Part of TWICE’s editorial mission includes sharing success stories within the consumer tech industry so that our audience can use them for inspiration. We asked readers to share some of their triumphs from this year, and we’re delighted to post them here.
We’re on the cusp of major changes impacting the Consumer Technology industry and permeating into consumers’ everyday lives. 5G is looming on the horizon with multigigabit download speeds that will foster new solutions and services. AR and VR will soon see an explosion due to lower price points and improved content. And, continued advancements in artificial intelligence are beginning to power more sophisticated technology.
But until this next wave of innovation comes to full fruition, we’re looking to the voice assistant ecosystem to drive sales, especially around the holiday shopping season. In addition, gaming and electronic transportation will be hot categories. We don’t expect just one or two products to be hot in these areas – there’s a lot of room for opportunity when you break down the various use-cases and demographic groups buying them. With consumer confidence high and the economy strong, it’s time zero in on these categories and get ready to make the most out of the upcoming holiday season.
The Voice Assistant Ecosystem
The digital assistant category continues to perform well due to improved technology and lower price points. And as the connected home becomes a reality for many, consumers are learning more about ways to extend voice control to a range of accessories and devices. From millennials to baby boomers, people are rapidly embracing the newest advances and adopting them in their own homes. Home control is leading to domestic bliss from the kitchen at one end of the house to the master bathroom at the other, along with the living room, bathroom, garage and yard outside.
Consumers are turning toward sensors and IoT appliances that make it possible to monitor the chlorine level in the pool, track which items in the refrigerator are out-of-date or need to be added to a shopping list, check the status of the laundry in the washing machine, and measure the temperature of the roast cooking in the oven. TV’s are offering an array of capabilities using voice control not just to power on, but to adjust the volume and easily search and select what to watch. In the bathroom, home control is connecting weight scales, water thermostats, heated flooring, and new kinds of bathroom fixtures. What makes this trend particularly appealing is the ease in which voice-controlled items like power supplies, wall switches, and LED lighting can be added during home remodels.
Small home robotics continue to play well in this space too. Watch for the continued evolution of this category as it expands beyond housework to include entertainment, companionship, and even yard mowing. It’s still early for these trends, but it will get interesting soon with price points coming down and technology becoming more intuitive. Moving forward, it’s critical that consumers understand what’s possible and keep free of frustration by being guided to compatible products for efficiency, convenience and comfort.
Since there aren’t any new gaming consoles expected to hit the market, the focus will be on content with major new titles as well as accessories such as the latest headsets driven by the craze around Epic Games’ Fortnite title. Beyond accessories, Fortnite is driving a lot of opportunity as it’s available on a range of devices including the Nintendo Switch. It’s allowing multiple users to play at one time and has created an environment that allows gamers to play how and when they want to play. There’s big opportunity for retailers who focus on reaching Fortnite’s powerful, cult-like following.
While some of these devices are still considered toys, there’s building momentum for rent-and-drop scooters and other electronic transportation devices that get 15 to 20 miles on a single charge. These forms of transportation are increasingly being found in urban areas and on school campuses as consumers look to cut down on gas consumption and save on car maintenance. Are they bikes or are they vehicles? Should they be confined to the street or a bike lane? That’s going to be decided as laws are crafted to regulate and, in some cases, possibly ban them as some municipalities did with hoverboards. Nonetheless, more certainty around regulations and increasingly reasonable price points mean environmentally friendly electronic transportation will become more popular.
Worth A Mention
Drones have been around for a while, but don’t take your eye off these devices. They are getting smaller, lighter, and more robust as prices continue to fall. They are also becoming easier to fly and control, which enhances the consumer experience. And, new video capabilities are resulting in more use cases beyond entertainment. In the PC space, there is nothing new driving huge demand. The major manufacturers continue with strong 2-in-1 offerings as well as all-in-one desktops that offer interesting designs and unique concepts. Most of the attention in this space will be focused on the look and feel of the product as major brands roll out sleek products in a continued drive for products to be more aesthetically pleasing. That said, the PC category remains stable, as everyone needs them and many are looking for an upgrade.
The In-store Experience for Holiday Shoppers
Once you’ve got shoppers in the store – maybe to pick up an item ordered online – the name of the game is keeping them there. And this retention all comes down to the customer experience. A knowledgeable staff and the right selection of products have become table stakes. To really set your stores apart, think concierge service, on-floor demos, and ready access that lets shoppers see, touch and try the products. Branded areas of the store grab attention and draw shoppers in with loyal affinity or curiosity about a particular brand.
