It started out as a great concept. Maybe you remember walking up to certain porches that had large panels with dated speakers and a red button, announcing the fact that this home was equipped with Jetsons-like technology of a doorbell intercom. It was a great concept, but even when cameras were added, the technology never really became mainstream.
Recently, however — in fact within the past three to five years or so — the modernized concept of video doorbells have become increasingly popular and are beginning to pop up everywhere. “Doorbell cameras have been around for a while, but now you’re looking at a product category that is one of the hottest in the entire space,” says Mike Buckingham, director, August Pro for August Home Inc., San Francisco.
For August, Buckingham says adding the video doorbell was an easy decision. “It made a lot of sense for us just in terms of our presence around the front door and being able to see and speak with visitors.”
Although there are several different types of video doorbells, the functionality is generally the same. Most use the existing wire from an older doorbell and communicate via Wi-Fi with an installed network or with the homeowner’s own Wi-Fi. They can also come completely wireless, powered by batteries. In all instances, however, there is a degree of integration and that is what makes these video doorbells so appealing. The ability for a homeowner to get alerts on his or her smartphone and see who is at the door offers peace of mind.
Mike Child, director of product management, Vivint Smart Home, Provo, Utah, says the past four or five years is when video doorbells in the retrofit, residential area really started to hit the scene as a result of several kickstarter-type products that really gained traction in the marketplace. “Since then the doorbell cameras have been getting more and more popular in terms of retrofit, easy-to-install DIY type of marketplace,” Child says.
The ability to retrofit these new video doorbells is the critical aspect, according to Child. “There have been door stations that have been around for quite some time that have offered similar functionalities with a camera. The difference with those is they were largely not as easily retrofitted; they are installed flush in a double-gang box. The latest trend we are seeing is these ones that replace your doorbell exactly, using the existing wires already set up for a doorbell and communicating via wireless Wi-Fi.”
Child says cameras in general are leading the IoT revolution right now, at least in terms of revenue adoption. “The place people want cameras first and foremost is the front door. So it was a natural thing to say ‘How can we get a camera in the front door area?’ And for a camera, you need connectivity and power. A very convenient power source was the doorbell, so that’s why cameras started getting embedded in doorbells.”
Greg Stone, product line manager, video, for Nortek Security & Control, Carlsbad, Calif., attributes the increase of the video doorbell to the proliferation of the smartphone. “Nearly every solution on the market leverages the end user’s smartphone as the device they can use on-the-go or at home to access a live feed of their front door via their doorbell camera, or to access stored video clips and take snapshots. Additionally, the familiarity of homeowners being able to access their security and smart home systems via their phone makes video doorbell cameras a natural extension or additional layer to those solutions.”
It isn’t just a niche product either; it is something everyone is getting into. “If you look at integrators across the board, just about every major platform has a video doorbell that is in some way integrated with it, so this is not just a standalone consumer trend,” says Bob Tucker, director of corporate affairs for ADT, Boca Raton, Fla.
Tucker adds several more reasons video doorbells have become so popular. First, big companies are investing in them; second, big companies are beginning to advertise them; third, there has been a shift in the distribution model; fourth, news coverage of front door “porch pirates” raises awareness; and finally, increased image quality makes footage useful to homeowners and law enforcement.
While the popularity of video doorbells is on the rise, the lion’s share of the product’s potential has yet to be realized, though, and dealers and integrators are beginning to realize the opportunities this product affords them.
CAPITALIZING ON THE TREND
Buckingham sees video doorbells as an ideal way to grow in the monitored security space. “Doorbell cameras are a huge entry point for a customer that is considering a security system, or an easy add-on for people getting security systems to make them even more robust,” he says.
“The video doorbell resonates really well with consumers,” Child adds. “It’s one of the uses for smart home that makes sense, and it’s not something that very many people have right now. The market penetration hasn’t been that high yet.”
Sandra Finn, head of sales and marketing, Bird Home Automation Group, San Francisco, says installers who were not previously capitalizing on the smart home boom could find that video doorbells are a great entry point for them into the IoT smart home market. “Now the installer can move beyond the IP video door station and get the end user interested in other smart home options [that] increase the profitability of the project.”
Video doorbells address concerns that are typically already high priorities for end users, she adds. “Increased security for the home, increased safety for the family and the ability to interact remotely with the home are features that most clients respond to immediately.”
The novelty of the technology means there isn’t a long history of tried-and-true methods to sell them, but as Stone sees it, there are two main ways dealers and integrators can offer video doorbells. First, they can sell the doorbell as the starting point to introduce smart home technology that the consumer uses frequently. “The consumer will be amazed at the simplicity of answering their smartphone to see and talk with visitors at their front door,” Stone says. Second, the video doorbell is an excellent add-on to any security or home automation system. “As a dealer that may be selling a system with monitoring and/or maintenance, adding the video doorbell may turn out to be just a few more dollars per month for the consumer. So it’s a good win-win for everyone.”
Jeff Neilson, manager, purchasing and planning, AVAD, Scottsdale, Ariz., says dealers and integrators can close the deal on video doorbells by demonstrating an immediate improvement to a customer’s ability to monitor and control their home, especially by integrating a video doorbell with other connected home devices. “By creating one versatile ecosystem, the homeowner instantly understands the capabilities and they’ll become hooked,” he says. “Similar to the original remote control, being able to answer the door, and potentially unlock it, from the comfort of your couch or office creates an immediate purchase decision.”
Because people understand and want it, Child recommends leading the sales process with the doorbell camera. “It’s really easy to comprehend how it will make your life easier and better. It’s not an afterthought; it’s something that may actually drive additional sales,” he explains. “It’s nice to have a product that pulls customers.”
