Smartphones have become a major influencer of in-store decisions, with many shoppers consulting their phones before and during a store visit. According to research by beacon company Swirl, 85 percent of smartphone owners have used a mobile shopping app while inside a store, 66 percent of whom say their smartphone has influenced a purchase in-store.

While physical retailers initially bemoaned the rise of showrooming, some have been turning customers’ in-store smartphone usage into an opportunity by better syncing their online and offline offerings. Best Buy, for instance, embraced the phenomenon last fall, positioning itself as the “ultimate holiday showroom.” Now brick-and-mortar retailers have a new opportunity to take advantage of smartphones, thanks to the advent of beacons. The low-cost transmitters can precisely track shoppers’ phones, enabling marketers to send highly targeted content via mobile apps and push notifications.

The question is whether shoppers will download these apps and enable push notifications. Swirl says the top two reasons shoppers turn off notifications is that they were not relevant (41 percent) and didn’t provide enough value (37 percent). As this chart shows, the survey found that most are open to notifications about sales and other content relevant to interests or location. Swirl argues that beacon-triggered offers have strong potential to influence decisions in-store—but one major obstacle will be privacy concerns, with consumers wary of tracking technology. The value proposition will have to be notable enough to override those fears.

Our 2012 report “Remaking ‘Made in China’” examines how Chinese companies are putting a new focus on developing strong brands that can hold their own both at home and on the world stage. As we noted recently, a number of Chinese tech brands have been making headway in international markets. While these companies are focusing on innovation, a few others—notably automaker Qoros and apparel retailer Bosideng—are emphasizing superior quality and design in an attempt to shed negative connotations associated with Chinese goods.

Qoros, which is venturing into the European market, started gaining notice last fall when the Qoros 3 sedan earned the highest crash test rating in the Euro NCAP program. The seven-year-old company has a design center in Munich and engineering facilities in Austria, and has hired execs from VW and BMW. Its focus is on quality as it slowly expands across Europe and takes on the continent’s premium brands.

Meanwhile, one of China’s biggest apparel brands—with 10,000 shops operating in mainland China—is looking to make a mark on fashion, evolving from a midmarket retailer at home to a luxury men’s brand abroad. Looking to appeal to the same target as Hugo Boss or Ted Baker, Bosideng sources all its fabric from Europe and produces 80 percent of its international products there. The company opened its first overseas shop in London in 2012 and is on track to expand into the U.S., showing at this year’s Fashion Week in New York and operating a concurrent pop-up shop. According to Ad Age, the line will be available at a luxury department store in August, when Bosideng also launches its American e-commerce site.

“For many years—and I think this has changed to a great degree—China wasn’t looked at as a place where designer apparel could emanate from. We would like to be part of the change,” said Marty Staff, a former Hugo Boss chief executive and one of Bosideng’s U.S. advisers, in Ad Age.

Image credit: Qoros

One of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond is the idea that imperfection is taking on new appeal, providing a more unfiltered, human version of reality. While researching Proudly Imperfect, we talked with Jill Savage, whose book No More Perfect Moms urges mothers to “shelve their desires for perfection along with their insecurities of not measuring up to other moms.” The founder and CEO of Hearts at Home, an organization for moms, Savage is a mother of five and an author of several other books, including Professionalizing Motherhood. She discussed some of the factors that are creating expectations of perfection among mothers, why embracing imperfection makes people happier and how brands can connect by painting more authentic portrayals of consumers’ lives.

What was the inspiration behind your book, No More Perfect Moms?

The biggest thing was helping [moms] to feel like their life is normal—knowing that it’s OK to fail and ultimately knowing that even through failure, our families can thrive and do well. More and more, I’ve learned the power of authenticity and vulnerability. It opens people up to encouragement and resources that they might not have known about. It also helps other people know they’re not alone.

