Airport’s Promising Retail Market Driving Digital Innovation

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This week, Governor Cuomo approved a $4 billion overhaul for LaGuardia Airport to expand and create more space for flight operations. In addition to expanded flight operations, there is sure to be a large retail component to the new LaGuardia, ranging from duty-free sales to luxury goods to airport dining.

The numbers behind the gold rush into airport retail are pretty staggering as airport sales are expected to grow 73% by 2019. Not only that, the global duty-free market is expected to be worth $73 billion by the year 2019. Luxury goods and fashion are another bright spot in the airport retail landscape, with £1 in every £160 expected to be spent on fashion in London’s Heathrow Airport in 2015.

The promise of revenue expands beyond retail as well. Airport experience management company, OTG, has recognized food service revenue lifts of 15-20% after installing an iPad-based ordering system throughout the airports it manages.

There’s a reason more retailers are incorporating technology into the airport space. Here’s how airports can provide an pervasive retail experience with the power of three factors:

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Deeper Digital Experiences: Unlike the mall, an airport has a captive audience and can lead customers on a deeper, more intimate retail experience. Since airport travelers defy the national average of smartphone users (with 97% of passengers carrying at least one mobile device), the incorporation of tech in stores has been long awaited. Use of in-store tech has a 32% impact on driving sales, and allows for more creative innovation. Digital displays like SFO Airport’s Beats by Dre kiosk goes beyond traditional signage to incorporate interaction with the customer. Any time an item is grabbed off the shelf to examine, the screen automatically shows the product’s “stats” for the customer to see. The project boosted unit sales by 120% and helped showcase an endless aisle of products with the touch of a product.

 

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Shipping Convenience: The ability to have items shipped lifts the friction for the shopper. Companies like Mini-Me Labs are using multichannel platforms to give shoppers the option to have their items shipped wherever they would like. No longer restricted by luggage capacity, customers are free to enjoy the retail experience without having to check more baggage.

 

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Decentralized Retail Touch points: Wireless-enabled kiosks allow customers to buy any item wherever they are standing. These kiosks extend the retail floorspace beyond the shop into the entire airport space, similar to our OTG Management project, which extended the restaurant’s sphere of influence from the concourse storefronts into to iPad kiosks around the gates at the extremities of the airport. Our work with OTG combined both the information-sharing and omnichannel concepts that allow passengers to check their flight status before they choose a well-done steak vs. grab-and-go sandwich, order and pay for food directly from their terminal seat and have it delivered directly to them.

These three approaches highlight the possibilities for airport retail. As consumer tech demand continues to grow, now is a prime time for airports to reevaluate their retail experiences. With a promising market ahead, we can hope to see more omnichannel platforms continue to evolve in airports and provide engaging buying experiences.

The Quiet Magic of the Responsive City

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Imagine me one morning, acting the role of a typical New York City commuter. Standing on the platform waiting for the R train, reading a book (The Martian, recommended) on my mobile with my earbuds in, listening to Skrillex remix Tom Waits or something equally horrible (not recommended).

Then comes the Quiet Magical moment, completely without warning. I sense movement out of the corner of my eye, and see people heading toward the stairs. I realize an announcement is being made on the speakers but the horrible bass dropping in my ears drowns it out completely. Then I glance at the MTA kiosk and, right there on the screen, is the service change alert that tells me there is an incident at 14th Street and trains are delayed.

I was already halfway up the stairs towards the 4 train before I realized the “magic” that had just happened: the thousands of hours put into the construction of the kiosks in the subways, building the infrastructure to deliver the messages, the hours spent perfecting the front end client, all resulted in something completely different than what we expected. Because as technologists, we often just think about the “wow” moment. The crazy interactive ad that makes people stop and stare.

That timely service announcement didn’t just move me, it moved hundreds of people to route around the damage instantly, quietly and yes, magically. Indeed, the voiceover is great, but what about the people who walk onto the platform and have to wait five minutes for another one? To commuters in New York City, five minutes is a lifetime. I’m guessing hundreds of thousands of dollars were saved in productivity (and who knows, maybe people didn’t lose their jobs) just because of a simple image with text on it – and of course, the countless difficult problems solved invisibly in the background to allow that image to be displayed seamlessly and reliably in an advertising loop.

