When and how will a consumer market develop for independent living technology? The question is definitely a matter of when, not if. The factors driving this are well known:
The consumer opportunity and need for TECS is huge and will continue to grow for a significant period. Technology doesn’t replace care, but it can make a massive difference to the lives of those looking to stay at home for longer and in better health.
With smart home technology becoming more mainstream in heating and security, there are several re/e-tailers looking at the use of similar systems and sensors to support older and vulnerable people remain safe and connected to their families at home. So retail and online models look feasible.
The current TECS market does not address consumers. It is characterised by tenders and long-term housing or local authority contracts for technology designed around the care system, not the user or their family.
Most local authorities, the government and the NHS are keen for a consumer market to develop quickly to help spread the future financial burden of social care. The decision-maker and consumer is the older person’s family or care support network. They will be the ones using the information to provide the care and support at the right time. In order to be beneficial in providing more and better years at home, technology has to assist carers to prevent health crises, help reduce social isolation and increase communication between family members.
The technology and the information and support it provides have to be designed and marketed around both the service user and family members using it to support them. The information has to be accessed and shared through your phone.
There will be no development of this market without the buy in of all parties, so it has to be a positive, lifestyle choice, not a grudge or guilt purchase. So our language needs to be about improved quality of life, not just safety from crises.
Current consumer awareness of the range of technologies that can offer help and support is ridiculously low. As an industry we therefore need to invest in marketing to consumers. It doesn’t matter whether the route to market is online or more traditional, we have to identify customers who can benefit and have a need for TECS and explain our products and their benefits in simple, plain, non-technical language. Standards and approvals have a key role in the B2B world, but recommendations, trust and reliability are more important to consumers. People are much more likely to buy a product if someone in the same situation has benefited from it and shared their successful experience.
There is a great opportunity in the consumer market, but we have to think and act like the purchasers and users of our technology. This requires a substantial shift in mindset.
Stuart Sheehy is managing director of Canary Care, which supplies wireless sensors that monitor activity in the home for insight and reassurance about a loved one’s wellbeing.