Motoring May Be a Virtual Reality

The New York Times: “Through the wizardry of digital technology some of today’s most sophisticated vehicles, like the GMC Sierra Denali, are designed to keep annoying engine noise from seeping into the cabin. Others, like the Lexus NX F Sport, include digital tuners to accentuate the engine’s throaty growl to satisfy the primal urges of driver and passengers. And sometimes — in a seeming contradiction — the same car does a bit of both.”

“In the Nissan Maxima, for example, noise-cancellation technology helps suppress undesirable droning frequencies from the engine. But the throb of horsepower is acoustically amplified when the driver steps on the gas … All of this, like so much else in modern automobiles, happens through the magic of digital software and hardware … Suppressing noise digitally can reduce the need for insulation, helping to make vehicles lighter and thus improving fuel economy … Noise cancellation can also improve the accuracy of voice recognition for navigation systems … it can make it easier to appreciate the music from sophisticated onboard audio systems, or even make it easier to have conversations.”

Meanwhile: “Because the current generation of smaller, more fuel-efficient engines and turbochargers often does not generate the sort of throaty resonance drivers expect, automakers design systems to augment the sonic experience … consumers in different parts of the world have different opinions on what constitutes a ‘good’ engine sound. In the past, for example, car companies might have had to design different exhaust systems for a European car and an American model of the same car.” Now, all that’s required is a software update.

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The Art of Retail: A New Media Canvas

The New York Times: “Art is playing a larger role in stores, as retailers do whatever they can to make shopping in person fun, inspiring and worth the time.” Peter Marino, a retail architect, comments: “Shopping can be stressful but the art uplifts and makes you smile. And when people go back to the hotel, it’s the art they discuss and remember.”

“The focus on art is part of the change in retail and the continuing move to digital transactions. ‘The product isn’t enough now, it’s the experience,’ said Rob Ronen, an owner of Material Good, a watch and jewelry store in SoHo … ‘Because if the shop is just about the product people go online’ … The jeweler Stephen Webster opened a store in London’s Mayfair neighborhood in May that has opposite the door a taxidermied swan in full flight, with wings outstretched, greeting his visitors.” He explains: “People ask questions about the swan, and it focuses people more on what is in store.”

“Art historically has a strong track record drawing people into stores. Take the Paris department store Bon Marché, which became the fashionable place to be in 1875 when it opened an art gallery … Carla Sozzani, founder of Milan’s 10 Corso Como concept store, which has blended fashion, design and books with art for 25 years, believes that displaying art slows the way people shop.” She comments: “Even the way people purchase changes because they think more about what they are buying so they buy things they really want, which creates a faithful clientele.”

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Grass-Fed Beef: Not a ‘Luxury’ Anymore

The Wall Street Journal: “Grass-fed beef, once a niche luxury, is now sold at ballgames, convention centers and nearly every Wal-Mart in the U.S. Beef labeled as grass-fed connotes much more than cattle that were raised in a pasture, say grocers and restaurateurs. Many consumers perceive grass-fed beef as a healthier, higher-quality alternative to conventional beef and are willing to pay more for it, no matter that labeling—and flavor—can be inconsistent.”

“Not every retailer is onboard. Costco Wholesale Corp., the country’s second largest retailer after Wal-Mart, doesn’t sell grass-fed beef, though it sells organic ground beef in every U.S. store. The definition of grass-fed beef is still too ambiguous, the taste too inconsistent and Costco consumers gravitate most to an ‘organic’ label for now, says Jeff Lyons, Costco’s senior vice president of fresh foods.”

“Theo Weening, Whole Foods’ global meat coordinator, expects demand for grass-fed beef to grow well beyond human appetites. ‘When a customer likes grass-fed beef and they have a dog, they want the dog to have grass-fed beef, too,’ he says.”

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Luxury of Privacy: Moda Operandi Madison

The New York Times: “Moda Operandi Madison, which occupies two floors of a 1910 townhouse on 64th Street just west of Madison Avenue, is not a shop as conventionally understood. It is a by-appointment showroom for the very few. Those invited to buy there — likely no more than 300 per year … will enter a store whose goods are customized to their sizes, tastes and tendencies, whose salespeople know the full history of their dealings with Moda Operandi online: what they bought, browsed, bookmarked, exchanged or returned (very little, according to the company).”

“In New York, the only indication from the outside that Moda Operandi Madison is open for business is one small street-facing window, behind which, inside a decorative inset frame, a single Giambattista Valli couture gown undulates slightly in a manufactured breeze … Inside, past the heavy curtains in the vestibule, Moda is a confectionary wonderland, a haven with gelato-colored walls and blush suede furniture … There is an on-site kitchen for when shopping and lunch coincide.”

Moda Operandi “plans an aggressive rollout worldwide, the next in Abu Dhabi in 2017. The rest of the Middle East, Hong Kong and South Korea are on the horizon. The company plans to have 15 showrooms by 2021, the better to white-glove its customers where they live, as well as where they travel.”

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Audi To Offer Stoplight Insight

The Washington Post: “Audi will debut software in select 2017 models that communicates with municipal traffic light systems to predict when lights will go from red to green. Some cities already monitor traffic patterns, and Audi and its supplier, Traffic Technology Services, will harvest that data and use it to tell drivers how long they’ll be sitting there.”

