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Sears vs Target: Which store operates the best connected-home showroom?

Christopher Null | July 23, 2015
The connected home isn't just a dream for consumers, it's also a bonanza for retailers who stand to cash in big on shoppers looking to upgrade their home life with a few well-chosen gadgets. But connected-home devices are quite a new and emerging market, and confusion is rampant when it comes to products such as smart light bulbs and cloud-connected thermostats.

As with Sears, the Target Open House begins with a series of themed rooms. Here, you walk through a front door, where a smart doorbell and door lock are being demonstrated, then pass through a living room, bedroom, nursery, and outdoor area, each with three to five smart devices on display. But that's where the similarity with Sears ends. While Sears' rooms are designed for interactivity, the Target rooms are meant to be viewed more passively.

Tablets in the center of each room invite you to press a button to initiate a typical usage scenario. In the nursery, tap to see how your smart home might help you out with your infant's bedtime routine, for example. Or in the bedroom, tap the "Burglar!" button to watch as the system automatically sounds an alarm through your Sonos and flashes your Philips Hue bulbs panic red. These effects are all automated and annotated with text that is beamed directly onto the translucent walls. It's a bit like a kiddie ride at Disneyland, if the ride ended by turning on a web-connected humidifier.

While the Sears displays are jammed full of stuff, Target's are quite minimalistic--to the point where many of the rooms feel a bit empty. Sears seems to be trying to move product, but Target is clearly attempting to be more educational and aspirational. The Target Open House isn't even in the same space as the regular Target, which can be found upstairs. At Sears you can buy the chairs on display along with your fitness band. At Target, you aren't even allowed to sit on them. (They're made of Plexiglas, just like the walls.)

After you tour through Target's themed vignettes, you're directed to a long table and wall display where each of the gadgets you just encountered can be interacted with personally. The tables are all Surface-style touchscreens that provide more information than you could ever want to know about the ins and outs of, say, the pet-activity tracking collar. When you're done watching videos, a tablet paired with each device is standing at the ready, letting you see exactly how it works. While Sears gives you this capability with some of its merchandise, Target offers the hands-on experience for every single thing it sells.

Unfortunately, that isn't much stuff. I only counted about 40 products on sale in the entire 3500-square-foot store. Sears jams more than 100 products into nearly the same space. (There's a surprising amount of crossover here, too, right down to the smart basketball that both stores offer.) That means that if you want to see how a smart light bulb system works, Target's a great place to visit. But if you want to compare a bunch of different bulbs, it's useless. In most product categories, Target only sells one offering--or two, in a handful of cases. That said, Target tended to have better prices on the products that both stores had in stock. (Installation services are not available.)


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