STORES Trends: December 2016

#STOREStrends is a monthly roundup of fresh retail ideas from STORES Magazine.


Self-lacing sneakers — then and now

Marty McFly’s “Nike Mag” sneakers left a lasting impression on fans of “Back to the Future 2”: Long after the 1989 blockbuster, fans continued to petition Nike to make real self-lacing trainers, equipped with lights and the ability to automatically tighten to fit.

This fall those wishes came true: 89 nostalgia-philes and/or shoe heads won a pair through an online lottery. Fans donated $10 per entry to the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the shoes were raffled in mid-October. Nike raised $6.75 million for Fox’s foundation for Parkinson’s research.

The limited-edition Nike Mags looked just like those featured in the movie — a high-top grey sneaker with embedded white laces and blue neon lights on the sides and heel. Placing a foot in the shoe and applying pressure on the sole initiates the self-lacing mechanism. Wearers can adjust the tightness and check the battery using buttons on the upper.

And now it has become a heck of a lot easier to snag a pair. Nike began selling the consumer version of its HyperAdapt 1.0 self-lacing shoes this month. The sneakers are available in black/white at two Nike shops in New York City with other colors expected to debut soon. The price tag: $720. No one said living in the future was going to be cheap.


Pizza wars

The biggest pizza chains are engaged in an ongoing battle to come up with the newest, most cutting edge ways to order a pie in their quest to snag a larger slice of the pizza market. The latest salvo comes from Pizza Hut UK, which recently debuted a temporary tattoo that can order pizza.

To be fair, the word tattoo is loosely used here; it’s really more of a sticker akin to the old “lick-and-stick” temporary tattoos one might remember pasting on as a kid. The specially designed “ink” looks like a cheesy pizza slice. The wearer just needs to place it on his skin and scan it with his smartphone — a short time later, his pizza will arrive.

The “world’s first pizza ordering tattoo” works via near field communication, a QR code and the GPS module in the user’s phone. It’s pre-programmed with the user’s favorite type of pie. Once the “tat” is tapped, Pizza Hut gets the message to start preparing the order. Don’t expect to see drippy cheese slices on forearms across the United Kingdom anytime soon, though. This tech test was based on supplying just 40 tattoos to passionate Pizza Hut aficionados lucky enough to grab one based on details on the chain’s Facebook page.

Earlier in the year the pizza chain debuted what it dubbed “the world’s first playable DJ pizza box,” which can connect to a laptop or smartphone via Bluetooth and play music. Still, it seems that Domino’s might have the upper-hand in the quest for tech-driven ordering. Domino’s diners can order pizza via emoji, Siri, Amazon Echo and Samsung Smart TV.


Solely Shoes

The Saks brand is synonymous with shoes. As any footwear fanatic knows, the entire eighth floor of the Manhattan flagship is devoted to shoes — a department so big that it was granted its own zip code, 10022-SHOE, in 2007.

Saks Fifth Avenue is making new strides in the shoe business with the debut of its first store dedicated solely to shoes — 10022-SHOE Greenwich. The 14,000-square-foot shop, located in the heart of the Connecticut town, features women’s footwear with a strong focus on emerging and advanced designers.

The shoe shop is the first of several specialty stores Saks is planning to open as part of The Saks Shops Greenwich. Slated to open in February is “The Collective” showcasing modern designer fashion; “The Vault” for fine jewelry will bow in May. Renovation of the main store, which has been a Greenwich institution for years, is pegged for later in 2017. Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue, considers the specialty shops to be “integral to [Saks’] evolution and growth strategy” for Greenwich. “Moving key categories … to their own specialty shops brings the luxury boutique experience to the next level.”

Indeed. And there’s a good chance it will be replicated elsewhere.


Sam’s says 'Scan & Go'

The best gift most folks could receive this holiday season is time; it’s in notoriously short supply. Sam’s Club is doing its part to save families a bit of time; the warehouse club launched its “Scan & Go” mobile app in October, just as the craziness of the season was taking root.

The app allows members to completely bypass the checkout lane at any Sam’s Club nationwide by scanning items as they shop and making a payment using their phones. As shoppers using the app exit the store, they will need to show a digital receipt — a process that takes mere seconds. Android and iPhone users can download the free app, which includes a digital version of their membership card.

