20 ideas to steal for 2019

There’s a lot to be said for knowing your audience. These days, there’s even more to be said for reaching a new one. As competition continues to be fierce for consumer dollars, this year’s annual celebration of ideas worth stealing revealed a surprisingly consistent theme: Brands — especially tried-and-true ones — are finding fresh ways to reach more folks. Read on for inspiration — and turn an eye toward any places your own company might explore, reach and prosper.

Feeling “well?”

The recent interest in all things “wellness” has grown a quite healthy industry. The nonprofit Global Wellness Institute reports the wellness economy was worth $4.2 trillion worldwide in 2017, up 13 percent from $3.7 trillion in 2015. The latest entrant? Anthropologie, with the launch of its aptly named “Wellness by Anthropologie” line. Featuring hundreds of products for mind, body and home, the offering has both an online and bricks-and-mortar component; the company launched several wellness shop-in-shops in 2018.

The product mix includes items such as crystals, teas, cleansing towelettes made with coconut water and lavender extract, pillow spray, a veggie brush, cookbooks and yoga mats. The presentation overall is spa-like and dreamy, with a sense of self-indulgence. Just the thing needed to encourage folks to put themselves first. — F.S.

Big Brother is not only watching; he’s also counting the hours

Apple users have seen it: That reminder about screen time volume. For Android users, perhaps it was the recent promotion of the Thrive app. Regardless, someone has been paying close attention to device usage — and thinks users should be, too.

In China, this monitoring has gone a step further. Tencent has been testing facial recognition to limit the amount of time kids spend on its Honour of Kings online role-playing game. The initial test of the technology was aimed at thousands of randomly selected players in Beijing and Shenzhen, and is the latest attempt to curb game play.

The Chinese government recently shared its concerns about the health risks of video games — the role-playing games have garnered significant criticism for being addictive. If so, it’s no small problem; some 200 million people play Honour of Kings, and it’s far from Tencent’s only game.

In 2017, Tencent began limiting play for those ages 12 and younger to just one hour a day; those older, up to age 18, could play two hours. Tencent also said it would lock out those under 12 attempting to log in after 9 p.m.

Marketers have long wished that consumers wouldn’t be able to get enough of their brands. Recent actions, however, beg the question: Who gets to say enough is enough? — F.S.

Bigger can be better

It may be cliché, but size matters when it comes to menswear. Once again, Bonobos is leading the pack. The brand is taking its slogan “fit for every man” to a new level by introducing extended sizes. But rather than make the mistake that many have made before, it is not just adding a little extra fabric to its trim fit measurements.

“A lot of the product offering was optimized for what I’d call body coverage, as opposed to fitting well.”

Brad Andrews, Bonobos

The company has said that it focuses on fit at every side, including its new extended sizes.

In an interview with PSFK, co-president Brad Andrews talked about the “underserved” market of extended sizes — and he hit the nail on the head: “A lot of brands use extended sizes as a bit of an afterthought.”

Bonobos has brought many of its core elements into the extended sizes and focused on fit. “A lot of the product offering was optimized for what I’d call body coverage, as opposed to fitting well,” he told PSFK.

Customer research gave way to extensive fit research. One finding: Simply “sizing up” does not work.

“It would fit across the chest and the shoulder, but then the cuffs would be too big. You could see that they had graded the cuff size in proportion with the rest of the body, which doesn’t tend to be the case with guys.”

Larger men often can’t button the top button of a shirt; they end up swimming in excess sleeve fabric. Bonobos overcame these challenges with a two-piece seam in the sleeves and darts in the back of the shirt. An added plus, so to speak: Bonobos is not charging extra for the extended sizes.

Like a well-dressed man, Bonobos is making this look easy. It isn’t, of course. But it is proof that in our customized world, what used to work — like sized-up fits — is no longer good enough. — S.S.

Not just for guys…

One does not have to crunch big demographic numbers to see that much of the world is not a size 2 (or, in the case of guys, a 32). A quick trip to just about any public place would prove the statistic that about two in three women are size 14 and above.

