Another successful year has come and gone at CES. As we reported a couple posts back, this was set to be the largest CES ever, with over 3,250 exhibitors and more than 150,000 attendees.
And as always, the show didn’t disappoint. Wearable tech, connected homes (including some clever fridges with Evernote integrations), smart cars, and mobile computing accessories farther than the eye can see.
But out of the thousands of products on display there did emerge a trend in two very, very exciting areas: home automation and robotics. These two product categories had breakout representation at this year’s CES and I think this is just the beginning. The demand for these products speaks for itself, too: Robotics, for example, is a market that has global demand due to various factors which include aging populations, and it’s expected to reach $46.18 billion by 2017. Home automation & control systems, also market that we can expect to continue growing, is expected to reach $35.6 billion by 2016.
CES highlighted for us the many forces at work that are bringing together lots of different technologies to make our lives easier, and there’s no better example of that than home automation.
Smart homes & appliances
There is a lot to be said for a product category when a giant like Lowe’s decides to bet big money on it and enter the pitch. Lowe’s debuted its Iris home automation system, which lets you combine a variety of products into one app and manage things like when to water your plants, lighting and blinds, water heating, and a whole lot more. This means smart management of your energy use and saving more on your monthly bill.
Other products like the Izon from Stem Innovation let you view live video and monitor your home remotely for noise and motion. They basically give you a security system that just a few years ago was the stuff of sci-fi movies.
And the aforementioned fridge isn’t the only smart appliance that was showcased at CES 2013. Whirlpool, Haier, and LG all brought products that let you control basic functions from your smartphone.
How long before we have consumer-grade Asimo robots featured at CES? Apparently not that long; from toy robots like the Mindstorms EV3 from Lego to more advanced consumer products from iRobot, there is a lot of very clever innovation in this space.
Some of what’s available now – the iRobot mobile vacuum cleaners, for example – can be seen as part of the smart home category mentioned above. After all, you can already see yourself starting up your vacuum cleaner via your phone; this isn’t the stuff of science fiction. But there’s a lot more to this market than meets the eye. Take the new telepresence robot from Double Robotics, which effectively is an iPad on a Segway. It lets you move around at home or in an office, attend meetings, or even provide a mobile kiosk in your retail store. For a reasonable price you can be in many places at once, and in an office like Shipwire’s where working in a different time zone is quite common, being able to have a telepresence unit is quite a step up for collaboration.
What are smart brands doing?
Another thing that has grown since last year is the number of companies (including many in the two categories we listed above) that are aware of the benefits of, and are actively looking for, a great fulfillment partner. Before the show even began we had appointments set up with brands who wanted to know how to reach their growing (global) customer base the right way. Here are three of the top tips that came up a few times, just in case you didn’t hear it from the horse’s mouth on the trade show floor:
1. Locate inventory closer to end buyers. In this case it means making sure that your products are located near your customers, whether they’re in New York or in London. Nate just wrote about this year’s GRI (General Rate Increase), and it’s no different than last year. Earlier in 2012 we also wrote about the rate increases for Royal Mail shippers, which doubled prices in some cases. What does this mean for smart companies? Learning to mitigate risk in innovative ways. If shipping rates increase because of fuel or other factors, storing inventory closer to your customer means being able to offer free shipping and fast delivery all without cutting into your margins.
2. Sell across channels. If you’re only selling to retailers, then you’re not getting all the margin you can get, especially with customers that already know your brand. And if you’re only selling on your own online store, then you’re not getting the advantage of a retail partner’s (or a marketplace like Amazon) vast distribution network. Smart brands diversify. Sell online, sell through partners, sell on Amazon. Flash sales? You use those too. What’s important here is that you hedge your bets by diversifying, and partnering with distributors internationally can even help you with tip 1 above.
3. Specialize. If you’ve got an innovative, disruptive product that’s unlike anything else that’s on the market, then that’s great. But someone needs to make products that are used every day by millions of people – like iPhone cases. In that case, you’ve got a lot of competition and need to focus on the things you do best – like running manufacturing, or design, or whatever edge you have on the other makers in your field. This means that every penny – and more importantly, every minute – spent not doing something you specialize in, is spent inefficiently. You’re not building your own e-commerce shipping integration – you’re using something that’s been built already. You should do the same with shipping. Outsourcing the hassles of storage, inbound shipping, outbound shipping, and everything in between, means that you can focus on what you do best.
Learn how the pros do it
Something else we’d recommend – check out our Hong Kong White Paper. We wrote it specifically in response to the questions we got from top CES exhibitors and how to successfully expand into new markets. You’ll get plenty of tips about reaching buyers in Asia-Pacific, registering your business abroad, shipping to a new international warehouse, and you’ll even get some insider secrets from companies that have done it.