Introducing the Meat-O-Mat!

The Wall Street Journal: “Attached to a laboratory-like plant in this upstate community is a neon-lit vending machine dubbed the Meat-O-Mat, where customers can buy locally raised meat whenever they like. If Joshua Applestone has his way, carnivores will flock to it the way that banking customers visit the ATM. His invention is stocked with pork chops, dry-aged burger patties, bratwurst meatballs and his beloved pork roll, a deli meat native to New Jersey. Customers swipe their credit cards, push a button, slide the door open and retrieve their hormone- and antibiotic-free selection.”

“Mr. Applestone and his partners at Applestone Meat Co., the attached plant, are attempting to develop a new, meat-centric business model. For the past two years, they have been exploring ways of making high-quality cuts available at lower prices by slashing labor costs and considering offbeat distribution methods like the Meat-O-Mat. ‘We’re going for a highway-roadside-attraction type of approach,’ said Samantha Gloffke, the company’s general manager and a part owner. ‘The goal is to make sustainability really exciting.'”

Mr. Applestone envisions them stationed at supermarkets, football stadiums and picnic sites, places where you might welcome the convenience of buying something to toss on the grill. ‘Think about it at any music festival,’ he said. ‘Anywhere someone brings a cooler, you no longer have to bring fresh meat. How much is peace of mind worth?'”

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Kaiser Re-Designs The Health Care Experience

Fast Company: “The exam room is part of Kaiser Permanente’s championing of a new human-centered, design-driven approach to medicine—and its vision for the future of health care delivery … The experience starts with the waiting rooms, which take their cues from retail and hospitality. At the Manhattan Beach outpost, the vibe is warm, West Coast modernism: There’s lots of wood, natural light, and inviting touches, such as a living wall of green plants. A pair of ATM–like kiosks near the front door allow members to check themselves in if they prefer not to wait for the tablet-wielding receptionist.”

Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson: “The culture of health care has been to get you in and out. We’re inviting you to linger. This is more than a physician visit; this is about your total health.”

“In larger facilities, the reception area will be reimagined as a kind of public square, where patients can wander while they wait, getting free information on nutrition and exercise from staff at a counter called the Thrive Bar. They can also take part in yoga classes, cooking demos, and the other programming that Kaiser is incorporating into ‘community rooms,’ which span both indoor and outdoor space … Kaiser’s new spaces are also about keeping costs low: They are designed to be more efficient at serving patients … Just as important for Kaiser, the hubs will serve as physical anchors for a model of care that aims to move health services, as much as possible, out of hospitals and medical offices and into members’ communities and homes.”

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Connie: Hilton’s Concierge Robot

“Concierge is getting a robotic makeover at one Hilton Hotels location,” reports The Christian Science Monitor. “The McLean, Va., Hilton is the site of a pilot program featuring a robot concierge. The new hire stands in at two-and-a-half feet tall and has been placed on the desk beside human reception staff. More than just a shiny piece of equipment, the robot’s brain is packed with artificial intelligence.”

“Connie, named after Hilton founder Conrad Hilton, is a partnership between Hilton Worldwide and IBM. The brains behind the robot are IBM’s artificial intelligence program Watson and another partner program called WayBlazer, imbuing the new concierge with enough AI to carry on conversations with guests and answer questions about the local area.”

“Connie’s body, though small, is also designed to help it serve. The body is based on the Nao robot designed by Aldebaran, with fully functional arms and legs and eyes that change to express humanlike emotions … Is the future of Hilton concierge robotic? Definitely not, according to Jim Holthouser, Hilton vice president of global brands.”

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For Whom The Cash Registers

“High-end stores hide registers to force contact with salespeople, eliminate lines and add fancy sheen,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Stores aim to make the experience of paying more elegant, akin to private shopping, and to eliminate a pain point that keeps some shoppers from completing a purchase—having to wait in a visible line. Hiding the cash register also forces shoppers to interact with the salespeople and might even encourage them to buy more.”

Dexter Peart of luxury label Want Les Essentiels: “We’re downplaying that last transactional part of the experience. … We want the human interaction as one of the last touch points … This time also gives our sales associates an opportunity to get to know the people shopping in our stores a lot better.”

“Stores say customers’ expectations have risen with the success and ease of online shopping, making waiting in line seem unenlightened … But making cash registers discreet and encouraging customers to work through sales associates instead could make some shoppers uncomfortable. The unfamiliar protocol may feel strange at first.” Barneys maintains “a few visible cash registers in the downtown store in case a customer feels more comfortable paying the traditional way.”

