Category » Product Development « @ Weiner Edrich Brown

Redefining the Shopping Experience

As technology has advanced, so has the experience of shopping.  New distribution channels have provided new opportunities for consumers.  People no longer shop only in stores, out of catalogs and from websites.  Thanks to virtual reality, people can now shop in an entirely new dimension, and it is helping enhance the experience by making it more personal and realistic.  At the same time, avatars are also beginning to populate the virtual landscape and are becoming powerful economic consumers.

If most people today were to walk into a typical clothing store, what would they find?  They would find the fitting rooms to be little closets in the back, with no technology in the service of the customer.  This is largely because the store designers themselves are stuck in the world they knew before new distribution channels became popular.  But things are beginning to change.

A couple years ago, we saw Accenture come out with the Online Wardrobe, a smart closet which uses sensors, tagging and tracking technologies to keep track of the clothing you already own, and helps you buy coordinating items, either online or in physical stores. This way a new way of connecting the real/physical and virtual worlds.

I recently came across a fantastic video that Adam Gordon posted on his  blog The Future Cafe that changes the way we look at the concept of the retail fitting room:

An extraordinary revolution is taking place on the front end of retailing.  Now, time and digital technology are combining to alter the entire pre-purchase and purchase process.  The payment process is also being revolutionized.  People can “bump” their mobiles and transfer money, and swipe their mobiles and purchase products.  Social media and networks pass along recommendations and tweet product experience and preferences.  Advertising avenues and messaging are multiplying rapidly, and and the disintermediation of traditional channels is rampant.

However, as technology rapidly advances, it will be increasingly important to pay particular attention to the experience of the purchase (and not just the technology), since it is the experience, after all, that seems to generate the long-term satisfaction.

The Emerging “Metaspace” Economy: Design Space

We here at WEB often talk to our clients and conference attendees about the “Evolution of Economies” — a critical understanding of how economies have historically layered on top of each other, while the societies underlying them replace one another. It’s a complex issue to be sure, and one that is way too comprehensive to cover in one blog post. That being said, as we discuss the Evolution of Economies, we talk about how we have entered into (and are continuing to enter into) the emerging “Metaspace” Economy. The Metaspace Economy has sprung upon us at unprecedented speed, as economies are replacing one another at faster rates than ever before. Indeed the pace of change with respect to everything (especially technology) is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Within the emerging Metaspace Economy, we have identified 8 distinct “growth areas” for business. They are all conceived within the framework of “space.” And one critical growth area that we talk to many of our clients about is “Design Space,” especially as it pertains to the organizational functions of innovation and product development. The purpose of this post is simply to introduce the concept into the vernacular of our blog, and to set the stage for frequent posts about interesting developments, articles and blogs that we see in the area of Design Space.

A great site for keeping tabs on novel applications that not only adhere to, but expand upon, this new design imperative is The Cool Hunter. The site is broken out into a variety of categories, but “design” is a good place to start for anyone looking to find something novel. While perusing the site, we saw an article about these great portable, modular designs for mini hotel rooms or “sleep boxes.” These have have actually already begun to appear in airports and other locations around the world. Kitschy and unnecessary, or innovative and adherent to both the design imperative and an emerging market need? We know that people are facing time pressures and multitasking more than ever before. You decide…but fascinating nonetheless. More to come…

Transposition of East & West

Last summer, WEB authored an important working paper called The Transposition of East & West. Based on some relevant recent happenings, now is a great time to revisit the theme.

Issue Summary:

Currently,  we are seeing a two-way transposition of not only traditional Western values, traits, and characteristics on Eastern cultures (via “Westernization,” or “Americanization”) – but traditionally Eastern values, traits, and characteristics on Western cultures to an extent perhaps unforeseen in recent times. This bilateral shift is happening in profound ways. Indeed, not only is the world’s economic influence shifting, but core values – as they pertain to civil liberties, religion, education, and technology – are also in flux. Eastern cultures traditionally perceived as more conservative are opening up, while Western cultures traditionally viewed as more progressive are becoming more restrictive.

