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The DIY Trend is Starting to Get Scary and it’s Not All about Price

Integrators like to think that consumers spurn custom solutions because they're cheapskates, but often they simply want the convenience of online shopping, the joy of everything-on-demand, and the ability to avoid pesky conversation.

The DIY Trend is Starting to Get Scary and it’s Not All about Price
The DIY scene is getting a little spooky, bolstered by an infrastructure that makes it so simple to acquire and install products without having to speak to anyone.

Julie Jacobson · September 30, 2016

NEW! Part 2: About that DIY Home Automation Thing: Case Study in Senior Living

I did an editorial a few years ago about shopping on Amazon.com for a big-screen TV. The response from most readers was something to the effect of: “You must be a hater of local integrators. We have supported CE Pro for a million years and this is the thanks we get?! We will never read you or your stupid magazine again.”

The fact was, I was in a hurry. I needed a TV. I wasn’t picky about the TV because video simply isn’t a priority of mine. I just wanted to click a few buttons and have a large TV brought to my house in a couple of days without ever having to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to be up-sold. I didn’t want to be bothered with any more decisions. I just wanted a large TV that worked well enough.

The TV was cheap, to be sure, but that’s not what motivated me to buy it online. It was all about the convenience.

I placed the order. I got a confirmation. I got a phone call the night before with a delivery window, another call the next morning confirming the delivery window, and then another about 15 minutes prior to delivery. The guys delivered the package. I didn’t have to be particularly pleasant. They just did their thing and left.

I plugged in the TV and it worked and I was happy. And I’m still happy because the 73-inch Mitsubishi rear-projection DLP will last for a decade or more, just like my last two.

Convenience Matters

We have tech-savvier consumers, mobile phones, search engines, referral and rating resources, online stores, impossibly fast delivery services ....

Too often, A/V dealers think they’re losing business because they can’t compete with cheap products and low online prices, or because customers are just cheap these days and “no one appreciates good service anymore.”

In fact, “good service” nowadays is often about no service at all – at least not personal service. We don’t want to talk to people. We don’t want to mess with scheduling contractors and being home (and dressed … and pleasant …) when they arrive. We just want to get it over with.

Why do you think SnapAV succeeded so quickly when it entered the custom market with OK products that were mostly commodities? It’s because they had a top-notch e-commerce portal that meant dealers didn’t have to talk to anyone if they didn’t want to. They could just go online at 2 a.m., place their orders, change their minds if products were back-ordered, and then stay up-to-date on delivery schedules.

Back then, the big-name speaker manufacturers accused dealers of being disloyal and cheap for buying SnapAV speakers. But the reality is that the speakers worked just fine (they grew to work really fine), and it was just simpler to shop for a wide variety of products from a single vendor that made it so simple.

Let’s go one step further. Consumers don’t necessarily go the DIY route because they’re too cheap to hire a pro, or the products themselves are cheap (they’re not always). They do it because it’s just simpler that way. Configuring the products is simple enough (at least consumers are led to believe), and they can complete the transaction -- from ordering to installation -- without having to talk to a salesperson or let a stranger into their home.

The DIY Movement: Now it's Scary

As a channel champion for 22 years, I’ve never been all that concerned about DIY automation displacing pro-installed solutions.

But now it’s getting a little scary. Not just because products are in fact becoming simpler to install and configure, but because the systems are now in place to automate the entire process, starting from the moment a consumer decides to buy, perhaps by pressing a “yes” on an interactive ad while watching Hulu.

We have tech-savvier consumers, mobile phones, search engines, referral and rating resources, online stores, impossibly fast delivery services, automated remote diagnostics and support, automatic billing, automated door locks and cameras to allow unattended entry, peer-to-peer payment systems … and so on … and so on … and so on.

Smart devices are indeed becoming simpler to install and configure by the untrained consumer. But we’ve been heading that way for years. It’s all the other bits and pieces of the business ecosystem that are falling into place.

What are you doing to exploit these new realities?