More than anything, the book was a desire to help women know they’re normal, their struggles are normal, and ultimately to help them learn to love their own real life. If we keep looking for this ideal that doesn’t exist, we become discouraged and even disillusioned or discontent. That becomes really dangerous when it comes to marriage, family, home and parenting. I believe marriages end because perfection is expected. I believe parents give up when their kids are in their teen years and life gets hard or the kids are not turning out the way they thought they would.

I really wanted to capture a realistic vision for moms to see that imperfect is what is normal and right, and we have to learn how to love that and embrace that.

Is this something you see fathers embracing as well, the idea of being an imperfect parent?

I don’t know that fathers set themselves up for failure as easily as mothers do. There are men out there who have unrealistic expectations of their wives, of their kids, but there are not as many of them as there are women. As women we’re very connected to our culture. We are very connected to other women. We’re extra-sensitive to comparing our lives to other women’s lives. I do not know that men struggle with comparison like we do.

One of the phrases I use in the book is “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outside.” As women, we particularly do that. When we used to talk about keeping up with the Joneses, we only saw them once a week, and that was on Sunday at church. If you were going to compare yourself to other people, you didn’t see them that often, and today you see the Joneses every time you log onto Facebook. Now we’re really set up for comparison, and it’s a really dangerous thing to do.

I do a thing when I speak: I have some professional pictures that were taken of my family. I put up the whole family picture and talk about it: “Right now in your mind you’re comparing your insides to my outsides. That’s because that’s what we do as women. So you look at the picture, everybody is smiling, everybody is color-coordinated. It all looks good. But let me take off the mask and introduce you to our insides.” And then I go through with every family member and I talk about their struggles.

Continue reading “Q&A with Jill Savage, author, No More Perfect Moms” »

Read our roundups in magazine form on Flipboard, via the iOS and Android app or online; click here to find our magazine collection.

-With Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift, Fast Company says a “cyberpunk tech war is coming” over how we experience reality. CNET reports on what the skeptics are saying about the future of virtual reality.

-An Economist special report looks at the rise of robots and argues they will change how we think about technology.

-An FT special report on The Connected Business examines how Big Data is changing how workers make decisions and sparking cultural change at corporations.

-Newsweek argues that banks are getting massively disrupted by new companies that are “smarter about data and use it in more imaginative ways.”

-Time reports that Millennials and the banking industry are at odds, with banks failing to meet the generation’s needs or wants.

-The Guardian covers a European report that found the economic crisis has made young people more dependent than ever on their parents, a trend that has “sobering social and demographic implications for the continent.”

-Entrepreneurialism is on the rise in Greece as more people give up on waiting for the government to turn the country around, reports The New York Times.

-A New York Times op-ed posits that the world is getting more depressed thanks to rising urbanization and people gaining a better sense of their place in the social order.

-The Economist reports that Japanese women haven’t made notable strides in the workplace in decades.

-The New York Times takes a look at the explosive growth of Macau, which “now dwarfs Las Vegas as a gambling hub.”

Continue reading “Weekly Roundup: Virtual reality, Europe’s dependent generation and Yummies” »

As we outline in The End of Anonymity, one of our 10 Trends for 2014, it’s becoming nearly impossible to remain unobserved and untracked, thanks in part to an array of new technologies. Among these are retail systems from companies like Euclid and Nomi that track the Wi-Fi signals of shoppers’ smartphones, and beacons, the new low-cost transmitters marketed by Apple and others. The opportunities to learn more about customer habits and to push highly targeted messages are compelling—but will it fly with consumers?

Not likely, according to recent research by consumer insight company OpinionLab. Only 23 percent of those polled feel it’s acceptable for retailers to track shoppers’ in-store behavior via smartphone, and as many as 44 percent say they would be less likely to shop at a retailer if they knew they were being tracked. As this chart shows, distrust and fear are major barriers. Around 8 in 10 don’t trust retailers to keep tracking data private and secure, and some two-thirds say it feels like spying unless they explicitly opt in. (At present, many but not all programs are opt-in.)

