but this is a new day in America — one where serious collaboration to achieve transportation electrification, science-based climate progress and equitably shared economic opportunity can move our nation forward.”
“When we started out with the blank page for Hummer EV, our goal was the build the fastest, most capable and most premium truck. Ever.
The Hummer Supertruck
We were able to speak with Tom Namovich, the product manager for Hummer EV. “When we started out with the blank page for Hummer EV, our goal was the build the fastest, most capable and most premium truck. Ever. By doing so, we created the world’s first Supertruck,” according to him. Size-wise, the GMC Hummer EV is about the size of an extended cab pickup truck but with incredible capabilities. Namovich continues, “The heart of our product is innovative technology – this vehicle is leading GM’s charge into electric vehicles with our Ultium battery technology.” The technology is a modular battery system that allows the cells to be stacked horizontally or vertically within the pack, allowing for better packaging depending on the vehicle type and shape. Additionally, GM’s joint venture with LG Chem will drive battery cell costs below $100/kWh. The cells use a proprietary low cobalt chemistry, and ongoing technological and manufacturing breakthroughs that will drive costs even lower. In the Hummer, the battery pack is estimated for 350 miles of range coupled with a fast recharge time of nearly 100 miles in ten minutes when an 800-V, 350kW DC fast charger is available. Namovich notes, “The vehicle itself is quiet because of the electric drivetrain. When you take off the removeable Infinity Roof it allows you to reconnect with the environment. It’s an experience that puts you in the middle of every movement, moving in near silence with nothing between you and the world. Moreover, it is an off-road beast. It can take you virtually anywhere.” This is further enhanced with the Infinity Roof. Four removable roof panels are easily taken off and can be stored in the ‘frunk’ (front trunk) of the Hummer.
When GM comes out with something called a Supertruck, the technology is going to have to be beyond what we have seen in previous GM vehicles. “We have very purposeful technologies built into the vehicle,” Namovich notes. “They are really there not just to do technology for technology’s sake, but to really make it so we have real enhancements to the experience. One of the technologies is our Extract mode. It gives the vehicle an additional four inches of suspension lift to overcome boulders or sand traps. Then there is our Crabwalk, which is accomplished by the four-wheel steering on the vehicle.” Not only can it help you avoid obstacles on the open trail, but it is also very useful for low-speed maneuvers in town. It makes the turning radius similar to a small SUV. “We also have Ultravision, which is our 18-view camera system. It even has front and rear underbody cameras with lens protectors and even a wash to clean the camera system.” The importance of clean camera lenses and keeping sensors clean is going to become even more important as we transition to autonomous vehicles that need to be driven in all weather conditions. Although not fully autonomous, the Hummer will be GMC’s first vehicle to feature Super Cruise: GM’s semi-autonomous cruise control system. This updated Super Cruise hands-free driving system features a new automatic lane-changing feature.
Finally, the Hummer H2 mode that has enthusiasts excited is called Watts to Freedom, or WTF mode. “Our maximum acceleration mode WTF allows for 1000 horsepower and 11,000 lb-ft of torque which delivers a 0-60 time of three seconds,” he says. It was really designed for a track or closed-course operation, but we are sure enthusiasts will use the feature – hopefully in an appropriate, safe environment.
Lucid Air interior with its cutting-edge Driver Monitoring System.
Waking Up Lucid
Lucid is an all-electric startup that has been getting a lot of buzz from the automotive press with the announcement of the Lucid Air. The vehicle is called the Air because of the way Lucid designed the powertrain to maximize space for passengers. However, it is the top model’s dash in the quarter-mile acceleration run of less than 10 seconds that has everyone taking note. Peter Rawlinson, CEO of Lucid, states: “Lucid Motors is driven to make the electric car better, and by doing so, help move the entire industry forward towards accelerated adoption of sustainable mobility. The goal of this relentless approach to developing the world’s most advanced electric vehicle is to benefit all mankind with sustainable, zero emission transportation, and to also attract new customers to the world of EVs. With the Lucid Air, we have created a halo car for the entire industry, one which shows the advancements that are possible by pushing the boundaries of EV technology and performance to new levels.”
In addition to the speed of the Lucid, the battery pack is also touted to deliver more than 500 miles of range in top trim. We are also interested to see how the ADAS components of the Lucid Air pan out. Rawlinson notes, “The Lucid Air’s advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS), Lucid DreamDrive, is a first-of-its-kind platform combining the most comprehensive sensor suite on the market with a cutting-edge Driver Monitoring System, all standard on the Lucid Air Dream Edition. It is the first system of its kind to offer 32 sensors, covering vision, radar and ultrasonics, plus the world’s first standard high-resolution LIDAR in an EV, all working alongside the standard DMS and geo-fenced HD mapping to provide the safest possible approach to Level 2 and Level 3 driver assistance technologies.” According to Lucid, customer deliveries of the Air, which will be produced at Lucid’s new factory in Casa Grande, Ariz., will begin in Spring of 2021.
James Barclay, Director Jaguar Formula E Team
Jaguar: Leveraging What’s Learned at the Racetrack to our Driveways
James Barclay is the director of the Jaguar Formula E Team. The company has taken what is has learned at the racetrack and applied it to its all-electric I-Pace that has been very successful. Coincidentally, one of those circuits is Red Hook, Brooklyn, N.Y., where a Formula E race is held. The I-Pace was named the 2020 World Car of the Year by automotive journalists.
In the Formula E racing rulebook, there are some items that teams are allowed to modify and develop, and some items that must be left unchanged. The aerodynamics are similar among the cars, but the teams can bring the electrification technology to the next level. Barclay notes, “We can develop the powertrain: the electric motor, the inverter, gearbox and all of the software and controls – the brains that drive that powertrain to gain maximum performance. From last season to this season, we have refined over 1,000 components. It is essentially a new racecar every year, and we bring what we learn to our consumer vehicles. For example, we took the knowledge we learned last year from pushing the envelope on the racetrack and applied it to the I-Pace. This correlated to a 20-kilometer improvement in range on the consumer vehicle.” It also works as a two-way street. Sometimes the road car technology makes its way into the racecar. For example, the Traffic Sign Recognition technology that displays the speed limit in most Jaguar instrument clusters is also used in the racecar. Barclay notes, “We actually use that technology to give us a cloud-based modeling system during a race. It can look at the other racecars ahead, and that allows us live during a race to analyze our competitors and their state of charge to give us an advantage.” Right now, Jaguar just has the fully electric I-Pace road car, but with the big investment in racing we know there will be upcoming all-electric Jaguar and Land Rover models. We are especially excited to see what Land Rover will come out with – rumors abound of the all-electric Range Rover to be released in 2021. It will feature modular architecture that will accommodate for internal combustion, hybrid or all-electric powerplants.
GM plans to become carbon neutral in its global products and operations by 2040 and has committed to setting science-based targets to achieve carbon neutrality. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)
Cutting-Edge Driver Monitoring System
As trucks and SUVs dominate American driveways, all-electric choices such as a new Range Rover or the Hummer EV will seem less radical to people unfamiliar with EV technology. As is the case for any new technology, as more consumers purchase EVs, the technology will continue to improve. The end game will be beneficial for the environment – and for our daily commute.
Best Buy to Cut Store Jobs and Reduce Hours | Best Buy saw some sizable gains since the onset of the pandemic but the caveat for store workers is that most of the sales were made online. In an email statement to USA Today, Best Buy spokesperson, Keegan Shoutz, said: “Our workforce will need to evolve to meet the evolving needs of customers while providing more flexible opportunities for our people.”
More Sears Stores Set to Close | Transformco, the owner of the Sears and Kmart, is preparing to close more stores after a decade of steady liquidation. Based on job postings for temporary positions, USA Today says at least 18 Sears and eight Kmart stores will be permanently closed by mid-April. The closures include stores in California, Hawaii, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts and New York.
Biden Administration Reviews TikTok Sale | Walmart and Oracle’s plan to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations has been halted indefinitely as the Biden Administration reviews security concerns with Chinese tech companies, according to The Wall Street Journal. The deal would give Walmart CEO Doug McMillon a seat on the board of a newly created company. Until (and if) then, it looks like Walmart will just stick to making videos.
