Sensing the future of retail

Embedded sensors are changing the way we manufacture products, operate airplanes, interact at theme parks and monitor sick kids, so why wouldn’t they also change retail. Here’s how shopping could change.


Paul Sweeting

Paul Sweeting is an Analyst for Gigaom Research, and the founder of Concurrent Media Strategies, a Washington, D.C.–based consulting and editorial services…

The future of e-commerce is both online and offline

Dave Gilboa, Warby Parker’s co-founder and co-CEO, said the future of its business and all retail will involve the blending of online and offline commerce. He said Warby Parker does more sales per square foot at its headquarters showroom than all retailers except for Apple.

Birchbox, Warby Parker co-founders to speak at RoadMap

The co-founders of two companies changing the face of connected retail, Warby Parker and Birchbox, will join us at our upcoming RoadMap conference next month. They’ll talk about the forces changing the retail landscape and how they expect to connect with the consumer of the future.

Sprint luring hotels, supermarkets into the 4G modem business

Hotels, airlines and grocery stores already link everything imaginable to their loyalty card programs. Why not 4G, as well? Sprint wants to make it easy for the hospitality and retail industries to become mini-virtual operators renting and selling mobile data modems to their customers.

Apple retail staff snafu brings quick apology

The in-person customer service offered to customers by Apple Store retail staff is key in winning Apple new customers and keeping old ones around. The quick backtrack on staffing changes shows Apple knows the perception of cutbacks in this area is risky to its brand.

Ebook sales way up in 2011; overall trade book sales roughly flat

Print books still dominate, but a new report reveals that in 2011, ebooks made up 15 percent of all trade book sales. In addition, digital is now the most popular format for adult fiction. Despite the massive growth of digital, though, bricks-and-mortar stores are still the largest sales channel for publishers.

Is the future of retail showrooming?

As if we needed more evidence that brick and mortar stores are at a crossroads, a study out Tuesday from Paris-based consulting firm CapGemini found that more than half of shoppers globally said they think more physical stores will become merely showrooms by 2020.

PayPal quietly starts marketing in-store payments to consumers

PayPal has made headlines about the business arrangements it’s secured for its in-store payment system. But the consumer strategy will be just as important. PayPal told me the marketing campaign for consumers began in the last week and will ramp up as PayPal adds more retailers.

Revealed: the full extent of the Rocket clone empire

Germany’s Samwer brothers are notorious as Europe’s chief cloners of web companies through their Rocket Internet vehicle. But we discovered their empire of e-commerce copycats is increasingly global, with companies operating in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Retail needs a reboot to survive

Although some believe the death of brick-and-mortar retail is inevitable, Mark Sigal, CPO of Unicorn Labs, thinks we all have a vested interest in seeing the industry reboot itself for the modern age. He outlines three paths for physical retail stores to avoid extinction here.

Toys meet tech: augmented reality to play out at Toy Fair

Does your kid want to play with unicorns? You might want to check out the goods at next week’s Toy Fair in New York, where toy makers will show off the latest-and-greatest augmented reality technology that animates once-static games, books, and toys.

Quarterly Wrap-up

Connected Consumer Q4: SOPA and the future of digital content

The digital living room was also the scene of a lot of activity in the fourth quarter. Microsoft rolled out a major upgrade to its Xbox Live platform, adding dozens of new music and over-the-top video services. It also added enhanced voice and gesture control to Xbox Live for those with the Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360. In addition to adding new OTT video content, Microsoft also took the first steps toward integrating live, linear television with the Xbox platform, adding support for Verizon FiOS and Comcast Xfinity to the Xbox 360.

See right through Apple’s new store in France

As Apple adds to its collection of architecturally significant retail stores, the company is getting even fancier for its proposed new flagship store in Aix en Provence, France. It is doing away with walls almost entirely and going for an all-glass structure.

How much Apple Store employees are worth to Apple

Beyond the crowds that show up for Apple Store events, like iPhones on sale or Friday’s Grand Central Terminal store opening, it’s always amazing the sheer number of employees on hand. Fittingly, Horace Dediu at Asymco has calculated how much each retail employee makes for Apple.

IBM to buy DemandTec to help big data meet commerce

IBM plans to acquire retail data analytics company DemandTec in an all-cash deal valued at $440 million, continuing Big Blue’s buys in big data businesses. DemandTec has two especially compelling elements for IBM: It adds to its big data expertise, and it’s vertically focused.

