With over 2,000 stores, and $79.38 billion in revenue from the last twelve months, Home Depot has the potential to be a giant force in home automation. It now has more than 600 “smart” devices in stock and is pushing the Wink home hub platform as its play in the smart home. According to Jeff Epstein, a merchandising vice president at Home Depot, the giant hopes that eventually all products it sells will be Wink compatible.
I spoke with Epstein earlier this month after paying a visit to my local store to see how it was displaying Wink gear. I didn’t find Wink stuff, but I did see several Nest displays, the Revolv home hub and several other connected devices. I’ve actually purchased several Z-wave outlets at that store last year.
As for the store’s strategy, it’s simple. Its customers are interested in home automation, so two years ago it started looking for ways to offer easy-to-use connected products to consumers. The retailer connected with Wink because it thought its software was good and the hardware elements were low-cost enough that it was the best way to help its customers get connected.
It also favors the creation of the Wink brand as it will help customers understand what devices will work together. “If it’s connected and we sell it, our goal is to get it onto the Wink system,” Epstein said. “Customers won’t have to think about it. It will become second nature to consumers. There’s not a conversation around it, it’s just part of the way of life.”
Unlike it’s rival Lowes, Home Depot doesn’t favor a monthly fee associated with the service. Epstein said the retailer didn’t want a recurring revenue model, mainly to make things simplest for the end user. Eventually that will mean Wi-Fi, something the Wink gadgets rely heavily on. It will also be a boon for Electric Imp, whose Wi-Fi modules are the basis of the Wink system, although it is not in the hub.
“Today the tech doesn’t allow everything to be Wi-Fi, and we would love it if it did, but that will take time,” Epstein said.
Epstein declined to get into the strategic way that home automation products might influence Home Depot’s business, but in previous interviews with Staples, I was told that adding higher margin electronics goods to the stores should help the margin profile of the goods it sold. Of course reams of paper and lumber may have the same base material, but their margin profiles are different at retail.
For now, Home Depot will have to invest. Epstein said the company plans to hold home automation workshops in stores in the coming months to showcase how customers can connect devices and show them what they can do. Given that education is an essential element of selling the smart home, this should help evangelize the entire product sector as people realize that it’s not that hard to connect a door sensor to a camera to snap a picture when someone opens the door and then email that picture to you. And suddenly, you now have a record of when your kids get home.
Finally Epstein put out the call for more devices and says he and his team want to speak to everyone. He’s especially interested in energy management, automation, safety and security products and entertainment devices. “We want the latest, greatest innovation and tech that’s out there. We look for things that will truly make the consumer’s everyday life easier,” he said. “Things that take away repetitive tasks and entertain.” So if you have an idea, Epstein wants you to think … let’s do this.