by Joe Henry | September 20, 2016
The era of home automation -- where everyday household appliances like refrigerators or thermostats are wired to the internet -- isn't here quite yet. But it's beginning, and incentive merchandise award providers are seeing growing traction in redemptions for connected products.

"Smart refrigerators do well for us," said Raul Garcia, merchandising manager at Hinda Incentives. Hinda sells a Samsung model with a built-in camera as well as applications for calendars, notes, photo-sharing, and a food management system that lets users shop online. 

Additionally, the fridge connects to smart TVs and speakers -- so people can stream entertainment when they're hanging around the kitchen.

But, Garcia says, it's a costly item -- about $5,599 retail -- and he sends out "maybe two to three a month, which is a great redemption rate for that type of item," he said.   

Generally, when consumers redeem their points for home automation products, they're zeroing in on more modest offerings. Google's Nest products perform well, for instance. These include indoor and outdoor cameras, thermostats, and combination smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. In terms of popularity, the thermostats -- which you can set from your smartphone -- do the best, Garcia said.

But it's not for everybody. "The application is more difficult as it involves some wiring," he said. 

Notably, home automation products tend to be most popular with Gen Xers, interested in the latest and greatest. While the same can be said for millennials, comparatively few of them are homeowners.

But if there's one home automation product that's frequently redeemed -- and which doesn't require replacing a home thermostat -- it's the Amazon Echo. The Echo is a voice-powered smart speaker that answers questions, plays music, and allows its users to order items from the Amazon store. For that reason, even destitute millennials living rent-free in their parents' basement can use it.

However, for home automation enthusiasts, the Echo has an additional allure.

"The Echo is acting as a hub, which is making it a lot more prevalent," said Scott Kooken, CEO of Links Unlimited. The problem with many home automation products is that they're made by different manufacturers and don't necessarily talk to each other, which undermines the basic point of home automation.

The Echo, however, can act as that central brain, letting Google Nest talk to, say, Belkin's wi-fi enabled Wemo light switch. 

"We're not trying to carry every home automation product," Kooken said. "We want to know which one will win. Right now, it's Echo."