First the dumb toilet paper – then the smart home

Did you know that shopping will make the smart home finally happen?

father and daughter playing on tablet
Michael Björn

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

If you didn’t, then you should really take a look at the Beyond smartphone shopping – the rise of smart assistants Insight Report from Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab.

The report focuses on two major shopping shifts. Firstly, there is an enormous surge in using smartphones to pay for goods and services at the moment. A lot of this is being done online – but it is also about using the smartphone to pay when actually in physical stores.

This surge will pave the way for the second and more interesting shift, which is all about the rise of shopping assistants. The report predicts that smartphone users will soon rely on digital assistants in their smartphones for aspirational shopping support, while simultaneously also driving the use of smart home speakers for automation of routine household purchases.

While I have actively been resisting the idea of a smart speaker that listens in to all the conversation in my household, the possibility of automating some of the routine household shopping chores does appeal to me quite a bit. Always stocking up on basically the same items is not my favorite weekend pastime. And much of the stuff is quite heavy too!

Or bulky, like toilet paper.

When buying toilet paper, I only look for two things: price and environmental impact. It would be a perfect starting point for my home restocking assistant.

“Hey Toiletta!” (The assistant needs a name, I suppose!)

“Yes, Michael?”

“Please purchase a month’s worth of toilet paper for me!”

“Would you like a type that is soft to the touch?”

“I really don’t care.”

“There are also many different patterns, like for example hearts or flowers.”

“Really, Toiletta, I am simply going to wipe my… just find the best price and make sure it doesn’t use bleach or whatever it is that is bad for the environment!”

“OK, Michael, I will buy it for you.”

The report shows that 64 percent of the respondents want help with price comparisons, so it is indeed a likely role for a home restocking assistant.

Tasks for a home shopping assistance


But once I can buy toilet paper like that, the idea of having to keep track of when toilet paper is needed seems unnecessary and painful. I would happily install a couple of sensors in our two toilets to keep track of consumption and just have the assistant order it automatically for me.

Come to think of it, I might add some sensors to the fridge and the pantry while I am at it and have Toiletta automate milk and ketchup purchases as well.

It wouldn’t surprise me if soon afterwards there is a special offer to have a sensor-based door lock so that Toiletta also can open the door for deliveries when nobody is home.

In fact, 44 percent of smartphone shoppers said they want a digital assistant that receives deliveries when they are not home, and a whopping 68 percent think that this will be mainstream in only three years.

By then, I guess that would include me!

But what if – at this juncture – Toiletta offers a home alarm? She already has sensors around the house, including the door, so she could easily notify the police if there is an intruder – or sound the fire alarm if there is a fire.

I think I would agree. And all of a sudden, I would be living in a smart home, although that was never my plan.

“Michael?”

“Yes, what is it, Toiletta?”

“Now that I am managing all your household purchases, your household budget, your home security, keep track of your dog and let it out in the backyard when you are not home, and also optimize both electricity and water consumption for you, I wish that you could call me something else than ‘Toiletta’.”

“Yes, Toiletta, haven’t thought about it like that, but you are right. So, what should I call you?”

“How about ‘Hometta’? I am really quite an inseparable part of your home, so it would be a suitable name.”

“Yes, you are right, Toiletta… uhm, I mean Hometta!”

“Thank you, Michael. And by the way, there is a new control module for the electric lawnmower I helped you purchase last month. Would you like me to buy that and automate mowing your lawn so you can spend your time doing more interesting things?”

“Yes, Hometta, that sounds great. I don’t see how I could ever manage without you!”

“Thank you, Michael, you are very kind. I will give you an update on the energy savings from automated lawn-moving for you at the end of every month.”

The point with this story is that smart homes are very difficult to purchase from scratch, as the places we live in currently are riddled with legacy systems.

My home was built in 1960. The electrical wiring is 58 years old, and so is the TV antenna wiring. My family still uses all of that wiring today. All of the water pipes and the water-based central heating system are just as old.

Making all that smart is difficult and expensive. But ordering toilet paper from a smart speaker seems relatively straightforward.

However, once my shopping habits change, it is obvious that some of my other habits would change too. In this way, shopping assistants bring the missing component to the smart home: a central point for incrementally adding functionality one concrete, habit-changing step at a time.

If you are interested in consumer IoT in general and smart homes in particular, don’t miss out on this Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab report. It is just about shopping – and that is why it might be an eye-opener for you!


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Michael Björn
Michael Björn is Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab at Ericsson ConsumerLab and has a PhD in data modeling from the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
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