However a dealer chooses to implement them, video doorbells should not be ignored. “If dealers don’t have video doorbells as part of their portfolio, they are probably missing a big opportunity,”
WEIGHING THE OPTIONS
Because not all video doorbells are the same, there are different options depending on the manufacturer or price point, and with those differences come tradeoffs. A dealer offering video doorbells should know these tradeoffs and include what fits best for them and their customers.
“We encourage our dealers and integrators to install a unit on their own front door to use and experience the device,” Stone says. “This practice not only provides them with a system that’s simple and easy to demonstrate but also gives them the ability to craft their own pitch or narrative around how the solution has improved their life in some way.”
Some options to be aware of beyond aesthetics are how the doorbells are powered; whether they push video to the cloud or to an NVR within the house; whether 24/7 recording is available or if they will just show short clips; the level of integration offered with other smart home and security products; and the types of analytics used.
“If the customer is being alerted every five minutes of a motion when a tree is blowing at their front door, they will turn it off and say they don’t want it anymore,” Tucker says.
Child adds, “Video analytics is a hot space right now, so we are seeing more and more people using analytics, which can distinguish a person from a cat or a car or headlights. The trend is in the right direction.”
This presents one of the tradeoffs mentioned earlier, in that analytics are going to have a much heavier draw on power and will sometimes preclude the use of battery-powered cameras. “Video analytics is much harder to do with batteries,” Child says. “Video analytics is pretty process intensive. There are some tricks you can do with battery-powered to get it to work, but it’s much more difficult. [Battery-powered cameras] will usually rely on a dual-staged approach [such as] a PIR to pick up motion and tell the analytics to turn on for a second to see if there is a person there.”
Another tradeoff with using battery-powered cameras is the inability to record 24/7. “You can’t have a DVR service if you’re on battery power because the camera is largely sleeping; it’s off most of the time,” Child says.
Some features that are a must, though, would be a degree of weatherproofing and a wide field of view.
Ultimately, video doorbells should be part of a holistic approach. “Having just a video doorbell is not enough,” Tucker says. “It really needs to be part of an overall security solution [including professional monitoring].”
Tana Barton-Haas, vice president of channel and product marketing, ADT, agrees. “While you are interacting with the doorbell, you have the ability to do things to actually make your home safer because it’s part of that broader security system. So you can do things like arming the system, locking the door or turning on a light to really enhance the security and also make it seem like you’re home even if you’re not. We really do video doorbells as an overall component of our front door protection that we can offer to customers.”
Video doorbells are here to stay. It is a safe bet that in the near future, people will take for granted the ability to see and interact with anyone at their front door, and dealers and integrators stand to benefit by offering them, while consumers will get the most out of them when they are integrated with an overall smart home/security system.
Front Door Effrontery
It happens most over the holidays when package delivery is at an annual peak. By now the clips of opportunists brazenly walking up to a porch, picking up a package, and absconding with it have proliferated the media, giving rise to the imprecatory nickname “Porch Pirates.”
A Princeton Survey Research Associates study estimated there are at least 23 million packages stolen every year, particularly around the holiday timeframe.
“These bad guys are taking an incredible risk because you can go up on the porch, and a lot of these packages, you can’t tell what’s inside,” says Bob Tucker, ADT. “It could be a bag of gourmet dog food worth $12. They’re risking an incredible thing by going up there, taking that and possibly getting caught and thrown in jail and losing their job and everything else.
“Or on the other end of the spectrum,” he continues, “it could be a very expensive watch or Coach purse or some other kind of item that they can rip off. But if you’re the poor person on the receiving end, now you’ve got to go track the package, fill out a claim, and … now you’re without that package. It causes a lot of grief and hardship and inconvenience.”
According “Package Theft Report: Outsmarting Criminals at Your Front Door” by August Home Inc., San Francisco, the majority of packages are stolen during the day when homeowners are out (74 percent) and theft victims spend close to $200 to replace each stolen package. Sixty-nine percent of package theft victims shared that they would rather let a delivery person into their home via an app from wherever they are, than be forced to have a package left outside. And 28 percent said it would be ideal if delivery services could leave packages directly inside their home.
Tucker says he saw a real spike this past holiday season and did several media placements on the topic that received a great deal of interest. “It is this whole kind of caught-on-camera kind of sexiness that adds to the media interest on our local TV. And the cops love it; they’re getting really high quality images that they can track and trap these guys.”
The good news is that these media placements have been doing a good job getting the word out, Tucker says. “These bad guys know that the more video doorbells that are being installed, the greater the likelihood that they’ll be caught in the act.”
Greg Stone, Nortek Security & Control, agrees. “As doorstep theft becomes a more prominent problem, especially around the holiday season, doorbell cameras act as an excellent deterrent. In the unfortunate event a package is taken from your front step, a motion sensed notification can alert homeowners of the foul play, complete with a snapshot or short video of the perpetrator.”
Sometimes, the video doorbells prevent crimes before they happen. “We definitely see doorbell cameras capturing crime events as well as deterring them,” says Mike Child, Vivint Smart Home. “People have walked up, looked at the doorbell, and then left, and we later heard on a news report that they broke in to a different house that didn’t have a doorbell camera.”
For more on doorbell cameras, visit SDM’s website where you will find the following articles:
“How New Video Technology is Propelling the Industry”
“IP and Cellular Technologies Have Revolutionized the Door Intercom or Telephone Entry System”
“ALL ‘AYES’ ON Today’s Intercoms”
“Mobile Solutions for Smart Surveillance”
“How the Puzzle Pieces of a Smart Home Make a Full Picture”