STORES Trends: November 2016

This article was published in the November 2016 issue of STORES Magazine.

Pop-pop puts down roots

WithMe pop-up stores have appeared in Las Vegas, Chicago and New York, but the company is putting down permanent roots near Los Angeles.


WithMe’s first long-term shop opened at the Santa Monica Place mall in May. Chock-full of cutting-edge technology, the “smart” interactive concept features limited runs of traditional and pure-play retail brands with tech-forward consumer experiences.

The two-level flagship location invites shoppers to experience a plethora of innovative retail technology within its 8,000 square feet, including an immersive, floor-to-ceiling smart display called the Pixel Wall: 900 digital screens that move in and out — independent of each other — to create shelves and hanging racks. A glass-top digital table called “Reactable” can offer suggestions of what to pair with clothing placed on it, and guests have access to an “endless aisle” using the WithMe mobile store app. They can scan items to find more options, request items to try on, build a cart and check out.

Even the fitting rooms are state-of-the-art: Interactive mirror displays allow customers to make purchases or request alternate products without leaving the room, and RFID tags on all products give shoppers information at their fingertips.

Part of the concept’s beauty is how easily it can be transformed. The Santa Monica store opened with a six-week run of discounted designer apparel from East Coast department store chain Century 21, and features Original Retro Brand, Hot-As-Hell and good hYOUman this fall.

Jonathan Jenkins, founder and CEO of WithMe, created the smart store to “bring the best of both offline and online shopping together under one roof, while creating personalized experiences for every shopper. We’re creating our very own ‘store of the future.’ Why should a new store have to be physically built for every brand?”


Barbie’s Dreamhouse gets smart

Who’s the first gal in town with a smart home? Barbie, of course!

The latest version of the Barbie Dreamhouse, which just may be on your child’s holiday wish list, requires a Wi-Fi connection and uses cloud-based speech recognition to bring the home to life when the words “Hello, Dreamhouse” are spoken. With those two words, the Dreamhouse starts listening for commands.

It is capable of responding to more than 100 requests: “Hello Dreamhouse, turn on the shower” will make the glass door of Barbie’s shower stall light up when the pretend water is on. LED ceiling lights change colors on command. The front door and the elevator are voice-controlled too, and a simple voice command turns the stairs into a slide. Tech-savvy users can also add custom sound effects to the home using a mobile app.

WIRED magazine reports that the speech-recognition features in the home and the app were developed by PullString, a company founded by a pair of former Pixar employees. Privacy measures are built into the system to ensure it isn’t always listening. An indicator light shows when the house is connected to Wi-Fi and in listening mode, and nothing is recorded beyond commands that follow the activation phrase.

A sound-effects-only mode works without Wi-Fi, and recorded data can be deleted on PullString’s ToyTalk site.

You have to admire what Barbie — ever the early adopter — has done with her place over the years. The first Dreamhouse was made of cardboard and sold for $8. Barbie’s 2016 Dreamhouse will set gift-givers back $300 — but at least Barbie didn’t have to cobble together a bunch of disparate systems to make her smart home work.


Papa John’s to the rescue

Pizza brings people together and makes them smile. And that was never more true than a few days after Hurricane Matthew struck.

Eric Olsen of Omaha was trying to ascertain that his 87-year-old grandmother was OK. Claire Olsen lives in Palm Coast, Fla., and the last time they spoke the storm was bearing down and she had just lost power. Unable to reconnect with her for a few days, the family was desperate to come up with a way to make sure “Grandma Claire” was in good health.

After multiple attempts to connect with the local police, Olsen came up with a creative idea. He decided to order her a pizza — knowing that if they could deliver it and she answered the door, all was well. He wrote special instructions when he placed the pizza order, asking the delivery man to call his phone when the pizza was delivered. It took just 30 minutes for Papa John’s to deliver the pie and put a cellphone to her ear. Seconds later, Olsen breathed a sigh of relief.

Papa John’s saved the day with just the “right ingredients” for peace of mind — and pizza.


Hotel retail

Parting words from staff at the next hotel you visit might go something like this: “Thank you for staying with us. Will you be taking home the night stands? How about the lamps?”

Far-fetched? Not when you consider the number of retailers planning to open hotels: Both West Elm and Shinola have announced plans to open in 2018, and Restoration Hardware has its sights set on a hotel in New York City’s Meatpacking District.

Why all the interest in branching out into the hotel business? Vikram Pradhan, co-founder of luxury hotel booking site SuiteStory, outlined some reasons. Hotels have a lot of foot traffic, and hotel room economics are favorable; overall hotel supply in the U.S. has grown 24 percent. Third, retailers are relying on successful brand transferability; Pradhan also thinks it may actually cost a retailer like West Elm less capital to bring the hotel to market given the fact that fixtures, furniture and equipment are such large capital expenses in a hotel.

Still, questions abound. Is it a sound business idea or a costly diversion?


Mcommerce leaders

The top performing retailers in mobile commerce are not necessarily the usual suspects. Best Buy, Coach, L.L.Bean, REI and Walmart were recognized among store-based retailers, while Clarins, eBags and QVC garnered accolades on the non-store side.

The seventh annual Mobile Research Survey released by the e-tailing group included a mystery shopping component and saw 50 retailers evaluated across 180 factors, as well as a detailed look at the top six tasks consumers are most inclined to perform on mobile sites.

The survey identified three key areas where top performing companies are improving their m-commerce sites. Nearly all offer the ability to save items from an m-commerce site for later access on an alternative device, supporting the role mobile commerce can play in driving sales.

Retailers are also improving information intelligence: 82 percent offer product zoom and 98 percent provide alternative views. Three in four consumers said omnichannel capabilities such as buy online, pick up in store and same-day delivery are important factors in choosing where to shop.


Tough crowd

Here’s a chance to see just how compulsive you are compared to other online shoppers. How frequently do you check the status of an order? According to a new study, 40 percent of online shoppers say they check at least once per day, with more than 10 percent checking multiple times per day.

The study, OSM Worldwide’s State of Online Shopper Expectations and Actions, found that 55 percent expect order status updates to be current within a few hours, while 11 percent say up-to-the-minute updates are a must.

The go-to resource for monitoring orders is tracking data; three-fourths of online shoppers rely on email tracking numbers to get order updates and track their packages. Attention retailers: Expectations are high — very high, which suggests that state-of-the-art shipping and tracking is not optional. It’s imperative.


Here’s where I work

Many companies default to the time-honored “Bring Your Child to Work” day and some have welcomed pets to the work place, but Amazon broke the mold. The Seattle-based retailer recently held the inaugural “Bring your Parents to Work” day, opening its doors to more than 5,000 parents — some from as far away as China and India.

Parents were given the opportunity to visit their children’s workplace, asking questions about their workday and joining them for lunch. A special exhibit hall was created in the company’s new meeting center at the base of its corporate headquarters; in an event that played out much like a giant science fair, moms and dads had a chance to check out the latest company initiatives from drone delivery to warehouse robotics.

“This is actually very unusual, and I wasn’t sure why we’re having this day,” said Ameya Rahane, a software developer for Amazon Fire TV, during an interview with a local news station. “But it turns out it’s fun.”

Rahane’s family was visiting from India; his mother told the reporter she was most impressed with seeing developments in Amazon PrimeAir, a drone delivery service still in research and development.

In 2016, a company called PayScale reported that the median age of the Amazon workforce is 30, which may explain the decision to welcome parents. “The inside joke was that maybe they would clean up their desks a little bit, because mom and dad were coming to work,” said Ardine Williams, the vice president for talent acquisition for Amazon Web Services.

Word has it that what really impressed employees’ parents was the chance to gain a greater understanding of the company’s vision and strategic implementation.


A nibble and a tuck

What if eating a piece of chocolate every day could slow the process of aging? No worry about acne and no guilt over calories … just pure joy on your lips and for your skin.

A group of researchers from Cambridge University have developed a candy bar called Esthechoc that promises to give clients a youthful glow.

Believed to be the world’s first “nutricosmetic,” the candy bar is said to have a strong, scientifically proven impact on the metabolism of aging skin. At only 38 calories per bar, Esthechoc combines two of the most powerful antioxidants — astaxanthin, found in salmon, and cocoa polyphenolic epicatechins, found naturally in chocolate.

The research claims that a daily dose of Esthechoc showed positive results for the 50- and 60-year-old testers whose skin biomarkers matched those of 20- or 30-year-olds, with decreased inflammation of their skin and overall healthier tissue. Just one quarter-ounce piece is said to pack the same antioxidant power of 10.6 ounces of wild Alaskan salmon.

Estheticians seem intrigued by this latest anti-aging solution, noting that when taken alongside a good skin regime, it may very well help to fight lines and wrinkles.

Shared worries

Topping the list of things that worry consumers are financial security and personal safety. Among business leaders, the top concerns are medical cost inflation and rising employee benefit costs. But one thing is keeping both groups up at night: cyber threats.


Such are the findings of the Travelers Risk Index, an annual survey conducted by Hart Research and commissioned by the Travelers Companies, released in late September.

As mobile devices, wearable technology, connected workspaces and smart homes become more common, 51 percent of consumers fear someone will gain unauthorized access to their personal information via smart devices.

The report found that victims of a data breach or cyber attack — nearly one-quarter of consumers surveyed — say they have not since taken any greater precautions than those who have not experienced a breach. Meanwhile, nearly half of business leaders worry about the emerging risks associated with increased automation and Internet connectivity.

Both consumers and business leaders report worrying about a changing workforce and requiring employees to acquire new skills to be successful. More than one-quarter of consumers surveyed are anxious about having the skills to meet workforce demands. Half of the business leaders surveyed report concerns about their ability to attract and retain talent, and 49 percent view aging employees and the influx of millennials as key disrupters.

Severe weather is another shared worry: Both groups believe events such as Hurricane Matthew, which recently battered parts of Florida and the Carolinas, are becoming more frequent across the nation, and 39 percent of consumers and 33 percent of business leaders believe damage to their property is more likely to occur as a result.

Consumers seem to feel more prepared: 63 percent say they have a plan for what to do before extreme weather strikes, while about half of business leaders claim to have a business continuity plan in place.