For those mindful of holiday budgets, the new app also allows users to easily track spending throughout their trip. “We understand the holidays can create a major time crunch for our members, so we’re using technology to ease the stress of holiday shopping,” says Rosalind Brewer, president and CEO of Sam’s Club.

“With Scan & Go, members can skip the checkout line and give themselves the gift of more time with their families.” Members can also use the app at a number of events throughout December, saving money and time.


Should pharmacists dispense marijuana?

What role will pharmacies play in the growing medical marijuana industry? It’s a question that pharmacies in Canada have already begun to hash out. Shoppers Drug Mart, Canada’s largest drug store chain, recently applied to be a licensed producer of medical marijuana.

“We believe that allowing medical marijuana to be dispensed through a pharmacy would increase access, safety, quality and security for the thousands of Canadians who use the drug as part of their medication therapy,” says Shoppers Drug Mart spokeswoman Tammy Smitham. She notes that most shoppers want to buy it from a grower; under federal rules, patients are only able to buy medical marijuana from licensed producers.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association contends that pharmacies should be the distribution channel for medical marijuana, stressing the need for clinical oversight, particularly when it comes to drug interactions. The group also notes that having it available through pharmacies vastly improves the likelihood that it can be paid for by insurance.

Taking the opposite stance is the Canadian Medical Association, which has its doubts about medical marijuana. The CMA maintains that there is insufficient scientific evidence available to support the use of marijuana for clinical purposes. In a submission to a federal commission studying marijuana legalization, the CMA said “placing marijuana in pharmacies could lend it credibility as a pharmaceutical medication, whereas placing it in liquor stores would send the message that it needs strict and formal controls.”

In Colorado, where recreational use has been legal for some time, medical marijuana users are registered for tax reasons. (Medical users don’t have to pay taxes that apply to recreational pot.) Still, medical and recreational users buy much the same product. In the United States, research into medical marijuana is restricted because of a continuing federal ban on marijuana, which exists despite permissive laws in several states. Canada has the chance to be a global leader on this front. U.S. pharmacies need to pay close attention to their contemporaries north of the border.


No melted ice cream

What could be innovative about delivering groceries? As it turns out, quite a bit.

Earlier this year Swedish supermarket chain ICA began testing a service to allow groceries and fresh food to be delivered to shoppers’ homes in their absence, unpacked and put away. Until now, the convenience of delivery depended on the customer being at home. This pioneering service, called Infridge, hinges on an add-on lock, which customers install on their doors and messengers can open with their smartphones.

The experiment is part of an ongoing quest among supermarkets and their online counterparts to conquer what many deem the biggest problem facing retailers and logistics companies — namely, elusive customers. There’s no question that this approach requires oodles of trust, but if the delivery of perishables was not contingent on consumers being home, more efficient delivery routes could be planned, which in turn could help to reduce cost. Ultimately in-home/in-absentia deliveries could help the logistics industry meet a continued surge in online commerce.

Carrefour in France adopted a less tech-oriented approach as it sought to promote its online branch, Ooshop. Carrefour partnered with the female-only running event, La Parisienne, to power fast and memorable deliveries. The three-day event proved to be an interesting and alternate delivery system, for sure, while allowing the supermarket to send a subtle message about health and food for fuel.


Just press 'easy'

The fictitious red “Easy Button” was pure marketing gold for Staples in 2005. Back then it was featured in ads as having magical properties. Today it’s been tech-enabled in the form of a reordering system that integrates IBM’s Watson technology to simplify office supply management for Staples Business Advantage Customers.

The Staples Easy System, currently in pilot, allows customers to order anytime, anywhere, from any device they prefer — Staples’ proprietary next-generation Easy Button, app, text, email, over Facebook Messenger or with a Slackbot. The Watson-enabled interface simplifies customers’ shopping experiences, allowing them to quickly reorder supplies, track shipments or chat about customer service needs.

In addition to facilitating simpler customer interactions, cognitive capabilities built into the system and powered by a combination of Watson Knowledge Studio and Staples’ own internal personalization programming interfaces will help the system learn more about each businesses’ preferences over time, including preferred products and quantities. Eventually, the system will be able to make product and services recommendations based on the customer’s current needs.

