For the past ten years I have studied both up close and from afar the annual insanity otherwise known as CES; I have written trends white papers, done research studies to reveal consumer tech trends, and lead tours of the show floor to brand and retail clients hoping to make sense of the consumer tech industry's biggest event. Even when I'm not in Vegas, each year, I try to view the show through the lens of brand marketers who are juggling growth objectives with innovation and disruption initiatives and tying them to longterm consumer behavior trends. So what's up with consumer tech in 2018?
Other than high tech, driverless cars and rollable OLED screens (both cool, but not typically actionable for most brand marketers) this year there are three key trends I will be watching that I think are worth investigating.
Digital Assistants and Voice Command Tech – Nifty Trend or Permanent Disrupter?
The first trend is, without a doubt, the voice command/digital assistant/smart speaker craze firmly cemented by Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo product line. Echo already sold millions of units over the holidays and Google, Microsoft and Apple are fighting right alongside Amazon to command their place in this market – though in my opinion Amazon's advantage is being a retailer that can help us make the leap from simple voice commands to voice-lead shopping. So, what does this mean for those of us working in research and brands exploring innovation efforts?
Without a doubt, we need to add these products to our stable of tech and shopper behavior batteries so we have eyes on how the consumer trend lines are moving – does this become a permanent fixture in how consumers are ordering products and doing research? Second, as a part of their brand innovation and R&D, brands absolutely must start playing with commands and media integration to obtain learnings related to how voice commands can reshape/improve the shopping process – and how not to be left out in the process.
Smart Appliances With Mobile App Integration
I've been watching Samsung and Whirlpool for a number of years as they have trotted out various smart appliances. These are always my favorite because they seem to have real utility in making consumers lives easier – auto-reordering of fridge staples, ability to be controlled remotely via app to turn up or down temperatures or start or stop cooking, etc. This year Whirlpool announced a partnership with meal prep app Yummly continuing this trend.
This development will not yet be as widespread as #1 mostly because the majority of consumers don't yet have large smart appliances in their homes owing to cost and reliability challenges, but we begin to see how the concept of Internet of Things will actually take shape and allow us to extend the power of our smartphones to pretty much every other product in our home.
If you're a hard goods or CPG brand, I encourage you to delve into qualitative and quantitative insights on the topic and do an exercise with your team to ask what consumer problems this kind of tech could solve for (Murphy is currently doing this work for a number of large, emerging tech brands and it's informing their Go-To-Market strategy up and down the line). Perhaps you don't make a move yet, but at the very least, you want to be tracking consumer adoption and interest and begin developing ideas for how you could engage as appliances become increasingly connected.
AI Is The Third Big Trend For 2018
For the first time ever CES has an AI marketplace and there will be a number of sessions devoted to not only the AI landscape but also how to design AI robots and AI's impact on cars. Undoubtedly, AI will remake our world – but exactly how we should prepare for it is another thing. Wired magazine offers this suggestion for the CES bound – and the rest of us: "As technology becomes smart and incorporates AI, wired suggests CES would be a great time to "look at the ethics of AI, and think through the biases of their algorithms and what that means for their world."
For retailers and CPG companies, applying AI to solve unmet needs is a big opportunity (and consider using a portion of your research budget to track these changing needs). Look out for AI-related launches at Starbucks (virtual barista), Lowes Home Improvement (LowesBots) and lingerie brand Cosabella as an example of using AI to improve purchasing by redesigning the website on the fly based on consumer behavior patterns.