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Smart Products Report 2022

In March 2022, we published the Smart Products Report 2022. The report, now in its second edition, is based on a representative study on the use and perception of smart products in Switzerland. It is published by the Institute of Behavioral Science and Technology at the University of St.Gallen as well as the Institute of Marketing and Analytics at the University of Lucerne in collaboration with Vorwerk Switzerland AG and LINK.

The Smart Products Report 2022 shows that smart products are widely used in Switzerland and are increasingly integrated into our everyday lives. Among the most frequently used smart products are smartwatches, robotic vacuum cleaners, and smart speakers. The findings also suggest that the perception of and relationship with these technologies is changing. For example, consumers perceive these technologies to increasingly take over the lead while consumers humanize their smart helpers by giving them nicknames.

The widespread use and positive attitude toward smart products contrast personal and societal concerns. Therefore, smart products’ future success depends on every stakeholder recognizing and addressing both, the benefits perceived by consumers and their distinct concerns about smart products.

Download the Selected Insights of the report for free in English or German.

Access the detailed Smart Products Report 2022 (44 pages and in English) here.

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Research on Nicknaming Autonomous Products

The advent of artificial intelligence boosts the use of nicknames for today’s everyday products, such as “Dustin Bieber” for a robotic vacuum cleaner. Consumers verbally integrate autonomous products into their social lives by referring to them by a nickname or discuss which nickname to choose for their new device online. According to the CEO of iRobot, manufacturer of the robotic vacuum cleaner Roomba, an estimated 90% of his customers use a nickname for their Roomba. Moreover, the rise of autonomous products has translated into new forms of relationships. Products are seen as collaborators complementing human skills, as competitors substituting human skills, or as “coopetitors” combining both aspects. At the same time, an increasing number of companies actively encourages these trends, for example, by inviting their customers to create nicknames for their autonomous products in the corresponding mobile applications. Despite these observations, it is unclear how nicknaming influences consumers’ perception and use of autonomous products.

Our current research project looks into the consequences of nicknaming autonomous products and examines product autonomy as an important antecedent. The findings of the project have theoretical implications for research on new technologies and human-computer interaction, as well as managerial implications for communication, targeting, and product design.

Zimmermann, Jenny L., Emanuel de Bellis, Reto Hofstetter and Stefano Puntoni (2021). “Cleaning with Dustin Bieber: Nicknaming Autonomous Products and the Evolving Relationship with New Technologies,” Association for Consumer Research (ACR) conference.

Zimmermann, Jenny L., Emanuel de Bellis, Reto Hofstetter and Stefano Puntoni (2021). “Cleaning with Dustin Bieber: Nicknaming Autonomous Products and the Effect of Coopetition.” In TMS Proceedings 2021. Retrieved from https://tmb.apaopen.org/pub/nrze79i7

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HBR article on autonomous products and consumer happiness

What would be your guess—does the use of autonomous technologies make us happy? Accumulating research suggests that using smart and autonomous products makes consumers happier—but only under certain circumstances, as a recent Harvard Business Review article reveals:  

“Robots Save Us Time—But Do They Make Us Happier?”
by Ashley Whillans, Emanuel de Bellis, Fabian Nindl, Tobias Schlager

Increasingly, humans outsource tasks to autonomous and smart technologies, such as robotic vacuum cleaners, cooking machines, and autonomous lawn mowers. This approach saves time, reduces stress, and contributes to consumer happiness. However, there are two important caveats: 

1. Consumers feel guilty if their products seem too humanlike. 

Although many products are intentionally designed to appear humanlike (e.g., by receiving nicknames or providing the opportunity for voice interactions), adding “person-like” qualities to autonomous products can backfire: Consumers are less comfortable with humanlike products doing their dirty work, and even feel guilty about this.

2Consumers worry that using autonomous products makes them lazy.

Particularly in cultures, in which busyness serves as a status symbol, the use of autonomous products can convey the image of a lazy person. The fear of creating such a negative impression reduces consumers’ happiness with autonomous products and could be a major obstacle for their broad adoption.