Retailers Beware: Shipping Delays are Back | Between staff shortages and inclement weather, delivery providers are anticipating major shipping delays as were seen around the holidays. In some of the heaviest-hit parts of the country, options for curbside or in-store pickups may not be a safe alternative for customers. Add to that the end of stimulus spending and awaiting tax returns, and Wells Fargo analysts are anticipating a retail slowdown this month.
Amazon Acquires Shopify Competitor Selz | Amazon has purchased Australian company, Selz, a seven-year-old startup that helps entrepreneurs launch their own online stores. The deal signals Amazon’s continued focus on third-party sellers who collectively make up more than half of Amazon’s e-commerce sales.
Keeping up with information about the current direction and future trajectory of consumer electronics and home appliances retailing and manufacturing in China makes perfect sense for U.S. dealers, whose inventories are populated with China’s many high-level products and technologies. That’s the reason that Dealerscope is pleased to provide this readers’ guide – to help dealers keep an eye on the many moving parts that comprise the Chinese consumer technology universe – and on its impact for their U.S. businesses.
This section has also been designed to prime readers in advance for some of the topics that will be front and center at CE China – a global IFA event, and China’s premier trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances – that is to take place Sept. 16-18 in Guangzhou, China.
We hope that you find these articles informative and useful for tracking the many exciting trends that are on the horizon in China, and that may soon be making their way to America.
Tell our readers about your products. Are there any special customized products for the Chinese market and for overseas markets? Are there any new or innovative products developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?Continue to read
Tell our readers about your products. Are there any special customized products for the Chinese market and for overseas markets? Are there any new or innovative products developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Galanz has always been committed to innovation and R&D. Apart from our key products such as microwave ovens, kitchen appliances, refrigerators...Continue to read
Xiang Zhi, team leader of the annual CE China show – a global IFA event in Guangzhou, was born in China. Following his studies in Germany, he began his career in the German exhibition industry. After years of international exhibition experience, in 2018, he joined the IFA team of Messe Berlin GmbH. Here, he offers a view of the many opportunities inherent in the Chinese consumer marketplace to Dealerscope’s editor in chief, Nancy Klosek.Continue to read
Yi Ma, CE China’s product manager responsible for marketing, retailpartnerships and conference programs, explores the dynamics in the ever-evolving Chinese consumer marketplace in this Q&A with Ivan Zou, Director of Category Management for CE and Home Appliances at Alibaba.com Yi Ma, Product Manager CE China: How has the global pandemic affected the landscape for the...Continue to read
Progressive ecommerce, and in-store methods that could provide templates for future retailing in the U.S. By Bjorn Ognibeni, Practical Visionary and Co-Founder, ChinaBriefs Although there are many different online stores vying for consumers’ attention and dollars during Black Friday Week through Christmas, have you ever noticed that the design of the shopping experience has hardly...Continue to read
BY JESSICA GUYON
My mailman had his work cut out for him the day three sets of Kanto speaker stands arrived at my house. Before I was even able to open the box, I could tell these stands were the types of products that last a lifetime, simply judging by how heavy they felt. As I opened each box, I could see that the design of the products would withstand the test of time as well.
SP6HDW 6” Desktop Stands
Kanto offers two desktop stand options to elevate the look (and sound) of their speakers. The 6” set works well with their YU6 and TUK speakers, or really any 4” to 7” speakers while the 9” set goes best with the their YU2, YU4, or other 3” to 4” speakers. Setup was relatively quick and simple thanks to the detailed instructions and included Allen keys. Once assembled, the heavy steel structure kept my YU speakers grounded and they didn’t feel like they were going to topple over easily. The stands do offer 30 degrees of rotation, but you’ll have to unscrew the top plates to achieve a different angle. Foam feet on the bottom of the stands keep them from sliding and ensure no scuff marks are left on your desk when you need to reposition them. The cords are kept cleverly tucked away in the center of each stand for a cleaner look. The most attractive setup, it seems, is to accompany the elevated speakers with a stand for your desktop as well. Although Kanto doesn’t offer a desktop stand (yet, at least), you can get started on boosting your computer audio with a set of these stands for $60 for the 6” or $80 for the 9”.
The SP Series Floor Stands
The higher and highest speaker stands from Kanto are the SP26 and SP32 floor stands. Both sizes are available in black and white options and feature the same, heavy-duty steel as their desktop counterparts. Tall stands like these are definitely more prone to toppling over if they’re bumped into, but Kanto carefully considered this risk in the design process. Interchangeable spiked and rubber dome feet ensure the stands remain securely in place whether you have carpeted or hardwood flooring. My charging toddler bumped into one of the stands and it started to wobble but it stood firm and didn’t fall down. Just like the desktop stands, the SP Series includes two plates to accommodate different-sized speakers, all of which can support 30 lbs. The 26” set runs for $130 while the 32” set comes in at $140 – both relatively affordable price points for stands of this caliber.
“Dealerscope’s UNBOXED review of the Kanto’s YU6 Speakers featuring the SP32 Floor Stand.”
BY JEFF DORGAY
I’ve had my hands on many great products from British hi-fi giant Cambridge Audio. In addition to their combination of high value and high performance, they are effortless to use. Here are a few of their more recent products that address current trends in personal and home audio.
Though everyone is talking about vinyl these days, the Compact Disc is also making a quiet comeback. Strong as streaming is, there are still selections you just can’t get via Tidal, Roon, Spotify, or others. With all the hardware, firmware, and iOS updates, there are also times that it all doesn’t talk together as you’d like when you’d like. The minute the music stops, the party’s over, so on one level, the CD is still an excellent source of last resort.
Turntable setup is still work, and as digital playback has improved so much in the last 10 years, a sub-$1,000 CD player can be a legitimate audiophile choice. With the CXC CD transport ($599), 851C player/DAC/preamplifier ($1,500), and the entry-level AXC35CD player ($350), Cambridge offers something for everyone. If you’re satisfied with your current DAC but don’t want to abandon your shiny disc collection, the CXC is a perfect choice. Building a high-performance budget system? The AXC35CD player fits the bill – and the companion AXA35 integrated amplifier is a perfect complement (and it offers a built-in phono section, so you can spin whatever type of physical media you enjoy).
Gregg Chopper, director of The Americas at Cambridge Audio, feels that “many of our listeners still have extensive CD collections, and there’s a definite demand for equipment that will play their collections back at their best.” He goes on to mention that there is a robust demand worldwide, beyond the U.K. and U.S. markets, and “the CXC is a component many customers purchase as they transfer to streaming, but don’t want to fully abandon physical playback.”
Because so many manufacturers have abandoned the affordable transport space, the CXC makes a perfect addition to an existing DAC or even a pair of powered speakers with built-in digital decoding. Running an AudioQuest optical cable to our Totem Kin Play powered speakers made playing a pile of recently acquired CDs fun and easy. Should your amplifier or powered speakers not feature an onboard DAC, the AXC35 CD player fills the bill, featuring everything you need to play your CD collection.
The look and feel of the Cambridge gear is decidedly upscale, Chopper says. “All of our product design decisions are made by an extremely talented team of industrial designers at our London HQ. The finish, along with other signature design features like the wedge foot at the front of our CX and AX components, gives our entire range a coherent brand identity that says discreet elegance rather than ‘look at me.’” A fantastic lineup, to be sure, regardless of how you’d like to access your digital music library.
Virtual Tours can be a powerful branding tool, but they aren’t something retailers always consider in their marketing efforts. One of the most likely reasons for this is because they want customers to actually come in. After all, that’s why they have a storefront and not just an online business. But virtual tours may end up being beneficial in the long run, especially as many stores remain operating under capacity limits.
A research study conducted by the International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management in May 2020 found that virtual tours enhanced store equity and promoted store visit intentions. Participants were shown virtual tour stimuli and then asked to complete an online survey. The results showed that sensory and behavioral experiences directly increased intentions to visit the store, whereas intellectual and emotional experiences promoted visit intentions via enhanced brand equity.
So how do you get started in creating one of these things?
