50 Years of CES: Proving that Change Brings Opportunity
There’s something about anniversaries - especially those that end with a zero - that prompt many of us to pause and reflect on the past. As I flew home from CES 2017, I kept thinking about how much has changed since the inaugural show, 50 years ago. The many exciting changes I’ve seen since my first CES in 1979 make me truly optimistic about the expanding opportunities in consumer technology - and especially the growth of the accessories business.
Think about how different our industry looked in 1967. When CES first brought industry buyers and sellers together, a telephone was simply a telephone and the only personal communication devices were being used by Captain Kirk and crew on Star Trek. I don’t know if telephones were on display at that first CES, but I’m certain telephone accessories were few and far between.
Today, a “phone” probably refers to a smartphone - the handheld computers that control other devices and keep us connected to the world around us. Unlike landline hardware of the past, these devices are teeming with opportunities to create and sell new tech accessories. Every customer needs a case or a cover to keep this valuable hardware protected. Wireless signal boosters are available for the car or home, ensuring that customers stay connected. And staying connected means staying powered, hence the variety of portable power banks and charging accessories. Additionally, most charging devices require power cords, so a few extra cords - in the car, a purse or briefcase, at the office and in a couple of rooms at home - bring peace of mind to any customer.
The number of innovative products that connect to smartphones through apps via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi continues to grow. Products ranging from video doorbells and connected thermostats to smart door locks simplify routine tasks at home and on the go. Trade events such as CES and publications including Dealerscope help us stay aware of the latest products and innovations. Asking yourself, “What consumer need is being met?” will help predict which new products are likely to provide the most opportunity.
The Speed-up of Innovation
At the rapid pace of change today, we could see as much innovation in the next five years as we have during the last 50. As we look ahead, it will become even more important to understand our customers’ needs and respond quickly. Take security systems, for example. In 1967, security meant protecting home and family with a burglar alarm. It required a costly subscription service and gave the home or business owner very little control. As we’ve seen at CES over the last few years, DIY home security systems that leverage the Internet of Things have dramatically changed the idea of a “burglar alarm.” Consumers can have 24-hour access to a surveillance network of cameras and sensors that they themselves install and maintain. Many of these systems can easily be connected to a smartphone, further transforming the user experience. Many systems are also expandable, giving dealers more opportunities for add-on sales.
Home security can often be a gateway to a larger hardware and accessory world: the smart home. CES 2017 highlighted recent gains in voice command platforms, with manufacturers racing to launch new offerings. From smart light bulbs to smart plugs to smart control over sound systems - the variety of products is already staggering and will only increase at Mach speed.
Even traditional technologies, such as the TV, are being integrated into the smart tech movement. In 1967, most homes had only one television set. Americans now average 2.8 TVs per household, according to the Consumer Technology Association’s 18th Annual Consumer Technology Ownership and Market Potential Study. That’s nearly three times the number of TV screens, and each has the potential to add sound bars and wall mounts or full surround sound systems and all of the associated cables and connectors.
Accessories such as DVD and Blu-ray players have a 76 percent market penetration rate. And new products such as the StreamSpot Pro allow users to stream any event from the Internet without uploading, downloading or purchasing anything. Hardware such as the Roku Streaming Stick allow users to connect to their favorite apps, including Netflix and YouTube. And smart TVs allow users to connect smartphones to TVs, creating a whole new intersection of technology that didn’t exist before.
As CES and our industry prepare for a future that seems to approach more rapidly each year, I’m sure we will continue to see more change at a faster pace. Meanwhile, new technologies and new ways to apply technology will continue to emerge, permanently changing how consumers use products to interact with the world. As you prepare your business for the future, keep in mind that consumers will want to enhance and personalize their experiences with accessories. Follow the trends, keep the customers’ needs in mind and adapt quickly, and you’ll succeed in 2017 and beyond.