Most respondents here believe retailers will use the data gathered without delivering enough tangible benefits to the consumer, like discounts or freebies. “People have to experience the utility before they’re comfortable with the privacy trade-off,” notes Bill Ready, CEO of mobile-payments firm Braintree, in Fortune. The challenge will be to provide significant utility and then get highly skeptical consumers to take note.

Immersive Experiences, one of our 10 Trends for 2014, took a giant leap forward this week with Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of virtual reality startup Oculus Rift (which is among our 100 Things to Watch in 2014). While immersive experiences need not involve advanced technology, the acquisition of Oculus—a headset, not yet on the market, that puts the viewer inside the screen with an enormous field of vision—will accelerate the shift toward enveloping experiences that capture consumers’ imagination.

While the headset has been touted as the next big thing in gaming, the device could prove to be the next big thing in everything. “After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face—just by putting on goggles in your home. … Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

Facebook and Oculus aren’t the only ones with a vision that experiences will be shared virtually all over the Internet. Sony (which has been working to develop virtual reality devices for years) recently announced its own VR headset, Project Morpheus, to be used with the Playstation 4 gaming console. “A cyberpunk tech war is coming,” writes Fast Company. “Not for your pocket, desktop or living room, but for how you experience reality.”

For marketers, the potential of this new platform is vast. We’ve already seen some innovative uses of Oculus: We wrote about a creative project at Selfridges, designed to promote menswear; also see our Thing to Watch at right for two more recent campaigns. Brands can use the VR environment to bring utility or delight to consumers in fresh ways. Advises a columnist at the U.K.’s Marketing Week: “I would argue marketers should look not to just recreate the real world but offer new experiences previously not possible through virtual reality—just as users can take on new personas and powers through the characters in their games.” It’s time to unleash a whole new kind of creativity.

In the decade since Tan Le founded Emotiv Lifesciences, the company has become one of the leading players in the emerging market of low-cost electroencephalography (EEG) devices. One of these, the EPOC, is the brain wave-reading headset of choice for various developers of brain-controlled computer games and other applications. Emotiv recently raised $1.6 million on Kickstarter for its next neuroheadset, the stylish Insight, which is geared toward the consumer market and set to launch later this year. We chatted with Le while researching Telepathic Technology, one of our 10 Trends for 2014, discussing what the technology is actually capable of, the future of brain-scanning and the potential here for marketers.

What has happened recently that is changing the potential market for brain-scanning technology?

The biometrics space has been steadily growing. There have been devices that have come to the market over the last few years. The Emotiv EPOC is a product I was instrumental in inventing and pioneering. Our goal is to take the clinic into the real world, taking brain research you would normally do in a clinical setting or in a research lab and making it possible to take that out into a real-life, contextual setting and still be able to collect high-resolution, multichannel EEG signals from many critical parts of the brain.

The other part of the market is products from companies like NeuroSky, which is a one-channel EEG that is really whimsical and fun and a great toy. But it’s focused on a different end of the market spectrum, which is not research or high-quality detection of mental states. They are about, “What can we do from single-channel EEG that’s really easy for consumers to use that may not be very robust from a signal quality and information standpoint?”

Obviously, EEG is an underlying technology that’s existed since the 1930s. It’s not something we invented. And so we just made it more affordable, made it a lot more easy to use and taken a lot of the problems out of conventional EEG.

What we’re seeing now, and what we’ll see in the next 12 to 18 months, is a new landscape around wearables. It’s basically wearable technology for your brain, or as we coin it, Brainwear. So we’re moving it toward not only measuring the brain, moving it into a real-life context, but also making it a very fashion-centric product that people won’t mind wearing for longer durations of time, as well as to chart different types of activities you might do. Within this segment, there’s [also] the Muse, an InteraXon product; it principally has channels that cover the forehead. Melon is another product which also covers the forehead.

What are a few of the things people will use these technologies for?

Every company will have its own strategy. A lot of it will be heavily dependent on the nature of the signals we can derive from the EEGs. If you’re talking about products like the Emotiv Insight, the kinds of things you can track are performance metrics, data that give you insight into your cognitive performance and well-being. This can be anything from attention, interest, engagement, stress andrelaxation levels. You’ll see products emerge around those categories.