Apple’s self-checkout system reportedly doing well

Apple’s experiment with self-checkout in its retail stores is apparently doing well, according to sources. The system, which allows shoppers to buy relatively items using the official Apple Store app on their iPhones, could pave the way to higher profits and lower operating costs for Apple.

New Grand Central store lease shows Apple’s retail power

According to the New York Post, Apple has one of the lowest rents of all other retailers for its Grand Central Terminal store and will not pay its landlord (the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) any percentage of its sales, a situation being called “unique.”

Big data is a big deal — and getting bigger — for retailers

Retailers already parse a ton of data — from ERP systems, from registers, from Twitter and Facebook. That pool of addressable data will only get bigger as more retailers revisit using RFID to prevent losses, says Steve Stone, former CIO of Lowe’s Home Improvement stores.

VeriFone turns payment disruption into a services business

VeriFone is looking to become not just a seller of point-of-sale terminals but a provider of managed services for merchants, whic will need help in transitioning to new alternative payment systems like NFC. VeriFone projects half its revenue in 2015 will be from services.

Connectivity breeds empowered shoppers

The traditional ways that retailers and merchants reach out to users and how they expect them to discover, shop and pay are getting disrupted by mobile and social. And that’s created really empowered shoppers, who are using these tools to augment and alter their buying patterns.

Apple spending big next year on retail and cloud

Apple doesn’t willingly telegraph its plans, but thanks to the filing of its 10-K, we get a peek into where the company plans to invest. Based on the reported capital expenditures for 2012, it looks like it’s doubling down on its retail stores and cloud infrastructure.

Apple’s R&D spend up 33 percent for 2011

Apple has increased its R&D spending from $1.8 to $2.4 billion this year versus last, according to a filing Wednesday by Apple to the SEC. That’s a 33-percent increase, and makes the 2011 spend more than half that of the previous four years combined.

Fantasy Shopper wants to make fashion fun

Any seasoned fashionista knows that shopping is serious business, but that doesn’t explain why most retail sites are so boring. New service Fantasy Shopper wants to inject more fun into buying online by turning it into a social game. Can it succeed?

What media companies can learn from Walmart

What drove Walmart to acquire OneRiot and make it part of Walmart Labs is the same thing plenty of other companies — particularly media entities — should be interested in: namely, making sense of all the data that is coming in from users on social networks.

Hands on with Amazon Student for iPhone

If you are or have ever been a college student, then you probably know that textbooks are the biggest racket going. Amazon Student, a new official iPhone app put out by, should help you find better prices than you would at your school bookstore.

Report: Apple looking for retail chief with international experience

As Apple continues its search for a replacement for outgoing retail chief Ron Johnson, the company is looking to hire someone based outside the U.S., according to a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday. The report says Steve Jobs was “extensively” involved in picking the search firm.

The Apple Store at 10: Past, Present, and Future

On May 19th, the Apple Retail Store celebrates its tenth anniversary. Here’s a look back at the unlikely success Apple has enjoyed with its brick-and-mortar stores, and at where we might expect that success to lead future retail endeavors made by the company.

Apple Stores Reportedly Getting 10th Anniversary Makeover

On the eve of Apple retail’s ten-year anniversary, rumors are suggesting big changes inside Apple Stores this weekend. Those changes might include iPad-based payment terminals and interactive displays, dedicated product setup areas, and more changes designed to improve the brick-and-mortar shopping experience.

Will Facebook Ever Be an E-Commerce Powerhouse?

A big factor in the $75-billion theoretical market value Facebook has amassed is the idea that the social network will become a major e-commerce player. But a new report from Forrester Research argues that Facebook may never actually achieve that goal for a number of reasons.

iPad 2 Launch Details: How, When and Where to Buy

Apple has just issued a press release confirming details of the Pad 2 launch for tomorrow. The tablet will be available at all 236 Apple Retail stores in the U.S. at 5:00 PM local time, and Apple’s online store will begin sales at 1:00 AM PT.

Consumer Guide: Where to Buy a New Mac

You know you want a new Mac, but where to buy? There’s no shortage of sources, but when it comes to getting great service and warranty support, the options narrow considerably. Here’s a list of where your money will go the furthest.