It’s high time to celebrate this alliance: J.Crew has teamed up with apparel startup Universal Standard to expand its size range up to 24. Universal Standard plans to make its clothes available in sizes 00 to 40 this year.

As with Bonobos, J.Crew and Universal Standard say they’re focusing on fit. It might just be that this segment of the shopper is getting some much-needed attention. Clearly, the size of the market is one worth paying attention to — finally. — S.S.

…And not just for adults

The Carter’s clothing line and its brand OshKosh B’gosh are synonymous with infants and toddlers, so much so that the company says it sells 10 products for every child born in the United States. It clearly is a brand trusted by families, proven by its 150-year history.

And yet, every year, a few million of its customers outgrow its products. Thanks to Carter’s KID, that won’t happen quite so fast. The company launched a new product offering for boys and girls, sizes 4 to 14 — more than 700 styles in themes related to sports, unicorns and dinosaurs. All are designed to mix and match.

Few brands these days can say they’ve been around for centuries, so it might seem appropriate for Carter’s to rest on its history and its role in clothing children. It’s especially exciting to see a venerable brand like Carter’s try something new. — S.S.

Conjuring up any product, any time, anywhere

Lyft and Uber make it easy enough to have a ride ready, whenever and wherever. Why not have it arrive carrying whatever items riders might possibly desire?

TrendWatching has termed this idea that “consumers now expect to summon retail brands as they would a genie from a lamp” the “magic point of sale.” In-car startup Cargo forged ground by joining with rideshare services to provide free samples and retail products to riders via smartphone. Drivers earn an average of $100 a month; according to the company, more than 12,000 drivers have earned more than $2.4 million since 2017. Cargo has expanded to numerous U.S. cities — and in 2018, announced that it would collaborate with Southeast Asia ride-hailing app Grab, as well. The new initiative, Grab&Go, launched in June.

Free samples provided along with purchased items greatly expand the possibilities. The rider’s needs are met, curiosity may be piqued and the whole experience takes place without so much as a finger lifted — other than a tap on the touchscreen. Next wish to be granted? — F.S.

Robots dish it up

Remember the days of wondering when a robot would take over cooking meals and doing the dishes? No more wondering — it’s happened in Boston: Spyce Kitchen, a fast-casual restaurant created by engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, opened in Boston’s Downtown Crossing in 2018. Four students collaborated with renowned chef Daniel Boulud to bring it all about, and the result is delectable dishes like Korean, Lebanese and Thai bowls. The process is entirely robotic, except for the human “garde manger” at the end, who adds finishing touches to ensure the food looks as good as it tastes, according to the website.

The meals — including vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian and pescatarian — are “appropriately sourced” with an eye toward organic ingredients where sensible, as well as sustainability. All this for $7.50 a bowl, thanks to a variety of factors (including, no doubt, fewer staff). The robotic kitchen can serve up to 150 meals every hour, according to press materials, with seven cooking woks and the ability to complete each meal in three minutes or less.

The robotic kitchen’s only inputs are electricity and water, “making it 100 percent ready for a renewable energy country.” It has an average water usage of about one-third of a gallon per minute, which is 80 percent less than the average usage of a commercial dishwasher.

Does all this play into the “robots-will-eventually-take-over-our-jobs” line of thinking? Yes and no. The robots may handle some tasks — but humans still handle the creative details. — F.S.

Or maybe the oven could do the cooking?

Amazon’s Alexa is getting a new friend. Meet June Intelligent Oven, a company in which Amazon has invested and whose smart tabletop oven can be paired with Alexa to preheat. But that’s just the beginning of the culinary relationship. The Whole Foods Market 365 Everyday Value brand is getting some special treatment from the oven, which also can serve as an air fryer, dehydrator, slow cooker, broiler, toaster and warming drawer.

Users can control the oven, watch food being cooked and be notified when the food is ready via the June app or by asking Alexa. The oven also includes 100 chef-developed, one-tap cooking programs.

With the second generation, due to ship this month, the oven has been preprogrammed to cook the Whole Foods 365 items just by touching the Whole Foods icon on the display. The June/Whole Foods relationship is not one-sided: Items designed for the appliance will be prepackaged to enhance the oven’s functions.

