LAS VEGAS — There were robots, lots of robots, at the Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 9-12 in Las Vegas. There was even a robot named Sophia who was interviewed by a human. She drew crowds and caused a stir everywhere she appeared, and a little robot dog by Sony named Aibo even stole a few hearts.
While robots may have been the star of the show this year, retailers took a leading role with the addition of two programs: the High-Tech Retailing Summit and the Retail Innovation Lounge (where Sophia made her star-making stage debut).
This year, CES served up a mind-altering array of new technology, both practical and fantastical. And Retail Dive trudged through the many exhibits and sat through the presentations to pull together our biggest takeaways:
Retailers top the innovators' list
Retail Dive was proud to have hosted the first ever High-Tech Retailing Summit at CES this year. It was four hours of retail-specific content that explored the intersection between retail and technology – not just how retailers sell the products to consumers — but rather how retailers are developing technology and using it to be better merchants.
Throughout the afternoon, presentations detailed how artificial intelligence and augmented reality are helping retailers create more personalized experiences in stores and online, and better connect with shoppers. The program also explored how the beauty category is killing it in a challenging time for retailers, in no small part because retailers like Sephora and brands such as L'Oreal are embracing augmented reality to great effect. And others discussed how retailers are working with manufacturers to create products and speed them to market.
Most of all, CES and the High-Tech Retailing Summit showcased how retailers are themselves, technology innovators.
Voice is it
Voice assistants really took off in 2017, thanks of course, to Amazon's Alexa, which has been the star of CES before. But for 2018, things are really heating up as Google gives Amazon a run for its status as top artificial intelligence.
"Voice-based assistants will be one of the key themes at CES 2018 — not only because we’ll see many more connected products and gadgets compatible with smart home speakers like Amazon Echo, but also because conversational interfaces and their associated AI ecosystems are the new battleground between digital giants," Thomas Husson, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, told Retail Dive in an email.
The battle lines were drawn between Amazon and Google this year. There are other smart assistants of course — Samsung has Bixby and Microsoft has Cortana — but both pale in comparison. Some 30 million voice assisted devices have been sold by Amazon and Google combined, and many were received as gifts this holiday season.
This year, they will start to speak more loudly.
Alexa will be everywhere
"When we created Alexa, we had the though of crowd-sourcing skills," Dave Isbitski, chief evangelist of Amazon Alexa, told attendees of CES. "Today there are 25,000 skills and it's growing everyday." Isbitski spoke during a conference session titled "Amazon's Quest for Alexa to be Everywhere," which was just one of several sessions meant to guide manufacturers through the process of developing products and skills that work with Alexa.
Alexa is integrated into roughly 4,000 smart devices and the technology was part of dozens of announcements at CES. The move follows a strong holiday season for Amazon, during which the company claims to have sold millions of Echo devices.
Autonomous vehicles are the new pop-ups
While self-driving cars have been touted as a solution to retail's last mile problem, the truth is that autonomous vehicles face a lot of hurtles before that happens. Even demonstrations to media at CES this year needed a "pilot" to sit in the driver's seat, thanks to Nevada state law.
But solutions are being developed beyond the delivery space as evidenced by Toyota's e-Palette, an autonomous vehicle that promises retailers a way to create mobile shops, pop-ups and kiosks. The vehicle itself was announced along with a consortium of retailers being called the "e-Palette Alliance" and includes Uber, Amazon and Pizza Hut to help guide the direction this technology takes.
Forgot the Internet of Things, it really is the Internet of Everything.
Kohler jumped into the AI market with the Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror with Alexa, and Toto had a $10,000 smart toilet that cleaned itself and can be controlled remotely. And everything, everywhere will soon talk to each other, and even talk back to the humans at some point soon. Samsung alone invested some $14 billion in IoT platform research last year alone. This is finally happening.
But expect adoption to remain slow. A recent study from Scripps Networks Interactive found interest in smart devices is still low, especially for some of the high profile products on display at CES. The technology is considered "nice-to-have," but pain points aren't enough to spur a purchase.