Smart speakers with their digital assistants, quality audio and streaming products were just a few of the major themes at CES. The time is right for retailers to buy into this brave new world, says Gekko managing director Daniel Todaro
Once again, the annual CES trade show in Las Vegas has shown us the future of consumer tech, from TVs to smart fridges, electric cars and even a wi-fi-connected hairbrush.
Some new products may seem like something out of a sci-fi film, such as LG’s PJ9 floating speaker, which hovers above its base station and offers 360-degree omnidirectional sound. However, most were much more down-to-earth, with many brands, including Sony, JVC, Kenwood and Audio-Technica, revealing new products pushing the boundaries of HD audio quality.
For audio giant Sonos, music streaming integration was a major theme. It announced a partnership with Spotify to allow seamless integration between the music streaming service and Sonos’s own app, which will mean users can manage their music without having to switch between apps.
Likewise, Naim’s newest Uniti all-in-one systems featured compatibility with all major streaming services, accessible via the built-in touch-screen. Expect this sort of user-friendly brand integration to be a major theme throughout audio in 2017.
Figures for 2016 show that 11 per cent of the UK population have a Spotify account, (around 5.7 million people), and around 2.6 million UK people have an Apple or Google Music account. The UK streams over a billion audio tracks each week – up 68 per cent year on year and up 500 per cent compared with 2013. Moreover, 45 billion tracks were streamed in 2016 – that’s around 1,500 per household per year – and streaming revenues grew 65 per cent for the top providers.
Total music revenues were up 4.6 per cent despite falling physical music sales and with streaming continuing its meteoric rise, this is good news for retailers stocking premium audio. Further integration between speakers and streaming services is a clear selling point. Use these announcements to highlight this connectivity to customers.
With 52 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds regularly streaming music online, increasing your range to suit different demographics can help to broaden your store’s appeal.
Sony’s upcoming SRS-XB range of Bluetooth speakers are a perfect example. They will appeal to younger audiences, with the two top-end models delivering lighting effects with an LED perimeter line-light, a strobe flash and speaker light that creates multicoloured patterns, ranging from pure white to rainbow, so you can have the lighting synchronise with the music.
This is all controlled through Sony’s SongPal app on your phone or tablet to start music playback, turn the speaker lighting on and off, add a speaker, or link up to 10 speakers. Make sure to utilise the product’s features to create some theatre in-store and attract potential shoppers to the audio area.
The emerging smart speaker category is taking the technology found in smartphones (Siri, Google Assistant, etc) to the next level by adding a personal assistant to your living room or kitchen. Combined with a high-quality, 360-degree speaker, these smart speakers are fast becoming a staple in the audio market. The main players in the category are Amazon with its Alexa assistant, and Google with its Google Home smart speaker. These two are joined by Microsoft, which announced its own speaker featuring its digital assistant Cortana, in partnership with audio brand Harman Kardon.
As personal assistant technology continues to develop, expect the popularity of smart speakers to increase. As brands continue to integrate their services with Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana, consumers will begin to take notice of the real-life benefits of owning a smart speaker.
All these new audio announcements at CES prioritised high-quality audio, giving users the best possible sound. When displaying premium audio products in your store, you may not be able to sell the content, but you can help people experience quality audio.
Set up an area dedicated to premium speakers and headphones. Invest in a Spotify or Google Play Music subscription, allowing your display speakers to stream high-quality audio at the touch of a button. Make sure each speaker has plenty of room around it so as to produce the highest quality sound. And make sure smart speakers are connected to the store wi-fi.
Add-on sales are also achievable in this category through the introduction of wi-fi boosters. The Sonos Boost is a rather clever, powerful signal booster designed to ensure reliability of a Sonos over a large area. Make sure shoppers are aware of these products and potential issues they may face if their wi-fi network isn’t up to scratch. Also think TVs and soundbar options – there are many ways to bring audio into the sales mix. Aim for at least a 25 per cent add-on target with every sale.
Create an immersive experience that allows the shopper to fully utilise the speaker as they would at home. This is the best way to create an emotional, real-life connection.
Ensuring that your staff are trained correctly is also vitally important. With an expert staff member on hand to assist with demonstrations, shoppers can be reassured that the product is right for them and their needs.