It is just the latest way that innovative grocery chains are reaching deeper into homes. Trader Joe’s is enriching its brand narrative through a podcast called Inside Trader Joe’s. The series provides information on products, contests and future plans.

The formerly tried-and-true grocery market — already in the midst of an innovation due to delivered meal kits — remains on the cutting edge of a digital disruption. Thanks to alliances like Whole Foods/Amazon and to innovators like Trader Joe’s, that is only going to continue. — S.S.

Shopping and services

Shopping from the comfort of home certainly has its benefits. Getting a shopper out of the house and into a store, then, requires an increased understanding of shopper needs. Rebecca Taylor’s Madison Avenue store in New York has partnered with a variety of brands to offer consumers a time-saving shopping experience.

Shoppers can multitask their way through an exercise class while picking up a birthday gift. They can get a manicure while looking for work wear. The retailer aligns with brands like Drybar, Pure Barre, Paintbox and Hello Sitter to provide complimentary services to customers on Saturdays, and a geo-targeted email is sent out to shoppers nearby.

Rebecca Taylor joins a list of other retailers like Nordstrom Local, which offers perks like on-site alterations and personal shopping that are taking the concept of “store as service hub” up a notch. The concept has a few benefits: It helps shoppers multitask — which can help overcome the competition of online shopping ease — and it draws loyalty. Why wouldn’t shoppers return every weekend? — S.S.

Closing the circle on recycling

Sustainability is on a new upcycle. The North Face offers a collection of tees and hoodies made from cotton and recycled bottles gathered from several national parks. The Bottle Source collection, announced in 2018, began with 160,000 pounds of plastic bottles from waste in Yosemite, Grand Teton and Great Smoky Mountains national parks.

In addition to use of the materials, one dollar from each product sold goes back to sustainability efforts in the parks through the National Park Foundation.

“The North Face partnership inspires people to think about sustainability in a whole new way,” says Katherine Chesson, vice president of grants and programs at the National Park Foundation. “The Bottle Source program not only helps reduce waste, it is also a source of funding for important projects at national parks.”

The North Face has a solid track record of creative sustainability initiatives, from sourcing wool from sheep raised using soil-enhancing techniques to reducing its own use of water and energy in production. It also has distributed millions in grants to nonprofits that foster exploration of and appreciation for the outdoors.

Being “green” is a great start up the mountain; The North Face continues the path as it considers all aspects of the recycling loop. — F.S.

Autism awareness in aisle 9

Navigating the grocery store can be challenging enough. For those who attempt to do so with a family member who has autism — or who are on the spectrum themselves — it can be downright overwhelming. Morrisons, a supermarket chain with close to 500 stores in the United Kingdom, has joined a move toward greater awareness and compassion with a nationwide “Quieter Hour” every Saturday morning.

The initiative was created with the support of the National Autistic Society and began with a trial in three Morrisons locations; it has since spread to the entire chain. During this time, stores dim the lights, turn off the music and radio, avoid making announcements over the public address system, reduce movement of carts and baskets and turn down checkout beeps and other electronic noises.

In addition, the stores let customers know of the Quieter Hour through outside posters. The National Autistic Society reports that roughly 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the United Kingdom.

No telling how many others — autism or not — will simply choose a more peaceful time to shop, regardless. — F.S.

Tech, industry insight and ingenuity take on a growing industry

Got game? Tried everything possible to improve it?

Not so fast.

IKEA is teaming with UNYQ and Area Academy for an exploration of the ergonomics — and customizable elements — of gaming and e-sports. The result? For starters, a prototype gaming chair made from a scan of the user’s backside. IKEA expects to have the product and its related 3D scanning on the market by 2020.

“When considering how to enhance your performance within gaming, people usually think about the software of the device you use and not the functionality in your space,” says Tommy Ingemarsson, founder of e-sports firm Area Academy. “But ergonomics are actually an equally important factor in becoming a better gamer.”

