Target recently reopened its showroom for Internet-connected devices in downtown San Francisco with an unusual twist: one item for sale is the retail giant’s own app-controlled smart lamp.
Target is selling the $50 lamp under its Threshold home furnishings brand, possibly the first time a retailer has attempted to design and sell its own Internet-connected device.
Depending on how well it sells, the lamp could be just the first private-label smart device for Target, which is placing a bet on a still unproven smart-home consumer electronics market.
“We’re figuring out what it will take to actually create these products, not by doing that in a boardroom with Post-it Notes and a whiteboard, but by walking the talk and trying it out,” said Gene Han, who heads Target’s San Francisco innovation office.
Private-label consumer products, which have a higher profit margin than third-party goods, are hardly new for the retail industry. Sears, for example, had long been synonymous with its Craftsman tools lineup, although the struggling company recently agreed to sell the 90-year-old brand to rival Stanley Black & Decker for $900 million.
But Target has placed an even greater emphasis on expanding its private brands in the past year to help set its stores apart from competitors, said Amy Koo, senior analyst with the industry research firm Kantar Retail.
Those include food brands Archer Farms, Market Pantry and Simply Balanced, clothing labels Merona and Mossimo Supply Co. and its Up & Up household goods. Threshold is a premium furniture brand that has performed well, and Target recently introduced a high-end children’s clothing line called Cat and Jack to sell shoppers on the idea that store brands aren’t “generic,” Koo said.
So creating a line of smart lamps makes sense for Target, she said.
“They really want to be seen as cutting edge,” Koo said. “It’s not surprising to me they’ve actually pushed it into a new category. They do see themselves as a convenient source of new and innovative products.”
Smart-home devices could be starting to take off. Parks Associates said last month that about 26 percent of U.S. homes that have high-speed Internet connection also had a smart-home device in 2016, compared with 19 percent the year before. It forecast that half of those homes would have at least one connected device by 2020.
Target created its Open House section in San Francisco’s Metreon in July 2015 as place for shoppers to get a hands-on feel for the connected devices, such as smart doorbells, thermostats and light bulbs. The retailer remodeled Open House to better showcase even more cutting-edge devices that are not yet for sale.
Some of the devices are also sold in regular Target outlets. Tile, which keeps track of frequently misplaced items like keys and wallets, became such a hot item at Open House that Target now sells it at all its stores, said spokeswoman Jenna Reck.
One of the biggest challenge for unknown smart-device makers is persuading retailers to give them prime space on their store shelves. But Target won’t have that problem if it wants to push Threshold smart lamps in front of shoppers.
For now, Target is selling its first smart lamp, under the Threshold brand, in the Open House section and in the regular Target store upstairs in the Metreon. But it also has a smart floor lamp, a ceiling lamp and a taller table lamp available online. The Open House store also displays a prototype children’s smart night light.
The devices use mobile phone app controls similar to those found in smart light products sold by Best Buy, Lowe’s, B8ta and other stores. They let owners have online access to set variable on and off times, and they can control light dimming and colors to set a proper mood for the room.
However, Target designed its lamps with a feature that solves a fundamental problem that early smart-light enthusiasts encountered — it wasn’t as easy to control the devices without a smartphone in their hands.
“It’s got a standard on and off switch, so you don’t need your phone,” Han said as he demonstrated the Threshold lamp. “It’s making sure that tech doesn’t drive the complete design.”
The smart lamps could open the way for other Target-branded connected devices. But Han, vice president of the company’s consumer Internet of Things office, said “the next step is a little bit of an open-ended question still.”