As I exited from the 4 train onto the platform, I watched people step aside to let me off. It came to me that this selfless action of “moving aside” is also exactly the kind of humble, daily magic that perfects the daily flow of our cities. The process of the city, reinforced by the technology, creates a wave of sub-sonic magic moments that build to the background roar of efficiency that moves the needle on human happiness. This is what Intersection will accomplish. Oh, there might be some “wow” moments along the way also.

Props to the CG MTA crew: Nicole Nguyen, Myk Bilokonsky, Damian Gutierrez, Hal Dick, Eric McGill, Erin McGill, Dan Kang, and all dozens of people who have worked on the project in the past 5 years.

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To stay updated on our future projects, follow @intersection_co.

Control Group’s Intern Summer Project: Show NYC

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Eight weeks ago, our summer interns entered our office bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to work. In their time spent here, they have contributed to projects like MTA On the Go and LinkNYC. You might think eight weeks isn’t that much time for a full learning experience, but what you are about to read will prove the contrary.

Four of our interns were tasked by our Software Engineering department to build a CMS platform with user-generated content for Control Group’s existing MTA On the Go kiosks. We as a staff got to physically see it when they presented at our monthly company meeting, and to say we were impressed would be an understatement. This is the story of how they were given the (not so) simple task of building a CMS system and turned it into Show NYC.

 

Our Team

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  • Josh Addington – “I finished a degree in Computer Science this past year and have been working on picking up modern web development with a focus on back-end development. During my time here, I built up the Django back-end and ReST API, and managed our AWS infrastructure.”
  • Omayeli Arenyeka – “I am a rising junior at NYU, studying Computer Science and Design. I was attracted to Control Group because they seamlessly integrate captivating displays and robust technology. I worked on design and front-end development for the website, kiosk, and mobile app using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Angular.”
  • Emma Chesley – “I am a rising sophomore at MIT, majoring in Mathematics with Computer Science. I was looking for a summer internship that would allow me to coding in a professional environment, and I found that—and more—here at Control Group. My primary focus this summer was front end design and development, using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Angular.”
  • Sage McGill – “As a recent graduate of General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive, I was looking to gain more experience and sharpen my skills as a developer. I knew of Control Group’s representation as one of the most innovative shops in New York City; I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to be surrounded by the vast amount of knowledge in the office. For this project, I was primarily responsible for building the mobile application and setting up the Angular framework for our web application.”

 

Our Process

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Working with AWS

“I came into this internship knowing that I wanted to work with Amazon Web Services. AWS is the de facto cloud infrastructure, so I knew it would be a great asset. I had taken a stab at AWS before, but was left frustrated with its unclear documentation. I knew that the supportive environment with Control Group’s world class developers would make my internship the perfect time to try using AWS again. After pouring over documentation and many conversations with our very own Erin McGill, I got everything set up and running.”- Josh Addington

Learning AngularJS and Ionic UI Framework

“To build the mobile application, I was challenged to work with an unfamiliar framework in an unfamiliar language, hosted on an unfamiliar platform. Before writing any code, I spent hours reading documentation as well as comparing mobile UI and JS frameworks, various plugins, and countless libraries. This research spike was extremely valuable in choosing what technologies to use. For the mobile application, we ultimately used the Ionic UI framework bundled with AngularJS and wrapped in Cordova. Although research is a valuable learning tool, nothing proved to be more valuable than diving head first into a new technology, trusting that it would eventually become more clear. With the help of an amazing team, I went from having little to no experience with these technologies to a functional product in just eight weeks. Not only did I learn a lot, but I also gained the confidence I needed to approach any new language or framework in the future.” – Sage McGill

Organizing Everything with Trello

“During this internship I was introduced to Trello, a project management tool. It gave me a comprehensive view of our project and allowed me to see our team’s workflow for any given week. The biggest challenge I faced when using Trello was remembering to move my cards across the board as I worked on them. Trello works best when it is used consistently and constantly, and sometimes I fell short of that. With that in mind, I thought it was a wonderful tool for Scrum because it kept our team abreast of our weekly features and tasks as well as their progression across the board. It’s the perfect digital version of sticky notes on a cork board.” – Emma Chesley