Well, despite popular belief, making a virtual tour isn’t quite as hard as you’d think and you certainly don’t need a professional film crew to do so (unless of course your budget allows; then go for it). One way to whip up a virtual tour of your store is with a smartphone and a Google Business listing.
Using the Google Street View app, you can take a series of photos that can be stitched together to form a 360-degree field of view. Google offers some guidance on making the 360 photos look seamless and also lets you keep trying until you get it just right. If you want to take it up a notch, you can purchase a 360 camera relatively cheaply, or even hire a professional who specializes in Google Street photography.
To further enhance a virtual tour, you can also add image overlays to highlight certain aspects of your store or showroom. A rich, 2D image can call attention to a specific product and list further details like price, availability, etc.
Google says listings with photos and a virtual tour are twice as likely to generate interest. To add to that, listings with photos and tours motivate customers to make a purchase 29 percent of the time.
Getting people in the door used to be half the battle when it came to retailing but now, and especially during the pandemic, creating a strong digital presence, establishing trust, and meeting customers where they are has proven to be of equal importance.
LG shone a spotlight on several product categories within its mass-premium-market-targeted appliances line at February’s virtual KBIS show – namely, refrigeration, cooking, dishwashers, laundry, floor and air care.
Brandt Varner, VP of Product Management, enumerated the various feature additions for each, which included multiple enhancements to LG’s step-up STUDIO line.
Here are a few highlights from his presentation:
Delicious meals may be made in the kitchen, but that is certainly not where the magic begins. The minds behind the Signature Kitchen Suite (SKS) brand recognize this and are pledging to “deliver performance, design and precision” to the luxury built-in kitchen appliance market by “honoring the ones producing [the food], the ones preparing it, and all the ones lucky enough to be enjoying it.”
The SKS line not only features leading technology but also provides flexibility in food preparation. The line features an under-counter convertible drawer refrigerator, which comes panel-ready or in stainless steel. There are six temperature zones for pantry, fridge, bar, seafood, meat and freezer. It features ThinQ technology and has flexibility from -7 to 50 degrees independently in each drawer. The under-counter wine refrigerator, which holds 41 bottles, features Wine Cave technology as well as the Signature Sommelier app and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The star of the show, however, is the 36-inch Duel-Fuel Pro Range. According to Ron Gower, regional sales manager for Signature Kitchen Suite and LG Builder, it is the “Swiss army knife of cooking” – the first of its kind to feature a “sous vide” module, which is a cooking method that uses precise temperature control to deliver consistent, high-quality results. Additional highlights of the Pro-Range include two-zone induction and ultra-high and ultra-low heat burners. According to Gower, it is the largest capacity steam-combo convection oven. Additionally, it delivers under 39,000 BTUs and low ambient heat, so no makeup air kits are necessary.
The company’s 36-inch Induction Cooktop, with four inductors at 3,700 watts of power each, includes two flex cooking zones and pan size sensors in addition to a seven-inch color TFT LCD touch control panel. Its center element zone offers 7,000 watts on “boost mode.”
Sharp came to Virtual KBIS with a bevy of appliance solutions – and armed and ready to talk them up to attendees. While its pre-show news was centered on the introduction of its first-ever smart built-in convection microwave drawer oven, that was just a single element of its dealer and designer conversations at the show, which included discussion of the company’s Full Kitchen Suite, and of the technology behind its air purifiers, especially germane in this time of COVID.
On the topic of air purification, “the reality is that the coronavirus is here, and could become endemic and will mutate, like another version of the flu, so consumers’ appreciation of home air quality will stay with us for a while,” offers Jim Sanduski, president of Sharp Home Electronics Company of America (SHCA). In fact, he says he expects that the working-from-home trend, as it has taken root and not resulted in productivity falloff, will stick, even beyond the pandemic lifespan. “What it means is that we’ve seen a huge spike in demand for kitchen appliances as well. It’s torrid. And it should result in an elevated level of business for quite some time.”
Sanduski says that Sharp happens to be well positioned to leverage this trend – but also for another reason that transcends the pandemic: the fact that Sharp’s appliances are hybrid, multi-functional devices. For example, he points out, the generous 1.4-cubic-foot interior of the aforementioned convection microwave drawer oven will accommodate most dishes, circumventing the need to “fire up the regular oven – plus it has convection-speed cooking.”
And, due to a canny engineering design decision incorporated in Sharp appliances from the outset, these Sharp devices are 120V, and require no special wiring – “they’ll fit in kitchen islands with 120V outlets,” Sanduski notes.
“Our form and functionality is evident through unique products that do more than one thing in the kitchen,” adds Peter Weedfald, senior vice president, sales & marketing, Sharp Electronics Marketing Company of America (SEMCA), in encapsulating the design spirit that has driven Sharp’s appliance innovations. He continues, “the good news is that we have refrigerators, dishwashers and induction cooktops as well” – and the company’s success in telling its across-the-board Full Kitchen Suite story has been reflected in impressive dealer uptake numbers for its built-in packages.
Sharp, Sanduski says, is looking forward to following up its successful presence at KBIS in the near future at other venues, when it can once again be “back in person,” presenting Sharp innovations to dealers in the flesh.
Whether you are a seasoned oenophile or simply enjoy the occasional sampling on Saturday nights, Plum is ready to take your wine-tasting experience up a notch. Its freestanding countertop unit, which received Best of the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) 2020, preserves, chills and serves wine by the glass. Holding two bottles at once, it chills each as intended for 90 days. The Plum unit features a 7-inch touchscreen to display detailed history about the bottles inside. The labels are analyzed and will display on the touchscreen information regarding the wine’s origin, including region and winery. It boasts 220 identifiable varieties. With the rise of at-home entertaining, Plum has expanded its offering by creating an integrated solution that allows the product to be “wrapped” into the room’s design. And this is not confined to the kitchen. The product fits flush within a 24-inch space and comes in black and stainless steel finishes.
“We are seeing the disintegration of the kitchen,” Hansen notes. “People are creating oases in the home, and Plum adds a category of pleasure to each space.”
Samsung spotlighted its new line of BESPOKE refrigerators at KBIS, with various configurations and panel colors to choose from, including a bottom-mount freezer option; a 1-Column Flex model, which can switch between fridge and freezer modes; and the BESPOKE 4-Door Flex, which gives consumers choices of eight different colors and two interchangeable panel finishes.
Redesigned for 2021 is Samsung’s Family Hub, an AI-powered service that can be connected to Google Nest and Amazon Alexa. From the Family Hub, homeowners can monitor energy efficiency of other smart appliances in the home, turning off the ones that are not needed. Additionally, the SmartThings Cooking feature, powered by Food AI technology, can recommend recipes and curate meal prep guides and grocery lists. It can even send a recipe straight from the SmartThings app directly to an appliance.
Speaking of appliances, Samsung’s Front Control Slide-In Range will now be available with induction. This feature is added to the range’s Smart Dial and built-in Air Fry mode features. Additional highlights include its 4.2kW UltraExpress Boil burner; virtual flame, which uses LED surface lights to give the visual of gas cooking; and the Flex Duo model, which allows for baking two dishes simultaneously, at different temperatures.
Samsung is also offering premium features to its freestanding range category, which includes Wi-Fi connectivity and Air Fry mode.
And, like their counterparts in the kitchen, the 8800 Series Front Load Washer and Dryer have also received upgrades for 2021.
BY STEPHANIE ADAMOW
When you hear Thomas Nedder talk about Neato Robotics’ intelligent robotic vacuums, it is difficult to imagine them as artificial. He frequently refers to them as household companions, present to help you with the most mundane of tasks. Their intuitiveness emulates an endearing quality. Perhaps this is what drew a highly successful consumer electronics executive, like himself, to Neato, after spending most of his career in the high-tech world of semiconductors, electrical components, memory chips, sensors, and the like.
As CEO of Neato since September 2019, Nedder is focused on leveraging the company’s innovation and forward-thinking principles to further drive its leadership in the market.