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Slower Is Better for Younger Coffee Drinkers

“Once about speed—sloshed into a paper cup and gulped on the ride to work—quick coffee now signals cheap coffee and not what customers want,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “More coffee shops are betting that a wait of four minutes or more is desirable … Coffee shops are weighing costs and revenues of slower service by evaluating employees behind the counter, longer brew times, and how that effects prices and lines.”

“Consumers in their 20s and 30s who grew up around Starbucks and coffee culture’s bolder flavors are helping drive the slower service, says Spencer Turer, vice president of Coffee Analysts, a coffee consulting firm in Burlington, Vt.” He comments: “That conversation with the barista is a key part of the experience.”

“The extra minutes also provide time for the smell and sounds of coffee which add to how consumers perceive their coffee, says Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, who also researches consumers’ sensory perceptions for food companies … The complex aroma and flavor of coffee comes from about 40 individual chemical compounds, he says.”

“’The sounds of grinding, dripping, spluttering, those are all meaningful,’ he says, and play a role in how the consumer perceives both the flavor and quality.”

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Customer Service Declines When The Economy Improves

Quartz: “Consumers are more unhappy with customer service at department and discount stores than ever. According to the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, satisfaction is at its lowest level since 2008, falling during the last year by 3.8%. Consumers are griping about store cleanliness and slow checkout lines, specifically.”

“Of the bigger companies, the steepest decline in satisfaction—an 8% drop—went to Macy’s … While an improving housing market increased competition between Lowe’s and Home Depot, both groups saw drops of 9% and 4%, respectively. Among supermarkets, Whole Foods took a 10% hit, knocking its ranking below Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Meijer.”

“The relatively buoyant economy is partly to blame. After 2008, competition for consumer dollars intensified, prompting discounts and better service. Employees fearful of losing their jobs stayed motivated to work hard pleasing shoppers. Then, things got better.”

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Jolly Roger Telephone: A Cure for Telemarketers

The Washington Post: “A Los Angeles man with an unusual passion for phone systems created a new robotic answering service that wastes telemarketers’ time. Roger Anderson started the Jolly Roger Telephone, which lets users start a three-way call with the service so they can listen gleefully as the bot rambles on. It’s designed to provide entertainment and empowerment for everyone who has grown weary of the phone calls. Its first question of the telemarketers is often, ‘Is this a real person?'”

“Anderson experimented with different personalities for his robot before deciding that an odd man who just woke up from a nap worked best. For instance, the robot burned time by telling the telemarketer they sound like a former high school classmate, rambling on about needing coffee or asking them to start over again.”

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Working on the (Supply) Chain Gang

“For many companies, competing both online and at the mall can mean trading fat profit margins for more customers—at least for now,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Fashion retailer DSW Inc. has given shoppers the option of placing online orders for out-of-stock items without leaving its stores. And, the chain is both fulfilling online orders and accepting returns at its growing number of locations.”

“The company is betting those efforts will pay off by increasing customer loyalty even though they aren’t adding to profits in the near term, said Roger Rawlins, who oversaw DSW’s omnichannel strategy before recently becoming CEO. He said customers who buy DSW products through multiple channels spend two or three times as much as those who shop exclusively in its stores or online only.”

“The strategy ‘ultimately allows you to grab additional market share, and then as we learn through using all these capabilities, we hopefully should be tweaking to be able to generate incremental profitability,’ Mr. Rawlins said.”

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Shipping Is Never Fast (or Cheap) Enough

The Wall Street Journal: “More than nine of 10 shoppers said they considered ‘same day,’ ‘next day’ and ‘two day’ delivery to be ‘fast,’ according to consulting firm Deloitte’s 2015 holiday survey of some 4,000 shoppers. At three to four days, only 63% called it ‘fast,’ and just 18% of shoppers considered five to seven days ‘fast’.”

“And customers for the most part are no longer willing to pay extra for expedited delivery. Shoppers on average said they would pay at most just $5.10 for same-day service, in the Deloitte survey. A quarter of shoppers said they wouldn’t expect to pay anything at all.”

However, absorbing the shipping may be worth it to some online retailers because it can reduce the return rate: “When you go to a store, you have that wonderful delight of carrying the bag down the street,” says David Maddocks, chief marketing officer of Cole Haan. “Online, after you click, you have to wait. And during that time you can fall out of love.”

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