Smart speakers will ‘catalyse’ intelligent home adoption

Smart speakers are now the dominant smart home product in consumers’ homes and most likely to be the catalyst for households to buy other smart-home products, new research has found.

A survey of 6,000 people in the UK and the US by sound technology firm Audio Analytic found that more than a third (35 per cent) of households owned smart speakers, such as an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Sonos or Google Home. This is far more than smart lighting, smart cameras and smart thermostats ownership.

Of those who do not own any smart-home gadgets, a quarter plan to buy a smart speaker over the next 12 months – more than any other devices. Meanwhile, overwhelmingly, participants who already owned a smart speaker or plan to buy said they wanted their speakers to offer sound recognition beyond music and speech.

In particular, consumers see a huge amount of value in their speakers keeping them and their families safe around the home, as well as offering assistance in health, well-being, child and pet monitoring and even assisted living.

Dr Chris Mitchell, chief executive and founder of Audio Analytic, said: “Smart speakers have found their way into millions of homes and this presents a massive growth area for retailers who realise the potential of this addictive ecosystem.

“This survey highlights that consumers want to move on from the first generation of smart-home technology, which would be better described as ‘connected home’. They want the ‘intelligent home’, one that automatically makes their lives a bit easier, safer and healthier.”

The survey found 90 per cent of consumers with smart speakers, or those who plan to purchase one within the next 12 months, said they would give their speakers permission to use sound recognition to protect their safety and security, alerting them to sounds like smoke and burglar alarms.

There was also demand for intelligent sound-recognition technology to be used to let parents (75 per cent) know whether their children were safe when home alone, enabling them to listen out for unexpected and alarming sounds, and monitoring health and well-being. A similar service was also of interest for those concerned for elderly relatives and those with family and friends with special needs (65 per cent).

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of families said they would give permission to detect sounds of poor health, such as coughing and sneezing and potentially automatically turn on other devices, such as air purifiers or smartphone tracking apps.

Dr Mitchell said it is critical that retailers work out how to present and communicate the benefits of AI in the home and the value that can be added when smart devices are working together to leverage the opportunity.

In 2016, John Lewis converted a floor of its Oxford Street department store into a technology experience divided into kitchen, entertainment, sleep and home monitoring to demonstrate the value of the “connected” or smart home.

At the time, the chain predicted that the smart-home market in the UK would grow by at least 450 per cent to 2020.

Ashley Shorey Mills
Ashley Shorey-Mills

Superfi and Hughes are two independent retailers that have also invested heavily in their brand proposition and business model to capture growing demand for AI-powered home devices.

Hughes, which has 43 stores, opened its first “smart apartment” at the back of its Felixstowe store about two years ago. The East Anglia firm is currently in the process of building displays dedicated to smart-home technology, including lighting, heating, security and white goods that can be engaged by voice or remote control, in another six branches. The first is expected to be ready by August.

Smart-home manager Ashley Shorey-Mills said: “Having these displays in-store is critical to really show off the true value of an intelligent home to our customers, as well as being able to really explain the benefits of Alexa – beyond the silly stuff.”

Mr Shorey-Mills said that Hughes had doubled sales growth in its financial first quarter and was targeting 40 per cent sales growth for its 2018/2019 financial year.