IKEA reports that there are now about 2 billion gamers worldwide, from novices to pros, creating a monstrous untapped market for whatever ideas the collaboration might produce. UNYQ considers itself a “daring revolutionizer of the med tech sector creating medical wearables,” and combines digitization, 3D printing and cognitive systems to enhance functionality.

The collaboration between IKEA, UNYQ and Area Academy might extend past seating to consider how the gaming setup might work throughout the home, in addition to how the home might be better prepared for gaming occasions.

Any effort that helps people be more uniquely comfortable in the environments they love is worth an extra turn. The use of fun tech to do so is a bonus. — F.S.

Providing head-to-toe customer service

When it comes to understanding and appreciating the needs of a community, Bombas put another foot in the door in 2018.

The sock company, which stands on engineered comfort, performance and philanthropic works, took aim at the frustration of losing a single sock in the laundry. It instituted a limited-run Laundry Back Guarantee to “end sock loneliness.” If customers bought a pair of Bombas socks before mid-November and lose one of those socks within a year of the purchase date, they can contact the Bombas “Happiness Team” for a replacement pair, no questions asked.

Bombas, operating on a sell-one, donate-one model, originally set a goal of providing 1 million pairs of socks for the homeless within 10 years (socks are the most-requested item in homeless shelters). The company accomplished that in two and a half years, and at press time, was close to 10 million. The socks are available for adults and kids in a variety of styles, aimed at a variety of uses from dresswear to performance running. — F.S.

A real, live human being

Remember the frustration of “hit zero to speak to an operator?” It didn’t take long to get to that same place of irritation with chatbots, did it? While chatbots certainly have a rapidly expanding role in ecommerce, sometimes getting a real, live human on the other end of the conversation can be marketing gold. Even more so when that human can quip with the best of them.

Take fast-casual pizza chain &pizza, which calls itself “the anti-establishment establishment.” In fact, it takes such pride in that fact that it includes text exchanges — as well as a texting contact number — on its website. Small wonder that BuzzFeed calls it “the next generation of pizza.”

In today’s increasingly automated/immediate response world, the fact that &pizza chooses to set itself apart by having a live — and witty — human responding to consumers shows there are still benefits to the human touch. — S.S.

Making the right choice

While the convenience market continues to eat into supermarkets’ realm, there hasn’t been much disruption in decades. Denver’s new Choice Market is out to change all of that. Choice Market, opening as a single location in the Mile High City, checks the box of convenience store in hours, store size and transaction times. But move over, microwave burrito: This one offers a natural grocery and fast-casual foods.

Oh, and competition from the likes of Amazon Go? Forget it. Choice Market allows customers to order and pay ahead using the store’s mobile app — or check out as they would at any store. Of course, given that they might be charging their electric vehicle or scooter while there, the time would be well spent.

Choice is taking advantage of upcoming changes to Colorado’s liquor laws to offer delivery of prepared food, grocery and full-strength beer in one transaction.

It’s proof that even the most tried-and-true methods are ripe for disruption these days. — S.S.

Lego builds a new segment

It could be said that all Lego models are “build-it-yourself,” but Lego Forma has added to that concept in grand style. The premium, highly customizable concept, aimed at adults, quickly blasted past crowdfunding goals.

Lego Forma hones in on the idea that creating something unique by hand can be both relaxing and rewarding. It can be done alone or with friends, allowing connection with an intellectual challenge while, at the same time, providing the chance to disconnect with everything else.

“Lego Forma is more of a creative project than a toy, and more about display than play,” says Kari Vinther, senior marketing manager and head of The Lego Group’s creative play lab pilots. “The young adults we speak to tell us they still feel the urge to be creative and enjoy the physical experience of making stuff — but life seems to get in the way. We want to help them rediscover the joy of building that children possess and unleash their imaginations for a couple of hours. We can’t wait to hear what people think and look forward to sharing some of the decisions that will be made along the journey based on consumer input.”

Lego Forma is the model of a fish that can move realistically and be adorned with unique foil “skins” that make it, say, a koi fish or a shark. The Indiegogo campaign ended in early November, with production and shipment expected within two to three months.

The effort marks the first time The Lego Group has worked with a crowdfunding platform, extending into new markets as it does so. — F.S.