“The software will appear in select 2017 Audi Q7, A4 and A4 all-road models with Audi connect, a data subscription service that comes free on all new Audis. Audi expects to have the system running in at least five major metropolitan cities by the end of the year. Those cities will be announced within the next month, a company spokesman said.”

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The Sweet Science of Designer Deodorant

The Wall Street Journal: “Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Soapwalla charges $14 for a 2-ounce jar of deodorant cream. It has the consistency of buttercream frosting … male customers have said they prefer it over a waxy stick, which snags and pulls hair. Cream also makes it easier to apply to other places on the body, such as the feet.”

“Prices for these offerings are reaching new heights, well beyond the old standard of two or three dollars a stick. Sprays and stronger stick offerings, known as clinical strength, come with $5 to $10 price tags. Natural deodorant often costs $15 or more. Tom Ford has two sticks, from his Oud Wood and Neroli Portofino fragrance lines, priced at $52 a piece … … A spokeswoman for Tom Ford Beauty … says the brand’s $52-per-stick price tag reflects the effort it takes to translate a complex, premium fragrance into a deodorant.”

Meanwhile: “Thirty percent of women reapply their deodorant during the day, according to Procter & Gamble Co., maker of Secret, Old Spice and Gillette; 20% of women say they keep it in their car, 25% in a purse and 30% at work. It all stems from a sneaking suspicion that deodorant could work better or has failed altogether. Executives at personal-care companies acknowledge that could be the case, but say many times a shopper has bought the wrong product or is mistaking a weak fragrance for an ineffective deodorant.

“Now more women buy Old Spice, a line typically targeting men, because of how strong its scent is … It is especially popular with women headed for the gym.”

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Luxury: It’s Not What It Used To Be

USA Today: “People around the world who usually flock to luxury goods are worried about events that threaten global stability including terrorism fears, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and China’s slowdown. At the same time, luxury retailers are losing share to online sellers, the same issue bedeviling mainstream store chains. They’re also suffering at the hands of discounters and fast-fashion luxury lookalikes.”

Milton Pedraza, CEO of The Luxury Institute, comments: “The story with luxury is it’s just not as a exclusive and it doesn’t justify the price like it used to. Too many of them are discounting and there’s not enough consumer demand.”

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Airlines Opt for a ‘Two-Cabin’ Experience

Quartz: “Airlines are getting rid of the most coveted seats on their aircrafts, favoring souped-up versions of business class in the hope that high-paying customers won’t be able to tell the difference.” For Example: “United Airlines earlier this month unveiled its new business-class service, United Polaris, which will include rows of sleeping pods instead of seats. The company says it is ‘phasing out’ the first-class cabin in favor of a ‘a two-cabin experience for international travel’ … The trend is part of airlines’ battle for revenue, particularly high-paying customers.”

Analyst Jonathan Kletzel comments: “Once you’re lying flat and you’ve got your own personal screen and you’re getting a nice dinner, the distinction comes down to nicer wines, plusher pillow … That’s where you’re at.”

“For the rest of us, there’s premium economy, airlines’ latest pitch to entice coach travelers to pay a premium for a little bit extra legroom, early boarding, and other perks.”

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Vegan Seats: What’s Next In Luxury Cars?

The Wall Street Journal: “Interior styling, of which seating is the cornerstone, is the second most cited reason why a shopper won’t buy a car—beating out a vehicle’s dependability rating … with rising consumer expectations and auto-maker competition, the once lowly seat is now getting some much needed attention … Some seats offer “lane-departure warning systems that shake a corner of the seat, heating and cooling options, and, in some cases, a massage feature.”

“Cars 20 years ago were all about horsepower, tire width or how fast you could go from zero to 60,” says Ray Scott, of Lear Corp., a seat designer. “Now it’s all about the driving experience, and seats are where the person is spending most of the time.”

“Lear has developed technology that turns the seat into a biometrics scanner with the ability to monitor the occupant’s heart rate and display it on the center entertainment screen.” Tesla “is offering vegan-style seating in its Model X and the new Model 3 SUV due out next year. The option involves seats covered with synthetic leather.”

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Treasure Hunt: The Joy is in the Journey

The Wall Street Journal: “The internet isn’t just a way to speed up the shopping experience; it is a tool to draw it out. Consumers enjoy the anticipation of a big-ticket item, in contrast to the quick fix that comes from an impulse purchase at an inexpensive, of-the-moment fashion chain … The result of all this due diligence: Shoppers are feeling much more satisfied with their purchases.”

“Stylitics, a fashion technology and analytics company, partnered with market research firm NPD Group to look at this behavior. Handbags are a natural fit for this thoughtful approach, as women seek to combine fashion with function. The study found roughly four in 10 women ages 18 to 34 said they started thinking about their most recent handbag purchase more than a month in advance. Six in 10 said browsing online stores was a major influencer in their handbag shopping.”

“Once shoppers go through the drawn-out process and make up their minds, they are happier. Handbag return rates at luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter are among the lowest across the site.”

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