It was Nedder’s experience with Japanese companies like Sharp and NEC that primed him for his position at Neato. And it was his tenure at Sony, where he was able to turn around an under-performing division in Germany within five years, that readied him to steer the Neato brand. But, more than anything, it is the shared desire to help people that has made the relationship with Neato a perfect fit. “Everything we do here is centered around our customers and the vision of making people’s everyday lives easier,” Nedder notes. “I always worked with high-end products, but for me it was important to have the chance with Neato because it had so much innovation. It was a great opportunity to bring my consumer electronics experience over and give Neato a clear, premium goal for the brand.”
Growth Accelerates for the Robotics Market
The consumer robotics market is defined by GMI Research as “a branch of technology that deals with robots that can work in coordination with humans and can assist them with their daily routine tasks. These robots use sensors, actuators, and other interfaces to communicate with the physical surroundings. They are programmable machines and are available in autonomous or semi-autonomous forms.” Research dictates that this market will grow more than 30 percent from now until 2027—a fact that is not lost on Neato’s CEO.
“In 2020, the market size was two billion and in 2025 it will be 6.5 billion,” reports Nedder. “The number of units is increasing as well as the average sales price. As consumers gain more trust in the product, and people see the performance, they are willing to pay more. That is something we are centered on.
“We want to create products based on a need, but we want to fulfill more than that,” he explains. “We are a company that has been first to the market with a lot of features.”
The features of the Neato intelligent robotic vacuums — eight generations have been released in its “D” series since 2010 — include conforming to its namesake’s “D” shape, unlike most competitors. This allows it to leave no corner untouched (unless, of course, the owner instructs it to). It has a Spiral Combo Brush that’s up to 70 percent bigger than brushes on round robots. It also includes a dirt bin that is 0.7 liters. Nedder reports that Neato was the first to come to the market with LiDAR laser technology, to rival photo mapping of rooms. Using a laser technology eliminates the need to take actual photos of your home to be “saved” in the cloud. The laser also allows the vacuum to perform in total darkness. But the standout feature of the company’s flagship product, the D10, is its HEPA filter, which captures 99.97 percent of allergens and dust particles — as small as .3 microns. With a run time of up to 250 minutes, the D10 is “far beyond others on the market,” Nedder notes. With the all new MyNeato app, homeowners can name their robot; remote start; schedule cleanings (the first of which is the “mapping” stage); and also set “no-go” zones to avoid while cleaning. The vacuums also can be connected to Google Home, Siri and Amazon Alexa.
The performance of the D7 was highlighted by Germany’s consumer organization Stiftung Warentest, which strictly investigates goods and services. The company measures products based on usefulness, functionality and environmental impact as well as consumer education. The organization recognized Neato’s D7 robot in its listing of best of products.
Nedder says he is honored to have had the product acknowledged by such a prestigious organization and believes the D7 made this list because of its superior cleaning ability as well as its unique design.
“Neato has a smart algorithm,” Nedder explains. “It allows us to clean rooms efficiently with an accurate percentage of coverage in a shorter period of time.”
These features led to yet another distinction. The aforementioned D10 was listed in the Top Ten Technik 2020, released this past September. This organization spotlights the “hottest technology highlights of the year” as decided upon by the Bundesverband Technik des Einzelhandels (BVT), along with “trading entrepreneurs from the consumer electronics, mobile/telecommunications, information technology, PC/multimedia, photo/imaging, electrical household appliances, kitchens and lighting industries.” In its evaluation, Top Ten Technik published about the D10: “The intelligent robot vacuum cleaners from Neato Robotics make the household [run] easier. Neato robot vacuum cleaners feature state-of-the-art technologies, are easy to configure and are particularly durable — making them the ultimate partner for the household.”
Dedication to the ‘Customer Journey’
Nedder is deeply entrenched in what he calls “the customer journey.”
“We have been studying customers and their pain points and have developed a clear strategy for what the product should be like when you see it for the first time, typically on social media; when you buy it, whether it is online or store; and when you unbox it and connect it to your home.”
From researching, purchasing, unboxing, to setup and use, the foundation is ease of use. And far beyond that, the customer service is 24/7 with a Neato hotline for users. “The human-robot interface is key for the future,” Nedder noted. “It was important for us to establish trust in this emerging technology. We have come a long way.” The market is growing, but household penetration of robotics is still relatively low, at below 10 percent, Nedder explains. He is confident this will rise in the coming years, as research predicts. And the retail chain will become increasingly important. “It is important for us to support our retail partners because products like ours with price tags over $500 are not spontaneous purchases. These are products that people [research], and want to get a final touch and recommendation.
“For us, the aesthetics of products also has become a very important factor. A Neato product enriches your home and should fit into your lifestyle. It is more of a piece of art that can perform an excellent task.”
The consumer robotics market is expected to grow more than 30 percent from now until 2027.
Neato intelligent robotic vacuums have been given top ratings from international testing organizations.
The flagship Neato D10 robot features state-of-the- art technology, easy configuration, durability and an industry-first, true HEPA filter, which captures 99.97 percent of allergens and dust particles.
BY ANDRE CHANDRA, FOUNDER AND CEO, PROPELO MEDIA
The best place to find new customers is to target individuals already shopping with your competition. Geo-fencing your competitor’s actual retail location allows you to send mobile ads to qualified people in the market for products and services like yours.
Geo-fencing lets brands bring true, real-time location-targeting to omnichannel marketing. With it, you can target mobile device users in specific locations with ads that speak directly to where they are and what they’re doing. And it’s an especially powerful tactic when you put that fence around competing retail locations.
Today, we’re looking closely at a particular tactic, geo-conquesting, and how it can let you reach people in your competitors’ spaces.
When Geo-Fencing Becomes Geo-Conquesting
Geo-fencing uses the location data of mobile phones to target people based on where they are or the places they’ve been to recently. When you overlay this with demographic data, it lets you access a lot of powerful marketing techniques. For example, simply adding geo-location to quick-service restaurant ads can double their effectiveness.
But geo-conquesting goes beyond location and demographics to add an element of behavioral targeting to your campaign. You can get very local with geo-fencing, down to about a store or room footprint, which allows you to target the area around specific retail locations. And you can absolutely use that to target places where you know people are interacting with your competitors.
We’ve found this to be a very successful tactic for businesses like quick-service restaurants (coffee shops, pizza parlors, etc.), supermarkets, clothing stores and fitness studios. Any location-based business where you’re competing for local consumers is a great opportunity for this kind of mobile behavioral targeting.
That’s why we call it “geo-conquesting:” It’s a chance to win highly contested consumer segments away from your competition.
This is where demographics comes back into the equation, because you wouldn’t want to waste budget targeting these ads at people who still aren’t a good fit for your business. For example, you probably don’t want to send them to the employees there.
By layering demographic data and modeling on top of geo-fencing, we can screen out location employees, people who are out of your target audience, and others who you don’t want to hit with paid ads.
Altogether, this is a powerful new way to, essentially, poach customers from the competition. Here are a couple of ways brands are using it in the field.
Dunkin’ Donuts Makes Breakfast a Battleground
We mentioned that geo-conquesting is a great tool for coffee shops, and Dunkin’ Donuts put that to the test. Rather than target existing customers, the international coffee chain wanted to aim for consumers who were either loyal to other coffee shops or vacillated between different breakfast shops. The key to the Dunkin’ strategy was to get on those consumers’ smartphones. They knew once they had an app download or mobile phone numbers, then it would be much easier to convince those consumers to come to Dunkin’ over the competition, moving forward.
The campaign was designed to target breakfast consumers who had visited a competing location in the past 30 days. That audience saw banner ads in mobile apps and websites visited on their phones that offered $1 and $2 cups of coffee. Once clicked, they got a code to redeem for the coffee and directions to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts. About a third of the customers who clicked through took further actions, and 3.6 percent redeemed the coupons.
Whole Foods Gives Shoppers Reason to Go Out of Their Way
Whole Foods Market is a relatively new national supermarket with stores all over the U.S. (and internationally, as well). But in many places in the U.S., it does not have the same level of store coverage as other supermarket chains. Therefore, the limiting factor keeping people from shopping at Whole Foods is often traveling the extra distance to get to their stores. So, their goal was to approach customers of other supermarkets and entice them to go the extra mile to a Whole Foods store.
