UGG rolls out the Magic Carpet at their newest store

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UGG_Australia_main_screenAs you enter the UGG store at Tyson’s Galleria in the suburbs of Washington, DC, the organic and woodsy furnishings belie the high-tech that courses throughout the retail floor. As opposed to clichéd high tech expectations of 3D projection maps, robotic sales associates, voice activated intelligent agents etc. the latest UGG store keeps the tech out of the spotlight and focusses on the organic touch and feel of the space to echo their products.

The UGG brand has been an international sensation for years based on its signature sheepskin boots and associated comfy designs. The touch and feel of the products are a major selling point and one that is difficult to convey via an ecommerce site. The obvious solution is to drive customers to stores so that they can pull on a pair of these comfy boots and realize the value live and in person. But with the industry-wide trend of retail stores sizing down to minimize square footage costs– how could UGG possibly showcase their entire line of footwear in a 2000sq foot space? The answer lies in the buzzwordy but effective “omni-channel” approach to retail– a blend of both the IRL ability to try on 207 different SKUs of sheepskin shoes while also having access to the deeper catalog offered by their website. But short of setting up a web browser in the store, how do you bridge the divide between the shoes being tried on and the endless aisle of styles that the website can afford?

The solution came about through a prototyping and innovation project undertaken by Control Group and the Deckers Brand Global Retail Operations team. Initially hitting on the idea of using RFID tags as a unique identifier that could trigger unique content and customer experiences, Control Group worked out the feasibility of RFID tagging on shoes, reading RFID tags with floor based antennas through sheepskin carpets, integration with UGG’s internal inventory system and sourcing imagery, data and extended product lines from the website. There are a great deal of moving pieces that had to be brought into synchronicity but once they are all working together. And the effect for the customer is nothing short of magic.

Recently on a photo shoot for the upcoming store opening, I had the pleasure of working with 13 year old model Mila Cesaretti and observed her experiencing the Magic Carpet for the first time. While we were still setting up, she tried on a pair of UGG boots and wandered around the store. As she walked over one of the Magic Carpets, the digital screen above suddenly changed– she did a double take as she looked down at her boots and realized the shoe on screen was the same model she was wearing. Instinctively, she reached out to touch the screen and explored the additional colors of the boot she was wearing and then clicked to send the shoe to her phone. She audibly gasped as her phone vibrated with text and held it up to show her Mom who was sitting nearby. The cameras weren’t rolling while this first played out, but seeing a millennial instantly “get” what was going on was a huge validation of the technology.

The UGG store opens today Thursday, November 13, 2014 at the Tyson’s Galleria in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.

Behind the Scenes of Royal Caribbean’s Virtual Balconies

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Earlier this year, we helped Royal Caribbean pilot new “Virtual Balconies” on their Navigator of the Seas ship in preparation for the launch of Quantum of the Seas, their most technologically advanced cruise ship that recently set sail for the first time. As product developers, it’s awesome to see a project go from concept to pilot to full scale production. But it’s even more amazing to know that customers really enjoy it and that it’s transforming our client’s business.

Check out Royal Caribbean’s behind the scenes video (above) and read our case study to see how it was done.

Something is Happening Here…

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New York, New York (October 28, 2014) – Lower Manhattan is now home to more than 800 tech and creative firms. On Thursday, October 30, 2014, the Alliance for Downtown New York, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, LaunchLM and NYC tech leaders will unveil new data on the sector’s growth in the neighborhood and discuss a new initiative to enable these companies to grow.

WHEN: October 30, 2014 @ 11:30AM EST

WHO: 

  • Jessica Lappin, Alliance for Downtown New York
  • Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
  • Daria Siegel, LaunchLM
  • Andrew Essex, Droga5
  • Scott Anderson, Control Group
  • Jessica Lawrence, New York Tech Meetup
  • Morris Jerome, JEMB Realty

WHERE: 150 Broadway | Westinghouse | 20th Floor

Responsive Cities: Multi-Modal Transportation

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Transportation planners have theorized that public bikeshare systems and mass transit systems are symbiotic– bikeshare solves what planners call the “last mile” problem: getting from a subway stop home or vice-versa. According to a second study, bikeshare may also completely replace mass transit for shorter trips where bikeshare may be faster or more cost effective. To understand the “on-the-ground” situation in our own backyard, we looked at New York City– specifically Astor Place, a station on one of the busiest lines in the MTA system; and the East Village, a neighborhood that is less served by mass transit in Manhattan.

Do customers, as predicted by the two studies, use bikeshare to reach the train from their homes? Does it appear customers use bikeshare to replace shorter train trips? If so, what are the implications?

To begin to understand how bikeshare is used in the East Village, we looked at the destination station for trips that originate from stations within the East Village. What we found confirms the conclusions of the studies referenced: users appear to use bikeshare completely to reach destinations within biking distance (e.g. Broadway and 14th Street or Broadway and 17th Street), but primarily use bikes to connect to mass transit that allows them to travel farther, as evidenced by the top destinations of Lafayette Street and E. 8th Street, where the 6 train stops.

citibike_image_01

Interactive visualization available here.

This multi-modality has a few implications for designers of systems for urban mobility:

One Payment System Enables Frictionless Transition

The new MTA capital budget includes a new fare system to replace the 20-year old MetroCard system. This could be a great opportunity to create a universal transit pass for all mobility options in New York that would allow transfer between different modes. A single payment system could also enable dynamic pricing during rush hour, helping to mitigate crowding in subways and generate extra revenue for the MTA.

