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Smart Home research trends

Hillary Stifler, Vice President

In grad school, I read a great book by Grant McCracken called Chief Culture Officer. In it, McCracken, an anthropologist, drives home the importance of keeping track of cultural shifts to stay ahead of the curve both in terms of your customers and products, but also your business and talent. 

I was reminded of this book and its importance while recently attending the Home Improvement Research Institute’s (HIRI) annual summit here in Chicago. Unlike most market research conferences, a big part of HIRI’s focus is on the economic and cultural shifts at play that impact spending in the home improvement space. I always find this broader view fascinating, and a good reminder of thinking bigger when talking to consumers to better understand their worlds.

And, while we’ve seen many cultural shifts toward healthier eating, sustainability, social justice, etc. impacting the CPG world over the past few years, we can also see the impact of cultural shifts on the home.

Below is a round up of a few trends in the home improvement space, and thoughts on the impact these have on the entire home ecosystem from appliances to health and beauty to food and snacks.

Technology Shifts

  • In the past 12 years, since the advent of the iPhone, technology has shifted exponentially and impacted how we live our lives. In particular, this had led to…
    • The Smart Home (and the full smart home ecosystem)
      • Within the home improvement market, it has led to retrofitting old homes, upgrades to new construction and the need for all sorts of products to integrate and communicate with one another 
      • Across other industries we work in, some impacts have included:
        • The ability to more easily order products or make grocery lists with smart home speakers
        • The integration of appliances with food/beverage inventory
        • The ability to monitor one’s home, pets, kids from afar
        • And, the ability to change one’s thermostat, start the car, adjust an appliance (like pre-heating your oven or starting your washer), unlock your door, etc. from a distance
    • The ability to easily work remotely
      • This has impacted the home industry in many ways:
        • Fewer people moving due to job relocation
        • Or, people moving, but keeping the same job and working from home
          • Both of which could lead to the need to a remodel to create a home office
        • Or, spending more time at home leads to people being more motivated to redecorate or remodel – even create some outdoor space such as a front porch where they can be part of a community
      • And, it has impacted other industries as well:
        • Less commuting, so less stopping at the store on the way home
        • Less need to take food on the go or pack a lunch
        • Change in wardrobes (more casual)
        • Changes in beauty needs (less need of haircare, make-up, etc.)
        • Less need for a second car in the household

These trends are impacting everyday behaviors, shopping patterns and expectations! How is your brand adjusting to these changing norms?

Focus on Health

  • Health has become a major topic in the past 20 years or so, and focus has grown around organic, local, non-processed, special diets, etc. This has mostly been happening in the food space. But it’s creeping into the apparel space and the home and office space.
    • Suzanne Shelton of Shelton Group brought up the context of “In me, On me, Around me” in terms of how we think of health and where it’s expanding to.
      • Within the Home Improvement space, it’s expanding into the “Healthy Home” – from air purifiers, natural building materials, clean interiors (carpets, furniture, linens), and smart home products that monitor the health of a home and those in it.
      • And, outside home improvement, it’s impacting cleaning products, clothing products, make-up, lotions, bug sprays, air fresheners, laundry detergent, feminine products and so much more. People are much more conscious of what they put on and around their body, and as this trend continues to grow in food categories, it will also grow in everything we come into contact with!
    • Another trend discussed was the fact that we’re living longer, healthier lives. Two byproducts of this are higher divorce rates at older ages and more people aging in their own homes, rather than moving.  
      • With the expectation of staying in one’s home for longer, there is more desire for durable, long lasting building products, but also for products that can be easily changed or updated (new paint colors, new décor, etc.).
      • And, with living longer, along with many other generational trends, there is more multigenerational and non-traditional living situations (think Golden Girls!) that also lead to greater needs for re-decoration and also different shopping habits when it comes to CPG products.

How does your brand communicate healthy living? Also, do NOT forget about uncommon household compositions and the Boomer generation!

Economy/Debt

  • The economy and student loan debt are also encouraging more multigenerational living, non-traditional household situations and older folks aging in their current homes.
  • There has also been slow growth on luxury homes, and booms in tiny houses and transit-oriented living. 
  • Additionally, it is leading to urbanization (city living in a smaller space, car free) and out-migration (leaving that city to live somewhere cheaper).
  • These trends in mobility and new types of households (multigenerational families or roommates) could possibly have a major impact on the home improvement industry as well as other industries.  
    • People are spending more on durables that they trust to last
    • People are spending more on “Fast fashion” - home décor they can switch out and update easily
    • Possible increased purchasing of storage solutions for their small space or needs for smaller items 
    • And, people are making trade-offs that companies may not even consider, such as: Disney or updating the living room?

How are you framing up the value of your brand and making it work for smaller households?

The Changing Social Landscape

  • Online, there is endless inspiration, decision overload, influencers and choices, but also tools to help you make the best decision such as videos, reviews, and virtual reality to see how purchases look in your home or on your person. 
  • Offline, people are looking for more experiences and social connections, and within the home improvement space we’re seeing this manifest as front patio spaces for neighborhood socializing.

In summary, it’s key to not get lost in the weeds with particular products or new flavors, but instead see the bigger cultural and economic shifts at play, and what they mean for your category. Read the news and think critically about how what’s happening today influences people’s lives, listen to anthropologists like McCracken to see their take, or tap talent in your office who have their finger on the pulse of pop culture or economics to brainstorm specific impacts to your business and consumers. Pay attention to trends, no matter how small they appear to be in the moment. And, use seasoned researchers, like us at C+R, who pay attention to these trends and help you find nuggets in the data that may lead to better understanding of market shifts. Hindsight is 20/20, but if you pay closer attention to what’s happening in the world (and tiny shifts in your data over time), maybe foresight can get closer to 20/20 as well.

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