Smart Products

Smart Products: Conceptual Review, Synthesis, and Research Directions

Smart Products: Conceptual Review, Synthesis, and Research Directions

Dr. Stefan Raff, Prof. Dr. Daniel Wentzel and Dr. Nikolaus Obwegeser

Originally published: July 23, 2020 (PDMA JPIM • Vol 37, Issue 5 • September 2020)
Read time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

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Smart products have received increasing attention from researchers and practitioners alike. One limitation of the existing literature, however, is that the term is often used as a blanket term and that there is no consensus on what a smart product actually is. Because different studies rely on differing conceptualizations, the current body of knowledge is scattered and lacks a uniform language and conceptual boundaries. Specifically, existing research has subsumed inherently different products under one collective term, has relied on a multitude of ad hoc criteria to define smart products or has conflated smart products with the services they render and/or the wider ecosystem, in which they operate. These developments limit the systematic advancement of the field and impede the integration of the smart product concept into related concepts such as the Internet of Things. To address these issues, this article provides an extensive analysis of the status quo of the field, with the goal of developing a common language and comprehensive conceptualization of smart products. First, existing studies on smart products were systematically reviewed across contributing disciplines and supplemented with a bibliometric analysis that allowed for a deeper understanding of the smart product concept within and across disciplines. This analysis revealed an initial set of 16 capability‐based criteria that are currently applied to conceptualize smart products. Second, based on a systematic coding procedure, these criteria were synthesized and organized within a comprehensive framework delineating four distinct product archetypes for the digital age: (1) Digital, (2) Connected, (3) Responsive, and (4) Intelligent. Third, three major conceptual themes that arise from this framework are identified and possibilities for future research are pointed out. In sum, this work contributes to the literature by improving the understanding of smart products as an epistemic object and by laying the ground for more cumulative research endeavors.

Practitioner Points:

  • The analysis can be used to navigate in the areas of smart products and IoT as well as to leverage a firm’s internal understanding of what smart products are and how smart products can be conceptualized as distinct archetypes.
  • The proposed framework can help to understand how physical and virtual components of a product have to be orchestrated to perform certain functions and services and which requirements need to be fulfilled to lift a product to a more advanced level.
  • Practitioners may use the framework to decompose value creation at the level of components and functions in order to develop an optimal architecture of a smart product’s hardware and software as well as to derive effective pricing models.

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