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Can RadioShack & Other Retailers Sell Home Automation?

Home control is still a "push" sell and CE pros are best positioned to push it into the mainstream


Julie Jacobson · April 19, 2010

When I suggested in my January Industry Insider that home automation has never succeeded at retail, I received a harshly worded response from 35-year industry veteran Dave Rye.

The senior VP of X10 wrote, “Quite frankly Julie you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”

He went on to recount the impressive history of X10 – a pioneer in powerline-based control – and concludes, “X10 doesn’t just ‘try’ sell to the masses, we do it, and do it very successfully.”

I concede that X10 does a wonderful job of selling gadgets and covert cameras, but not home automation to the masses. I don’t mean masses of gadget freaks, but masses of ordinary people. And by home automation, I mean integrated lighting and thermostats and maybe a macro or two.

Rye rattles off a litany of X10 private-labeled solutions for the likes of IBM, RCA, RadioShack and Stanley—all of which were very capable solutions back then, but none of which succeeded. True, as he says, they were all “sold at retail, to the masses.”

Sold, perhaps, but not purchased.

We see the same phenomenon today, despite boasts from numerous home-control vendors that their products have been picked up by RadioShack, Lowes, Best Buy and other mass marketers. Picked up by retailers, but are they being picked up by consumers?

On a recent trip to my local Shack—the corner store formerly known as RadioShack—I found a very brisk cell phone kiosk. But not a single person gazed at the modest array of X10-like gadgets.

Furthermore, dust had settled on the two Schlage Link boxes in the store. Although the boxes—containing a Z-Wave-enabled door lock, wireless Internet gateway, and Z-Wave lamp module—sat on prime shelves, they attracted little interest from passersby.

I asked the store associate (a long-time employee): Have you sold many of the Schlages?

He looked at me confused.

When I pointed to the boxes, he said, “Oh those. No, people are turned off by the price. They’re like $300.”

And then I asked how customers felt about the $12.99 monthly service fee for remote access.

Again, that confused look: “What?!”

And that’s probably the same dialog I would have with the folks at Lowe’s, Best Buy or other popular stores that sell home automation.

RadioShack stock is up about 80% over the past year, and the company enjoyed a 26-percent increase in earnings in the fourth quarter. But it was all about cell phones. Phones are easy to sell. Consumers know what they are. RadioShack employees know what they are. Who has the bandwidth to learn about and sell home automation?

Not to pick on Schlage. The same can be said of Xanboo, iControl and countless other home-control vendors that have practically abandoned the retail channel. Furthermore, there has not been a single successful home-control initiative involving utilities, telcos, cable and other service providers, despite numerous efforts.

Home automation still remains a very assisted sale. Except for the geeks, the real mass market doesn’t understand the stuff, and doesn’t want to install it.

So there remains a tremendous opportunity for integrators, even if you’re installing DIY-friendly products like Schlage.

Now, if we can only convince such vendors to court the CE pro channel.



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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


Blogs · Home Automation · Industry Insider · All Topics
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