Whole Foods already had a geo-fencing campaign around its own stores, but then it also put geo-fences around competing supermarkets in the same regions as those stores. They then targeted customers in those locations with mobile ads that incentivized them with steep discounts to go the extra distance to get to the Whole Foods store. And they did! The campaign saw a 4.69 percent post-click conversion rate compared to the national average of 1.43 percent.
Mobile Marketing That Wins Market Share
These are just a few of the ways brands are using geo-conquesting to target competitors’ customers at the local, personal level, but it’s also a glimpse into the future of advertising.
As long as we continue to make personal connected devices a part of our lives, the opportunities for targeted, personalized, omnichannel marketing will continue to multiply. And the brands that use these new tools the best will win over their competitors for customers, market share and ROI.
BY JEFF UNTERREINER
Jeff Unterreiner is the President, U.S. Connected Living, at Assurant, a global provider of risk management products and services with headquarters in New York City. Its businesses provide a diverse set of specialty niche-market insurance products in the property, casualty, extended service protection and pre-need insurance sectors.
Delivering a great customer experience has never been more vital than during the COVID-19 crisis. Social distancing and safety precautions altered the shopping and purchase habits of many consumers, presenting CE and other retail companies with unique challenges — primarily, how to ensure the safety of their own employees and storefronts without compromising service to customers.
As we come upon a full year of living with the virus, many lessons have become apparent and offer a blueprint for not only how to meet and exceed customer expectations in a pandemic, but also in a more normalized, post-COVID-19 world.
Here are three takeaways that may be helpful for your operation.
01 – Focus on Flexibility
As COVID-19 first began to spread in 2020, my company, Assurant, immediately worked to transition staff to “service from home” while instituting CDC-based protocols for employees who continued to work in product repair and logistics facilities. We relocated roughly 8,000 associates, including scores of customer service representatives, to home within a few weeks.
What we learned is that a flexible mindset is key to maintaining service and support levels during a time of immense change. With so many moving parts involved in orchestrating the movement of people, equipment and technology, the ability to adapt to the moment is crucial. Standard operating procedures may not be the best solution when dealing with an entire paradigm shift in service operations.
Moving call center and customer support associates from contact centers to remote work is not a routine occurrence. In addition to the relocation of specialized equipment and installation of software to handle large call volumes, we had to make sure that each associate had the network bandwidth necessary to serve customers as efficiently as from the office.
Given the many different home technology situations among employees, there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Cross-functional, ad hoc collaboration was key to finding multiple pathways in real time. A purposeful willingness among customer experience employees, IT and management teams is essential to adapting to new procedures and changing situations.
Also, we’ve found that conducting ongoing readiness drills is effective at maintaining flexibility in a changing environment. It helps to stay prepared to deliver uninterrupted customer support under various potential scenarios.
These approaches enabled us to maintain service and support performance levels despite the massive transition in operations, and then meet and exceed customer expectations since that time, as evidenced by high net promoter scores. While past thinking was that service associates need to be at an onsite facility to ensure productivity, we now know that having an at-home option for customer representatives will not necessarily have a negative impact on performance, once it is safe to resume office operations.
02 – Offer Options
Another important takeaway is to leverage digital self-service tools where possible, to give customers choices for how to engage, especially post-purchase. In today’s socially distanced environment, it’s important to provide options to meet people where they are most comfortable.
Operationally, digital tools make it easier for cross-functional teams to stand up new service solutions to meet changing customer needs. Such capabilities can link IT, call center, product repair and logistics teams to seamlessly handle thousands of customer requests during operational transitions.
For example, when a client closed many of its retail locations in 2020 due to COVID-19, we leveraged self-service and digital tools to enable customers to submit warranty claims online and get next-day shipping for replacement of their products. We’ve also gone further to offer customers local repair locations and come-to-you service options for convenient same-day service. This is particularly important for mobile electronics. Many customers have told us that being able to stay connected with loved ones in a distanced environment eased their stress considerably.
Digital capabilities will continue to be an important part of the customer experience once the pandemic subsides. While some customer behaviors will return to a pre-crisis normal, others likely will stay adapted to the new routines of the past year. With consumers more comfortable transacting online, it will be important that post-purchase services such as setup, installation, support, service and warranty assistance are as seamless, accessible and convenient as possible.
03 – Educate and Empathize
The third takeaway is that exceeding customer expectations doesn’t stop with operations and capabilities. Whatever customer interaction options you put in place, it’s important to educate customers and make the options easy for people to use.
Some customers have had to learn new tricks, such as using a company’s app for the first time. In our experience, you can smooth that transition by providing guidance and help with one tap from a mobile device.
Also, offering a friendly voice and easy, efficient service makes a significant difference in times of stress. Even the simplest transaction can be laden with emotion for customers, so having an empathetic voice on the other end of the line can make all the difference in the world.
While the pandemic promises to continue providing challenges in the near term, there is light on the horizon. As society makes the turn towards normalcy, continue to focus on flexibility, provide multiple service options and make sure to offer a helpful, empathetic voice to deliver the best experience possible.
BY STEPHEN SILVER
As we enter the spring of 2021, there are positive signs that we may be approaching the light at the end of the tunnel with the coronavirus pandemic. But even if we see something approximating normalcy by this summer, the effects on customer behavior that have been learned over the course of the last year are unlikely to be unlearned overnight – and some changes that went into effect during the pandemic period may not go away at all. Some trends that we can expect to continue for the rest of 2021:
1 – E-commerce is Here to Stay
The pandemic, of course, accelerated previous trends towards e-commerce’s growth. According to U.S. Department of Commerce data, e-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2020 reached $199.44 billion, a 37.1 percent surge over the same quarter the year before. The growth in the second quarter, of 44.4 percent, had been even higher.
“Consumers have embraced online shopping with vigor, and retailers have responded with the speedy rollout of new technologies, new apps and new ways of meeting shoppers’ needs,” the National Retail Federation’s vice president of education strategy, Susan Reda, said in a blog post in December. “The words ‘contactless’ and ‘frictionless’ have quickly become part of the vernacular, and companies that have managed to break the mold and adapt are winning.”
IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index estimated that the pandemic has accelerated the move towards e-commerce by a matter of years. So even as stores have reopened, and will reopen further as 2021 goes on, customers aren’t going to go back to normal right away.
2 – A Big Step Towards Drone Delivery
Drone delivery has been on the public radar for many years, ever since Amazon’s Jeff Bezos revealed the existence of a plan to deliver it in a 60 Minutes interview back in 2013.
But in 2020, that technology took a big step forward. UPS, along with CVS, last spring launched a pilot program to use drones to deliver medicine to senior citizens in Florida. The test was limited, going only a half mile and delivering to a pickup location, with a truck taking them the last mile. But it showed a glimpse of the day when drones could take product deliveries directly to the customer’s front door. And in December, the FAA announced new rules for how drones will work for such applications as deliveries, which could affect companies from UPS to Walmart to Amazon.
“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in the December announcement. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”
Regular drone delivery is unlikely to be a ubiquitous feature of e-commerce in 2021. But get ready to see more pilot programs and further steps toward the day when it is.
3 – Faster-Than-Ever Shipping
The rise of Amazon Prime in recent years has made customers expect not only free shipping, but in some cases, same-day delivery. In 2020, Amazon announced that it was expanding its Same-Day Delivery program, offering “click to doorstep in just a few hours” for customers in four U.S. cities.
Walmart, too, is offering Express Delivery, promising, “We’ll deliver what you need in two hours or less.” If the giants are offered such delivery perks, customers are going to begin to expect such things from retail in general.
Deliveries are also being done by non-traditional means. DoorDash even debuted a fleet of food delivery robots, which can deliver up to 22 pounds of food.
4 – Retail Casualties of the Pandemic
Several major American retailers, including Modell’s Sporting Goods, Century 21, Lord & Taylor, and Stein Mart, were liquidated in the year of the pandemic, while many others (Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, J.C. Penney and the parent company of Men’s Wearhouse) have declared bankruptcy but are expected to eventually emerge, with a smaller store footprint. And while much less heralded, the pandemic led to the deaths of thousands of smaller businesses.