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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


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Comments

Posted by Mel on October 3, 2016

I think Julie makes a valid point in her article regarding what consumers want—her point is not that the cheap DIY channel is going to take over the CE channel.  We obviously provide a service that cannot be fulfilled by the DIY products.  However, I think Julie’s point regarding the simplicity of DIY can be very attractive.  Dealers need to remember who they’re designing for, which is the customer.  Dealers can be easily caught up in over-designing projects which will eventually cause customers to turn to simpler, less-stressful solutions (whether that is a DIY solution of just another integrator).  What we do IS very complicated. However, no matter the complexity of the project, our goal as integrators should always be to keep the project as simple as possible for the customer so that the stress and intricate parts of the project aren’t transferred to the customer, leaving them with a pleasant experience.  Good article Julie-its a great conversation starter!

Posted by Julie Jacobson on October 3, 2016

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! I agree with all the comments. Nothing I’ve written suggests otherwise.

There is no prediction of doom and gloom here. There will always be a need for integrators, even more so with the proliferation of options. I preach this all day long to mfrs, consumers and especially investors, most of whom can’t fathom the need for professional integrators. This is something I’ve believed in since the day we started EH Publishing in 1994 and I don’t see an end to the pro-install movement.

DIY has been out for ages—good stuff, cheap stuff. But there are changes in the overall environment that make this a particularly DIFFERENT time. Integrators should re-evaluate how consumers buy. They don’t want to sit down with salespeople and talk about their needs and make a bunch of choices. They don’t want installers in and out of their house. They don’t want to be surprised by what things cost. They don’t want to wait for their stuff and to juggle schedules to get it.

THESE are the new realities, and these are the things I don’t see being addressed by our channel ... not the fact that DIY exists and it’s getting better and cheaper. That’s just part of perfect storm that is driving the DIY phenomenon.

Posted by nicko82 on October 3, 2016

sterryo, you have a point, everyone here has a point.
But integrators should at the very least know what the DIY IoT devices are capable of, and what they are not capable of, what they are good at and what not. How else will you be able to sell your expensive Crestron/Control4/Savant/AMX to a customer that thinks he/she wants an Apple HomeKit system just because they have a Home app on their shiny new iPhone 7?
What is sad about this is that all integrators are referring it to a “vertical”. Eventually they all achieve the same goals (at least aspire to), how can they be different verticals? Its the low end market (DIY) and the mid to high end market (Pro). Unfortunately the low end market for the masses, the DIY devices, are still too expensive, confusing and hard to configure. But they are getting there, and when they do, it’s gonna get really interesting to see what happens in our market. That’s the scary part Julie is talking about.

I personally believe CEDIA needs to step in and try and create relationships between the DIY manufacturers, the Pro manufacturers, and the integrators. Better to work together than compete.

Posted by sterryo on October 2, 2016

I think Tom Doherty nailed it.  This is a venue for CE Pros and it seems every other day, an article comes out suggesting the sky is falling, due to another zero-net DIY technology cutting into our slice of the pie. 
With any / all due respect to CEPro, analysts that suggest such things are often the last people who could sit down and calmly make a pile of various IoT boxes actually work together.  The unsuspecting customer often can’t and gives up. I too wish this publication would focus on DIY as a separate vertical and refrain from convoluting the DIY and Custom markets, as tempting as it may be.
The proliferation of all this new technology has only made things more confusing & complex to the end user.  Until the utopian day arrives,  where all technologies magically play nice together from end-to-end, there is and will always be a demand for bona fide integrators (yes, I said integrator) to help people sort things out.  And that’s true from the high to low end.  Only thing is: the lower end is also where you’ll mingle with the DIY community**.  So which level do you aspire to?
When the internet ramped up in the early 90’s and exposed pricing to the public, we saw that as the time to transition to a service oriented, very high quality workmanship business model.  That has been key to our relevance and it’s what sets up apart from other micro sized companies in our area.  Take care of people and do better work.  Design-Build-Commission-Document-Monitor.  Five potential areas of revenue for even one little IoT box, which you essentially give away.
**I like a lot of DIY folks I’ve met.  Generally smarter than the average bear.  Some smarter than me.  I think we can agree that every integrator has some DIY blood in him or her.  How else could we have evolved into integrators?  (said it again!)

Posted by robgerhardt on September 30, 2016

It is what it is.  And it is a good thing.  the iPad killed the touch screen but I really enjoy my smart phone along with 72% of my fellow Americans.(and almost 30% of Mississippi).  I also enjoy the opportunities it has created for home control and entertainment.  I remember when Sonos had a touch screen and I bet they are doing much better now.

