Blog: What Buzzfeed’s Tasty One Top launch means for connected retail

Writing about technology, I’m always prepared for the weird, whacky and damn right unusual. Most of the time it’s Amazon making me do a double take – I’ll never forget the day it launched the Dash Button on April Fool’s Day. I had to write the news story very carefully in case the whole thing turned out to be a joke and we would look stupid for publishing it. But two years on and the idea of pressing a button while sat on the loo when you notice you’re running low on toilet roll isn’t that strange.

But yesterday, a piece of connected hardware was announced and as a journalist, techy and a foodie, I was flabbergasted. The launch was a smart hotplate for the kitchen, not from Amazon, Kenwood, or even a food brand or a tech-savvy retailer, but content producer, Buzzfeed (hat tip to Paul Wilkinson, head of technology at Tesco Labs for pointing this out on Twitter).

In a mere two years, Buzzfeed has pretty much taken over Facebook with its Tasty (US) and Proper Tasty (UK) recipe videos, now reaching 420 million individuals a month. The short, overhead shots of food being cooked have accumulated 162 million Facebook fans worldwide and 58 billion lifetime video views across Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, leaving many copycats attempting to recreate its simplicity and, more importantly, its shareability.

Buzzfeed's Tasty One Top isn’t the content producer’s first foray into physical products. Last Christmas, Buzzfeed launched a cook book, where consumers could choose their favourite Tasty video recipes to be printed into a personalised recipe book to sit on their bookshelf. It sold 200,000 copies and thousands were on a waiting list because even Buzzfeed, with all of its millennial knowledge, couldn’t predict its popularity. But there’s a bit of a leap from a cook book to a $175 hot plate which connects to a mobile app and guides users through a recipe, increasing or decreasing the temperature and alerting the wannabe-chef at what point to add the freshly chopped coriander.

But, apart from a personal interest in food and the fact I spend most of my life on the internet, why is this interesting? And why is this interesting for retail?

Innovate or be left behind

Firstly, it proves no vertical is safe from innovation or intrusion from an outsider. Take Amazon’s move into food – who thought it was going to compete with the grocers, who thought it would be delivering fresh groceries within an hour and who the heck thought it would BUY A PHYSICAL FOOD RETAILER? And now even the seemingly wholesome meal kit companies like Gousto and Hello Fresh aren’t safe. Their no-waste food boxes are now in peril as the e-tail juggernaut announces the launch of its own meal kits, and with Amazon’s fulfilment offering – how could anyone compete?

But retail is Amazon’s bread and butter so it makes sense for it to launch buttons and devices to help you spend more money with them or services from meal kits to music to make you spend more time with its brand. So why would Buzzfeed join the connected party?

Connected devices are meaningless without service

The Tasty One Top launch also cements the fact that IoT is changing the technology landscape and it’s not just for manufacturers to worry about. Retailers need to understand that with connected devices comes subscription and service. A smart device connected to the internet is nothing without the underlying service behind it. Tasty One Top is just a hot plate without the viral video content and dedicated Buzzfeed app needed to automate it. The Amazon Echo sat in my living room isn’t even Alexa without my Amazon account – and my Prime-less Echo-owning friends have described to me how limited the device is if you don’t fork out your £80 a year membership fee to be part of Amazon’s cult club.

You may have heard the anecdote that millennials and gen z’ers don’t want ‘things’, they want ‘experiences’. Who buys a car outright now-a-days? And it’s rare not to take on an 18 month contract when you want the latest iPhone. Meanwhile service-led companies have sky-rocketted (hello, Uber + Airbnb). This trend seems to be developing towards a service-model of retail – just take Asos and Feelunique offering next-day delivery passes to try and keep their customers coming back again and again?

Dixons Carphone seems to be one retailer reacting to this consumer move towards a service model of consumerism. The retailer’s CEO, Seb James, wants to eventually launch a membership scheme for its customers so they can get upgrades to the latest models as well as repairs and servicing for an annual fee. And yesterday, Dixons Carphone launched its Team Knowhow services model, with 7,000 technology experts at hand to install, support, repair and upgrade customer products for a fee – even if they didn’t buy their tech from the retailer.

So where does this leave retail? Well, perhaps left dawdling at the starting line, if they don’t realise consumer behaviour is changing quite dramatically. But one thing is clear – the ecosystem is getting ever-more convoluted with different players entering the space, which I find fascinating to watch and report on.

So, make yourself at home Buzzfeed, and while you’re at it, you wouldn't mind whipping us up some dinner, would you? All of this is making me very hungry.