“Staples and IBM have combined the power of Watson technology with Staples’ expertise in helping small and medium businesses to transform how companies shop for everything they need for their office,” says Faisal Masud, executive vice president of ecommerce and customer experience for Staples.

Since announcing the system earlier this year, Staples’ applied innovation, ecommerce and IT teams have been working on adding features and services to benefit business customers, including speech-to-text capability and the ability to view and playback all requests received from the customer’s Easy Button.

The system is being tested with a small subset of Staples Business Advantage customers in the Austin, Texas, market. This will be followed by a broader beta test with over 100 additional customers in Austin and New York. What’s next for the indomitable Easy Button? Could it be used to book a flight? Order flowers? Make dinner reservations? Stay tuned.


Soothing scents

A complete customer experience involves stimulating all five senses, but science suggests smell is the most powerful. It also tends to be a trigger of emotions and memories. Who can deny the irresistible aroma of Cinnabon? And how many millennials can recall the smell that uniquely defined Abercrombie & Fitch stores when they were teens?

Ambius, which has set its sights on being the premier creator of ambience for businesses, recently released “The Business Impact of Scenting.” Some highlights from the report:

  • 74% of consumers are drawn into a store because of the smell
  • 91% of consumers say a pleasant smell in a hotel would have a positive impact on them
  • 73% of people say smell triggers an instant memory or feeling

3D frames: An eye-opener

The promise of 3D is speedier production and greater responsiveness to trends, and Stratasys Ltd. is turning the promise into reality: The manufacturer of 3D printers and 3D production systems is now producing eyewear for Safilo.

Using the Stratasys full-color, multi-material 3D printer to produce photorealistic frames, Safilo can produce frames 60 percent faster than traditional prototyping methods. “Stratasys 3D printing is fantastic,” says David Iarossi, Safilo’s creative director, “as the frames surpass those produced manually, particularly as we no longer need to worry about the paint fading as the color is integrated into the 3D printed frame.”

Daniel Tomasin, product sample coordinator at Safilo, says that the adoption of the Stratasys J750 3D printer has transformed the eyewear prototyping process — reducing the time to design and prototype frames from 15 hours to just three hours. This accelerated speed, combined with the ability to produce smooth surfaces and rich color details, has allowed Safilo to speed up the production of prototypes for its own brands — Safilo, Carrera and Polaroid — and those of well-known design houses including Dior, Hugo Boss, Max Mara and Jimmy Choo.

“This is the start of a new age for designers,” Iarossi says. With “a near endless gamut of striking colors with varying levels of transparency, we can produce a number of completely different frames. This allows us to perfect multiple designs early, enabling us to launch the latest fashion eyewear on time and maintain our competitive edge.”


Driving shoppers to the mall

Retailers and mall operators have heard all the excuses. “The weather is threatening.” “My car is on the fritz.” “I probably won’t find parking.” Those excuses are no longer stumbling blocks for Mall of America shoppers. In time for the busy holiday season, the largest retail and entertainment destination in North America has teamed up with ridesharing leader Uber to ease the trip to and from the shopping center.

The partnership allows guests to request an Uber driver from their current location and select one of five pick-up or drop-off zones dedicated specifically for Uber drivers and their passengers. This new service gives customers curbside access to their favorite stores, restaurants and attractions without having to worry about where they parked.

“Our guests want convenience, service and innovation. That’s exactly what this partnership provides,” says Jill Renslow, senior vice president of marketing and business development at MoA.

The partnership shifted into gear with the deployment of 10 Uber cars from MoA to downtown Minneapolis where 100 Uber users received a special Mall of America shopping gift when requesting a “Mall of America” Uber car in the app. Days later MoA and Uber offered 500 free Uber roundtrip rides to and from Mall of America — a value up to $40 in the Uber app.

Obviously, anyone can call an Uber at any time to get to any mall. The beauty of this partnership lies in the chance to dodge the massive parking lots that encircle MoA and to speed up the pick-up and drop-off process with defined zones. The promotions are a bonus, of course, but ultimately it’s about making shopping a little bit easier.