Manufacturers of smart products should consider these potential reductions in consumer happiness and address them in their marketing strategies and product development. Click here for the full article.

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Research insights article published in the Swiss Marketing Society (gfm): When Products Become Autonomous—Recommendations for the Adoption of Smart Products

https://gfm.ch/forschungsreihe/gfm-forschungsreihe-3-20-wenn-sich-produkte-selbstaendig-machen/ (in German)

Zimmermann, Jenny L., Melanie Clegg, Emanuel de Bellis, and Reto Hofstetter (2020), ”Wenn sich Produkte selbstständig machen – Handlungsempfehlungen zur Adoption von smarten Produkten”, Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Marketing Forschungsreihe.

72% of the Swiss population already own a smart product and 59% consider purchasing smart products in the near future. These are results of our “Smart Products Reports 2020”, the first representative study in the Swiss market on the perception of smart products. However, company revenues generated from the smart products sector and public discourses suggest that consumers are also skeptical, distrustful and even fearful about these novel products. The development towards smarter products is highly interesting from a social and a business perspective. At the same time, it raises the question for marketing managers and product designers of how smart products with their new core characteristics and product features can be optimally integrated into consumers’ everyday lives.

To answer this question, our gfm insights article combines findings from the Smart Products Report 2020 with insights from current consumer research. In order for smart products to reach their full potential and for consumers to benefit from their advantages, there is still some backlog in terms of product development, design and communication. Based on insights of the Smart Products Report 2020, best practices and current consumer research, the article derives and explains eight concrete recommendations for action to make Switzerland even “smarter”:

1. Emphasize control and intervention options.

One of the challenges for companies is to satisfy consumers’ need for control given the high degree of autonomy of smart products. A solution could, for example, be a physical switch with which customers can intervene in the activity. Furthermore, features implemented in the product design with the aim of giving control must be highlighted in the communication strategy.

2. Enable connection of smart products and a central control.

According to the results of the Smart Products Report 2020, Swiss consumers see the advantages of connected products—they want connectivity and also have concrete expectations of how different products should be connected. This depends, for example, on product type and category (e.g. smart products for the home, entertainment, etc.). Thus, products should be connected mainly within their own product category and in addition there should also be “central” products.

3. Promote trust and social integration of smart products.

Due to their specific characteristics, smart products are often personified by customers, which can have a positive effect on their perception if the impression of social attachment is created. Companies can actively promote this, for example by having customers give individual nicknames to their products.

4. Highlight potential cost savings.

The Smart Products Report 2020 reveals that consumers consider smart products to be too expensive. According to the report, there is therefore catch-up potential in terms of communicating cost-saving opportunities. For example, potential savings can be highlighted by reducing electricity and water consumption.

5. Emphasize the time gained through using smart products.

Customers can delegate tasks to smart products, which saves a lot of time. The Swiss population sees this as an important advantage (Smart Products Report 2020). Advertisers can take the gain in time, which is often a scarce resource for consumers, into account in their communication strategy.

6. Highlight the potential for self-optimization instead of threatening self-esteem.

Smart products are often perceived as a threat because consumers fear they could be replaced. In order to counteract such fears, it is advisable, for example, to emphasize that smart products can contribute to self-optimization and can support their users.

7. Address data collection as a sensitive issue.

On the consumer side, there is a fundamental mistrust of data collection and the need to protect one’s own privacy. Since a technical requirement of smart products is to collect data, this poses a challenge and should be explicitly addressed by companies.

8. Let consumers test smart products.

The Smart Products Report 2020 indicates that even testing smart products may tend to increase the willingness to buy smart products. Consumers can thus experience the advantages of the new products directly. Examples of this can be test settings in stores or the distribution of test products.

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Project: Smart Products Report 2022

The Smart Products Report 2020 is the first representative study to shed light on the perception and use of smart products in Switzerland. And more is to come: We are currently preparing the Smart Products Report 2022 as a follow-up!