Velocity Tracking

“The importance of velocity tracking was stressed to us since day one. Velocity tracking is an essential part of Scrum: teams add up all of the points they committed to during sprint planning and compare that against the points completed throughout the week. After several sprints, a team has a sense of the speed at which they work—their velocity. This gives a team a better sense of the amount of time it will take to complete particular features and the project as a whole. Our team’s velocity increased dramatically after the first week. In the latter half of the internship, we hit our stride. We achieved close to three times the number of points we completed during the first sprint, which in turn motivated us to work even more efficiently.” – Sage McGill

Starting the Day Off Right

“Developers at Control Group start every morning with a team meeting, and we did the same. These meetings are called ‘standups’ because the whole team congregates somewhere in the office and stands up for the duration of the meeting, which should not exceed fifteen minutes. This unique forum encourages brevity, and the frequency with which it happens promotes communication. Despite our team being slow to physically get out of our seats and stand up, morning standups proved to be invaluable. We relied on standups to get up to speed on what our team members were focused on that day. We explained potential challenges in the work ahead and coordinated efforts to tackle time-consuming features. Daily standups were an integral part of our team’s collaboration.” – Emma Chesley

Location, Location, Location

“Location turned out to play a huge role in our coming together to build a product in just eight weeks. When we first began working together, we used Slack, a team messaging app. We soon realized we did not need an application to facilitate conversations because we were seated right next to each other—conversation and collaboration were inevitable. This is what developers call an analog solution. We were able to chime into conversations and lend insight into tackling difficult assignments. This kind of informal coordination allowed our team to be more organized. Our co-location improved our software development immeasurably.” – Omayeli Arenyeka

 

Our Execution

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User Testing

“We had about four weeks of building features (technically half of our internship) until we finally decided we wanted users to test our product. We conducted user testing sessions during which we asked users a series of questions and then watched them navigate the website. Like all developers, we assumed everything we created would be as intuitive and sensible as we intended; but, of course, it was not. We received a lot of helpful feedback and suggestions on how to make our website better, changes that would have been more difficult to implement in later weeks. Fortunately, there were no drastic changes to be made—cue sigh of relief.” – Omayeli Arenyeka

What We Love: Good Snacks and Team Lunches

“We interns can certainly attest to the fact that having snacks in the office is a wonderful treat. I always had my eye on the kitchen, waiting for the Fresh Direct order to arrive so I could snag an avocado. Many of the interns turned out to be candy fiends, scouring the office for lollipops and Starbursts alike. Group lunches were a fantastic way to facilitate better relationships between teams and the interns as a whole. Our team had a fun outing to Chipotle, teaching Ben Haas, our supervisor, some favorite Chipotle hacks. Pro tip: always ask for tortillas on the side.” – Emma Chesley

Presenting at the Company Wide Demo

“Our team agrees that our most productive day in the office was that of the company-wide demo. The website we had built was untested on mobile devices, and we were being asked to show the mobile website to the entire company. We committed to demoing our product just five short hours before the presentation. Throughout those hours we worked at full throttle, opening and closing pull request after pull request. The pressure of the impending demo motivated us in a way that no other demo had, and I believe some of our best work was produced in those few hours. It was a great opportunity for us not only to improve our product, but also to feel the pressure of a real world client demo.” – Sage McGill

 

Our Experience

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Dressing the Part

“One morning I received an email about the start of my Control Group internship with the term “business-casual” in it. I looked in my closet and realized I did not have anything I could consider work attire. I spent an hour online Googling “business-casual” until I ventured to H&M to buy a collared shirt. It did not take more than an hour at Control Group to realize I did not have to buy that collared shirt—people can wear whatever they want to work. I soon found my work attire: a t-shirt and pair of jeans.” – Omayeli Arenyeka