The question is what opportunities do these better, simpler, easier products create.  Analog phones have better voice quality and never drop a call, but we all use smart phones and look at the opportunities that has created.

Automobiles used to be custom, consider the opportunities for mechanics, body shops, tire stores, etc. that have developed over the last century. There is a significant DIY auto repair market, but that has not suppressed those who what to pay for help.  It goes on. The more of this stuff there is, the more opportunities at every level.

We should celebrate that the market is expanding. We have always been enablers and dependent on cable, cellular, land lines, content creation, and innovation from manufacturers to propel us forward.

The losers will be those who cling to the past.  The winners will be those nimble enough to recognize the opportunities.

I fear more for the trade magazines who depend on advertising revenue.  As I look at my collection over the years, I find it interesting that CEPro and Residential Systems get thinner while SDM (the security magazine) gets thicker? I find it interesting that the ISC (security show) and Infocomm are flourishing while CEDIA is half of what it was in 2008.

“Serve the classes, eat with the masses.  Serve the masses, eat with the classes”

Posted by Eyal Kattan on September 30, 2016

Julie,

Not sure if you remember but back in 2009 you asked me to give a presentation at the Electronic House exhibition . The subject of the presentation was “How CE Business Models Are Changing”.

The main point was that equipment and hardware was already starting to become a commodity as network technology began to penetrate the living room and house technology (does Living Room Convergence ring the bell?) and I suggested that integrators need to shift their mindset and start capitalizing on their most precious asset - The intellectual property, i,e,. their knowledge and experience - rather than trying to make another buck on boxes.

This is natural evolution of every market related to electronics. Take for example the manufacturers themselves… every year fewer and fewer actually manufacture their products themselves. Rather, they re-brand OEM products that are customized to their specs by a larger manufacturer who is making products to other brands as well. Just open a few consumer Blu-ray players and you will see the same motherboard under different brand names or a security DVR for that matter.

We offer our client the option to purchase some of the equipment themselves and by that, we remove our liability for warranty service because of the low margins. For example TV’s.
Instead, we focus on pricing our labor correctly. The result is a very happy customer that feels they saved a few bucks on the boxes and still received excellent system and service.

Posted by cybermanor on September 30, 2016

Julie,  I agree with your basic premise that the DIY products are significantly improving year after year and that researching and purchasing these products has never been easier.  But the integration and management of all of these intelligent networked devices in the home is rapidly becoming more complex - especially in larger homes.  And for our clients that have more money than time this integration complexity is something they would prefer to outsource rather than deal with themselves.  The proof of this last statement is that every month (on average) a DIY vendor comes to cyberManor and asks for assistance in developing a Pro line of hardware and a channel strategy for our client base - they recognize that we are an increasingly critical component of their overall success.

Posted by SpivR on September 30, 2016

I totally agree!  As a long-time technology consultant to businesses, I have crafted my newer consumer integration service focused on mid-range (not high-end) customers that are excited by the latest DIY technology, but do not want the hassle of learning how to install and connect everything themselves.

I call this “DIFM for the DIY” (Do-it-for-me for the DIY customer).  My income is based entirely on project fees and RMR pro-active service and support with little or no product sales themselves.

DIY customers do not want to buy products from dealers at retail or marked-up prices when then see them on sale at big box stores or online at Amazon. They feel they are being cheated or steered by commissions or kickbacks and not what is best for their needs.

My proposition to my clients is direct - rather than hiding margin in mark-ups, commissions, and other hidden costs, I charge solely for my technical expertise and project time.  Some clients will never understand why they should pay what might be $500 or more to configure/install/support a $100 DIY product and I am ok with not addressing them, but I feel there are enough clients that want name-brand products and are willing to have them professionally configured and installed.

Funny thing - many of these so-called “consumer” products are better designed, more aesthetically appealing, and better supported than so-called “professional” products.  One just has to look at the explosion of iPad and Tablet based screens replacing proprietary, expensive vendor touch panels to appreciate this.

The DIY market is making the traditional manufacturers up their game or be left further behind and that’s a good thing for everyone in this for the long term.

