Smart devices spur upgrades

Get ready to spend. The way we buy home improvement is changing

How did you buy your last thermostat? What about your last door lock? If you don’t know, the odds are that’s about to change. If you do know, the odds are you purchased a connected device in the not too distant past. And as more people embrace the smart home, spending patterns on a whole new class of products is about to shift.

Consumers used to buy a new lock when their old one broke, when they moved into a new place, or maybe during an overall remodel. A new water heater or light switch was the same kind of purchase; not often. A thermostat was likely bought from an HVAC technician as part of a repair or picked up after a repair or energy audit at a home improvement store. But as devices get smarter, consumers are buying them differently.

“The new features we’re adding to traditional home devices changes the way the consumer shops and that changes where they buy it,” said Stuart Lombard, the Co-CEO of Ecobee, a smart thermostat maker. Lombard was in Austin, Texas on Tuesday at an event where we chatted about the company’s new retail shift. He said since the launch of Ecobee’s retail channel in November about 30 percent of its sales are from stores such as Apple, Amazon or other places outside of the traditional HVAC retailers that used to be the primary way consumers purchased the company’s devices.

The new Home Depot thermostat aisle (Ecobee is on the far right.)
The new Home Depot thermostat aisle (Ecobee is on the far right.)

As of Monday, Ecobee is part of the newly revamped thermostat aisle in 70 Home Depot stores, and it expanding its devices to all 800 Best Buy stores by the end of April. This is a pretty big opportunity for the thermostat, which had been sold in Apple stores and on Amazon since November. Lombard isn’t the only executive I’ve spoken to that is noticing the shift.

In a conversation with Mike Watson, the VP of Product Strategy with Cree, a maker of LED light bulbs, after the company had just launched a connected $15 light bulb, I asked about the longevity of LED bulbs and whether or not that would be a problem for consumers wanting to replace them with newer connected versions. He didn’t foresee an issue, saying that he expected people to upgrade when they saw new features worth upgrading for.

As someone who actually has a box of used incandescent bulbs from my various LED upgrades that I use to replace my dumb lights when they burn out, and who views forced obsolescence as both an insult to my budget and the environment, the idea of changing the way we purchase and possibly upgrade our home’s fixtures worries me a bit. By making them smart we may possibly be making them less fixed.