Did you know that in 2020, already 72% of the Swiss population owned a smart device? Furthermore, the Swiss seemed to enjoy their smart devices, with nearly one-quarter even giving them nicknames. One of our current research projects delves deeper into this phenomenon and investigates the consequences of nicknaming smart products. It shows, for example, in which contexts it can be valuable for practitioners to support their customers to use nicknames.

In 2020, participants expressed a strong interest in purchasing more smart products in the future—but how did the pandemic influence the use and appreciation of smart products? What are the most recent hot topics when it comes to smart products? 

The Smart Products Report 2022 will answer these and other intriguing questions. And you can be part of it: There are a few spots left for study partnerships, which include joint workshops and the opportunity to include specific questions into the study. If you are interested in joining our new endeavor, we are happy to hear from you at info@smartproducts.org.

Contribution to the book “The Machine Age of Customer Insight” that is now available!

Einhorn, Martin; Löffler, Michael; de Bellis, Emanuel; Herrmann, Andreas & Burghartz, Pia (ed.): The Machine Age of Customer Insight. Emerald Publishing Limited, 2021, – ISBN 9781839096976.

Available at: https://books.emeraldinsight.com/page/detail/The-Machine-Age-of-Customer-Insight/?K=9781839096976 (Early birds save 30% with promo code “MACHINE30”)

The emerging machine age offers a unique opportunity to gain novel, profound customer insights and unlock immense potential in different business areas, especially for smart products that generate large amounts of data. The abundance of data and the pace of progress in turning data into actionable knowledge is affecting players in practically every sector. In 16 short and hands-on chapters, the book summarizes recent developments in business and academia and offers readers practical guidance demonstrating how machine learning techniques can help to understand customers better and faster.

Excellent authors from innovative firms and renowned universities provide a comprehensive overview of the transformation of customer insights (first part of the book), the tools needed to generate these insights (second part of the book), and the success factors to thrive in the new age (third part of the book). We are proud to have contributed alongside the outstanding editors and authors!

Reto Hofstetter presents a concise six steps guide for data scraping to exploit the business value of online data. Vast amounts of data are generated and stored on the Internet every second. Scraping online data can be highly valuable to businesses as they can be used to inform different strategic decisions. While it may often be quite easy to access these data, it is crucial to be aware of and avoid pitfalls in order to gain useful business insights. Reto’s chapter provides a hands-on read with a step-by-step guide helping to leverage the value of web-scraped data. 

Jenny Zimmermann provides an overview of data competition platforms and assesses their business potential. With the rise of machine learning, competitive data science platforms like Kaggle are also gaining momentum. Data competitions can be very valuable to companies because the platforms offer access to a large crowd of skilled data scientists who can solve their data science problems efficiently and cost-effectively. Yet, there are also downsides and pitfalls that need to be taken into account when planning to host a competition. Jenny’s chapter discusses opportunities and challenges by presenting a concrete case. 

The book provides a unique view bridging industry and academia and supports everyone who considers the machine age a great opportunity to gain a competitive advantage by transforming customer insights into business value. Have a sneak peek into the book here: https://www.book2look.com/book/oElhcXrz9n


Media Reports

Smart products – somewhere between skepticism and fascination. That’s the verdict of the first media reports on the new Smart Products Report 2020.

The largest Swiss newspaper 20 Minutes asks: Do smart devices make us stupid? The article discusses why smart products evoke both excitement and concern among consumers. Despite the increasing acceptance of smart products, Swiss people fear that common tasks such as cleaning and cooking will be forgotten when using new technologies.

Other media outlets such as Blick, Luzerner Zeitung, and Swissinfo focus on the surprisingly high adoption rate of smart products in Switzerland. Overall, over 20 newspapers and radio stations have mentioned the Smart Products Report 2020 on its first day after publication.

How Smart is Switzerland?

The Smart Products Report 2020 is the first study to shed light on the perception and use of smart products in Switzerland.