Working at a Company during the Merger

“After just three weeks of interning at Control Group, it was announced that CG is merging with Titan to form an urban experience company called Intersection. Intersection is the first company to be launched by Google’s Sidewalk Labs. When I heard this news I looked around the office, trying to gauge how employees felt about the impending change. The word “merger” has a negative connotation, as it is often associated with layoffs. But at the company announcement, Control Group’s Founding Partner, Colin O’Donnell, and Sidewalk Labs’ CEO, Dan Doctoroff, spoke about the merger with enthusiasm, optimism, and sincere hopefulness. Intersection has been created with the intention to improve quality of life in cities around the world. Control Group and Titan had already begun on that mission with their joint project LinkNYC—bringing the largest network of public Wi-Fi network to New York City. The new journey that CG was embarking on piqued my interest. What excites me most about technology is its ability to have a lasting impact on society, and Intersection aims to do just that. Working at a company during a merger is a unique life experience, and this merger is particularly exciting and fascinating.” – Emma Chesley

 

On behalf of CG, we’d like to thank all of our interns for their hard work on ShowNYC and glad that they got a positive experience that went beyond the sugar highs they got from the candy bowls.

App Design Prototyping: InVision, Pixate, and beyond

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On the design team here at Control Group, we often create prototypes of our designs, whether we’re testing flows with users, evaluating approaches for microinteractions, or demoing a mature design to potential clients. The greatest value of a prototype is that it lets us find flaws early, when it’s still cheap to be off the mark. While pencil and paper are enough for trying out a solution, sometimes we need to simulate the real thing.

In the past few years, a spate of web-based prototyping tools has hit the design scene, giving us the freedom to bring design to life before coding ever begins. Control Group designers have tried out many of these tools and found a few to fit our workflows quite well, particularly InVision and Pixate.

Both Pixate and InVision are powerful and quite easy to learn, but better suited to different cases. For my workflow, the following distinction makes sense:

Pixate excels at the micro level, InVision at the macro.

Pixate is great for testing and communicating (with great fidelity) what happens within one screen or a few screens of a mobile app, including motion, microinteractions, and gestures like dragging, swiping, pinching, etc.

InVision is awesome for testing and communicating what happens across a whole series of screens, like how an entire system can work and flow.

 

PIXATE

When I’ve used it:

  • When I have an idea in my head about a specific interaction design with animation, and I want to try it out, see how it feels, and refine it.
  • When I’m showing an interaction to developers or clients, and it’s so complex or so core to the experience that a demo is needed. Simply explaining it with flat design and words or waving my hands around doesn’t do the trick.

Why it’s great:

  • In Pixate, you can either build a screen from scratch using the shape and type tools (which I haven’t done), or cut up your design into pieces (based on what needs to move on the screen) and then get to prototyping.
  • The process to get things moving has a small learning curve (sped up by Pixate’s blog of demo tutorials), but is pretty intuitive. The animations can be carefully fine-tuned with easing, timing, and sequencing, and many gestures are supported.
  • The results are rendered as native iOS and Android. That means that what you’re showing is realistic both in how it looks and feels, and how feasible the development of it will be. (If you’ve ever made an After Effects prototype of an animation, wowed a client with it, and then found out that the developers can’t make it happen in code, you know this is important!)

The limitations:

  • If you have a bunch of screens and an extended flow, things get hairy. Fast. All the screens essentially need to live in the same work area on various layers.
  • You also can’t save “states.” For example, tapping a button makes a bunch of objects fly off screen to reveal a new screen, but in order to have a working “back” button, you have to animate the reverse of every object flying back on screen to get back to the original state. This gets rather slow!

You have to carve up your design and re-create it in Pixate (or build from scratch in Pixate). This makes sense, and the fact that you don’t have to do it in InVision is also why you can’t move individual objects in InVision. Still, it takes time.

 

INVISION

When I’ve used it:

We use InVision prototypes in just about every project at Control Group, at many stages. We use them as tappable wireframes to work out flows and communicate them to internal and external stakeholders during the concept development phase. We also put those prototypes in the hands of users to help inform UX decisions. In later stages, we use InVision to communicate flows to developers, to demo to clients, and to have a living version of our product design at an easy reach in the studio.

Why it’s great:

  • With InVision, you can upload your screens as flat images directly from your existing designs, without cutting anything up or re-laying it out in the tool. This is a big time saver.
  • Without fuss, you can quickly start adding hotspots that link screens together into complete flows. When you make changes to your design, it’s very simple to update the prototype, even having that happen each time you save your PSD (if that’s your preference).

