Why in the world would a home-improvement retailer or health-insurance company pay big bucks to exhibit at the biggest consumer tech conference in the country?
Simple: All gadgets on display, from tiny devices recording heart rates onto the web to the fastest smartphones, are changing the companies like Lowe's and UnitedHealth.
"We're on a journey from home-improvement retailer to home-improvement company," said F. Lawrence Lobpries, director-consumer marketing for Lowe's .
After drooling over LG's gorgeous, wafer-thin TV or Nokia's hot new Lumia Windows Phone, visitors can step outside for a breather from the frenetic show floor to check out the Lowe's tent. On display is the retailer's recently launched MyLowe's home-improvement management tool that allows customers to access their entire purchase history at the retailer, including products' owner's manuals and warranties. To help port information from the home into stores, consumers can use the tool to record specs in different rooms such as dimensions and color schemes and the app offers tips like how much paint to buy for the space.
That points to a critical trend from the show: no matter what kind of business it's in, there's a major focus on the services technology that can be layered onto an endemic business. For one, electronics manufacturer Motorola has created software to maximize workouts to sell MotoActv fitness tracking devices and music players.
Another unusual exhibitor was UnitedHealth Group, primarily known for its health insurance plans. It boasted a 3,500 square-foot, fake-grass-carpeted booth to showcase technology like Xbox Kinect fitness games, plan-information and prescription apps and OptumizeMe, a mobile-fitness-challenge app where people can compete with people in their social networks on fitness goals. There are also tools to connect patients with doctors online, tablets that track biometrics and health-cost calculators.
What's a potential end-game? Think of a customer-loyalty rewards program where people could earn points for healthful living, measured through apps like OptumizeMe, to redeem with their healthcare provider.