Robo-Shop: Will Cashiers Cash Out?

The New York Times: Our mental image of job-killing automation is robots in factories or warehouses. But the next jobs to disappear are probably ones that are a much bigger part of most people’s daily lives: retail workers and cashiers in stores and restaurants … Half the time worked by salespeople and cashiers is spent on tasks that can be automated by technology that’s currently in use, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. Two-thirds of the time on tasks done by grocery store workers can be automated, it said.”

“Retailers say automating certain tasks doesn’t necessarily displace employees, but frees them to do other things that are more valuable to customers. Lowe’s, for instance, said its customer service robot answered simple questions so employees could provide more personalized expertise, like home project planning … But shoppers often prefer to save time by interacting with fewer people, especially when they just need coffee or paper towels.”

Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the M.I.T. Initiative on the Digital Economy, comments: “The bigger and more profound way that technology affects jobs is by completely reinventing the business model. Amazon didn’t go put a robot into the bookstores and help you check out books faster. It completely reinvented bookstores. The idea of a cashier won’t be so much automated as just made irrelevant — you’ll just tell your Echo what you need, or perhaps it will anticipate what you need, and stuff will get delivered to you.”

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New Realities of the Grocery Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “The challenges for grocers today include a new reality: The days of shoppers filling carts during a big weekly trip to their neighborhood supermarket appear over for now. Consumers are more targeted in their shopping habits. They are less loyal to retailers and more willing to buy groceries online. And they are buying more from stores at two poles: ones with cheap prices, and ones that offer high-quality fresh food, often at a premium.”

Natalie Kotlyar, a consultant, says shoppers expect “convenience, selection and the right price and they want it now. Everyone is trying to meld those concepts to create the perfect shopping experience.”

“Chains that don’t adapt quickly to the changes in consumer behavior and business dynamics won’t survive, say analysts, who, along with some supermarket executives, expect more consolidation in the coming years and predict more grocery stores will close. To compete with Amazon, Wal-Mart is offering curbside pickup and home delivery in test markets. Kroger is expanding its platform for customers to order groceries online and pick them up at the stores. It also said it has invested $3.8 billion in lowering its prices over the past decade.”

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Future Sausage: Fruit Salami?

Quartz: “Swiss product designer Carolien Niebling was not a sausage fan, at least not until she spent three years tasting 50 to 70 different types of sausages from all over the world. She took everything she learned to create what she calls ‘the future sausage.’ Among her futuristic sausage collection, you can find the fruit salami, a dried sausage made of berries, dates and almonds. Or there’s insect pâté, a sausage made with insect flour and a tonka-bean infusion.”

“Niebling’s goal is not only to create new types of sausages with less meat in them, but also to use her designs as a message to encourage people to expand their palates. She believes the rise of supermarkets has distanced people from the natural production of food. As a result, the only food many consider ‘edible’ is the food they see on a supermarket shelf.”

“Though Niebling used substitutes to reduce the meat content of her future sausages, she says she’s not interested in using vegetables to mimic the taste of meat. On the contrary, she hates the idea of faking meat.” She comments: “What I’m trying to say with my design is that changing your diet doesn’t have to be, ‘instead of meat, you eat carrots.’ There’s so much else out there. There are hundreds of different grains, there are so many plants and flowers that we haven’t fully explored yet.”

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From Baking Powder & Cardboard to Amazon

The Washington Post: “A&P Baking Powder was an important product in the history of retailing,” Marc Levinson wrote in The Great A&P, a history of the company and grocery stores. “With it, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, and many of its competitors, began a transition from being tea merchants to being grocers. It was a transition that would dramatically change Americans’ daily lives.”

“The branding of baking powder was important because most merchants back then were just essentially selling, as Levinson wrote, ‘generic products indistinguishable from what was for sale down the street.’ And in selling their powder in a tin, the owners were ahead in another important way — packaging.”

“The invention of the cardboard box changed everything. The company could now make, brand and sell its own condensed milk, butter, spices — just about any staple of the kitchen … There was difficult, transformative work ahead. The company needed to upend an entire culture of shopping built around neighborhood stores … A&P’s business model began to sound a lot like the one pursued by its retail descendants — Walmart and Amazon … Amazon’s tea was books. Then it diversified.”

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The Ikea Recipe Series

Fast Company: “The Ikea Recipe Series … is a collection of posters that you can use to cook your dinner–literally. The posters serve as both a recipe sheet and a cooking wrapper for meals that range from salmon to cobbler to ravioli with meatballs.”

“Each recipe resembles a paint by numbers sketch. Rather than list the ingredients as a long string of text, you’ll see circles in which you sprinkle a tablespoon of salt or a half teaspoon of pepper, and outlines of proteins where you can place the salmon. All of this is drawn with food-safe ink on parchment paper … all you do is roll up the paper and toss the dish into the oven.”

“The recipes are all created with components from Ikea’s own frozen foods available for purchase at its stores … parchment paper traps in moisture as food bakes, making it a forgiving and flavorful way to cook that requires no skills with a sauté pan. It’s also clean. Just toss the wad of paper into the garbage at the end of the meal, and the dishes are done. And perhaps most importantly of all, the Recipe Series looks fun, like an adult coloring book that you can eat.”

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Nike Goes Local & Gets Physical

The New York Times: “Nike shaped itself into one of the globe’s most recognizable brands. Now it has a new idea: Go local. Facing pressure from investors and competitors like Adidas, Nike said Thursday that it was shaking up its organization to focus more on consumers in just a dozen cities around the world and on releasing new products faster in those places.”

“To keep its products relevant and make its service more personal, Nike aims to develop what it called a ‘local business, on a global scale’ and ‘deeply’ serve customers in 12 cities, including New York, Paris, Beijing and Milan. Those places are expected to deliver 80 percent of the company’s growth over the next two and a half years.”