Understand the audience by being part of it

Luxury takes on unprecedented immediacy for gotta-have-it-now shoppers with a “chat commerce” company called Threads. Talk about knowing and focusing in on a particular segment: Threads targets high net worth millennials through WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and WeChat. The London-based company holds no inventory, but instead works directly with luxury suppliers and brands to deliver clothes, jewelry and accessories quickly — sometimes, according to press materials, in less than half an hour. Its customers are “global citizens who travel frequently,” and its biggest markets are in Asia, the Middle East and the United States.

Thread says the chat commerce it has pioneered “is already five times more effective at converting sales than traditional ecommerce.” Threads also has been highly effective at securing finances, raising $20 million in funding. Threads was founded in 2010 and has seen sales double each year.

CEO and founder Sophie Hill says she started the company because luxury retailers were ignoring her peers, the generation of shoppers under 40.

“I believe the future of retail involves personalization and chat,” she said. “People want something that is akin to a retail experience, but they want it through their mobiles and they want unparalleled convenience and availability. Social media is already driving much higher levels of brand engagement than traditional digital channels have been able to and we see this increasing in the future, as social becomes the default channel for fashion trends, styling and commerce.” — F.S.

Extended shelf space

Getting on a grocery store’s shelves is increasingly difficult, and with so many startup brands, the competition has only intensified. Albertsons has recognized that the world has changed and is offering a hand to entrepreneurs and customers looking for something different.

The grocery chain’s online Marketplace site offers hard-to-find spices and condiments, specialty coffees and health/beauty items. It has allowed companies like Spicemode, which handcrafts simmer sauces and spice blends, to reach new audiences. It also allows Albertsons to deliver something exotic and interesting to its shoppers — without the risk of carrying inventory. The company aimed to carry 100,000 items at the site by the close of 2018 — something that would be challenging, at best, in a typical store.

Albertsons Marketplace is a recognition of the endless aisle offered by the internet and gives its shoppers a choice, not just in the exotic flavors, but in where it gets them. It’s recognition of the new shopping dynamic — and being unwilling to cede that territory to digital-only platforms. — S.S.

A match made in millennial heaven

Millennials may have the reputation of being non-committal — but for good reason. They marry later. They change jobs more frequently. Even their clothes and workspaces are temporary.

Rent the Runway understands this segment. The company has expanded its self-service technology — previously available only at its five retail locations — to 15 WeWork locations in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago and Washington, D.C. With the RTR collection spots at WeWork’s collaborative workspace locations, customers can scan and drop off rented items and get immediate credits for the returns rather than wait until packages are delivered. That’s especially important for those whose subscriptions limit the number of pieces they can have out at any given time. Now, they can simply drop off the box and place the next order.

More than ever, alliances like these make sense — especially given the high rent prices throughout the country. And if it alleviates obstacles or smooths the customer experience, all the better for everyone. — S.S.

Little changes mean big savings

Admittedly, in a world of hot trends, floor wax does not often shine. But Walmart stores recently saved $220 million just by changing its floor wax and light bulbs.

The light bulb savings come thanks to replacing fluorescent bulbs with LEDs in stores and parking lots. That should account for $200 million in savings over time, as chief financial officer Brett Biggs said at the retailer’s investor day in October.

The floor wax may seem a pittance in comparison — yielding $20 million in savings annually. The new wax is cheaper and sturdier, meaning it needs to be buffed less often.

Here’s the point with the floor wax in particular: Sometimes it’s easy to keep doing the same thing without even thinking of it. Is a floor wax discussion on the next C-level meeting agenda? Hardly. But low-hanging fruit and small savings multiplied across a retail chain can add up — big time. It may not be floor wax or light bulbs. But chances are, simple savings can add up somewhere. It might be time to dig deeply into the ho-hum products companies use to see if savings or innovations are available. — S.S. 

Sandy Smith grew up working in her family’s grocery store, where the only handheld was a pricemarker with labels. Fiona Soltes, a freelancer based near Nashville, Tenn., loves a good bargain almost as much as she loves a good story.