Robert Spivack
RS Development Group, LLC

Posted by S1szt on September 30, 2016

Great comments and I think T Doherty’s is especially relevant - specialists have been successfully scampering to higher ground for decades. Those that haven’t, have failed.

But Julie’s larger point, to me, is the perceived experience of doing business with a specialist. We ask too many questions. We throw around scary technical jargon. As a buyer, I have to make too many decisions about too many things I know nothing about. So, point at the vendors or the magazines or the internet, but be sure to check the mirror and ask, “What is it like to do business with me?”

There is no simple fix to this. But at bravas.com, we are attempting to elevate the conversation to be more in line with the desires of high net worth homeowners. Will it work? We hope to find out.

Posted by TechJunkiesCA on September 30, 2016

Its not scary its amazing. Technology is doing its job when it gets cheaper, easier to use and easier to deploy. The opportunity I see is that the market is flooded with trash, people don’t know what works with what, or what actually works at all. For example, the Ring video doorbell is great, but it sucks if you have a crap Wi-Fi network. Also, DIY’ers are a market that was never ours. Home Depot has been selling to DIY’ers for ages, but people still hire pro’s.

The real problem are manufacturers who make it impossible for CI to compete with the retail giants and online retail. We are the people who love these products, intimately knows these products and how they perform in different environments, and are the people who represent these products the best. But our sales tools are awful. For example, I want to sell online to local customers only, but I cant. Yet online discount retail can sell the same products I buy through distribution without even a conversation with the customer, in a different state, without any steps to ensure the customer is making a sound decision. Its a joke. The CI company is confined to the showroom/demo format of sales and its a crap experience in certain situations. I’m talking to you Yamaha, Denon, Marantz, Samsung, LG, Sony, Klipsch, Kef and every other manufacturer I can find online but who wont allow a local online format to take hold!

View all comments.

Posted by highfigh on September 30, 2016

“I just wanted to click a few buttons and have a large TV brought to my house in a couple of days without ever having to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to be up-sold.”

So, stop going to big box stores. Done.

How, exactly, did you get the info that told you this TV would do what you want? Was it from reading comments on RC, in trade magazines, talking to people at conventions and other industry events, casual conversations with people in the industry?

Posted by Julie Jacobson on September 30, 2016

As mentioned, I knew I wanted a Mits DLP because it’s the only big screen I had owned in 15 years and it just worked. Regardless, the resources for search and reviews are available online like never before. This is just one of the externalities that is changing the game.

Posted by Tom Doherty on September 30, 2016

Julie, you are not my customer. Your income is not my customer.  Your net worth is not my customer. Your house is not my customer.  Your lifestyle is not my customer. I completely get that there are a lot more consumers that are your profile than ones that are not. Most projects that exist don’t need my services, design, engineering, coordination, etc. However, I forsee for a very long horizon enough clients that hire architects, hire professional kitchen designers, hire professional engineers, hire professional interior design firms, landscape design firms…essentially assemble a complete team…those are my customers.  Thus, CEPro should continue to speak about DIY as a market and recognize other verticals and not imply that one is going to make the other irrelevant. In fact…the revenue that is generated my the vendors that advertise in your publication derive the vast majority of their income from the latter and will do so for the foreseeable further.  So, perhaps quit looking through your lens and understand what the members of the Pro Buying Group, HTSA and Azine see as their customer and what the trends are in their reality.  Just sayin’

Posted by Julie Jacobson on September 30, 2016

Agree 100% Tom. The thing is, the vast majority of integrators are not at the high end. I fully believe there’s a good future for pros but those at the mid and lower ends—the majority—need to take a look at macro-level trends and adjust accordingly.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on September 30, 2016

And thanks for the great comments btw

Posted by TechJunkiesCA on September 30, 2016

Its not scary its amazing. Technology is doing its job when it gets cheaper, easier to use and easier to deploy. The opportunity I see is that the market is flooded with trash, people don’t know what works with what, or what actually works at all. For example, the Ring video doorbell is great, but it sucks if you have a crap Wi-Fi network. Also, DIY’ers are a market that was never ours. Home Depot has been selling to DIY’ers for ages, but people still hire pro’s.

