Merchant Innovation

Smart Products Study: Changing Consumers’ Lives, But Retailers Wary

The evolution — or some would say revolution — toward smart products will offer consumers new experiences, but some businesses face disruption with no sure game plan on how to respond to that disruption.

Forbes said on Wednesday (June 24) that, according to findings by Cognizant that utilized data gleaned from the Economist Intelligence Unit, many companies are uncertain about the way smart products may impact their given markets — and, in turn, sales.

The Cognizant report, titled “The Rise of the Smart Product Economy,” takes its conclusions from interviews with 200 executives spanning corporate functions ranging from research and development to product design in industries including health care, retail and manufacturing.

Of those surveyed, about 59 percent said the smart product strategy is formed and steered by the highest echelons of the C-level suite, via the chief executive officer. And a little more than half of those surveyed are seeking to debut new product categories to broaden and deepen the customer experience.

And though the headlines may be laden with new tech features of washing machines and wearable technology, Cognizant has found the key innovations are tied to new manufacturing processes that improve production or automate some facets of customer service — or in the case of consumer interaction, provide data. One example, noted Forbes, comes in the form of updated information on perishable items such as food or medicine.

Craig Smith, a director at REPL Digital, which focuses on retail company management and solutions technology, told Forbes that “retail warehouses will move away from handheld terminals (HHTs) and switch to more user friendly wearable devices … Likewise, store colleagues will adopt wearable technology for inventory receipt and shelf replenishment."

However, the Cognizant study points out that many companies are still unsure where to begin their smart product journey. New business lines may eat into traditional sales channels and revenue itself.

In the meantime, expectations remain mixed. Just under half of respondents, or 48 percent, expect higher margins from smart products; another 35 percent expect them to be lower. And in reference to competition, 49 percent expect more competition within their respective industries, while 38 percent expect less.

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