Continue reading “Q&A with Tan Le, founder and CEO, Emotiv Lifesciences” »

Haptic technology—one of our 100 Things to Watch for 2014—uses stimulation like vibrations, small electrical charges or pressurized air to provide touch feedback, extending digital experiences into the physical realm. At the recent Mobile World Congress, Fujitsu showed a prototype tablet that uses ultrasonic vibrations to mimic the feel of textured surfaces, among other effects. For instance, Gizmag reports, users could “touch” a crocodile onscreen or pluck at an instrument and seemingly feel the strings. Fujitsu plans to commercialize the technology by 2015.

There’s interesting potential for marketers in creating vicarious experiences. In Australia, cable provider Foxtel has paired with wearable tech company We:eX on the Alert Shirt, aimed at fans of Australian Rules Football. Working in tandem with a mobile app, the shirt “converts live game data into powerful sensations that are experienced instantly by the wearer to get you closer to your team than ever before,” according to promotional copy. In other words, the shirt lets wearers get a sense of what players are feeling in real time. A limited number are available to Foxtel subscribers. In 2013, a popular Huggies campaign in Argentina involved a haptic waistband that allowed a man to experience the way his pregnant partner could feel the baby moving.

Read our roundups in magazine form on Flipboard, via the iOS and Android app or online; click here to find our magazine collection.

-Revelations about NSA spying are hurting American tech companies and bolstering firms outside the U.S., reports The New York Times.

-”Now, after decades of false promises, virtual reality is starting to feel a lot more real,” writes Businessweek.

-Adweek examines which big brands are courting the Maker movement, and why.

-A global Millward Brown study spotlights how time with smartphones has overtaken time watching TV, reports Ad Age.

-The New York Times spotlights how airlines are using data about their customers to provide more personalized service.

-Fortune takes a look at the woes facing traditional supermarkets as consumers flock to discounters, natural grocers and specialty stores.

-An Accenture study finds that retailers are struggling to provide seamless omnichannel services, reports MediaPost.

-The BBC looks at how Big Data is providing retailers with “unprecedented opportunity to offer us tailor-made services, online and offline.”

-Cars equipped with high-bandwidth connections and apps are about to arrive on the market, reports MIT’s Technology Review.

-Automakers are installing motion-sensing technologies that would allow drivers to control car functions using gestures, reports The New York Times.

Continue reading “Weekly Roundup: Virtual reality, tech-infused parenting and snack-aholics” »

The mobile device is fast becoming the first screen, as a recent study shows. According to Millward Brown’s survey of more than 12,000 people aged 16 to 44 across 30 countries, these mobile users spend a total of 417 minutes a day looking at screens: Smartphones claim 35 percent of this time, while TV gets 27 percent, laptops/PCs get 26 percent, and tablets take up 12 percent.

Of the total screen time, simultaneous use with TV is taking place around a third of the time. Millward Brown then breaks down simultaneous time into two categories: “stacking,” or using a digital screen for matters unrelated to the television, and “meshing,” which means using the second screen to enhance the TV experience. Those who stack tend to be filling time during ad breaks or watching TV somewhat halfheartedly. Those who mesh are mostly looking for more information or engaging in social media chatter about a show. Millward Brown says Americans are most likely to stack, while viewers in Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea are most likely to mesh.

Increasingly, brands will have to develop a compelling presence across screens, with an emphasis on mobile—a difficult shift, considering that consumers are far more favorable to ads on their TV than on their mobile device and more apt to pay attention to TV ads. Millward Brown found that 41 percent of respondents are very/somewhat favorable to TV ads, and 72 percent say they pay at least some attention, while just under a quarter are favorable toward mobile ads, and only around half say they pay some attention.