This carnage will have several effects on surviving retailers. It represents the elimination of competition, as well as the opening up of a huge amount of commercial space. The closings likely also have made many experienced retail employees available and looking for work.
The Wall Street Journal reported last August that Amazon was in talks with mall operator Simon Property Group about locating Amazon fulfillment centers in some former Sears and J.C. Penney stores, but it doesn’t appear those talks resulted in a deal. How the real estate picture shakes out, as the pandemic recedes, is a story worth watching in 2021.
5 – The Continuing Rise of Augmented Reality
Retailers have been playing with the potential of augmented reality (AR) for close to a decade. But AR was one of the technologies that accelerated in a huge way due to the pandemic.
As laid out in a report late last year by the Harvard Business Review, numerous retailers from Louis Vuitton to IKEA tried out online “try-before-you-buy” online experiences during the time when their stores were closed. And as stores have reopened, some stores still taking precautions have continued to offer such tools to demonstrate their products more safely.
Shopify said last September that “interactions with products having 3D/AR content showed a 94% higher conversion rate than for products without AR/3D.”
These represent just some of the more prominent retail trends that have surfaced along with the progression of COVID-19. Whether they will stick or vanish, post-pandemic, remains to be seen. Stay tuned!
COMPILED BY NANCY KLOSEK
Dealerscope’s collection of warranty executive comments this month center around each company’s strategies for 2021 in answer to the challenges and changing market dynamics presented by the ongoing pandemic. Respondents addressed the following:
In what major ways has the pandemic – which has influenced consumer behaviors and purchasing patterns as they relate to consumer technology products – influenced warranty sales at the CE and appliance dealers you do business with in 2021? What are you emphasizing in your offerings to dealers that they can use to effectively make the case for warranty purchases to consumers?
The pandemic significantly impacted the way we work and attend school. This migration to working at home and virtual schooling drove increased sales of home computing, home networking, home furnishings, home appliances, and the need to protect them. At the same time, sales of products shifted from in-store to online. AIG’s first emphasis was to ensure that our clients’ online purchase path was well marketed, well displayed, and easy to execute, to ensure customer awareness of warranty products. We also modified our warranty product offerings to include emerging “IoT” needs like maintaining high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity, monitoring cyber intrusions and enhancing the protection of confidential information.
With the increase of people working and learning from home during the pandemic, there has been a corresponding increase in demand for products like electronics and appliances. Given the added importance of these items to our everyday lives, demand for protection plans has surged. We’ve also seen consumers gravitate towards brands they trust, like Allstate — another reason our purchase frequency has increased.
Over the past year, we’ve focused on the safety and support of our customers, employees and partners. This includes COVID-19 safe repair and replacement options, as well as remote tech support and troubleshooting. Our ability to deliver in-home repairs quickly, typically in one visit, has also been important for our partners — as getting their customers’ appliances and TVs fixed fast has been critical.
I believe the pandemic has caused some in the consumer electronics and appliance space to react the way automotive OEMs and dealers responded coming out of the 2008 financial crisis.
During that time, just like today, declining consumer confidence and margin erosion were driving forces. To combat this, there was a renewed focus on protection plan and service contract design. This meant more coverage options, more consumer-friendly terms, and the mindset of presenting protection options 100% of the time to 100% of customers. Protection plans became a true profit center.
We are new to the consumer space, but we have lived this before. As a pure underwriting partner, Arch delivers the resources needed to help our partner clients execute on their protection plan strategies.
The customer experience has never been more vital than it has been during the pandemic. As social distancing and safety precautions altered the in-store shopping and purchase habits of many consumers it became clear that CE and appliance companies had to leverage digital self-service tools to give customers options, meeting people where they are most comfortable. The ability for customers to easily contact warranty services and get a quick, convenient resolution will be vital to driving warranty sales and ensuring customer loyalty in 2021. It’s also important to offer a friendly, empathetic voice in challenging times. Many customers continue to let us know that they appreciate the compassionate service.
The pandemic has made people keenly aware of the important role their home tech and appliances play in keeping them connected and their daily life running smoothly. Now more than ever, customers value the ability to get a fast repair, replacement and support.
We’re helping clients deliver this for their customers. We’ve expanded our network of fast, local repair options through over 600 uBreakiFix locations. We’ve also expanded our same-day, come-to-you device repair and replacement to quickly help customers without them having to leave the safety or convenience of home. Finally, we’ve launched with several clients, Asurion Home+, the industry’s first extended warranty product that not only covers all of the customer’s most important home tech in one program but also provides unlimited support services.
As product purchasing has shifted more towards online, we continue to work with our partners on optimizing their protection plan offerings via digital methods.
We are not specifically focusing on different messaging that explains the benefits of a service contract, rather we are focusing on alternate methods that simulate more of a face-to-face interaction so we can help drive similar attachment rates as we’ve traditionally seen in-store. This includes the incorporation of detailed pop-ups offerings, comprehensive product protection landing pages, and videos that educate the consumer on the benefits of the protection plan they are being offered. In addition, the rise in BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) has provided another consumer touchpoint for us to offer protection plans.
The migration from in-person to online sales was universally expected, but 2020 accelerated that process. eCommerce sales just experienced its largest year-over-year increase of all-time, and at Clyde we’ve observed a noticeable increase in consumer electronics spending as well as an uptick in kitchen appliances sales. As impressive as eCommerce sales figures have been, warranty attachment rates through our platform have even outpaced that rapid growth. We tracked a doubling of warranty attachment rates for appliances and a 60% increase for consumer electronics. To encourage sustained growth, we’ve emphasized clear, customizable calls-to-action and a fast, easy claims experience and work with all of our partners to maximize the effectiveness of their checkout process.
As a result of the pandemic, eCommerce sales grew to over 16% of all retail sales in the past 10 months. Merchants were forced to devote even more resources to providing customers with the options they wanted to see when shopping online. Adding product protection during the checkout process is a growing trend which follows the success of the Buy Now Pay Later plug-in.
Offering customers product protection drives incremental revenue, and gives customers greater peace of mind, which results in higher product purchase conversion rates sitewide. In the last year, we saw the integration of our extended warranty platform prioritized by merchants because Extend’s API-first solution is easy to integrate, and costs merchants nothing to implement. Similarly, we also saw a significant uptick in our protection plan attach rates – more customers are buying extended warranties due to the increased uncertainty in the world around us.
We saw an overall increase in the sale of electronics and appliances as a result of the pandemic. This was to be expected with stimulus checks and people spending more time at home. What we didn’t expect was the increase in attachment rates. The pandemic, political unrest and economic uncertainty caused elevated anxiety levels for consumers. Extended service contracts are one way shoppers can reduce the uncertainty or risk related to a major purchase. The other important lesson we learned about warranty solutions going into 2021 is that in times of crisis people seek simplicity, especially when making purchasing decisions. In 2021, we are recommending simplified pricing structures and straightforward terms.
We now live in a world that has forgone dramatic changes for everyone. Due to these changes, our lives will never be the same. The retail market is no different. Of these changes, the biggest struggle that our retailers are facing is shipment delays and lack of inventory from manufacturers. Now, as we look into 2021, it is presumed that these shortages and interruptions will continue throughout the first half of the year. Therefore, the ability to enable our retail partners to optimize every sales opportunity is more essential than ever. Further, the overall success of our warranty program relies on customer satisfaction. As a result, we have decided to focus on discovering new ways to support all the product lines that our dealers carry in an effort to support their success during these trying times.
The pandemic has obviously impacted consumers, and our retail dealers as a result. However, the results were not quite as we expected. OnPoint has seen an increase in extended warranty sales through our dealer channels, both in consumer direct sales, and in commercial and educational sales. In this time of uncertainty when consumers have doubt about the future, extended warranties make sense, because they are all about risk avoidance, and protection from unexpected costs. Likewise, we’re seeing a huge jump in OEM contract sales. Consumers nested during the pandemic for obvious reasons, and all of those home projects translated to a spike in appliance, electronics, mobile device and computing sales. We’ve even seen a huge increase in furniture sales. Now we’ve all heard about the delays in shipments across the board. However, our warranty platform enables us to accommodate the shipment time, or shelf life, if you will, so that consumers are protected from the date of receipt.