For those buying online, the experience must be highly intuitive and free of friction. While that’s generally been the case when accessing websites from a desktop or laptop, it’s not always the case on mobile devices – which consumers are increasingly using to make their purchases. And don’t forget the final step – delivery. Whether it’s in-store pickup or delivery to the home, office or car, shoppers want flexibility, security and speed. More consumers are also becoming comfortable with using their devices to confirm choices and finalize orders. Think of voice command as the new remote control. Consumer are embracing it, and it’s time for retailers to as well.
We’re in the home stretch now with the holidays quickly approaching. And while the “next big thing” may not be ready for prime time, there’s plenty of opportunity to win big this holiday season.
The gathering, described by president Fred Towns as the company’s “most significant annual event,” brings together merchants, vendors and industry thought leaders for two days of presentations, product showcases, keynotes and social activities as the industry gears up for the back-to-school and holiday seasons.
This year’s Summit, to be held at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, will take a deeper look at smart-home technology and ways to win in the home-control category. Aiding in the process will be new interactive experience sessions and hands-on product demos that will also embrace the audio, gaming, VR, small appliance, PC/mobility, drone and wearables categories.
Discussion topics will also include logistics, electronic software download, and shippers and displays, and logistics, while keynote addresses will be delivered by Steve Koenig, research VP for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA); Stephanie Dismore, HP’s VP/general manager, Americas channels; and Dustin Garis, former Global Brand Innovation Leader at Procter & Gamble FutureWorks.
The Summit, added Towns, “continues to provide valuable insight to help our partners succeed in consumer technology year after year. We are pleased to return to Hollywood this summer and look forward to delivering exciting new experiences and content to our customers.”
New Age Electronics’ eighth annual Retail Dealer Summit returns to Tinseltown next month.
Related: Fred Towns On The New Age Of Synnex
President marks partnership’s 10th anniversary
APR 30, 2018
It’s been 10 years since Synnex, the global supply-chain resource, acquired IT and CE distributor New Age Electronics from co-founders Adam Carrrol and Lee Perlman in a $54 million cash deal.
Within three years, former Panasonic exec and New Age senior VP Fred Towns succeeded Carrol as president, and the rest, as they say, is history.
TWICE caught up with Towns on the anniversary of the acquisition, to discuss the changes that the decade has wrought, the change in technologies to come, and the Synnex-New Age synergy.
TWICE: What brought Synnex to New Age?
At the time, our product mix was more on the IT side. The digital bridge was spreading; more products were becoming digitized; and companies were beginning to downsize their facilities, let their employees work from home or bring their devices to work.
Synnex looked at the marketplace trends and emerging digital platform, and saw an opportunity in retail for road-warrior equipment. They had a small retail business, but we were already providing a high level of service to large- and medium-sized retailers as well as mom-and-pops.
They ramped up very quickly after the acquisition. Remote working and the home office changed everything.
TWICE: What did Synnex bring to the party?
They are really good at capturing data. They had open-to-buy horsepower and could extend credit to customers. They also had relationships with the same vendors we did, like HP and Canon, except their business was on the commercial side, and much larger. It made all the relationships stronger.
In addition, there were many categories we didn’t have access to at the time, like peripherals, printing and accessories. It opened up a plethora of opportunities for us.
Conversely, we had consumer products that could lend themselves to the enterprise side, as road warriors began asking for thinner, lighter and more stylish devices.
TWICE: How have work-from-home trends evolved since then?
Today median incomes are up; you have both homeowners working out of the house, and work hours are changing radically. So opportunities in home automation are expanding, including voice- and whole-home control.
Remember when remote car starters were considered futuristic? Now you can control your entire home without leaving your desk — lighting, thermostat, music. The conveniences are so much more powerful.
Towns, a music lover, jams with former Eagles lead guitarist and “Hotel California” writer Don Felder at a New Age CES event.
TWICE: What advice do you have for brick-and-mortar retailers?
You need to build out new reasons for shoppers to visit you, because if you don’t evolve, you will die. The last 10 years has proven that if you didn’t develop a multichannel strategy, you went out like the dinosaurs. Now, with a virtual “endless aisle” of inventory, you never have to say no to your customers.
TWICE: Your track record shows a knack for sniffing out new trends. What’s your secret?
