Staples is expanding its commitment to the connected home (and office) with new products and partners and will place consumer displays and educational materials in more stores as of July 15. The Connect platform, which consists of a hub and related connected devices that range form window blinds to doorbells is expanding to 500 stores, up from the 32 that launched on Black Friday last year. Staples has about 1,500 stores worldwide.
The company is also supporting more radios with a newer and cheaper version of its hub. The new version will be made by D-Link and supports Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-wave and Lutron as well as Wi-Fi. It will retail for $79.99, while the older version that only supports Z-wave, Lutron and Wi-Fi will now retail for $49.99. The hub and Connect software created by Zonoff helps deal with the mess of existing radios already on the market and lets the consumer create recipes for her home.
Staples is also bringing in a bunch of new integration partners whose devices work with the hubs, including Jawbone, Polar and Samsung smart TVs. This brings the total number of devices supported by the Connect platform to almost 150. I’ve tested the Staples Connect platform and liked it — it’s easy to create programming rules and I really liked the Lutron gear. So far, the Connect platform is the only one Lutron has gotten behind, although the Revolv hub also has a Lutron radio inside.
The connected home is important for Staples, especially as it’s also seeking to help small business customers connect their offices. Peter Gerstberger, Director/DMM, new business development at Staples, says that the products are also beneficial for the stores’ margin profile because many of the connected devices sell at higher margins than typical electronic devices like tablets and computers.
Gerstberger said that the average Connect platform user plays with the app or hits the Staples web site at least eight times a day and on average connects six to seven devices within the first two months. The most commonly connected device is a security camera, but after that it varies. The key to getting customers to purchase the devices and then keep them is to tell them how to use the devices.
It’s not enough to show the hub, connected locks and a connected doorbell in the store. Gerstberger says Staples employees have to present the use case. For instance, you could ask a business owner if they ever miss package deliveries. When they say yes, the Staples employee explains that with a Doorbot, connected Yale locks and the hub, the business owner could see when the UPS man arrives and remotely open the door to get the package.
Staples is not alone in ramping up its connected home push. Also this month, GE-backed Quirky is launching a separate company called Wink that will provide connected home products. Those products will be heavily promoted via a partnership with Home Depot(S HD), which is expanding the number of connected products in its stores. This week Microsoft(s MSFT) said it would offer Insteon products in its stores and Nest(s GOOG) launched a developer program aimed at making Nest the hub of the smart home. Apple (s AAPL) is working on a similar unification effort, with plans for a device certification program and software called HomeKit that should go live with iOS 8 this fall.
What we’re seeing is both the logical expansion of retailers’ product lines and big tech brands trying to carve out a niche in something that is expected to generate billions in the coming years. And apparently those products will sell at higher margins that tablets or computers, which could be why everyone is rushing to stake a claim.