Report: Best Buy To Trial ‘Test Drive’

Retail Dive: “Best Buy is trying harness something that’s already common practice among consumers — the concept of buying something to figure out if you really want it, knowing full well there is a decent chance you will eventually return it. It’s perhaps a cumbersome way to find out if a purchase is really worth making, but it has become a culturally acceptable method.”

“With a try-before-you-buy program, Best Buy is looking to divert that sort of activity, and convince a customer who normally would buy and return later to pay an additional fee to rent an item for several days to decide if they really want it. The retailer recognizes that such a fee might not be attractive on all products, and for now seems to be reserving it for a handful of bigger-ticket tech products.”

“The program could also help Best Buy capture a prospective customer’s attention earlier in the buying process while they are still researching a purchase. Amazon has done very well in making itself essentially a shopping search engine to be used by consumers in the earliest phases of their product hunts, and Best Buy may feel it can get in on that action by enticing customers to try products without a full commitment.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How Best Buy Engages Shoppers

The Wall Street Journal: “Best Buy, the electronics giant left for dead a few years ago, is bucking America’s retail slump by turning its cavernous stores from a potential drag on its business into a way to fend off Amazon.com Inc.”

“To fend off digital competition, Best Buy gave up efforts to charge consumers more in stores than online. It promised in 2013 to match online competitors’ prices and brought its prices in line with Amazon’s—a move that has paid dividends now that shoppers can instantly check prices on their smartphones … The price guarantee made a loyal shopper out of Anton Robinson, a 34-year-old lawyer in New York City. He buys his music equipment from Best Buy because he prefers to test products in person and doesn’t have to compare prices.”

“Best Buy also found a way to get more out of its giant stores. The company eliminated much of the floorspace once dedicated to DVDs and other media and has given it to brands such as Samsung, Verizon and Microsoft , which both pay rent and provide staff with expertise … Best Buy plans a nationwide rollout of in-home advisory services, in which consultants will visit consumers to field technology questions. Says CEO Hubert Joly: “Having these conversations in the home unlocks all sorts of discussions with the customers. There’s some needs that people never talk about in the stores.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dyson: The Apple of Appliances?

The New York Times: “Not many consumer electronics brands would spend almost two decades — and tens of millions of dollars — building a vacuum cleaner that retails for more than a top-of-the-line laptop. But combining an almost obsessive eye for design and engineering, the privately held Dyson has cornered the nonglamorous market of high-end vacuum cleaners, lights and hair dryers — and in the process bucked the technology truism that companies rarely make money in the difficult arena of hardware.”

“Dyson has shown an uncanny ability to mint money. Its latest robot cleaner, which is selling briskly, exemplifies that and puts Dyson in rarefied company alongside Apple as one of the few tech companies worldwide to consistently profit from consumer gadgets Dyson is moving beyond vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and air purifiers. The company said it would spend more than $2 billion on battery technology, machine learning and other high-tech wizardry to create new products, many of which remain under wraps behind tight security at its headquarters.”

“At Dyson’s headquarters … prototypes were covered in tarps while large areas of the open-plan offices were off limits. Photographs of engineers’ computer screens were prohibited, and machinery in some of the research labs was obscured with black trash bags.” Mario Cosci of Dyson comments: “It’s a little like a brainwashing atmosphere. When you work every day with people who are driven, you can’t swim against it.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Polaroid Swing: The Hogwarts of Photographs

The Guardian: “The Silicon Valley startup Polaroid Swing will this week offer more than 200 photographers equipment, exhibition space and possible commissions in its new artist support programme … The company, which launched its Polaroid Swing app last summer, has taken the name and spirit of Polaroid and repackaged it into a new enterprise with a mission, it says, to create a ‘living photograph,’ a step toward something you might see in the Harry Potter movies.” Co founder Tommy Stadlen explains: “Photographs should be alive. Every photograph in the digital world and eventually in the physical world, why can’t you move it? Why can’t you have the composition of a still and be able to see it move?”

“The concept is based on humans seeing the world in ‘short moments, not photos or videos,’ he said. So with a Swing photo you will see the wave crash or the eye blink. The motion is triggered by dragging your mouse pointer across the image, or your finger across it in the case of a touchscreen … The idea is that applicants will use the Polaroid Swing app to take pictures which they then submit through social media. The best submissions will be whittled down to a shortlist judged by a diverse panel which will include the photographer Paolo Roversi, the Tate chairman, Lord Browne, and the supermodel Natalia Vodianova.”