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Things to Watch

  • Uniqlo, H&M and Retail As the Third Space
    April 15, 2014 | 4:30 pm

    “Retail As the Third Space,” one of our 10 Trends for 2011, is rapidly accelerating: As digital commerce becomes habit for consumers, brick-and-mortar is increasingly focused around experiences, unique environments and customer service, giving shoppers new reasons to visit retail spaces. Uniqlo’s flagship in New York is a good example. A newly renovated floor incorporates a Starbucks (a favorite brand among teens) and, as MarketWatch reports, “lounge sofas, tables and chairs and an iPad station, allowing shoppers to stay and mingle.” Thanks to a partnership with the nearby Museum of Modern Art—resulting in a range that uses images from famous artists—the floor’s design is museum-like, with T-shirts in framed display cases.

    Another recent example in Manhattan is H&M’s flagship, which opened in late 2013, which one writer dubs “The most retail fun you can have with your clothes on.” For more on Retail As the Third Space, find our 2103 report Retail Rebooted here. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Uniqlo

  • Bitcoin middlemen
    April 10, 2014 | 2:45 pm

    Given its volatility, security issues and legal concerns, merchants interested in accepting bitcoin have a lot to worry about, especially with the possibility (as some see it) that looming regulation could upend the entire system. To mitigate the risk and open merchants up to new revenue streams, startups such as BitPay and Coinvoice make it easier for companies to accept the cryptocurrency.

    These payment processors act as middlemen: A shopper pays in bitcoin, but the merchant can decide whether to be paid in bitcoin, fiat currency, or a combination. This allows companies to shield themselves from the uncertainty of the currency or to dip a toe into accepting it as payment. Until bitcoin becomes more stable and regulated, payment processors such as these will be a safer option for merchants. (For more on bitcoin, see also our post on the Inside Bitcoins conference.) —Nick Ayala

    Image credit: BitPay

  • Delta’s Innovation Class
    April 3, 2014 | 2:15 pm

    Delta’s new Innovation Class allows the influencers of tomorrow to spend a flight with a current industry leader—the airline calls it a “mentoring program at 35,000 feet.” The first mentor was Pebble smart watch creator Eric Migicovsky, on his way to Vancouver for the recent TED conference, who was paired with visual artist James Patten, a 2014 TED senior fellow. The next flight, in May, will feature chef Sean Brock as he heads to the James Beard Awards.

    While Innovation Class isn’t the first such initiative, it’s the first to leverage existing social networks on LinkedIn, where potential seatmates apply to Delta. The program illustrates creativity in using the plethora of touch points marketers have access to and can leverage to create valuable experiences both online and off. —Matt Goldenberg

  • Virtual reality rugby
    March 27, 2014 | 1:00 pm

    While the Oculus Rift headset doesn’t yet have a launch date, brands are already using the virtual reality platform to amaze consumers. To promote Game of Thrones, HBO made fanboys’ dreams come true at this year’s SXSWi with an experience that took viewers on an immersive trip up the show’s famed “Wall.” And U.K. phone company O2 has created “Wear the Rose,” a rugby training experience that combines footage from GoPro cameras with an Oculus headset to give fans the experience of training with England Rugby.

    “Rugby balls are thrown at you to catch, charging players run at you to teach you tackles, and at one point you find yourself in the middle of a scrum,” writes Eurogamer. O2 recently debuted “Wear the Rose” at a stadium match and will showcase it in select U.K. stores starting in June. —Aaron Baar

  • Security as a USP
    March 20, 2014 | 12:45 pm

    As we note in our wrap-up of SXSWi, security is fast becoming a unique selling proposition. Rather than treating it as an afterthought and scrambling to compensate if user data is compromised, more tech companies will build highly secure environments for their users from the start—selling security as a point of differentiation until it becomes a right of entry.