One additional impact that we were really surprised by was the impact on out-of-warranty repair requests and service delivery. Not all consumers bought new. Those more severely impacted by COVID repaired rather than replaced products. So, OnPoint saw an increase on our on-demand repair services. Conversely, the service network seems to have been greatly impacted. There was simply more volume of repair requests, based on the rise in fix versus replace, but there were also delays in part shipments, which caused backlogs. Additionally, we saw a measurable percentage of technicians that were infected by COVID that negatively impacted service capacity, as well as an increase in consumer delays. Some consumers delayed service appointments because they were unwilling to allow a non-family member into their household.
What a wild ride this last year has been. However, OnPoint and our dealers, service providers and consumers have weathered it better than expected.
PSG has long advocated for retailers and OEMs to take control of their service contract program from third-party providers. Great options exist to in-source customer care, product development and underwriting profit while outsourcing regulatory items to an existing licensed entity.
The pandemic rapidly advanced the movement to online shopping in the appliance and CE categories, requiring new engagement models, and the swift business shutdown dramatically impacted the customer experience as some third-party providers simply weren’t ready to serve your customers.
Two important questions for retailers and OEMs: Are you important to your current provider, and who better to take care of your customer – a third party, or you?
In 2020, we went from a normal environment of business as usual to life in lockdown due to the pandemic. During that time, we saw how quarantine changed businesses and consumer buying behavior forever. Non-essential businesses were forced to close temporarily, store hours and foot traffic were reduced, and manufacturers struggled to fill orders. This new remote life forced all businesses to either adapt or join the thousands that had no choice but to close their doors.
Luckily, we safely and effectively began working remotely while taking this time to look at our products, our partners, and ourselves. Under the new leadership of Kevin Rupkey, we re-branded as ProtectAll™ and became laser focused on buying behaviors. By investing in consumer panels, we were able to target, critique, and expand our product offerings.
These efforts were augmented with virtual trainings to teach not only about protection plans, but also, about new, contactless buying habits. Even though consumers seemed to purchase fewer major products, they were more inclined to protect those purchases which drove sales. While quarantine might have driven this new culture, we chose to embrace it. In our opinion, this has positioned both us and our partners in the forefront of 2021.
BY SUSAN SCHREINER, C4TRENDS.COM
The 65+ mature market and the aging-in-place phenomenon are two of the timeliest intertwined trends that offer opportunities across the healthtech and wellness landscape – for brands, innovators, investors and ultimately, the retail channels.
COVID-19 forced seniors to start looking for technology-based solutions more than ever before – as a consequence of being stuck in their homes with the sudden evaporation of direct access to family and/or in-person medical appointments. Loneliness and isolation are forcing them to use devices – and is accelerating the adoption of devices quicker than might have otherwise occurred. Seniors are acquiring digital skills and are more connected to the Internet than ever.
Connected and digital health capabilities are also enabling them to be in 24/7 contact with their caretakers and health providers. Consumer-based solutions and devices are figuratively, and in actuality, ‘lifelines,’ enabling older adults to connect with their communities, friends, and families – while maintaining their quality of life and wellbeing while they live independently and safely. This is a huge upaide opportunity for the retail channel.
The 65+ population was the fastest-growing age group in the country over the past decade, swelling by more than a third, according to the U.S. Census. AARP is reporting that 87% of those aged 65+ want to stay in their current homes and community, as they age. And by 2030, more people worldwide will be over 60 than under 10, according to the Milken Institute.
Technology is seen as the answer to aging in place, and the solution to other stresses on the healthcare system that were exacerbated during the height of the pandemic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 29% of U.S. seniors ages 65 and older have used video conferencing services, 27% have used telehealth/remote consultation services, 22% have used a grocery store delivery or pickup service, and 55% have an online video service subscription, according to recent research by Parks Associates.
At CES 2021, AARP Innovation Labs showcased products and apps that help people actively and independently age in place in their homes and communities. Here are examples:
Zibrio SmartScale – This is a scale that uses a highly sensitive algorithm to measure one’s postural stability and risk of falling, in a 60-second standing test, with eyes open. Users can test their balance on a Zibrio scale to establish a baseline, encourage appropriate intervention like a balance exercise program, and keep tracking balance to see how well the intervention is working, since it comes with the Zibrio Balance Coach app. Zibrio’s patented BioCore balance measurement technology is based on 15 years of research on astronauts, athletes and older adults.
Nobi Monitoring – Nobi looks like an ordinary ceiling-mounted lamp, but it’s packed full of motion and RGB sensors, AI and other tech to help seniors live independently and more safely. It’s a “smart” lamp that will literally watch over an aging family member, and monitors when a person is sitting, laying down or standing – and even illuminates dark rooms when a parent wakes up at an odd hour to go to the bathroom. While the lamp can detect falls, ask you if everything is okay and if not, send alerts to quickly get help to a caretaker or trusted contact, it’s also meant to prevent falls with activity monitoring and helpful reminders like hydration, reporting fire, or detecting intrusion. It doesn’t require a telephone – and if necessary, Nobi will even open the front door. Nobi debuted at CES 2021 and is expected to be ready for European countries soon.
Caregiver Smart Solution/Aging in Place – This is a smart caregiver solution or wellness monitor that provides insight into a senior’s activity at home or in assisted living communities. The Core Kit includes a downloadable app, a smart hub and small, non-intrusive sensors that are placed discreetly around a home. The collected data is fed into the AI and machine-learning-based app for early detection of potential health issues – and it’s available to the caregiver or family members.
Samsung Tech Innovations – We all know of Samsung’s reputation for its diverse line of technologically advanced products – but did you know that many of its products also include accessibility features? Declining sight and/or hearing often comes with age or with other conditions. At CES 2021, Samsung introduced its SeeColors Application and Sign Language Zoom Feature across its 2021 range of Neo QLED, Micro LED, and Lifestyle TVs. The SeeColors application helps those with sight challenges better view billions of colors. The app is designed to help those with Color Vision Deficiency to adjust the color settings on their Samsung QLED TVs to meet their individual needs. Samsung also showed off the ability to invert colors on a menu. It leaves the video as it is, but makes it easier for people who are low-vision to see the menu options.
Hearing loss is a silent ‘epidemic’ that has been spreading during the last few decades – and it’s not limited to Grandpa. It currently affects more than 1.2 billion people worldwide, disabling 480 million. Hearing loss is related to quality of life, learning abilities, work productivity, and some health conditions – and lately there might be indirect links between hearing loss and COVID-19.
Until recently, the solution for hearing loss was expensive hearing aids, only available through ‘prescription.’ Over the past three years or so, however, this has changed, thanks to a new set of chips and technologies that are enabling the emergence of less expensive personal sound amplification devices (PSADs), distributed through mainstream retail channels – and they represent an ever-growing new revenue opportunity.
Advancing technology inspired by smartphones, even these less-expensive hearing aids ensure that the sound going into one’s ear is clearer, not just louder. They offer sound and speech processing, digital noise and wind noise reduction, plus improved management of those annoying high-pitched feedback screeches, squeals and whistles. They include AI and machine learning to analyze a wearer’s environment and their level of hearing loss, and to automatically make adjustments. They also include varied, non-obtrusive and discreet smaller sizes, and rechargeable batteries as well as Bluetooth streaming capability from a smartphone, computer or TV. Some include fall detection, or act as a fitness tracker when used with a smartphone.
These devices in a variety of form factors are coming from companies like Wehear Hearing Solutions, HeardThat from Singular Hearing, Absolute Audio Labs, Wear&Hear from Alango Technologies, Rexton, Lucid Audio, Soundwear and others. Olive Union blends hearing aids with wireless earbuds.
Companies like Alango Technologies, with its Wear&Hear line, even offer in-store kiosks for express hearing checks that provide results on the spot. Currently, the kiosk is available in seven languages including English, Hebrew, Russian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Arabic and Dutch.
