September 25, 2013, 11:10 AM

Left the door unlocked? A new Staples web initiative offers help

From a mobile app or web site, customers control devices at home.

Lead Photo

The Staples Connect mobile app

Staples Inc. wants to make it easy for consumers to log onto a web site or mobile app to control lights and other home devices from afar, and to use the same interface to buy more Internet-connected products. Those products include door locks, electronic window shades and security cameras.

“As a merchant, my job is making it easy for the customer,” says Peter Gerstberger, senior merchant, new business development.

Gerstberger, a manager of technology networking products for Staples, leads the retailer’s new Staples Connect initiative. Introduced yesterday, Staples Connect was developed by the retailer with Internet software company Zonoff Inc. and Internet networking gear provider Linksys. Staples also relies on participation from several consumer brand manufacturers like General Electric Co. and First Alert Inc. that are providing household products that consumers can control via the web.

Beginning in November, Staples Connect will begin to provide networking kits—including a networking hub developed by Linksys and Zonoff that will retail for $99, or the hub plus some Internet-connected lighting fixtures for a packaged retail price of about $129—in a limited number of Staples stores and on Staples.com. Staples is No. 2 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

A key feature of the program, Gerstberger says, enables consumers to use a Staples Connect mobile app or web page application, each developed by Zonoff, to control devices connected to the Linksys hub, which will also use Zonoff software. Each connected household device, including light bulbs, air conditioners, electronic door locks and window blinds, will be integrated with the router via Wi-Fi or other wireless standards. That will enable a homeowner, for example, to go to  Zonoff’s Internet portal to secure a door he forgot to lock; the portal will send a signal to the web-connected Linksys hub, which will in turn connect to the door via Wi-Fi or other wireless standard to lock it.

Available products include lighting systems from GE and Philips Lighting; climate-control systems from Honeywell International Inc.; electronic door locks from Yale; smoke detectors from First Alert; and window shades from Lutron Electronics Co. Inc.

Zonoff’s cloud infrastructure will be also be used to store data, such as videos produced by home security cameras connected to the Internet, Gerstberger says. A traveling homeowner, for example, could log onto the Zonoff-produced Staples Connect app or web page to activate a security camera, then log on again later to view video stored on the Internet through Staples Connect.

The use of the app and web page interface will be free to consumers. Gerstberger says Staples expects consumers to begin testing the Staples Connect system with a few home-connected products, such as light bulbs they can turn on or off while away from home. If they decide to add more connected devices, they can purchase more items directly through their Staples Connect mobile app, through Staples.com or in Staples stores.

Zonoff is also working with other retailers and companies such as new-home builders to also launch Internet-connected home systems, according to Zonoff CEO Mike Harris. He didn’t name the other companies who may be clients.

Harris also declines to specify how Zonoff charges fees to its clients, but notes that fees can range as high as six or seven figures through one or more fee structures, including licensing fees, monthly subscription fees and revenue shares of single-digit percentages.

Zonoff, which launched as a company in 2011 and is based in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern, PA, is backed by venture capital firms Ben Franklin Technology Partners, which provided it with $200,000 last year, and Valhalla Partners and Grotech Ventures, which led a $3.8 million funding round in April 2013.

 

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