I spent this week in Las Vegas at CES to check out the latest and greatest technology wonders, ranging from 3D printing, AI, and cryptocurrency to drones, autonomous vehicles, dancing robots, and wearables. A lot of what I saw has broad CX implications for accessibility, healthcare, and more.

My focus was on who will use all this tech: Will people adopt this technology? And if so: What will it all mean for customer experience?

My take: Much of it either is still searching for a real use case or won’t affect most consumers for a long time. But some of it is ready to impact customer experience or drive innovation efforts today. Here are my four key takeaways that companies should watch from a CX angle:

1. Robots Are Eager To Help — But Aren’t Customer-Ready (Yet).

  • Robots come in many flavors . . . There were robots in almost every room — varying in form factor from wheeled tablets (the temi robot) to humanoid (too many to name) to bipedal (UBTECH’s Walker) and more. They also varied in use cases — LG CLOi autonomously navigated, the CRUZR robot guided customers around mock aisles to in-stock products, and UBTECH’s Walker bipedal robot fetched a beer, chips, and even an umbrella in a demo. Most notable were the advances in autonomous navigation, spatial tracking, voice capabilities, and inventory integration, all of which show promise with helping customers access information and guiding them through physical spaces.
  • . . . but aren’t customer-ready and will stay behind the scenes for now. While many of the robots had friendly faces, their key benefit was their mobility: to make them more than kiosks. And cool features lacked realistic application, such as the Walker robot that could fetch a beer but very slowly or the CRUZR that became overwhelmed by the people it sensed around it — and couldn’t move. Robots are ready for operations, though, such as the Tally, which can gather data to analyze product performance on the shelf, or the robot found in Eureka Park that promises to get 80 person-hours of inventory auditing done in just 4 hours.

2. “Smart” Products Are Everywhere — Varying In Intelligence.

  • Many “smart” products promise to improve the customer’s experience . . . We saw smart security cameras, locks, lighting, mirrors, scales, outlets, and even massage chairs, showing that brands know technology is a differentiator for products and services — so much so that big brands such as P&G made their first appearance at CES this year. Many smart products integrate with Google and Amazon — including KitchenAid’s Smart Display launching this year. Others baked sensors into their products, such as BODYFRIEND and Lamborghini’s massage chair that measures your ECG (electrocardiography) in real time and personalizes massages over time. The intended customer benefit: better, more personalized product use and daily-task experiences.
  • . . . but “smart” is often a misnomer. While some products will learn and personalize services over time, many earn the “smart” title through digitization that does little to proactively change behavior or offload human decisions. Instead, the “smart” products’ core capabilities of today are to: 1) measure and monitor — like the Withings weight and BMI Wi-Fi scale that can show users their weight change trends; 2) inform — the Withings scale will also display a local weather forecast; 3) reduce physical effort — simplehuman’s smart mirror lets people turn on music with voice; and 4) automate the mundane — such as the Wagz Serve Smart Feeder that has integrated with Amazon Dash to replenish dog food when it senses that the amount remaining will leave your pup hungry.

3. Google Is Catching Up In The Amazon Vs. Google Race.

  • Both touted partnerships, features, and integrations . . . Still relatively new to CES, Google’s marketing at the event couldn’t be missed — from the ads on the monorail and “Hey Google” signs everywhere to its own product tour space, complete with a Disneyesque ride. But the race was still neck and neck: Google and Amazon both had their own spaces to showcase connected product integrations, of which there are many. Amazon now has integrations with over 28,000 devices. And both showcased examples of what you can ask Alexa or Google to do for you, tagging their connected products to indicate what they integrate with.
  • . . . but there’s still differention. Alexa was quick to gain market share as an early mover — but Google is trying to catch up in both marketing and features. At CES, it announced Google Assistant Connect, its rival to the Alexa Connect Kit, as well as splashy capabilities such as its real-time natural language translator. While Google caught a lot of attention at CES, the jury is still out about whether it has a chance of winning. Among exhibitors that had made a choice, one home product company picked Amazon due to its ease of integration, while KOHLER chose Google “for the long game” and because simplehuman’s products are about “life management, not retail or entertainment.”

4. Technology Will Disrupt The Retail Experience Far More Than It Has Already.

  • Retailers have new sensors, software, and hardware to pick from . . . From the high-tech retailing content track and floor space section at CES, it’s clear that technology companies want to disrupt and improve the retail customer experience. We saw three types of disruption: 1) mixed reality to provide content to buyers, such as the YouCam, a face-scanning AR (augmented reality) makeup app that can then link through to the products to purchase; 2) AI-generated insights about the customer to provide advice, such as lululab’s skincare assistant; and 3) physical store innovations, such as YI Tunnel’s vending machine and checkout system that uses image recognition to detect what items shoppers add and remove from their carts and to enable digital checkout.
  • . . . but are struggling with lack of customer demand and privacy hurdles. Customer adoption of AR-driven experiences is still low. And transforming the retail experience will require large-scale rollouts of technology and better customer onboarding. Also, privacy remains a huge worry: Using facial recognition in a public vending machine to identify buyers for facilitating payment raised eyebrows. And when a panelist assured an audience member that their company conformed to privacy standards by not linking facial images to PII (personally identifiable information), the audience member replied: “But isn’t someone’s face personal?”

All In All, CES 2019 Showed That:

  • Companies are investing a lot in tech innovations that are very cool and exciting.
  • But many of them won’t be used or won’t change consumers’ lives anytime soon . . .
  • . . . because many are investing heavily in tech development and bells and whistles such as voice while failing to invest enough in researching the real-world needs of users and testing their products with those users in real-world contexts.

Doing this right requires that companies acknowledge that the cost and effort to learn these new products and technologies for the consumer can be insurmountable and will prevent adoption if the real customer value isn’t there. The solution? Involve experience design (XD) professionals deeply in the process right alongside their engineering teams. If your company needs guidance with that, you can get help from Forrester in our CX transformation playbook reports. And if you’re looking to create an experience with emerging technologies, check out the “New Robots, VR, AI, And IoT Need CX Help” report for advice on the human factors to consider.