“Despite the move to online shopping that is transforming retailing, Nike is not giving up on its physical stores. Instead, the company will use the stores to try to foster relationships with customers and further link the shops to its digital efforts. Nike, which is known for sponsoring star athletes like LeBron James and Rafael Nadal, will also try to speed up how quickly it designs and works with its suppliers to deliver new gear. The company wants to cut its product-creation cycle time in half.”

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Schrager’s Public: Affordable Hotel Luxury

Quartz: “Forty years after redefining nightlife with the legendary New York City nightclub Studio 54, the hotelier and real estate developer Ian Schrager’s newest vision is for a new kind of affordable luxury—a hotel and arts center in downtown Manhattan that offers a blueprint for disrupting the mid-market hotel sector.” Schrager says “people don’t care about the gold buttons or if coffee is served in bone china. We offer luxury without it being obsequious.”

“With rooms starting at $200 a night, PUBLIC New York is geared to the tech-savvy Airbnb set—who are taking a growing bite out of hotel bookings. At that price, the new brand is playing the same field as some of the highest valued hotel brands, and particularly their fewer-frills ‘select service’ hotels, which have thus far weathered the exodus to Airbnb relatively well.”

“At the heart of all of Schrager’s brand propositions—from Studio 54 to the PUBLIC—is community, a growing trend in hotel design. PUBLIC is designed for a generation of savvy entrepreneurs; the hotel blurs lines between social, professional and cultural spaces with serene, light-filled, public venues with amenities to support optimal productivity and social interaction … Fast wifi and sleek design may lack the debauchery of his Studio 54 heyday, but Schrager’s new model for hospitality seeks to still offer today’s guests the opportunity to be a part of a scene.”

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Pop-Ups at Eye-Popping Prices

Anne Kadet: “These days, renting a store is as easy as booking a hotel room. At least, that’s the pitch from Appear Here, an online platform recently launched in New York City. Like its rival, Storefront, Appear Here allows landlords to list vacant stores by the day, week or month. Sites can be viewed in person, but transactions are completed online, typically in three to six days.”

“These platforms make it relatively simple for landlords to fill those vacancies with temporary tenants, and for anyone with an idea and a credit card to test a new business concept. Alas, the only thing more depressing than looking for an affordable New York City apartment is looking for an affordable store. The cheapest listing, at $3,330 a month, was a tiny stall in a Canal Street market.

“A 1,200-square-foot space in Brooklyn looked like a deal at $200 a day until I realized it was a “repurposed” shipping container. Prices on the high end, meanwhile, are truly eye-popping. A 5,000-square-foot showroom in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District fetches $105,000 a week—the price of a small condo in Tampa … The typical rental, paid in advance, costs between $10,000 and $40,000 a month.”

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Jig-Sawge: Hacking Saws for Massage

The Wall Street Journal: “The popularity of massage is rising along with the price of electric gadgets for it. So some do-it-yourself-ers are raiding garages and Home Depot and turning power tools into turbocharged robo-masseurs. Bill De Longis, head strength coach at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., uses a jigsaw—with a lacrosse ball pierced and epoxied to its business end—for limbering the limbs of the school’s varsity athletes. He calls it his ‘jig-sawge.’ He opted to hack the $60 saw after seeing a similar massage tool priced at $600.”

“The coach also has appropriated an orbital sander (with sandpaper removed) and a battery-powered car buffer, which Trinity’s baseball pitchers and women’s lacrosse team use to warm up. Using power tools for massage seems to have originated among weightlifters and other serious athletes. The idea spread on social media, and now power tools can be found everywhere from chiropractors’ offices to tie-dyed campouts.”

“Nova Han, artistic director for the Electric Forest music festival in Rothbury, Mich., equipped a 1940s Quonset hut-style space on the event’s grounds with massage tables. Last summer, staff members dressed like Rosie the Riveter and worked rotating shifts for 12 hours a day, giving short car-buffer massages to concertgoers.” Tim Perra of Stanley Black & Decker comments: “We do not condone, approve or recommend that our tools be used for any application beyond those for which the tool was designed and intended.”

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Brand Stradivarius Fails To Resonate

Van: “Recent research led by Dr. Claudia Fritz of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris has questioned whether we can perceive the differences between old and new violins. In September 2010, Fritz and her team of researchers asked 21 experienced violinists to choose which violin they preferred from a pool of six. These consisted of three new and three old violins, two of which were Stradivarius … Each of the participants wore goggles that disguised whether the instrument they were playing was old or new.”

“Contrary to expectations, it was one particular Stradivarius that was the least preferred. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the single most preferred instrument was a new violin … In her most recent paper, published last month, Fritz asked an audience of 55 volunteers to listen to and compare three new violins with three Stradivari violins in a concert hall in Paris. The audience consisted of those with relevant expertise, such as violin makers, players, musicians, audiophiles, music critics, composers and acousticians. Without knowing whether they were listening to old or new violins, the audience decided that new violins not only projected better, but that they also generally preferred their sound over old violins. Fritz repeated the experiment in New York and gained similar results.”

“Fritz’s study may have proven that new violins sound just as good old ones when we are unaware of their age, but in reality no violinist plays in such blind conditions, and most concert programs will inform audiences if the soloist is playing on a priceless antique. We do not play or listen to music in isolation: anything from the concert venue, the time of day, to knowing that the soloist is playing on a centuries-old instruments affects our response. The staunch defenders of Stradivarius’s superiority illustrate that we still find something special in the long histories of old violins. Our romantic obsession with old objects and the stories that surround them continues, meaning there is little more that science can do to dispel the Stradivarius myth.”

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