Walmart Imagines a ‘Shopping Cart Robot’

Geek: Walmart is collaborating with Five Elements Robotics to create a shopping cart robot … The company’s main focus is on Budgee–a personal robot that follows its owner around and has a large storage area for your shopping, or just to carry items from place-to-place. That same tech can be integrated into shopping carts, meaning rather than pushing them around they’ll instead follow you, leaving your hands free to browse the shelves.”

“It’s also thought the robotic carts will help customers shop. Simply let the cart see your shopping list and it can help locate everything listed … The robo-cart will respond by navigating to the correct aisle, saving the customer both time and the effort of finding an employee to help them.”


Auto Boutique: Tesla @ Nordstrom

USA Today: “Tesla opened an electric-car boutique in the men’s section of the Nordstrom store that could become the model for others. Tesla has had its own stores in malls, but not one inside of a department store. Not only could it potentially cut the automaker’s real-estate costs, but it could also help Tesla attract more customers who discover the car just by walking by.”

“Reached for comment, the automaker issued a statement stressing that the two companies have a lot in common”: “Tesla and Nordstrom share a relentless drive to engage and delight customers with new and innovative shopping experiences,” it said. “The Nordstrom shopper embodies a lifestyle that parallels that of many Tesla owners –- people who are forward-thinking, savvy, and curious to explore the latest and best trends.”


LaCroix: Seltzer as Lifestyle Brand

Vox: “LaCroix isn’t the only brand to benefit from the sparkling water boom. But it’s the one that’s risen to the coveted status of lifestyle brand … The secret behind LaCroix’s rise is a mix of old-fashioned business strategy and cutting-edge social marketing. When Americans wanted carbonated water, LaCroix was positioned to give them them fizzy water. Then, sometimes by accident, LaCroix developed fans among mommy bloggers, Paleo eaters, and Los Angeles writers who together pushed LaCroix into the zeitgeist.”

“About five years ago, LaCroix spotted an opportunity. The downfall of soda was creating a craving for sparkling water … Dieters kicking soda and alcohol were among the first LaCroix devotees, happy to find something with a little more flavor … First came coconut, followed apricot, mango, and tangerine … Offering 20 flavors gives LaCroix the ability to profit from ubiquity while keeping the cachet of scarcity. Most stores don’t carry every flavor, so stocking up on a favorite can require some persistence.”

“LaCroix has become more than just a popular sparkling water. It’s become part of the story people tell about who they are. The internet bursts with ways for LaCroix devotees … to declare their loyalty. You can buy a T-shirt for $25 that says … LACROIXS OVER BOYS … This is the crux of LaCroix’s success: People will spend far more than a case of its cans cost to tell the world how much they love LaCroix … LaCroix has populated its own Instagram with photos taken by its followers — a cascade of pretty, laughing people; stacks of pastel LaCroix cases; and gorgeous, minimalist still lifes with artfully placed seltzer cans.”


Mind Games: A Clear Head is Key to Creativity

Moshe Bar, writing in The New York Times: “In a study published in this month’s Psychological Science, the graduate student Shira Baror and I demonstrate that the capacity for original and creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations and other forms of ‘mental load’ … the mind’s natural tendency is to explore and to favor novelty, but when occupied it looks for the most familiar and inevitably least interesting solution.”

“In one experiment … we asked half the participants to keep in mind a string of seven digits, and the other half to remember just two digits. While the participants maintained these strings in working memory, they were given a word (e.g., shoe) and asked to respond as quickly as possible with the first word that came to mind (e.g., sock). We found that a high mental load consistently diminished the originality and creativity of the response: Participants with seven digits to recall resorted to the most statistically common responses … whereas participants with two digits gave less typical, more varied pairings.”

“Honing an ability to unburden the load on your mind, be it through meditation or some other practice, can bring with it a wonderfully magnified experience of the world — and, as our study suggests, of your own mind.”


New Study: Creativity Across Cultures

Fast Company reports on a study of creativity across cultures by Crispin Porter + Bogusky London and Vlad Glaveanu, an associate professor at Aalborg University’s International Center for the Cultural Psychology of Creativity in Denmark (link).

“In response to the statement, “creativity matters for professional life,” agreement peaked in Turkey (88%) followed by China (80%), India (79%), Brazil (78.3%), and the U.S. (76.2%). Meanwhile, respondents from Russia (59.8%), Germany (58%), and the U.K. (57.8%) were more reserved about the role of creativity in the workplace.”

“The finding that CP+B London CEO Richard Pinder found most surprising was the dominant emphasis on the creative individual rather than creative collaboration found primarily in the U.S. (75.2%) and China (72%), a finding which belies China’s collectivist heritage.”