Apple Brings App Store, Online Retail to China

Apple made a lot of money from direct sales last year, so it isn’t surprising that it would expand its online store to China, a market with huge growth potential. Extending the App Store’s reach there isn’t shocking either. So what does Apple stand to gain?

Apple Store iOS App Updated With Check-Ins, More

Long ago, there were rumors that a concierge app would come to the iPhone platform and bring reservations and other services to the device. Now, those features are here in version 1.1 of the Apple Store app, just released. It brings new location-based services and more.

iPad Coming to AT&T, Verizon Stores Oct. 28

A press release just issued by Apple reveals that a partnership between it and Verizon will see the iPad make its way to the wireless provider’s store shelves Oct. 28. Apple also announced that the iPad will be available at AT&T stores on the same day.

Apple Extends iPad Retail Reach, Competition Falls Short

The iPad will be appearing alongside its predecessor the iPod touch at many more locations starting today. Adding to its retail presence in the U.S. at Apple Stores and Best Buy, the iPad is now available at Target retail locations, and online at Amazon.

What Makes an Apple Store So Great

My last visit to an Apple Store was a week ago when I picked up my new iPhone 4 and, though I’ve visited the stores plenty of times before, waiting in line reminded me of what makes Apple’s retail plans such a success.


Study: ‘Cyber Monday’ 50 Times Greener Than ‘Black Friday’

In this research study, MindClick SGM sought to compare the relative greenhouse gas emissions of online and in-store holiday shopping during the post-Thanksgiving shopping weekend. We modeled the environmental impact of purchasing consumer goods either online or through a trip to a retail outlet for an in-store purchase using anEconomic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) model approach . The environmental impact, as indicated by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, was then weighed by the relative dollar amounts spent during the traditional ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ purchasing windows. In summary, we find that the impact of an in-store purchase represents an increase of more than 15 times that of an online purchase; the overall impact of Black Friday is more than 50 times that of Cyber Monday.

iMac, MacBook Top Retail Sales for October

Apple’s 13-inch MacBook was the top-selling laptop and the 21.5-inch iMac was the top-selling desktop in the retail channels during the month of October, according to data collected by The NPD Group, a research firm that closely follows the retail industry.

Disney Stores Get the Apple Magic

The New York Times reported yesterday that entertainment super giant Disney (s dis) is planning to reboot its entire chain of global…


What Electric Car Charging Can Learn From the Broadband Buildout

The international buildout of infrastructure for electric vehicles will produce nearly $6.5 billion in revenue by 2015, according to Pike Research. A number of startups are racing to build the 5 million charge points Pike anticipates will be installed by then, and a wide web of automakers, utilities, computing and software giants, policy makers and others are getting involved in the effort.

Creating a comprehensive network of vehicle charge points at homes, workplaces, commercial/retail sites and public areas has implications for the accessibility and appeal of the plug-in vehicles now widely seen as a key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. This, combined with the significant business opportunity of a major infrastructure buildout, means speed and innovative business models are critical. For cues on how to achieve that, we can look to other major infrastructure efforts, notably the buildout of high-speed Internet. Like the EV charging buildout, it’s getting a big push from government, and together these buildouts will transform the flow of energy, data and information throughout the U.S. economy.

Five More Apple Retail Flops

As we discussed yesterday, there have been quite a few instances where Apple’s (s aapl) retail plans have been re-evaluated or changed…

Five Apple Retail Flops

As Microsoft (s msft) proudly ventures into the retail world that has already seen quick entrances and exits by other vendors like…

Apple Retail Store Success: It Ain’t Rocket Science

In May of 2001, Apple opened its first retail outlet store in Tysons Corner, Virginia – it was immediately met by critics and the typical roster of Apple-haters with predictions of doom and massive financial losses. Eight years later, Apple has over 255 retail stores worldwide, and are the darling of the retail computer industry. So what makes them so successful?

While the Mac, iPod and iPhone are what makes Apple successful, the formula for their retail store’s success isn’t so obvious until you actually visit an Apple store. Sure, great products sell themselves, but Apple has made sure that their products have the best opportunity to do so by creating an environment that offers virtually no reason for a buyer to go elsewhere.

Lightspeed 3.0 & Web Store 2.0

One of the announcements coming out of Macworld last week was the upcoming release of Lightspeed 3.0, an update to the Mac…

Wal-Mart to Sell iPhones

News broke yesterday that Wal-Mart will indeed be selling Apple’s iPhone, most likely by the end of December. The source of the…