With rapid developments in technology, especially in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics, products are becoming increasingly smarter. Smart products are products for private use that can collect and process data in order to react to their environment. This means that they are increasingly able to operate and undertake tasks autonomously and even “think”. The first representative study on the topic in Switzerland shows the current and future distribution and perception of smart products in Switzerland and provides an overview of the novel benefits and risks they carry.

Managers need to rethink
Products in our everyday life are becoming more and more intelligent. Today, for example, 28% of the Swiss population already own a Smartwatch while 20% own a robotic vacuum cleaner. From the consumers’ point of view, these smart products bring new amenities but also challenges. Overall, our study results show that these changes have already been well received in Switzerland and will continue to do so. Despite their widespread distribution, it is crucial to identify and address the concerns of the Swiss population, from both the political and business side, in order to effectively use the potential of these new technologies. Smart products must be integrated into everyday life in such a way that costumers can benefit from them. For example, the high convenience factor and time gains can act as a driver and help to establish new habits. Consumers can make use of the time savings wisely, instead of focusing on giving up activities that could result in unlearning of specific skills.

How do consumers perceive smart products?
The academic literature is increasingly investigating the barriers, but also the drivers of adoption of smart and autonomous products from various scientific fields (de Bellis & Johar, 2020; Leung, Paolacci, & Puntoni, 2018; Porter & Heppelmann 2014; Schmitt 2019). The aim of our study was to assess perceptions in Switzerland and to shed light on which factors are most relevant locally. We see that smart products in Switzerland already bring changes compared to conventional products. For example, the relationship to products is changing: Consumers use nicknames for their products and describe the interaction as “collaboration”. This shows that, as technology develops, the relationship between product and people in Switzerland is also changing fundamentally. Products are being humanized and socially integrated.

In order to understand how smart products are perceived in Switzerland, a representative survey was conducted in cooperation with the Faculty of Economics and Management of the University of Lucerne. In the online study, participants living in Switzerland were questioned about their use and perception of smart products. The survey was representative with regard to gender, age, language (three language regions), canton and education. Our sample consists of 1004 participants.

Four recommendations for businesses
The key findings of our study can be accessed in our Top 15 Insights and the full Smart Products Report 2020. The study results show that smart products are already widely spread in Switzerland – 72% of the Swiss population already owns at least one smart product – and that developments and related changes will continue. Based on our insights, the following recommendations can be derived:

1) Highlight time savings
We can see that time savings achieved with smart products are of large importance. In addition to a high convenience factor and the fact that users follow the trend by using smart products, time savings are seen as an important advantage of smart compared to conventional products. Swiss people would like to use the time gained mainly for their leisure time, for relaxing, and with their families.

2) Connect products wisely
Our study results show that many users would like to have their smart products being connected with other smart products. On the one hand, there are products that should be connected primarily within their product category, but we also see “central” products such as smart lights and smartwatches. These central products should be connected with many products and many different product categories if the interests of Swiss people are considered.

3) Focus on social integration
About a quarter of the users have nicknames for their smart products, meaning they do not use the actual product name, but a different term for their smart product. For example, “Robi” (robotic vacuum cleaner) autonomously vacuums the floor and “James” (smart food processor) takes care of dinner. Furthermore, the interaction with smart products is perceived as cooperation. Smart products are thus increasingly personalized and socially integrated by the Swiss population. This could be further supported by companies. Additionally, consumers should also be encouraged to interact with each other (e.g., shops or social networks).

4) Address consumer fears
More than half of the Swiss population perceives that an excessive usage of smart products leads to the unlearning of specific activities such as cooking and cleaning. This skepticism must be addressed by companies. In this context, it is worth pointing out that the time savings and the use of new technologies can be used to promote new potential among consumers. Convenience aspects and time savings, for example, can make it easier to establish new habits. In addition, the time gained can be used for pleasant or meaningful activities. With a focus on this, presumed fears can be reduced.

The study was supported by Centralschweizerische Kraftwerke AG and Vorwerk Schweiz AG.