“Another finding was around overall support for the idea that people are more creative when they work together. Agreement with this statement peaks in India (81%), followed by the U.S. (75.3%), Brazil (74.3%), and Turkey (71%).”


Finger Pickin’ Good: The Hardee’s Jam

The Wall Street Journal: “How many banjo players fit in a Hardee’s? More than fit in a McDonald’s, it turns out. On regular Sunday evenings, bluegrass picker Rick Cleavenger joins fiddlers, guitarists and others to jam at the red-roofed burger joint. The musicians have been playing, eating and making corny jokes here since 2012, after a McDonald’s, their previous venue, rearranged its tables and chairs, making it impossible to clear enough space.”

“Mr. Cleavenger landed the Hardee’s venue because the manager, Lori Westfall, had been a high-school math student of his … Sometimes customers walk in after hearing the music from their cars. The musicians aren’t the best customers, given that they stay for more than four hours and generally only eat one or two sandwiches each, ‘but they are fine people,’ says Ms. Westfall.”

“Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for Hardee’s and sister restaurant chain Carl’s Jr., says even though ‘a certain level of consistency is important,’ the chain welcomes local culture … ‘It has to be organic, with people inviting people they know,’ says Mr. Haley. “We’re not going to put up a sign that says ‘Bluegrass Jam Welcome’.”

As to the McDonald’s snub: “Terri Hickey, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s Corp., says ‘franchisees are independent business owners who determine how they delight their customers in relevant ways.’ In New York City, there is a “McDonald’s where customers can dine to music played by a local DJ,’ she says.”


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.”


Small Bore: Is Apple Thinking ‘Different’ Enough?

“Apple’s view increasingly feels like an outdated way of thinking about tech. Many of its competitors have been moving beyond devices toward experiences that transcend them,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. These new technologies exist not on distinct pieces of hardware, but above and within them … it’s hard to tell if Apple is thinking big enough.”

“Apple still seems to view online services as add-ons to its devices — not as products or platforms that rise above them.” For example: “Siri, as Apple is positioning it, is becoming a better app launcher for your phone … But it’s not clear that it’s becoming a truly intelligent assistant.”

“One problem is that the new Siri will not integrate with all kinds of apps … It’s hard to shake the suspicion that Apple is using Siri to give its own apps a leg up … Another problem is that Siri is still hopelessly tied to each Apple device … If Siri is an intelligent assistant, why … can’t she call Uber from the cloud, regardless of which device you happen to be using?”

“Google, Amazon and several start-ups seem to be rushing headlong to build such a system. But … I’m not sure Apple is,” Manjoo writes. “It’s taking a more moderate app-based, device-centric path. Many of its voice features will be fine — useful, even. But it sure isn’t pushing for a revolution.”


Post Pink: Game-Developer Barbie

Slate: “Game Developer Barbie is wearing jeans, sensible shoes (!), and a T-shirt that is both nerdy and kind of cute … She has a laptop that is laptop-colored, because women can actually use tech products that aren’t pink. There are no pictures of Ken or fashion magazines around her workspace, just coffee, headphones, flowcharts—not to mention actual programming books (C++ and C#) and action figures (He-Man!). She still likes some pink, of course; this is Barbie, and there’s nothing wrong with pink.”

“Perhaps most striking, Barbie can actually code … The interface appears to be Alice, an educational programming environment, and the code it’s outputting is ActionScript (or maybe Haxe). Basically, she seems to be making a Bejeweled clone in Flash … The back of her box tells us: Game development involves storytelling, art & graphic design, audio design, & computer programming. Because there are so many aspects to creating a game, teamwork is important.”

“Mattel might consider partnerships to create its own programming tools tied to the Barbie universe. Wouldn’t it be cool if kids could make and share interactive Barbie stories—learning some programming while also having the agency to create their own empowered Barbie characters?”


The Swiffer Effect: Walmart & Procter Butt Heads

“Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, and P&G, the world’s biggest consumer-goods company, are increasingly butting heads as both try to wring more revenue out of their slow-growing businesses, The Wall Street Journal reports … A battle last year over the popular Swiffer mop suggests the tensions aren’t likely to abate soon. P&G’s consumer research revealed that existing packages weren’t large enough to prompt repeat purchases, and so it upped the number of wipes in a pack, improved the handle and increased the price … Around the same time, Wal-Mart introduced a less expensive store brand, irking P&G.”

“To settle the matter, P&G had to offer a temporary discount on the company’s Swiffer products. Not only did P&G employees worry about lost sales, they believed the store-brand refills were of a lower quality and would stop first-time Swiffer users from sticking with the habit. ‘They sell crappy private label, so you buy Swiffer with a crappy refill,’ said one of the people familiar with the product changes. ‘And then you don’t buy again’.” A Walmart spokesman said: “Our Great Value products provide a quality alternative for customers looking to save money.”