The limitations:

  • While you can make transitions between screens, what you can’t do is have objects move within a particular screen, or do fine-tuned animation, since each screen is a flat image. For example, if your app contains a panel that slides in, you can’t show that slide—you just show a new version of your screen with the panel in place.
  • While showing motion is not always needed in a prototype, sometimes motion provides wayfinding and context to the user (or client). It also gives them a mental model of how your product works.

Since we sometimes use InVision to walk clients through a refined design, there are times when a key piece of the story is missing when we can’t include animation within that screen.

 

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A HACK

In one such instance, I decided to shoehorn some animation into our prototype by using animated gifs, which InVision does support.

In the example above, I wanted to show an alert panel sliding in from the side on a particular screen. To achieve this, I put the following within my InVision screens, in this order:

  1. A screen for the “before” state (I had to blur some content since the project is not public). A timed transition takes us to the next screen.
  2. An animated gif (without looping) of the alert panel sliding out. I created this in Photoshop since I had all the layers there for animating. With InVision’s time feature, I added a timed transition from this screen to the next one, allowing just enough time for the animation to play out.
  3. The “after” screen. In this case, the flat .png of the screen with the alert panel. This then gets hotspots applied so the interaction can continue.

The result: It works! If you’re working in Photoshop already, this is a convenient way to create your animated gif. What’s less ideal is that if your design keeps changing (as it will, of course) you will need to keep recreating that gif, which is not always trivial if you had to rasterize layers to animate (as you do with smart objects and text in Photoshop).

 

Other ideas?

If you think that seems convoluted, I’m with you. I imagine at some point there will be (or already is?) a magic bullet tool that would fit our workflow and combine the strengths of InVision and Pixate. The ideal solution should be just as fast as dropping designs in InVision for extensive flows, but still allow detailed exploration of animation and interaction patterns.

The closest I’ve seen is Proto.io. When I tried it out a few months back, it seemed like a decent chunk of time was needed to learn the tool as well as to get the prototype up and running. That was more time than I had in my schedule, so I’d be curious to hear others’ experience with it. I noticed they’ve added new asset management features like Dropbox syncing, which could speed things up.

It looks like we weren’t the only ones wanting to add more interaction detail to InVision prototypes. The very day we published this blog post, InVision released a new feature called Overlays to allow animation of objects on a screen. This is exciting, and we can’t wait to dig in and try it out. Anyone give it a shot yet?

A Modest Proposal for Planning Poker Alternatives

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Yes, I adore Planning Poker. Like many developers in adaptive environments, I’ve used Planning Poker for years to do estimation of software and hardware projects with teams of many shapes and sizes.

The jist of it is: Everyone gets cards (or for the lazy, fingers) and you estimate stories usually based on a sequence of numbers like the Fibonacci (ie: 1,2,3,5,8,13, 20?…throw out the big cards, please). You all show your cards at the same time so people don’t play follow the leader on estimations.

When you first encounter Planning Poker, it’s a breath of fresh air in sprint planning meetings. I loved it. However, after scores of planning sessions using it for estimation I can see some significant shortcomings. The Good/Bad/Ugly of PP:

Good

  • Gets developers thinking about relative level of effort instead of just having them build a buffer of hours to figure out the best solution within
  • Forces productive conversations on approach when people have wildly differing estimates
  • Encourages everyone in the planning session to participate fully in understanding and estimating the task at hand
  • Allows you to have a computed velocity in Scrum, which sometimes can be used to help estimate the remaining milestones of the project somewhat more accurately (Spoiler alert: this rarely works!)
  • Gives your hands something to do while someone is going into detail on a piece of the product you’ll never touch

Bad

  • Long term project? I guarantee developers will start gaming Planning Poker to show increased or consistent velocity. This is because…
  • That computed velocity? Product Owners and Project Managers will use it to indicate the success of the team’s efficiencies instead of thinking about the product itself. They’ll worry about the pretty burndown chart more than the viability of features. I can tell you this is true because I’ve done it.  This isn’t our fault.  It’s simply human nature to look for value in predictable, quantifiable methodologies.
  • Unless you have rules against just accepting “20’s” or “13’s”, you’re going to potentially end up with a bunch of over-estimated and under-analyzed stories.  For my money, if a story is estimated at over 20, it’s a good sign that it needs to be broken into more bite-sized tasks so they don’t get stuck in queue.
  • Because Planning Poker story points are usually described as “level of effort” or some other subjective number, you’re going to get teams using points differently–which is fine, except for:

The Ugly

  • If you give people points and velocity to look at, and they take it too seriously, they’re going to miss the whole point of building great product, which is the product, not the points.
  • If you have a project where some people are not 100% dedicated (ie: devOps), saying a task is a “5” isn’t very useful if the person who has to accomplish it doesn’t have availability. Planning Poker doesn’t elegantly account for this. As we’ll see, this is what Planning Chips are all about.

 

We still often use planning poker decks at CG, (and to be clear I think it does have value as an exercise) but here’s another approach if Planning Poker is getting stale in your group:

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Planning Chips

Planning Chips is an activity to use in place of Planning Poker to determine level-of-effort or time estimations in software and hardware development projects.

Goal: Provide a fast, easy, and fun system that allows groups to estimate tasks, while revealing their availability to the rest of the team.

  1. Buy a poker chip set online.  A 500-chip set will set you back roughly $30-$60, depending on quality, but you can also get customized sets starting at ~$100. (Hello, CG-branded chips!)
  2. In your next Scrum planning meeting, the ‘ScrumMaster’ acts as dealer and at the beginning of the meeting deals out chips to the team. The team should decide together the version of Planning Chips they want to play.

 

VERSION 1 – “1 CHIP = 2 HOURS”: Each team member is awarded one chip for every two hours of availability they have for the team over the length of the sprint. So for a two-week sprint, forty hours a week availability you would hand the player a stack of twenty chips. This is good to show true availability.

 

VERSION 2 – “TIMEBOX”:  Like the Version 1, but the chips don’t represent commitment to an estimate for task completion, but rather a “timebox” that can’t be broken without pulling in resources for assistance. Great for getting folks to work together.

  1. Each player should get chips of a single color. Optionally, you could use colors to signify areas of expertise, departments, etc.
  2. When you hand out the chips, ask the team-member “How many chips do you want?”  They will tell you what they are willing to commit to for the length of the sprint.  Don’t give them more chips than they have hours available.
  3. Now, discuss and break down stories and tasks as a team as you normally would.  Where you get to the point of estimated level of effort in a task, where you usually would play Planning Poker, instead ask team members to commit their chips in front of them as estimates or timeboxes for the amount of time and effort they will commit to in order to complete a story. In the Timebox version, you are committing to alerting the Scrummaster (or PDM) if you hit your timebox constraint.
  4. Once each story is fully committed to, the ScrumMaster collects the chips and records the collective story estimate.
  5. When a player runs out of chips, they should remain at the table until all chips are committed…unless they really don’t need to be there, in which case you’ve now freed up that person to get back to work.
  6. Sprint Planning meeting ends when chips are all spent.

 

After having tried this a few times here at CG, here were our findings:

  • Planning Chips showed PDMs and stakeholders what real availability was for the people who weren’t 100%-committed, which greatly reduced friction by increasing understanding of other commitments by team members
  • Let people “bid together” to tackle some issues by pairing
  • Gave us the ability to see who had chips left on the table, creating a transparent way to let people say “Hey, I see you still have 10 hours, want to help me with this?” without imposing
  • Empowered our team members to own their individual time management based on how many chips they want

One of our basic process principles here is that to avoid the inefficiencies of micro-management and keep a lean organization, we need to empower people to be honest about time and let them manage, as much as possible, their own choices regarding it. Planning Chips lets you do that.

One other version to try, if your Scrum meetings are too long, is Planning Roulette:

 

Planning Roulette

A version of Planning Chips.

  1. Before Sprint Planning, print up stories or tasks on cards or write them out on sticky notes.
  2. Spread out printed stories on a large table.
  3. The ScrumMaster or PDM, acting as dealer, chooses the first story to start.
  4. The team surrounds the table and starts placing their chips as the correspond to estimation and timeboxing. When estimation is done on a story, the ScrumMaster picks another task to discuss.
  5. Standing up will keep things moving. Players are allowed to move their chips around after placing them down.
  6. Game ends when all chips are played, then ScrumMaster records points of chips sitting next to each story card.