It’s the best part of the job, looking for the new, the exciting and the invigorating. You have to love tech and you have to listen; you learn a lot by listening. I learn from my customers and my teams. They’ll come back and say, “You have to see this,” or, “What do you think about that?”
Towns leads the discussion at a New Age Dealer Summit.
Then I consider how it could play into our business — whether it fits into our model or whether our model has to adjust.
And if you see something great and your vendor partner isn’t doing it, you go to them and say, “What are you doing about that?”
TWICE: What do you think the next 10 years will hold for New Age and Synnex?
Right now, things are very positive in the U.S., and there’s a lot of excitement out there over technologies that used to be “Star Trek” tech. If tariffs challenge that, I hope the leadership makes the right decisions and works it out.
But looking out over the next 10 years, bandwidth, transportation, healthcare and education will all radically change, whether it’s the impact of 5G, augmented reality or some new smart device.
Regardless, we’ll be there as a company with the tools to meet all those challenges and new directions for consumers and business.
BY ALAN WOLF
New Age Electronics President Fred Towns said at a multi-topic sit-down during CES 2018 that the run-up to Christmas foreshadowed a stellar holiday sales season. “The consumer came out and was ready to shop. The stock market performed well. The job market was in a good position. Unemployment’s very low…. That confidence was built into the mindsets of consumers. We knew the holiday was going to be big,” he said, citing voice and other home control-related devices that had come into their own in the marketplace in the months prior as factors in the selling season’s success.
Other categories touched by consumer favor, he said, included mesh network-related products, which enable strong signals. They were more visible, because “you need a great router; a robust network is key now” for consumers. “It’s like if you buy a high-performance car – you have to put good gas in it.”
Towns said he is bullish on the potential of 5G technology and its capacity for speeding up content delivery “when that’s needed,” analogizing its addition to “adding turbo systems” in cars. “We have to start to look at the way people use products in their homes. How long are you willing to wait for a movie? In past, you’d set it up to download when you went to bed. 5G is like adding that turbo when you need it.”
On the issue of the FCC scrapping net neutrality rules, Towns said it could potentially be a concern for smaller retailers, “but it could also be an opportunity,” expressing the view that business models will be created to help smaller companies along in whatever scenario presents itself.
The scene as it’s set for retailers for the progression through 2018, said Towns, should include a continued focus on the female consumer and on Millennials – but retailers need to add the Gen Z consumer to their target list. “Their buying power is incredible,” he stated. “They’re Internet-savvy and need immediate availability” of products – and it’s crucial to think of “Zs” as neither male nor female but rather, as “users” who are more open-minded about diversity in buying choices.
Towns added that, as 2018 progresses, consumers could expect the market’s product palette to be populated with even more (and more reasonably priced) voice-control and connected-home choices – which means consumers will likely sign on to own “multiples” of these devices, through the year and into the holidays. “There will be lots more stomach-size for this type of product,” Towns said.
As for the broadening of sales channels, Towns sees an increase in popularity of retail channels previously identified solely with fashion, and a continuation of the growth of importance of channels that cater to DIYers, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
New Age, for its part, celebrated the success of one particular retailer who has mastered the omnichannel sales model, announcing its naming of AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service) as its 2017 Retailer of the Year during CES – a choice based on year-over-year revenue growth and a number of other factors including executive management, brand strategy and fiscal solvency. AAFES recently “took the additional step of offering military retirees the ability to shop with them, for the morale and welfare of soldiers,” Towns explains, with some of the profits used to build facilities and programs for service personnel. The retailer merited this distinction, said Towns in the company’s announcement of the award, because it “continues to work closely with our team to offer the best products and solutions to improve the lives, of soldiers, airmen, and their families.”
New Age also announced at CES that its 2018 Retail Dealer Summit will be held July 16-18 in Hollywood, Calif.
NEW AGE ELECTRONICS
Fred Towns, President
Our top product categories are personal computing devices (desktops and notebooks); mobile and unlocked devices; gaming (consoles, PC gaming and accessories); connected home (voice control and products that control security, lighting, music and thermostats); audio (Bluetooth headphones and speakers); and emerging technology (Virtual/Augmented Reality, drones and high-tech toys). Across our portfolio, we provide bundled solutions that deliver an enhanced working experience and empower our customers with unique offerings for consumers. Our product mix indicates that the market direction for the rest of the year is well-rounded, and won’t rely on just one or two key product categories. By working with our team, retailers can access better ways to move, monitor, manage and market their inventory. We ship products from our nine warehouses or directly from our manufacturer partners to a retail store or a consumer’s home. We also improve the shopping experience by offering extended assortment to give customers an array of choices in terms of specs, colors and more.