    The secure-communication app Wickr is offering up to $100,000 to any hacker who can crack its defenses and is selling a suite of six privacy features to developers and apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp. Another such app, Telegram, offers a bounty as high as $200,000 to anyone who can crack it. Meanwhile, the upcoming Blackphone is described as “the world’s first smartphone which places privacy and control directly in the hands of its users.” —Ann Mack

  • Watson, AI and customer service
    March 13, 2014 | 1:45 pm

    IBM has been promoting the commercial applications of Watson, its artificial intelligence service, with CEO Ginni Rometty announcing a Watson challenge for mobile developers at the recent Mobile World Congress. Rometty also noted that North Face is testing a website that incorporates Watson intelligence to answer customer queries, as seen in this video of an IBM demo at the MWC. Watson could serve as a “personal shopping concierge” for e-commerce brands, as Ad Age put it.

    At this week’s SXSW in Austin, where IBM has Watson powering a food truck to demonstrate its multifaceted potential, an IBM exec talked up Watson’s potential in the customer-service arena. We’re seeing the beginnings of a world where artificial intelligence powers (and personalizes) an array of brand interactions with consumers. —Marian Berelowitz


  • Spritz
    March 7, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    Slate may have to adjust the Minutes to Read feature on its articles. In line with our Age of Impatience trend for 2014, Spritz is a new reading app that uses a new visual technology to help people read at Evelyn Wood speeds or faster.

    Pinpointing the “Optimal Recognition Point,” at which the brain begins to recognize numbers and letters, the program highlights that space for each individual word and places it at the same place on the screen, reducing eye movement. The program can push reading speeds up to 500 words a minute. (You can see it in action here.)

    Sprtiz will be available on Samsung’s new line of wearable technology. —Aaron Baar

    Image credit: Spritz

  • Virtual fitting rooms
    March 4, 2014 | 11:45 am

    PhiSix, a 3D virtual technology company recently acquired by eBay, plans to bring more of the outside world into physical stores’ dressing rooms in an effort to increase sales. We’ve reported before on websites that offer 3D virtual try-ons at home and brick-and-mortar stores that have become living, breathing websites. But PhiSix’s technology takes the virtual fashion experience one step further, allowing shoppers to see how specific items of clothing look on them, in a variety of sizes and contexts, without actually trying them on. With PhiSix’s computer graphics, which will be made available to third-party retailers, shoppers will be able to enter a store dressing room and view themselves wearing clothing in a number of active settings (e.g., swinging a golf club, walking down the street). The technology also recommends other items to consumers, based on a few basic measurement inputs. Although virtual try-on technologies, which have existed for a while, haven’t succeeded in displacing trying on actual clothing, PhiSix’s sexy timesaver may draw more shoppers into physical retail outlets. —Alec Foege

    Image credit: PhiSix

  • Daily Mail’s Just the Pictures app
    February 25, 2014 | 3:15 pm

    The U.K.’s Daily Mail, whose digital content is dominated by photographs, is planning to release an app called Just the Pictures that strips out the text for smartphone readers—or non-readers, in this case—who are looking for snackable content while on the go. At a Mobile World Congress panel in Barcelona, Melanie Scott of the Mail Online said the app will be out in March. Per Scott, the Daily Mail’s current iOS app attracts about a million daily users in the U.K., and they’re opening it four or five times a day for 12 minutes at a time, largely for the pictures. 

    Just the Pictures is another sign of images replacing words in our increasingly visual culture, one of our 10 Trends for 2014. For more on how this trend is affecting the mobile platform, watch for our annual mobile-trends report in April. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Daily Mail

  • Full-fat comes back
    February 20, 2014 | 6:00 pm

    Bring on the brie! Last week NPR reported on two studies finding that “whole-fat dairy is linked to reduced body fat,” research likely to boost a recent shift away from lower-fat dairy products. Butter has been bullish lately: Annual sales in the U.S. have increased 65 percent since 2000, with per-capita consumption reaching a 40-year high. And while milk sales in the U.S. declined in 2013, full-fat fared relatively well (with sales declining 0.8 percent vs. 4.1 percent for reduced-fat). 

    The trend ties into a growing preference for foods that feel less artificial or newfangled, as well as the ongoing urge to Live a Little (one of our 10 Trends for 2012).  —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: liz west

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