The real problem are manufacturers who make it impossible for CI to compete with the retail giants and online retail. We are the people who love these products, intimately knows these products and how they perform in different environments, and are the people who represent these products the best. But our sales tools are awful. For example, I want to sell online to local customers only, but I cant. Yet online discount retail can sell the same products I buy through distribution without even a conversation with the customer, in a different state, without any steps to ensure the customer is making a sound decision. Its a joke. The CI company is confined to the showroom/demo format of sales and its a crap experience in certain situations. I’m talking to you Yamaha, Denon, Marantz, Samsung, LG, Sony, Klipsch, Kef and every other manufacturer I can find online but who wont allow a local online format to take hold!

Posted by S1szt on September 30, 2016

Great comments and I think T Doherty’s is especially relevant - specialists have been successfully scampering to higher ground for decades. Those that haven’t, have failed.

But Julie’s larger point, to me, is the perceived experience of doing business with a specialist. We ask too many questions. We throw around scary technical jargon. As a buyer, I have to make too many decisions about too many things I know nothing about. So, point at the vendors or the magazines or the internet, but be sure to check the mirror and ask, “What is it like to do business with me?”

There is no simple fix to this. But at bravas.com, we are attempting to elevate the conversation to be more in line with the desires of high net worth homeowners. Will it work? We hope to find out.

Posted by SpivR on September 30, 2016

I totally agree!  As a long-time technology consultant to businesses, I have crafted my newer consumer integration service focused on mid-range (not high-end) customers that are excited by the latest DIY technology, but do not want the hassle of learning how to install and connect everything themselves.

I call this “DIFM for the DIY” (Do-it-for-me for the DIY customer).  My income is based entirely on project fees and RMR pro-active service and support with little or no product sales themselves.

DIY customers do not want to buy products from dealers at retail or marked-up prices when then see them on sale at big box stores or online at Amazon. They feel they are being cheated or steered by commissions or kickbacks and not what is best for their needs.

My proposition to my clients is direct - rather than hiding margin in mark-ups, commissions, and other hidden costs, I charge solely for my technical expertise and project time.  Some clients will never understand why they should pay what might be $500 or more to configure/install/support a $100 DIY product and I am ok with not addressing them, but I feel there are enough clients that want name-brand products and are willing to have them professionally configured and installed.

Funny thing - many of these so-called “consumer” products are better designed, more aesthetically appealing, and better supported than so-called “professional” products.  One just has to look at the explosion of iPad and Tablet based screens replacing proprietary, expensive vendor touch panels to appreciate this.

The DIY market is making the traditional manufacturers up their game or be left further behind and that’s a good thing for everyone in this for the long term.

Robert Spivack
RS Development Group, LLC

Posted by cybermanor on September 30, 2016

Julie,  I agree with your basic premise that the DIY products are significantly improving year after year and that researching and purchasing these products has never been easier.  But the integration and management of all of these intelligent networked devices in the home is rapidly becoming more complex - especially in larger homes.  And for our clients that have more money than time this integration complexity is something they would prefer to outsource rather than deal with themselves.  The proof of this last statement is that every month (on average) a DIY vendor comes to cyberManor and asks for assistance in developing a Pro line of hardware and a channel strategy for our client base - they recognize that we are an increasingly critical component of their overall success.

Posted by Eyal Kattan on September 30, 2016

Julie,

Not sure if you remember but back in 2009 you asked me to give a presentation at the Electronic House exhibition . The subject of the presentation was “How CE Business Models Are Changing”.

The main point was that equipment and hardware was already starting to become a commodity as network technology began to penetrate the living room and house technology (does Living Room Convergence ring the bell?) and I suggested that integrators need to shift their mindset and start capitalizing on their most precious asset - The intellectual property, i,e,. their knowledge and experience - rather than trying to make another buck on boxes.

This is natural evolution of every market related to electronics. Take for example the manufacturers themselves… every year fewer and fewer actually manufacture their products themselves. Rather, they re-brand OEM products that are customized to their specs by a larger manufacturer who is making products to other brands as well. Just open a few consumer Blu-ray players and you will see the same motherboard under different brand names or a security DVR for that matter.

We offer our client the option to purchase some of the equipment themselves and by that, we remove our liability for warranty service because of the low margins. For example TV’s.
Instead, we focus on pricing our labor correctly. The result is a very happy customer that feels they saved a few bucks on the boxes and still received excellent system and service.

View all comments.