“Around 100 people in the UK, 100 in the US and more around the world will then be invited on to the programme which will mean getting a free iPhone, being part of digital and physical exhibitions and having the possibility of brand commission work … Stadlen said they were new and different, and that the company’s ambitions were not restricted to the digital world. It eventually hopes to create hardware that allows moving photographs in the physical world.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Smart Commuter Jacket

The Washington Post: “Google and Levi’s showed off this week a new joint project: a $350 smart jean jacket. While this jacket literally puts tech on your sleeve, it does it in a subtle way that doesn’t require putting another screen on your body. In doing so, it offers a glimpse of what smart fabrics can do and of the evolution of the wearables market — one in which consumers won’t have to wear a clunky accessory that screams high tech.

“The smart Commuter jacket, which was introduced over the weekend at SXSW in Austin, is aimed at those who bike to work. It has technology woven into its fibers, and allows users to take phone calls, get directions and check the time, by tapping and swiping their sleeves. That delivers information to them through their headphones so that they can keep their eyes on the road without having to fiddle with a screen. The jacket the should hit stores this fall. Its smart fibers are washable; they’re powered by a sort of smart cufflink that you’ll have to remove when you wash the jacket. The cufflink has a two-day battery life.”

“While the idea of a smart jean jacket may not appeal to everyone (especially on a hot summer day), the existence of such a jacket is telling about where the market may be going … what makes the Commuter jacket different from other wearables — and even other smart clothing — is that it’s not necessarily marketing the tech as its main feature, but rather using it to solve problems that everyday people have. Many smartwatches and even other smart clothing can feel like solutions in search of a problem to solve. The Commuter jacket … stands out as a type of wearable for a more everyday consumer who may not be that interested in the tech, but likes the practical features that come with a stylish jacket.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cassette Comeback: Blame it on Bieber

The Wall Street Journal: “Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA’s Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album “Purpose” in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum).”

“Among the labels duping new releases to tape will be Anticon Records … Its manager Shaun Koplow has long appreciated cassettes, despite their demise in the ’90s. He said he finds that vinyl offers the best sound quality and that streaming is the most convenient—but when he gets home after a long day, he often reaches for cassette.” He explains: “Cassette tapes demand that you’re patient. You’re not going to be skipping tracks as you would on your phone. It’s nice to have something to force you to relax.”

“Indeed, anyone can create and share a playlist with a few clicks on Spotify. But the instantly shareable, streamed compilation will never be as meaningful as a handmade mixtape … Although audiophiles have never embraced the cassette for its audio quality the way they have vinyl records, the format does imbue music with a subtle hiss and other audio vestiges that appeal to the discerning.” And: “Getting into cassettes, unlike vinyl, is relatively inexpensive: Even high-end players cost less than $150.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Are Smartphones Worse Than Drugs?

The New York Times: “Researchers are starting to ponder an intriguing question: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones? The possibility is worth exploring, they say, because use of smartphones and tablets has exploded over the same period that drug use has declined. This correlation does not mean that one phenomenon is causing the other, but scientists say interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence.”

“Or it might be that gadgets simply absorb a lot of time that could be used for other pursuits, including partying … Though smartphones seem ubiquitous in daily life, they are actually so new that researchers are just beginning to understand what the devices may do to the brain. Researchers say phones and social media not only serve a primitive need for connection but can also create powerful feedback loops Alexandra Elliott, 17, a senior at George Washington High School in San Francisco, said using her phone for social media ‘really feels good’ in a way consistent with a ‘chemical release.’ A heavy phone user who smokes marijuana occasionally, Alexandra said she didn’t think the two were mutually exclusive.”

