May in San Francisco is a beautiful time of year. The warm weather is beginning to lift everyone’s spirits, and the city’s techies switch their regulation hoodies for standard issue start-up tees. Officially I was in SF for Connections – Park Associates’ connected home event but took an opportunity to duck out of the buzzing conference hall to head out in search of a different but related hive of activity – Target’s new experimental store – the Open House in San Francisco.

Target, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the US retail landscape, is the country’s second biggest discount retailer (just behind Walmart in terms of size, with revenues of more than $70 billion.) What ever your home needs, if you live in the US, Target inevitably is the answer – retailing everything from home electronics to sports equipment, food, furniture and fashion.

Clearly the Smart Home represents a billion-dollar market opportunity for Target. But with over 200 connected home products available from Target in-store and online already, its easy to see how customers could get confused by this new and fast growing market.

Stores in the US and here in the UK tend to present endless isles of connected gadgets, widgets and devices but there’s no “big picture” of smart living presented. A big part of the challenge for retailers today is educating the customer not just what to buy in terms of product but on how to buy joined up solutions. That requires a mind-set change on the retailers’ part, and a move from being in “marketing mode” to a more educational one.

Target’s Open House aims to be “the most connected house on the block” and it certainly delivers on that promise. Rather than just showcasing individual connected home products in isolation as the recent John Lewis’ Smart Home experience on Oxford Street did, Target’s Open House presents a fully connected environment where myriad devices seamlessly communicate around specific real-life scenarios.

A smart home is greater than the sum of its connected products. It takes care of its occupants and itself, perceiving and anticipating the needs of both and taking appropriate action, automated wherever possible. Every false alert or unnecessary action required by the occupant is a smart home fail.

Only by bringing together data from different types of product can smart living be made a reality for consumers. For example, it’s not a smart solution if you need one app to unlock your door when you get home, and two more to switch the lights and heating system on. These are the realities today of the fractured Smart Home space – and unless the industry solves this, it risks undermining consumer confidence in the many benefits the smart home can offer.

If you’re unsure about those benefits, take a look at the Open House’s nursery. Inside the crib is a baby’s cotton sleep suit. A tiny green turtle integrated with the sleep suit gives the game away – this is Mimo, a smart baby monitoring solution and the turtle is of course a sensor. While baby’s sleeping, Mimo tracks baby’s body position, temperature, activity level and ascertains whether they’re asleep. Mimo connects with the Nest Learning Thermostat, automatically adjusting the temperature in the nursery in real time to suit baby’s body temperature and help ensure a restful night for everyone in the house. If baby becomes restless, Mimo can detect the activity and play baby’s favourite nursery music via the Sonos sound system. All without disturbing mum and dad.

It’s this combination of interconnectivity and Target’s understanding of real life use-cases that elevates the connected home to the truly smart home; where connections between devices are anticipated and actioned without the occupant needing to join the dots themselves. It’s the stuff dream use-cases – and less sleep deprived parents – are made of.

Retailers like Target understand home owners perhaps better than any other market sector, supplying across every need a home owner has. According to Target spokesperson Jenna Reck, Open House is the company’s “first foray” into learning how to merchandise not just connected devices but real smart home solutions. “The next step,” says Jenna, “is to take the dedicated experience at Open House and then figure out how to scale it.”

Retailers like Target are now beginning to switch on to the fact that they can leverage their unique vantage point to help map real users’ smart home journeys and sell that connected benefit – not just San Francisco’s early-tech adopters but beyond to to hundreds of millions regular customers. Getting this right isn’t rocket science, but it is smart.

This post originally appeared on the Smart Home World blog.


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