The 2021 Consumer Electronic Show (CES), held between January 11 and 14, garnered tremendous attention from across the globe. Due to COVID-19, CES 2021 went virtual, which allowed more attendees to join the event, learn about new product releases, and gain insight into developments in the consumer electronics sector, all without spending a significant amount of time and money on travel. Lux Research also e-attended the event. Attendees were eager to see how COVID-19 is impacting the development of technologies like AI, IoT, 5G, robotics, consumer electronics, and smart CPGs and how technology developers should adapt to this new environment. Below, we summarize the two key takeaways from the event with respect to the future of smart and connected consumer products and ecosystems.
Smart home products target locked-down consumers
Smart home products at CES this year focused on the stay-at-home consumer, with the main themes being at-home hygiene, health, and enhanced user experiences. Many smart home products focused on better at-home hygiene via touchless features and controls. For example, Kohler launched smart faucets that could be activated via a hand gesture or via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. The company also launched a smart toilet that can be switched on using hand gestures. As health and wellness took on a prominent role, stakeholders in consumer electronics and smart homes pivoted toward at-home health. As one recent example, Amazon launched new Alexa features for aging care, which can automatically warn caregivers while ensuring users' privacy and independence. Finally, as stay-at-home consumers started using electronic devices and smart home products more regularly, technology developers focused on enhancing the user experience. For example, at CES, Samsung launched SmartThings Cooking, which uses a smart refrigerator as a control hub for cooking appliances as well as a platform for meal planning and grocery shopping. The company also launched Smart Trainer, which uses smart TVs to analyze user movements in real time and provide feedback during fitness training.
While COVID-19 will eventually pass, these trends are here to stay. Many of these technologies have matured so that they operate more smoothly. At the same time, consumers are seeing the benefits of such smart home solutions and are getting used to their convenience. Clients developing consumer electronics (like wearables and other IoT devices) and smart home solutions should consider incorporating some of the above-mentioned features in their products. Clients should realize that consumer data is key to providing enhanced user experiences and build into products the necessary capabilities that allow for data collection and analysis.
Consumer data collection and governance become top-of-mind for B2C companies
CES 2021 saw increased interest among B2C companies (like CPG companies, smart home solution developers, and consumer electronics developers) in consumer data collection and governance. Participants in one panel highlighted the fact that leading web browsers, including Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, are phasing out third-party cookies, thereby making it difficult for B2C companies to track consumers online and serve relevant advertisements on third-party web sites. This makes it imperative that B2C companies begin collecting data directly from consumers, which, according to the panelists, can be achieved only by offering personalized consumer experiences. This is a trend that is already well underway, as witnessed with consumers increasingly gravitating toward online shopping channels, including direct-to-consumer channels.
In another panel, participants discussed the importance of consumer data governance for B2C companies in light of rising consumer awareness and changing privacy regulations. The panel discussions culminated in two main recommendations when it comes to data governance. One was around improving data transparency so that consumers understand what data is being collected, how the data is being used, and when the data is being shared with others and for what purposes. The other was around data portability, which requires that B2C companies allow consumers to access, delete, and move their data from one service to another if needed. Indeed, many startup data marketplaces have already started prioritizing such governance approaches, although CPG companies have yet to follow suit.
While creating smart and connected products and using data to understand consumers might seem like a no-brainer, as panel discussions and product releases at CES 2021 indicate, there are many structural changes happening in this space. Market structure, customer needs, and regulations are evolving. Companies should stay on top of these trends and leverage emerging technologies to meet market requirements.