“However, she said, the phone provides a valuable tool for people at parties who don’t want to do drugs because ‘you can sit around and look like you’re doing something, even if you’re not doing something, like just surfing the web’.” Eric Elliott, “who has counseled young people for 19 years, said he had seen a decrease in drug and alcohol use among students in recent years. He said he was ‘more likely to have a challenge with a student who has a video game addiction than I am a student who is addicted to drugs’ … In the case of his own daughter, he worried more about the device than the drugs.” He explains: “I see her at this point and time as not being a person who is controlled in any way by smoking pot, but her phone is something she sleeps with.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Desktop PCs: From Beige to Beautiful

The Verge: “The lowly desktop PC has transformed from a boring beige or black box into a centerpiece of a modern desk space. An all-in-one computer in 2017 is both functional as a computer and beautiful to appreciate as a piece of design. Microsoft’s Surface Studio really invigorated this category late last year. A 28-inch all-in-one PC that converts to a drafting table for digital artists, the Surface Studio is a stunning computer that changes perceptions on what a PC can look like or do. Virtually anyone that’s seen or used the Surface Studio comes away impressed, even if they aren’t the target market of digital artists.”

“HP’s clumsily named Envy Curved All-in-One 34 is nearly as much of a head-turner as the Surface Studio. An update to a rather ugly computer from 2015, this version of the Envy all-in-one combines a massive 34-inch ultrawide 21:9 curved display above a sleek pedestal that houses the computing components, all of the ports, and the speaker system. The effect of having such a large display and a dark-colored minimal base is that the Envy’s giant curved screen appears to ‘float’ in front of you, enveloping you in windows, video, games, or whatever.”

“Dell’s XPS 27 features a more traditional, iMac-like design, where the computing components are all jammed behind the display. But that’s about where its traditional features end, as it comes loaded with a 4K touchscreen and 10-speaker sound system you won’t find on any iMac … Though these computers have good-looking and unique designs, they aren’t without fault, however. Much like the relatively underpowered Surface Studio, neither machine is as powerful as a gaming PC … Both computers are also very noisy under load, with fans that spin loudly and frequently kick on … But the most annoying thing with either computer is how lousy the included mouse and keyboard are. The Dell’s cheap plastic mouse is borderline unusable, while the HP’s wireless keyboard likes to pick and choose which keystrokes it will register at will.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Nokia 3310: When Dumbphones Are Smart

The Atlantic: “How is it possible … that Nokia has announced an updated edition of one of its most popular phones of the early aughts, the 3310? In short, because nothing has become less sexy or less useful than a smartphone … there are reasons to prefer a phone as a portable communications tool instead of a compulsive, general-purpose computer.”

“Some of those reasons recall the original uses of the cell phone … mobile handsets often were bought as insurance against surprises or emergencies. People tossed them into automobile glove boxes, or carried them in pockets or purses only when the perception of risk or the need for coordination seemed required … An inexpensive, reliable handset with a long-lasting battery might turn the Nokia 3310 a second phone, or a backup phone … Should Nokia rekindle the cultural allure of the feature phone, perhaps its potential as a communications tool absent the urges of the smartphone will inspire parents to stop handing over these glass-and-metal temptations to their progeny without a second thought.”

“The simultaneous fragility and expense of smartphones also helps explain why the Nokia 3310 might appeal even to consumers who can afford better … when attending a concert or sporting event, thin smartphones might risk getting lost or stolen. In these instances, a $50 Nokia 3310 offers clear benefit … perhaps the need to keep a smartphone powered and connected to the network—not to mention the compulsion to use all those apps—would be reduced given a second device meant solely for communication … The future promise of Nokia’s device isn’t this particular device, but the alternate, unthought future it represents.”

Nokia-3310-Design1

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Amazon’s Alexa: The Ultimate ‘Marshmallow’ Test?

Jenna Wortham: “There’s a theory that behavioral economists use to explain our consumption habits called ‘hyperbolic discounting,’ which is the tendency to choose short-term rewards over long-term gains. The ‘marshmallow test’ of the 1960s tested the ability of preschoolers to resist temptation — the titular marshmallow, within reach — with the promise that they would be rewarded with two if they waited.”

“In the experiment’s most popular interpretation, those who had self-control grew up to be much more successful than those who did not. It is one of the most formative studies in self-control and how people make decisions.”

“Alexa is the ultimate marshmallow test, and most of us are failing. We are being conditioned, as a population, to never wait, to never delay our gratification, to accept thoughtless, constant consumption as the new norm. But how we think about consumption and willpower carry enormous implications for the environment and the culture of society as a whole. Think about that the next time you ask Alexa to order you another roll of toilet paper.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail