How Technology is Revolutionizing Retail

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Credit: CC Pixabay

There’s a saying in tech that every company will and must become a tech company or it simply will not stand the test of time. In the last five years alone, we have seen technology’s impact on our daily lives and across industries, including finance, communication, healthcare, music and media. Retail is an industry where technology has especially made waves for both consumers and corporations alike.

E-commerce is rapidly increasing with the advent of smartphones/tablets, the growing number of digital natives, the increase in online retail options (virtual store fronts, online mega-merchandise retailers, daily deals sites, social media offerings, etc), and the multitude of payment options (Apple Pay, Square, PayPal, Bitcoin etc). According to Forrester Research, online retail sales in the U.S. are projected to grow to $414 billion in 2018 (as compared to $263 billion in 2013). Physical stores no longer serve as the only points for discovery and distribution. What we previously could only get in stores we can now get online and with a larger merchandise selection that includes both domestic and international products.

To a certain extent, this levels the playing field for small mom and pop entrepreneurs who want to set up shop with virtual store fronts that either exist independently or within larger sites (Amazon, Alibaba, Etsy, Ebay). But does this change in consumer behavior spell the end of the brick and mortar store? No, but it is about re-positioning them as branding and discovery outlets that lead to online exploration and a more multi-media multi-channel approach to sales. Additionally, we see previously online-only retailers like Birchbox, Warby Parker, Bonobos (and potentially Amazon?) open up physical stores. Why? Many customers still want to touch and feel merchandise and see if they really like a product. Merchants benefit by being able to craft an experience as well as gain customer insight and feedback.

Let’s explore how different retailers have leveraged technology to enhance operations as well as the consumer experience:

Samsung

In 2014, Samsung set up experience stores in select cities across America. A visit to the one in Nolita, NYC allowed patrons to test out the latest in Samsung’s offerings and experience how they could be used in different settings. For example, the store featured a coffee shop where you could order coffee and cupcakes using Samsung tablets, a mini-design factory where you could come up with a design and print it on totes or t-shirts or even 3D-print your designs, a music section where you could test out wireless headphones and their Milk Music offering, as well as a children’s area where you could test out games and educational toys for children. Patrons were aided by special product reps who would guide you through the exhibits and teach you how to use the products.

Rebecca Minkoff, Tory Burch, DVF, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s

There is a natural affinity that exists between fashion and technology. Great design can enhance the tech experience. Technology can lead to new mediums and new distribution channels for fashion. DVF has featured Google Glass in her runway shows and the company has designed frames and shades for the technology. Tory Burch has partnered with FitBit to design Flex accessories. Rebecca Minkoff, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s have their sights set on using technology in an omni-channel way which includes QR codes and discounts sent to consumers, touch screens in fittings rooms that showcase inventory offerings and enable patrons to ask for assistance, radiofrequency identification technology (RFID), and social media offerings.

Starbucks

Technological advancements have helped shape the food services industry from point of sales systems, to online ordering to e-payment. Starbucks has been a leader in this movement, offering WiFi, wireless charging, mobile payment options, a dedicated Starbucks app and the upcoming adoption of iBeacon technology.

Glade

The company many associate with fragrances and candles opened up a pop-up boutique in New York’s Meatpacking District during the 2014 holiday season. It featured a scent lab where patrons could sample the latest candle offerings, a mural made entirely of Glade candles, and 5 themed rooms featuring interactive experiences where consumers would find themselves inside a large conch shell, hear an ocean breeze, smell Glade’s Hawaiian Breeze scent, and take a photo of themselves using barcoded postcards and cameras with timer capabilities or in a fashion shoot full of rich fabrics and flowers, and the scent of Blooming Peony and Cherry in the Flirty Room. The Energized Room featured virtual reality Oculus Rift technology where patrons were invited to a multi-sensory experience of a theme-park type thrill ride through an idyllic countryside with a streams and fields full of flowers, and the scent of Red Honeysuckle nectar.

Story (http://thisisstory.com/stories/)

Story is a retail store concept founded by fellow New Yorker, fourth generation entrepreneur and retail expert Rachel Shechtman, which views itself as a magazine, changes every 4-8 weeks like a gallery (with themes including “Color”, “Making Things” and currently “Well-being”), and functions as a retail store. Companies that have been featured in Story include Target, Intel, as well as a curated set of small independent shops whose stories are told via small note cards about them and their products and feature their social media handles, along with a selection their products.

Lowe’s, Amazon, Alibaba

Besides POS (point-of-sales), ecommerce, and payment technologies, Lowe’s, Amazon and Alibaba have looked into robotics. Fetch Robots is a company that develops self-guided retrieval robots for light industrial companies. Rethink Robotics is another robotics company that has introduced similar technology, with a robot named “Baxter”. A joint venture between SU Labs, Lowe’s Innovation Labs, and Fellow Robotics recently introducted OSHBot, a consumer-facing robot shopping assistant. There has also been interest amongst companies related to drone delivery services.

Ogilvy Digital Labs, IBM Watson, Mastercard Innovation Lab, Plug and Play Tech Accelerator

Innovation is a part of every company’s longevity plan. It’s the way in which a company can delight consumers, improve efficiency and margins, gain interesting partnerships, connect with those creating the cutting edge, and keep itself from being disrupted. A number of companies have dedicated innovation centers meant to be digital sandboxes and collaborative spaces where innovators can come together to exchange ideas and create the next big thing. Ogilvy and Mather recently opened Ogilvy Digital Labs in NYC, as a place to learn about and invest in digital marketing solutions across sectors including Mobile, Gaming, Point of Sales, etc. IBM Watson has a home at 51 Astor Place in NYC, and it is looking into applying its natural language processing, cognitive computing and data analytics company to provide retailers with customer insights. Mastercard Innovation Lab recently held an event at its Flatiron district location featuring mobile payments solutions including Apple Pay and a MasterPass ShopThis! collaboration with Allure Magazine that featured in-context in-app purchasing capabilities for anyone reading Allure using a digital platform. Outside of NYC, California-based Plug and Play Tech Accelerator houses a Brand and Retail Innovation Center designed to connect large brands/retailers with innovators.

Innovation is at the forefront of thought leaders minds when it comes to retail, and technology plays an important role in that. However, technology is still a tool and it works well when it comes to the physical interface of our experiences in the case of drones or robot assistance, as well as when it fades into the background and seamlessly and almost magically improves the consumer’s experience. Will every company become a technology company? Yes, given our current trajectory this statement will hold true, but even more importantly, every company will become a technology-ENABLED company because the true power of technology lies in its ability to power the human experience and the realization of the human imagination .

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Startup Chicken- 10 Ways Cooking Can Make You a Better Entrepreneur

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Credit: Pixabay (CC)

Wrote this as a fun read for the weekdays. I’ve definitely learned a lot by exploring fields outside of my own…

1. It lets you be creative. 

Just like in entrepreneurship, we all start out with similar tools and mediums (vegetables, meat, olive oil, oven, stove, grill etc). However, it’s what you do with these materials that will make you stand out. Having a special secret sauce also comes in handy.

2. It forces you to parse out what’s important. 

When you have a good ingredients, or a great team, you don’t really need to do much. You nurture what’s there and let it shine.

3. It requires executive-level decision-making. 

As the chef, you balance what your consumers wants and needs are (peanut allergy, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free) with your own creative license for making a great dish. This happens in entrepreneurship as well, you balance customer feedback with creating something they didn’t know they wanted but now love and crave.

4. It forces you to focus. 

There are some tasks (i.e. cutting things with a big knife, decorating a cake with a delicate hand) that require your undivided attention. In entrepreneurship being able to focus helps with execution.

5. Sometimes it requires multi-tasking. 

Thanksgiving or any other type of big dinner party comes to mind. It requires planning, timing, organization and being ambidextrous can be very advantageous. In the early stages of a startup, writing a business plan helps you gather your thoughts. It also is a time when you are the CEO, sales team, marketing, maintenance person etc.

6. It allows for pivoting, A/B testing and customer feedback. 

Sometimes mishaps happen in the kitchen. You accidentally put salt into your dish instead of sugar, so what do you do? You go with the flow and make savory sea salt brownies instead of the traditional kind. You also A/B test your food by putting out several kinds of dips or chicken wing flavors. At the end of the night, you figure out what your best sellers are, why they sold well, and use that information when you plan your next meal/party. Instead of voting with their dollars, people vote by the ratio of food on plate/to empty plate.

7. Sometimes it requires a little bit of marketing. 

Maybe you’re not known for being a great cook. Maybe people don’t know you can cook. How do you get people to come to your dinner party? (warm introduction, maybe a sample of your goods, social media etc). Maybe you made a beef bourguignon (beef stew) with beer, potatoes and onions, and it kinda sorta looks like a bowl of all brown. Several eyebrow raises are seen. Will people try it? You emphasize that the color is due to the beer you added, the roast on the beef, and the yummy brown bits that are often part of gravies that you know they already like.

8. Depending on your budget, it requires lean ($ vs. $$$$) methodology. 

Sometimes you have to make a mountain out of a molehill. Sometimes you have a limited pantry and are running low on fresh basics because a winter storm prevented you from making this week’s grocery run. So you McGyver up a meal by learning from others and looking up recipes. Or you sit down and let your creative juices roll. Puff pastry replaces homemade biscuit dough. Granny Smith Apples are gussied up with brown sugar, cinnamon, clove. The same puff pastry is filled with leftover ham, cheese, and some caramelized onions. All of your kitchen scraps go into your compost heap.

9. Team work can make the dream work. 

You have a friend who is a sauce maestro. You are great at soups. Another friend has Jacques Pepin level knife skills. You are really good at business development. Your friend has great design skills. Another friend is a code ninja warrior master. Everyone has something that they are really good at and working as a team makes the ultimate product/service that much stronger. As an added bonus, the food community, just like the startup community, has a really supportive learning culture.

10. There is a learning curve and it requires studying, motivation, diligence, keeping an open mind, learning from others, and learning from experience. 

Cooking is a craft, and arguably, so is entrepreneurship. It changes with the development of new materials, new tools, and new ways of looking at and doing thingsIt’s about being brave enough to take a risk, be vulnerable and share your work with the world. Failure can lead to lessons learned as well as new products.

BONUS: My recipe for Startup Chicken 

Startup Chicken is about taking something almost everyone has access to and transforming it in a cost-effective (aka don’t waste anything, stretch what you have) yet universally appealing (unless you don’t eat chicken) way. It’s about taking the time to make something, taking pride in your work, and sharing it with others.

Sunday- Buy your chicken. Whatever you can afford. Ideally, you will be able to buy a whole chicken (it roasts better that way) or you can buy pre-cut or have your friendly butcher cut it up. Rub your chicken under and over the skin and in the cavity with oil/butter, and herbs (smoked paprika or lemon pepper or cajun seasoning-basically whatever you have and like). Put vegetables like carrots, celery, onion, around it. Roast in the oven pre-heated at 450 degrees (adjust for your oven) for 1-1.5hrs until juices run clear in the thigh. You can make a pan sauce with the vegetables and the drippings by adding flour and a little stock. Cut the leftover chicken into bite-sized pieces and save the bones. Make a stock with the bones.

The rest of the week is about coming up with delicious ways to use what you have. These are just suggestions.

Monday- Chicken pot pie, chicken stew or chicken casserole. Carrots, celery, thyme, onion in roux with some cream. Pop the mixture into puff pastry or crust (ok if pre-made) and bake. If you don’t have cream or pastry, throw it vegetables and chicken into a slow cooker with a little stock and you’ll have lovely stew by the time you come home. Add pasta to either to turn the dish into a hearty casserole.

Tuesday-Chicken salad. Add your favorite greens. Asian chicken salad, chicken caesar salad, goat cheese-apples-beets-arugula-chicken salad -endless possibilities

Wednesday-Chicken noodle or rice soup. Stock + starch + vegetables.

Thursday- Chicken nachos or quesadillas. Lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cheese, beans, pickled jalapeno, roasted corn, guacamole, squeeze of lime, chipotle, tomatilla salsa, tomato salsa or pico de gallo. Put under the broiler until the cheese melts (about 10 minutes). Use whatever you have, whatever you like.

Friday- Probably chickened out by now (ba-dum-bum). Feel free to switch proteins or order/eat out 🙂

Note: These recipes work with almost any protein and with vegetables only. Startup beef works too. I picked chicken because it’s more affordable and “startup beef” can be interpreted as “startup discord” lol

I’m a foodie and a maker heart. Follow me @doctorcharlene on Twitter.