For the generation that grew up on The Jetsons, and their progency born with digital device in hand, smart home should be a no brainer; they should get it.
But just like with most new consumer technologies, the early-round mix of complexity, competing platforms, interoperability and price created a barrier to entry that would make President Trump proud.
Yet according to distributors entrusted with delivering connected product to retailers and installers — and instructing them on the use and marketing of same — smart home is a concept whose time has come.
Ingram Micro, for one, is “bullish on the smart-home space,” said Alexandra Harding, director of vendor management, consumer technology solutions, for the 800-pound gorilla of two-step tech distribution. “Consumer adoption is ramping up as they become more familiar and comfortable with the products.”
Harding credits manufacturers who are helping the cause by educating consumers, which demystifies the products and focuses attention on their ease of use.
For Colin Blair, Tech Data’sVP of big data and analytics/the Internet of Things, the growing potpourri of smart products is also driving acceptance. “The smart-home category continues to expand as the number of smart devices in the home continues to grow,” he noted. “Smart-home hubs are connecting to more things in the home, while mobile phone apps are giving remote access to devices in the home. Smart thermostats, security cameras and advanced lighting are leading the charge, while door locks, garage openers and robotic vacuums are not far behind.”
Seth Evenson, customer experience management director at AVAD, argued that the advent of do-able DIY is helping smart home reach critical mass. “Consumer interest in smart homes continues to rise due to increased mid-market product introductions from brands like Nest, Lutron and Ring,” he told TWICE. “There are more smart-home solutions available than ever before, allowing the smart home to be within reach of more consumers.”
The same holds true within the custom-install channel — to a point. “We are seeing more jobs integrate with many DIY solutions to create a full, cohesive ecosystem,” Evanson continued, “but custom installation is still driven strongly by the control infrastructure of the job. Many brands, such as RTI, are ensuring that they make it easy for consumers to take advantage of these solutions while getting the true benefits of complete automation.”
Curt Hayes, president/chief financial officer, Capitol, concurred. “Consumers are getting on board with the smart-home category, even if they don’t always know the nomenclature,” he said. “Whole-house A/V and controls are coming into vogue for nearly all income levels, thanks to the growing relevance of the IoT.”
Fred Towns, president of New Age Electronics, believes consumer expectations for more capable and better-connected devices, especially in security, is making smart home one of the hottest categories this year, leaving dealers scrambling to keep items in stock. “Device pairing is getting easier: it takes just a simple set of steps to get you up and working, and plenty of good tools are online to support that,” he said. “With Wi-Fi and cellular-enabled monitoring anywhere, anytime, consumers are embracing control at the touch of a button both inside and outside of the home. People are more comfortable and excited about being connected.”
Dennis Holzer, executive director of PowerHouse Alliance, the distributor consortium, also gives props to those helpful, disembodied assistants from Amazon and Google. “Consumers aren’t just tiptoeing into smart home; demand for this category is exploding,” he observed. “With the convergence of networking and security with audio, video and home automation, paired with voice control [via] virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, smart-home adoption is growing substantially.”
But to Trevor May, executive director, vendor management at D&H Distributing, the best is yet to come. “The smart-home category continues to grow, with more solutions being adopted by a greater number of consumers.” However, he added, the category is only in its infancy, and is poised for near triple growth by 2021.
Likewise, Warren Chaiken, president/CEO of Almo, sees the category’s development as an evolutionary process, particularly as it pertains to major appliances, which many regard as the smart-home’s true Trojan horse. “The current ability to remotely preheat your oven or run a self-diagnostic check on a washing machine showing an error code is creating a lot of consumer interest, but it is following the standard new-technology adoption pattern,” he said “For Boomer and Gen X buyers, smart-home appliances are a luxury and purchased by traditional early adopters and higher-income households. Millenials want it but these features are offered mostly in top-of-line models, so only the more affluent are purchasing.”
But by the time Gen Z is ready to buy their first homes, “Smart features will be expected and will have achieved mass-market status with lower price points,” Chaiken said.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the end-user, and perceived utility. As Climatic Home Productspresident Doug Allen said succintly, “Consumers are looking for connected appliances that will help simplify and improve their lifestyle.”
Check out the selection of products slated for the holiday selling season, on display at the annual exhibition last week at Steve Wynn’s Encore Hotel in Las Vegas.