15th January 2021

POV: CES 2021


CES 2021 was fully digital, swapping the packed show floor for panels, keynotes, product reveals, webinars and other online experiences – some live and some recorded. As a result, it was more ‘conference’ than ‘show’. Here are some of the headlines.

Details and Implications:

Physical retail isn’t dead, it will just be different - Physical retailers are adapting their in-store models to adjust for ecommerce and BOPIS (Buy Online Pick Up In-Store). It’s not just about the shopping experience, though. Inventory and logistics are critical. Walmart's President and CEO Doug McMillon discussed how the retailer is integrating data to build AI models to forecast demand. Walmart+ (Walmart’s version of Amazon Prime) was mentioned but no numbers for now.

In a post COVID-19 world China’s Singles Day has even greater implications – Singles Day is leading the way in terms of online retail innovation and was the focus of a session called Retail Trends: The New Shopper. It is becoming less about discounts and more about experience. Companies launch new products, test new technologies, use live stream selling, launch exclusive content or even launch huge marketing platforms - it has the shopping scale of Western events like Black Friday but the marketing implications of audiences like the Super Bowl.

We’ve all played more games in lockdown and they’re going to get better - Whereas E3 is all about the new titles and consoles, CES is all about what’s inside the box – the processors (or invisibly floating around powering everything in the case of 5G). Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) had a raft of new processor chips that will make all gaming faster and more immersive, whereas NVIDIA announced the new GeForce RTX 3060, a mid-range graphics card designed to make 3D gaming experiences better for every PC game, not just the high-end gaming machines. 3080 laptops will also be coming this year, bringing the powerful gaming graphics card to portable computing.

Thinned out C-Space (the advertising and media bit at CES) - Understandably with the change in format, there seemed to be a bit less dedicated media and advertising buzz at CES 2021. One session looked at the relationship between the large video bundling providers and the lower-priced skinny bundles and standalone apps, all with the backdrop of increased streaming through the pandemic, whilst the C-Space keynote focused on what people will want from entertainment the other side of the pandemic and how the industry will respond.

Still the Best New Tech - You couldn’t try on, test, wear, control, drive, ride, eat or otherwise interact with the products at CES 2021 but there was still loads to look at through your laptop or phone:

  • Mudra Band – a gesture control Apple Watch band that means no touching needed.
  • Samsung’s JetBot 90 AI+ - a robotic vacuum with LiDAR and Intel image recognition that detects and decides how to tackle or avoid objects as required.
  • LG Rollable – a mobile phone with a screen that can roll out to the size of a tablet coming in 2021.
  • Samsung Solar Cell Remote – that’s right, a solar powered TV remote control.
  • Kohler Stillness Bath – a bath that fills from the bottom, spills over into a wooden moat and has “full spectrum” mood lighting, fog generation and aroma-emitting “experience tower.”


CES is less fun as a ‘show’ online but the innovation has not been stemmed by COVID-19, if anything, it has accelerated some trends (endless health and sterilising tech) and focused others.

Further Reading:

CES 2021 Award Winners |Engadget Best of CES 2021 | BBC (Video) | FT

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