I always enjoy attending CES, specifically because it's the Consumer Electronics Show, and my entire career has been focused on connecting consumers with brands in a more human, enjoyable, and meaningful way.
CES is always fun and entertaining, and attendees are often attracted to novel, showy products or displays that don't really have real-world applications.
Most years at CES, clear trends emerge. A few years ago, robots were going to replace humans, to the point that one of the most popular booths included a demonstration of robots playing ping pong. Now, ping pong has been replaced by pickleball – and the ping-pong-playing robots have suffered the same fate.
Robotic technology is still around, of course, though today it's more active behind the scenes – supporting every step of supply chain, fulfillment, and delivery – while the human touch takes center stage.
Last year, AI was expected to take over, and many displays were encouraging visitors to have (often stilted) conversations with avatars. There was less of that this year, though I did try to have a conversation with an AI kiosk that told me what questions I was allowed to ask. Didn't go so well.
One trend that stood out to me this year was much more subtle – sensors.
Several booths at CES were displaying sensor-based systems designed to help us manage our lives, our communications, our interactions – and our time.
A favorite mentor, UC Davis professor Dr. Dick Walters, told me something years ago that I've always remembered: the telephone is by definition an instrument of interruption. Whenever you call someone, that person is always doing something else.
And despite all the technology we've added, that's still the case.
Our devices rarely take advantage of sensors to determine whether a notification might be useful. Unless we block them with a Do Not Disturb option, notifications simply push through and interrupt us, no matter what we're doing.
An entire generation now not only embraces that concept but amplifies it, through TikTok and other apps that offer a dopamine rush with each update.
My children and their peers wait impatiently all day long for an alert from the BeReal app, then stop what they're doing to drive a ton of Internet traffic at that specific moment. If you miss your BeReal moment, no problem – you'll just drive another entire set of notifications.
I was very pleased to see two of the world's largest electronics companies bucking that trend.
Samsung's slogan at CES this year was "Bringing Calm to Our Connected World."
Similarly, LG's MoodUP technology, including a color-changing refrigerator that plays themed music tracks, is focused on encouraging calm.
So what excites me about what I saw at CES this year isn't any particular new technology or gizmo.
What excites me is that we as leaders and manufacturers are beginning to see the impact that all the noise from technology is having on our lives as human beings. And we're looking for answers.
How do we declutter technology in our lives? And how do we make that technology work for us?
This is exactly the challenge we're facing in retail. Consumers want a greater feeling of control over the time they spend investing in a brand. They deserve a two-way conversation with brands, not a lecture from a one-size-fits-all script.
Shoppers deserve a high return on their investment of time.
Technology can absolutely support these human conversations, as long as it's effectively applied – just as notifications can be of great benefit, as long as we're in control of them, and as long as they're helping us make connections that are meaningful to us.
Speaking of time – I would love to spend time with you at EuroShop where I’ll be speaking on retail technology trends at 16:00 on 27 February on the ISMI podium at SHOP! Village. Please let me know if you’ll be around.