Let me start this piece by pointing out that I worked for Lowe’s on the Iris team so I am somewhat biased in my views: however, I cannot help thinking that Lowe’s is throwing the baby out with the bathwater as new management seek to make their mark by controlling costs. I know these are hard decisions but, at a time when everyone else is doubling down with significant investments in the smart home, they chose to exit on what was once seen as a key strategic investment in the future.
In the past, retailers were slow to recognise the impact the internet would have on their business and that failure to adapt to technology gave birth to their nemesis, Amazon. They’ve invested billions playing catch-up. In my view, the IoT and smart home is going to be equally disruptive to various parts of retail, so are they going to slip behind once again?
Retailers need to recognise that every powered device is going to become IP addressable and this will ultimately bring a fundamental shift in the way consumers behave. To date, consumers have focused on the physical attributes of products when making buying decisions; in the future, they will place equal importance on supporting apps and services derived from connectivity and data.
This access to data is the new battleground for many industries.
Lowe’s originally entered the smart home market because they saw how manufacturers were starting to use the data from the devices to develop and deliver their own services direct to the consumer. They could see them shifting their focus from fixed margin on product towards more lucrative service revenue opportunities and were rightly concerned that this could create a significant change in market forces that could ultimately disenfranchise retailers.
The best example of this issue was a door lock. A connected lock was an innovation in 2010 and Lowe’s gave it pride of place on end caps. The lock was sold for the usual margin, but the manufacturer charged $15/month for the app. Lowe’s did all hard work marketing and selling but got no upside on the services. Worst still, connectivity now meant the manufacturer knew exactly who owned the lock, where it was fitted, and could cross-sell and up-sell round the outside of the retailer. They had better consumer insights than the retailer.
Iris was a strategy to address the threat and exploit the opportunity by building a services platform. Before Amazon ever thought of hubs, smart home, or Alexa, Lowe’s was building their platform with the ambition that everything they sold could work in a single eco-system and they could offer services. A long term strategy that needed commitment.
As a shareholder, I can only hope that in exiting this space the new management team understood why their predecessors thought it was important and they have a better plan.