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Sales data shows declining consumer interest in smart-home tech

10 months ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Tech

When Nest ($NASDAQ:GOOG) rolled out its Wi-Fi connected learning thermostat in 2011, it ushered in a swell of consumer interest and subsequent sales in the smart-home category. Philips ($NYSE:PHG) Hue smart lighting system launched the next year, and by then a mad rush to connect every home device to smartphones and the internet was underway.

Since then, home security systems, smoke detectors, surveillance cameras, door locks, outlets, garage doors, sprinkler systems, doorbells, baby monitors, and even cat toys have gotten "smart".

But Amazon sales-rank data collected over the past few years points to a curious trend: after that initial, aforementioned swell of interest, it appears that consumers are beginning to lose interest in smart-home tech.

Philips Hue: from 15 to 80

When Philips rolled out its Hue connected lights, consumers and app developers went a bit crazy over the possibilities. People could dial in lighting schemes for movie watching, parties, gradual sunrise schemes for the morning, and control it all from their smartphones. Hundreds of third-party apps crowded Apple's App Store and Google Play.

By 2016, products with the string "Philips Hue" in their names averaged a sales rank of 15.8. But since then, average sales rank for Hue products has been on a steady decline, hitting the high 80s as of late, and threatening to disappear from the top 100. Holiday seasons continue to be good for the products, but the trend is clear.

Nest Devices: from 17 to 83

There are few things more luxurious — and lazy — than setting your home's temperature from the comfort of the couch. Nest (now owned by Google) launched its "Smart Learning Thermostat" to ready-and-willing consumers in 2012 and it quickly became a symbol of smarthomes worldwide. It promised not just smartphone control convenience, but also learning algorithms that promised to save money and energy over time.

Nest has since bloomed into a broad ecosystem of smart-home devices, from cameras to security systems to smoke detectors. It's also normalized and slowed in consumer popularity over time, at least according to Amazon sales rank data. In 2016, Nest devices teased the top-20 products, but since then have struggled to remain in the top 50. By last winter, the devices struggled to stay in the top-100 and have fallen off the charts since then.

Ecobee: from top-10 to 88

Like Nest, Ecobee ($ECOBEE) launched with a smart thermostat. It's kept its product line a lot more simple than that of Nest, sticking mostly to thermostats (it launched a smart light switch in 2017). It's had a good go of thing as the main Nest alternative. When it launched its ecobee3 lite, a less-expensive smart thermostat, it saw Amazon sales ranks in the top-10. Since then, however, it's sunk to spot 88 and has since slipped out of the top-100.

Ring: from 95 to 27 (or... Amazon marketing)

Launched as "Doorbot", Ring ($NASDAQ:AMZN) made its way through crowdfunding, Shark Tank, and even Saquille O'Neal before being acquired by Amazon in 2018 for more than $1.2 billion. And since then, it's the one device group here that has seen a rise in sales rank on Amazon.

Given the Amazon relationship, it's not terribly surprising to see Ring do well in this context. A "smart home" search on the e-commerce giant puts Ring front and center (along with Amazon's own Echo digital assistant products, of course), with Google's Nest products in the virtual lower shelves.

Are consumers over smart homes?

In a word, no. Given that this data is from one source (Amazon) and covers only a small number of smart-home products, trends should be taken with some serious context. The number of smart-home products available today compared to that of just five years ago is astounding. Even IKEA is in on the game with its own low-cost alternatives. Meanwhile, Amazon's stake in the game via Ring makes for some conflicted marketing and point-of-sale bias.

That said, it does appear that the initial smart-home gold rush is coming to a close for the big players. Prices are going down as the technology becomes commoditized and consumers are becoming less apt to spring for smart products that aren't all that smart when it comes to their budgets. Or so the numbers say.

Controlling one's lights from an app is less impressive than it was just a few years ago. As such, it's likely that the smart-home marketplace will more closely resemble that of IKEA's new lineup: cost-effective, sensible, and, well, smart instead of just clever.

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Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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