How to sell 'Internet of Things'? Target tries a homey showcase

The "Internet of Things" is making inroads at brick-and-mortar retailers.

Target Corp. is opening an experimental showcase for Internet-driven gadgets at a San Francisco mall on Friday.

Transparent acrylic walls mimicking the interiors of a house display dozens of  devices meant to make domestic living convenient through interconnected technology. Think thermostats and doorbells that you can control with the tap of a smartphone, and a baby monitor that can put Mozart on the speakers and get coffee brewing in the kitchen.

The idea is to get these products “in your hands and play around a little,” said Eddie Baeb, a Target spokesman. The retailer envisions the site as a “learning lab” that can help little-known start-ups get items to the public.

If the idea is successful, Target would expand the concept to other stores, Baeb said. 

About a third of the products are available on Target’s website, but the rest are available only at the store, at least for now. The prices range from $13 for a light bulb to $250 for a door lock.

Target’s leap into the “Internet of Things” could amp up the retailer’s “cool” factor after its image was tarnished by a massive breach of customer data in 2013, analysts said.

Although Lowe’s, Best Buy and Home Depot have demonstrated Internet-connected gadgets in their stores, none of them have gone this far, according to Joe Feldman, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group.

Target's “experiential retailing” for home devices could be the next trend for tech stores, especially if they want to attract millennial customers, he said.

“This digitally interconnected world, this ecosystem, it’s getting closer to being a reality in the home,” Feldman said.

As that future draws closer, Target appears to be sending the message that fancy gizmos are not just for the elite. To Paula Rosenblum of Retail Systems Research, the idea seems to be: “This is possible for the masses, and here’s how.”  

Twitter: @dainabethcita


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