Dynamic Trip Planning Can Reduce Congestion and Stress

A multimodal trip has different decision points. Taking advantage of the flexibility a dynamic trip planning service offers, commuters can plan and alter their routes based on real-time information available at each transition point. Recommendations can be optimized to reduce congestion and commuter stress by giving customers a sense of choice.

These are just a few examples of how understanding the ways people move through the city can create value for all stakeholders. The view that one form of transportation is dominant over others is not flexible enough to address a complex urban landscape, where each trip is constantly adjusting to service changes and commuter needs. In a responsive environment, services should intuitively meet the dynamic needs of customers.

The future is bright for PayPal and digital payments

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paypal
In Spring 2014, PayPal was in talks to become part of the ApplePay lineup of preferred payment processors. But eBay CEO John Donahoe pushed a separate deal to have PayPal included on the Samsung Galaxy S5. Apple did not like this and effectively closed the door on PayPal‘s inclusion in the Apple Pay launch. But with the coming split from eBay, PayPal is poised to become one of the new leaders challenging the plastic card and magnetic stripe hegemony.

PayPal is a behemoth in its own right with 153 million accounts globally and 26% annual volume growth (compared to 9-12% for Visa & Amex). Over the past year, PayPal processed about $203 billion in payment volume with only $67 Billion coming from eBay. Paypal’s system is actually cheaper for merchants than ApplePay – since Paypal’s funding is attached to consumer bank accounts which incurs lower fees, as opposed to ApplePay’s credit card based system that has swipe and merchant account fees.

One of the first benefits for PayPal after splitting from eBay will be the ability to partner with disparate retailers beyond eBay. A major roadblock to PayPal’s growth has been the perception that its corporate parent was a rival to many other large online retailers. Now with that conflict out of the way, accepting payments for Amazon and Alibaba is possible – and that opens up huge growth opportunities.

Physical retail store transactions made via mobile devices are expected to hit $3.5 billion in the U.S. this year and balloon to $118 billion by 2018. Last year, Paypal acquired mobile payment startup Braintree, who currently serves as the processor for Uber and Airbnb. Braintree will continue to grow as the defacto engine for start-ups to process mobile payments in this burgeoning market.

Additionally, PayPal has a network of BLE Beacons in-store by way of their PayPal Beacon pilot program. The pilot hasn’t really taken off but that existing infrastructure can be built upon. PayPal can now focus on innovation like this since management won’t need to focus on supporting eBay’s core marketplace business anymore.

The brightening of PayPal’s future also bodes well for ApplePay and the payment ecosystem in general. Whether ApplePay adds PayPal to their offerings doesn’t really matter as long as there is another player out there popularizing the digital payment marketplace. And for the overall payment marketplace, it is better to have multiple major payment systems because competition is good. If ApplePay was the only game in town, then hackers would be singularly focused on cracking that system. But with an equally valuable target in PayPal, it can split and complicate hacker efforts.

While some would say it’s the convenience of a digital wallet that is going to motivate adoption, it really comes down to security. The Chip & PIN system was the plastic card half-step attempt to secure the handling of credit card transactions by retailers. But PayPal presents an option to pay that doesn’t leave your hand, cannot be skimmed (at least currently) and strengthens the entire payment system by offering an alternative. And that is a bright future for us all.

Responsive Cities: How can data improve the transit experience?

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At Control Group, we think a lot about how people move through shared spaces, particularly transit spaces. Understanding customer behavior has implications around advertising, transaction, station design and wayfinding. When we build products and experiences for shared spaces, we consider how they can intuitively meet the needs of customers without any direct interaction on their part. This is what we call a “responsive environment”– one that anticipates needs.

Our “On The Go” digital communication kiosks, for instance, could display real-time arrival information more often on a platform where we detect many passengers waiting for trains; or provide nearby points of interest with real-time arrival information on platforms where we detect that most people are exiting the train and leaving the subway system completely.

Currently, the only way to understand passenger flow at a subway station is via turnstile data. It’s a dataset the MTA has released on its open data portal, and one that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. This is likely because there are some limitations of the data– it’s only updated every four hours and is aggregated by turnstile bank (usually one bank per entrance). Furthermore, there is often no connection between bank and line/direction, often providing little additional information about passenger behavior.

But we can still explore the potential of turnstile data to inform our efforts. We selected the 86th Street (4/5/6) station that has one turnstile bank per platform with no connection between the two. Since there are “On The Go” kiosks on each of the uptown and downtown platforms, what could looking at turnstile data do for us? Looking at the raw entry/exit data for the uptown and downtown platform at 86th Street, we found that the downtown side has many more entries than exits; on the uptown side we found the reverse:

Broken down into 4 hour blocks over a day, the data looks like this:

Rush hours see more entries and exits consistent with the general pattern; but there is frequent activity at the station throughout the entire day. What does it mean? What insights can we gain from this?

The high number of entries on the downtown side suggests most customers enter the station to wait for a train. The fewer exits from the downtown side tell us that most people do not get off here from stations above 86th Street. On the uptown side, the high number of exits suggests most customers get off here; the low number of entries tells us few board a train at 86th Street to go north. This suggests that our “On The Go” units could show more arrival information on the downtown platform. On the uptown platform, we could show arrival information coupled with information about the area surrounding the station– including special offers or featured destinations.

In the future, technologies like Bluetooth LE and other sensors will provide more granular data in real-time, allowing signage to be more dynamic and customized to the particular place in a station where the sign is deployed. Until then, the turnstile data we have suggests that there are “micro climates” of customer behavior out there that we have yet to understand and will need to be explored if we’re to build a truly responsive city.

Special thanks to the MTA and Chris Wong and Mike Mommsen for their data and tools used in this analysis.