Related to hearing aids are also other devices that amplify sound, such as an amplified ringer or the visual flasher from Krown, or the portable telephone handset amplifier from Clarity. These assisted-hearing devices represent major new revenue streams in the senior marketplace given the rising Boomer demographic and sheer size of this aging population – and insurance reimbursement is increasing for a number of these devices.
Now is the time for retail channels to explore and deliver products relevant to now – and to create and accelerate the strategic framework and initiatives for an ongoing future.
Delivering smart digital health solutions that make seniors’ lives more comfortable, safe, and enjoyable with the added benefits of instantaneous responsiveness gives their caretakers a peace of mind – and this offers you new business development opportunities and revenue streams. This makes age tech a win–win for everyone!
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INTERVIEW BY PHILIP SCHMALZL
How and when did your retail store start? How many stores do you have? You also have an online store. What is the main difference between your online operation and your local showrooms?
Leon Temiz: Electronics Expo began in 2003, about 17 years now. This store we are in, we just built. We have another store in Union, N.J. Our headquarters are close by in Wayne, N.J., as are our distribution center and our offices.
We publish our catalogues four quarters every year, and we mail them to our customer list. We have them available in the stores, and also when we do online sales, when we send out the packages, we insert the catalogues as well. We print about 100,000 of these catalogues. And it works for selling, but it also does a couple of other things: we are keeping the connection to our customers that way, when you show them new models and ideas about what is going on with us. In our new one that we are going to print, we include a lot of store pictures; then, customers can come and see the store, where all the items are on display.
We have our retail stores, we have our on-site locations, and also we do third-party selling with Amazon, Walmart and other key partners. With Amazon, we have [collected] 180,000 reviews – that is very impressive, and we have 5-star ratings.
Customer service is incredibly important to us. We have a very educated salesforce on the floor. If customers have an issue with their speaker or receiver, they can call our 800 number and talk to sales. Its not only about selling online; it is also very much about service for the customers.
The main difference is, there are still a lot of consumers out there who really want to feel it and touch it, here in the store – especially if you buy high-end speakers, they need to hear the differences. Online, virtually, it would be impossible to hear the difference, and you’d have to order five different speakers, to listen at home to compare – and you cannot do that. The reason why people still come to our retail location is the experience – seeing, touching, feeling, experiencing the differences – and to get the educated opinion of our salesforce.
What makes your retail business unique from others?
Leon Temiz: Number One is our store design. In our stores we literally have created a very, very comfortable atmosphere. The store is designed to not only have listening area and a sound room where you can compare speaker to speaker. We also have a total home theater. We have so many customers coming in, saying, “I want to have exactly this.” And not only do we provide electronics; we provide shading, lighting systems, an indoor/outdoor product experience including lighting – we offer total solutions. So when the customer comes in and says they want everything, we get it done. We also work with contractors, if they need special cabinets, who can build it for them as well as offering ready-to-go furniture, as you see, in the stores.
What are the top three things that you have done that have contributed most to your success?
Leon Temiz: Customer service is very important, and makes for the consistent basis that we have, talking to our customers. In the 17 years that we are in business, we have had a quarter of a million local customers who have shopped with us, in New Jersey. We constantly direct-mail the catalogues that we have – over 50 pages, and of first-class design, and they are very informative. Nothing in the catalogue says, “this is on sale” or “on discount.” This is not a price-driven business that we have. As much as we can, we educate our customers. If there is something new, let’s say 8K TV, if the customer has bought a 2K or 4K TV, immediately, we will send emails asking if he wants to upgrade his system – and we invite him to come in and see the differences. These are a lot of components to customer relationships; each of them helps us, so that our customers come back in to our shops.
It is great that you decided to open a new store during the pandemic. What made you decide to do this?
Leon Temiz: Retail is an important part of our business, and in the longer term, we still believe in retail. It is important to have a store presence, especially with the products that we sell, and the way we merchandise them; it is a niche that we believe is still important to have. A lot of our customers who come to our stores get ideas from them. That is why we [are so successful in promoting the building of] home offices, conference rooms and home cinemas. It gives them the idea, and causes them to think, “Oh, wow; I did not know about this. I want it.” It generates additional business for us.
Is there anything special that makes the new store unique?
Leon Temiz: This is the newer, updated version of our existing store. The color scheme is more down to earth. The other store also has sound rooms, but we took this store to the next level. And we took some of the best ideas and transferred them to the other store.
What are other goals have you set for yourself this year?
Leon Temiz: We did a lot of events prior to the pandemic. We had a lot of manufacturers coming in. What we did is, we introduced all the new lines in our stores. We had wine and cheese, we invited our top-level customers and at the same time we demonstrated new products. That generates a lot of people coming in. Right now, as soon as we are done, we will be having a Grand Opening event. If it is possible, we want to do it in March. Whatever the limit of people allowed to come is, we will follow it. In this large store, 30 to 40 people is probably allowed.
Do you expect to be promoting any new product trends in your stores?
Leon Temiz: Right now, as I think of it, we are going into the summer season, so, outdoors. We find more and more people, since they are not traveling, are looking for outdoor TVs and outdoor lighting as you see in the showroom. That kind of thing is important. And since we got into the indoor and outdoor lighting systems category, we are not only in the electronics business, but we are also in the home interior living business. It’s lifestyle; we offer different kinds of furniture, cabinets, automated shading.
Are you looking to expand in any other ways or to sell other categories?
Leon Temiz: Our next thing is, we also do security systems and cameras, so we may be getting involved in alarm systems, in subcontracting alarm systems. We are already installing a range of these types of things; you can see the cameras and Nest products. So right now, that is what it is. Everything is connected; the Number One control hub is the phone, from where customers can control everything they want.
Is there anything in the building of your business that might have not gone the way you liked, and from which you learned?
Leon Temiz: We learned how to live with the business when the retail location was closed. We learned that it was important that we still keep in touch with the customers, with how they were doing, with ways to service them. But hopefully this situation will soon pass through. At the same time our Internet business was open. We found by keeping good will with our customers, we got an incredible amount of appreciation in return.
What is your favorite corner of the store? Can you show me?
Leon Temiz: Each corner is different. There are a few areas. In the home theater there is the seating area, and then we have the shades – if you close down the shades, it is completely dark, and if you open up the shades, it is totally bright. That really shows the customers that even if they have very bright houses, we can still build great home theaters. And then we have indoor/outdoor TVs; that also makes customers feel good. And obviously, when you walk into the home office area, it looks like a home office, a nice office.
And also it is important, we believe, to show the home office. When everything is fine and COVID is gone, and everybody’s lifestyle has changed, less people are going back to offices; more people will continue working from home.
How did you overcome the obstacles the pandemic presented in showing a great customer experience?
Leon Temiz: Every store was closed at the beginning. We did only online business then. But we are very established in our online business; we have been dealing with Amazon for 17 years.
What is your source of information about new products?
Leon Temiz: I think Dealerscope can help us in learning what is new with up-and-coming vendors. If you look at what happened during the pandemic, a lot of technology companies and software companies were doing great – online companies like Facebook, Snapchat, etc. Dealerscope can help by doing what it does: keeping track of new companies that do the kinds of things that could be the next big thing; and those are highlights that can also help us. So many companies start up in business and they go out of business. Dealerscope’s coverage of companies can serve as a “technology check,” pointing to this or that brand or technology. It’s great to receive that sort of information in advance.
The Results for CES 2021 are in…
CES 2021 had 1,960 on-line exhibitors, less than half the live exhibitors at CES 2020. Virtual attendance was 69,523, about 40% of the 2020 in-person attendance.
Are Video Calls Becoming too Much?
According to Pew Research Center, teleworkers are relying heavily on video conferencing services. Among those who use video conferencing services often, 63% say they are fine with the amount of time they spend on video calls, but 37% say they are worn out by it.
2020 Ends on a High Note for the Gaming Industry
The Q4 2020 Games Market Dynamics: U.S. report from The NPD Group says overall total consumer spending on video gaming in the U.S. continued to break records, reaching $18.6 billion in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020 (October – December), an increase of 26% compared to Q4 2019.
Demand Rises for Continuous Health Monitoring
The global wearable medical devices market size is expected to reach $111.9 billion by 2028, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. The market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 26.8% from 2021 to 2028.
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