Planning Chips and Planning Roulette will cut down the length of your Sprint Planning sessions, get people more involved, and can solve problems of transparency about time. All the while, playing helps maintain a natural (and necessary) skepticism around overcommitting to estimates. I encourage you to give it a try and feel free to share comments below on your findings.

There are a lot of fun things you can do with chips and trust me, once they are in the office you’ll inevitably find other uses for them. Like, playing poker. All in.

Redefining Consumer’s Sense of Ownership

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If you’re like many New Yorkers, finding a table at a restaurant on a Friday night is more of a feat than it is fun. Some people choose to bring the chefs to them, others enlist the help of startups like Feastly, which allow you attend a pop-up dinner at a chef’s home. No more waiting lines or enduring crowded tables in public. Instead, you can buy your own experience.

This is a concept that products and retail services alike are introducing as a new spin on the service economy. In buying an experience, you’re essentially owning that product…until the experience is over. Gone are the days when rental companies were the only solution to temporary ownership. Now, there are newer, more convenient models for product ownership that have adjusted to people’s need for on-demand services.

Why Rental Companies are Failing

Big name rental companies that were once used for furniture, electronics, or cars are either currently struggling to survive or no longer exist. Service Merchandise, which was once the nation’s largest catalog retailer for rentals, closed its doors in the 90’s after failing to solidify a consistent genre of goods. However, even more specific rental models like the auto industry have struggled to maintain their customer base as well.

The problem could be the service model itself. The average rental car is only used 21-22 days out of the month, leaving a week of inactivity. Then there’s the tedious process of actually renting the car, and dealing with monstrous hidden fees and insurance policies. These could be some of the reasons why Hertz, one of the leading rental car companies, was down more than 25% in their stock last year.

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Redefining Sense of Ownership

With a service model that relies heavily on constant use and cumbersome paperwork, it’s no wonder consumers are opting for more convenient options like Zipcar. The offering of monthly subscription plans allow consumers to easily opt-in or out at any time, which is suited for more flexible scheduling. Now car companies like Audi are starting to pay attention, offering their own version of a rental service as an additional source for revenue.

Then there’s the added benefit that by owning only a portion of this property, you don’t have to deal with the burden of ownership responsibility. For instance, Zipcar includes a gas card in each car as well as offering routine maintenance so your experience is solely to drive, not upkeep.

Some might find that an added luxury. However, for more traditionalist populations, sole ownership can be a good thing. John Deere tractors are a product that farmers have been using for years, but technically, farmers don’t own the tractors themselves. Meaning that, anytime there’s an update on the software programming, John Deere will implement it automatically. But for farmers in the industry, their idea of ownership means being able to control every facet of their product, and John Deere is simply aiming to protect from hackers and provide convenience.

rent-the-runway

Buying an Experience

The monthly model has proven successful with entertainment retailers like Netflix and Hulu, which have taken over rental outlets like Redbox and Blockbuster. What streaming services like Netflix offer that retailers do not, is the endless inventory of catalogued entertainment. Sure, the latest and greatest film might be on display at a Redbox kiosk, but Hulu’s streaming the entire series of Seinfeld now? Score.

It’s a matter of convenience that we’re starting to see these models take shape in our regular purchasing subscriptions. There’s also the added benefit of a simple online sign-up process as opposed to an in-person exchange. Rental services have evolved towards catering to every possible need to create the most effortless, seamless experience possible.

That ease of use is what also builds a loyal customer base. Rent the Runway, a designer garment rental service, boasts a membership of 3.5 million happy customers who use their service as a cost-effective solution to paying for pricey designer labels. In turn, customers can still feel glamorous for their upcoming event and then return the garment when there’s no longer a need for it.

That’s one of the great perks about buying into an experience: you get what service or product you needed from it, without the burden of responsibility. Now that rental companies are adapting to digital platforms to contribute to ease and convenience of a sale, consumers are likely going to expect future services to meet the same standards.