Retail Week ran a comment article last month citing the idea of the Internet fridge that could understand when you were low on cheese and connect to online grocers to ensure you never ran out again.
Retail Week ran a comment article last month citing the idea of the Internet fridge that could understand when you were low on cheese and connect to online grocers to ensure you never ran out again. It was entitled What happens when your fridge does your shopping, to which the answer has to be pigs start flying.
The ‘connected home’, aka ‘the internet of things’, where home appliances can communicate with each other and users over Wi-Fi, may be on the way, but it will not be the retail possibilities that drive customer demand for those devices.
The retail applications of technology always come later, after the device has proved itself worthy of purchase for other reasons, usually entertainment and communications.
Being able to buy from TV shopping channels did not entice people to put satellite dishes on the side of their houses, it was Premier League football.
Streaming video compression was not developed to satisfy shopper demand to see clothing products paraded on catwalks before buying, it was again entertainment (adult entertainment, erm… apparently).
Mobile phones have not sold billions because people want to shop on the go (and they really don’t: only 2% of online shopping occurs outside the home or workplace), it is because they want to communicate with each other.
And Google may have just splurged $3bn on a connected thermostat manufacturer, but that’s not because it thinks people want a device that will order them a new jumper when their house gets too cold.
Retail’s role in technology (aside from the actual purchasing of the technology) is largely parasitic. As consumers migrate to different devices and platforms to communicate and consume media, retailers need to move with them, whether it be through developing mobile-optimised sites or investing in social media engagement.
The idea that consumers will purchase Internet fridges in enough numbers to make the investment in the infrastructure of RFID-tagged food packaging and automated online shopping worthwhile is entirely wrong. It’s a classic example of technologists looking for a solution to a problem that isn’t nearly important enough to drive the investment required.
Some may think this is Luddite thinking, and plenty have egg on their faces after writing off the potential of technology plays when in their infancy, but for every success there are many failures, as my inability to type this from my moon-pad attests.
But the Internet fridge is not actually a new idea: Electrolux launched a prototype in 1999 called the Screenfridge. But guess what? You still can’t buy it, and not because the technology hasn’t been invented yet – it’s all been technically feasible for 20 years – it’s because manufacturers know that customers won’t spend loads of cash just to make shopping easier.
They expect retailers to do that.
- Patrick O’Brien, lead retail analyst, Verdict