Putting a macro-lens on the economic portion of this theme, a 2008 report by the National Intelligence Council states among several relative certainties that between now and 2025, the unprecedented shift in relative wealth and economic power from West to East will continue. The report also states that the U.S. will remain the most powerful country in the world, but will be less dominant.

Recent Developments:

Updating this paper, we see that even the core Western tenet that is freedom of expression has been somewhat turned on its head with some important recent developments:

Consider Some Implications…

Implications of this theme are manifold. For example, in our original paper we discussed how many of the world’s largest consumer goods firms have begun adopting the process of “trickle-up innovation.” This entails creating entry-level goods for emerging markets and then repackaging them quickly and cheaply for sale in rich nations, where customers are increasingly hungry for bargains. While this concept is not all that new, it should be reemphasized in the context of this theme. Will execs at global companies fight to retain the more ingrained status quo, or will they embrace trickle-up innovation strategies?

Companies and organizations that operate globally will now have to navigate a new landscape when managing cultural norms within the global workforce, with global professionals, and among the global consumer market. Norms, values, and expectations have shifted. The terms “free market,” “civil liberties,” “innovation” and “gender equality” will be among the many that will no longer conjure up stereotypes of governments, populations, corporations or regions. East/West mixes of management, policymakers, board directors, committee members and marketers, designers and product developers will become extremely beneficial if any significant-sized entity wants to remain nimble and viable as it navigates through this transposition.

The Eternal Debate: Nature vs. Nurture

The popularly contested nature versus nurture debate is as appealing as it is unresolvable in answering the question: how and why do we become who we are?  While some believe that people behave according to genetic predispositions, others believe that people think and behave in certain ways because they are taught to do so.

While it is oftentimes difficult to disentangle the two, advancements in genetics, neurobiology and technology, in combination with widespread societal shifts, are blurring the line in this age-old debate by helping us more fully understand how both heredity and environment shape who we are.

In a new book called The Temperamental Thread, its author, Jerome Kagan, works to untangle some of the complexities behind human personality and behavior.  According to an article in the New Scientist:

…everyone is born with a biologically based temperamental bias that is evident in infancy and influences our future behavior, but how that pans out as we grow up depends strongly on a range of factors such as our ethnicity and gender, how our parents treat us, their social class, the size of our home town and whether or not we have older siblings.

While this eternal debate may never fully be solved, our fast-growing understanding of the human brain and the human genome has shifted the discussion from being simply about how nature or nurture shape behavior, to how each contributes, and in what ways and to what extent, to human development.  In many cases, we are still largely ignorant about the biology that underlies behavioral predispositions and the cascade of psychological processes that flow from them.

From a marketing perspective, there is clearly much we still need to learn about how and why people choose products and respond to marketing appeals.  To the extent that these are genetically determined, more knowledge can help make both product development and marketing more cost effective.

Huggy Pajamas

Widespread technological advancements are changing the ways in which people interact with the machines that play such a vital and prominent role in their lives, and non-carbon life forms are taking on greater significance in our day-to-day lives.  Non-carbon life forms consist of networks, robots, structures, electronic devices/systems and virtual entities. We are entering a future in which decisions in the home, in the marketplace, in the workplace will increasingly be made by these entities.

As a result, many children are growing up in a technologically complex world that combines artificial intelligence, robotics and mechanical engineering.  Children are increasingly coming to love and care for these non-carbon life forms, especially as toys become both more robotic and more life-like.  Many toys are now designed to elicit emotional responses too, as well as display a sense of self-awareness, and the ability to change their behavior over time.

A new device out of Japan embodies this trend.  Introducing…the Huggy Pajama – a new wearable system aimed at promoting physical interaction in remote communication between parent and child.

This system allows parents and children to virtually “embrace” one another through a hugging interface device, and a wearable, hug reproducing pajama connected through the Internet. The parents are then tasked with hugging a small mobile doll with an embedded pressure sensing circuit. This pajama is able to simulate a hug to the wearer as well as generate warmth to accompany the hug, display color changes according to distance of separation between parent and child, and display emoticons.

Perhaps, in the future, larger iterations will be developed for love-starved couples in long-distance relationships, lonely business travelers, hospitalized patients, elderly in nursing homes, etc.  Staying emotionally connected over physical distance via wearable technology has a variety of applications for the future.