Home Blog

The Top CE Retail Trends of the Pandemic, According to Analysts

top CE retail trends people on phones more
Photo Credit: Sabrina Bracher

As part of our research for the Top 101 Retailers of 2020 list, we spoke with retail, consumer technology, and gaming analysts to get their take on the most surprising consumer tech usage and buying trends, both in the U.S. and across the globe. Store closings, pauses in manufacturing, and chip shortages aside, nearly nine months of people living and working at home was, on the whole, good for the consumer technology business. Here are some of the more notable expert insights on the pandemic era’s top CE retail trends that we gathered.

Gaming exploded.

People played more video games and bought more game consoles; the popularity of virtual life management game Animal Crossing caused a run on, and subsequent shortage of Nintendo Switch units last year, for example. In the U.S. alone, consumers spent $56.9 billion on gaming throughout 2020, a 27 percent increase from 2019, NPD Group games industry analyst Mat Piscatella says. From gaming hardware to software to accessories and merchandise, every aspect saw sales increases last year.

Top CE Retail Trends of the Pandemic Include popularity of Games such as Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing’s popularity led to a Nintendo Switch shortage.

Newzoo similarly found that video game console sales increased five percent in 2020. Analysts at the games and esports data company expect that 2021 likely won’t surpass 2020’s record sales, and told Dealerscope they anticipate a “corrective year,” with sales registering a “slight decline.” Overall, the games market remains entirely strong and Newzoo forecasts it will generate $204.6 billion in revenue by 2023. By the end of 2021, there will be an estimated 2.9 billion gamers of all ages playing games across the globe, Newzoo predicts.

People spent more time on their phones.

According to John Harmon, senior analyst at retail and tech advisory firm Coresight Research, smartphone sales grew slightly in 2020.  Data from Coresight and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) show that U.S. smartphone sales were up $79 billion, a roughly two percent increase from 2019.

The share of people playing games on their phones is also growing. Mobile gaming is expected to grow roughly 4.4 percent to revenue of $90.7 billion worldwide in 2021, according to Newzoo. By contrast, in Europe, where “city weekends” are popular due to shorter distances and robust train infrastructure, and where lockdowns were enforced more strictly, telecom purchases were down by 3.7 percent due to less interest in outdoor and travel devices.

The biggest surprises were good news.

Appliance sales grew significantly in 2020, “following the trend of workers at home improving their work and leisure setups,” says Harmon, and he added that such domestic upgrades were also the reason that TV sales were “actually much stronger than expected.” TV sales grew 0.8 percent, a surprising outcome considering that the CTA had forecast a 14 percent decline for 2020.

“The long-term strength of sales has been one of the biggest surprises,” says NPD Group technology and mobile analyst Steve Baker. “Volumes were built quickly in 2020 and then have stayed at those levels through all the shifts and changes of the overall societal environment.” He says the most positive impact the pandemic had on the CE space was that consumers were reminded of the value that consumer electronics devices bring to their lives, along with new ways to deploy them at home. “Whether it was the rediscovery of Wi-Fi in their homes (and the consequent growth of mesh networking products), the realization that a multi-monitor environment in their home office is just as useful, and easy to create, at home, or the reigniting of their love affair with big-screen TV, the value of home electronics only increased.”

Across the pond, GfK analysts said one surprising trend in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K. was the “accelerated demand growth for online, and click and mortar” purchases, which is what is increasingly referred to in North America as BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store).  In those “Euro 5” countries, as they are collectively referred to, said click-and-mortar purchases jumped 168 percent, online-only rose 64 percent, and purely in-store purchases declined by 33 percent in 2020.

The consumer love affair with technology lives on.

Piscatella believes that gaming sales will continue to increase. “It is safe to say the demand will outpace supply on both console and PC gaming hardware into 2022,” he says. “2021 will be a year where supply will be more impactful to the video game market than demand.”

While the pandemic did accelerate demand for new products, it also forced some retailers to rapidly scale and face the challenges of procuring new supply chains during a time when many people were out of work. Per Baker: “The biggest negative for the industry is the disruption caused by the rapid change in channels and transaction behavior, along with the need to build new models to support retail partners and consumers with these new purchase motions.”

Harnessing Data to Make the Right Retail Experience Happen

5-star retail experience on a mobile phone
Photo Credit: Omar Osman

The first article in this two-part series on the shifting nature of the ‘retail experience’ discussed how fragmented customer service leads to lost customers—and how a few small tweaks can add value to the customer journey for a lifetime. In this second article, we pull back the lens to look at the roles of data and evolving corporate leadership in this critical aspect of retail.

Here’s a scenario you may find familiar: You try to return a pair of pants you bought online via a store’s mobile app, which gives you a number to call; the representative on the other end of the line can’t find your order number and you don’t know it either; it’s a time-consuming and frustrating experience. On the flip side, we’ve already looked at some examples in which brands use the data they’ve gathered about their customers to make the experience—everything from shopping to purchasing to owning–more seamless, frictionless, and fun. Here we’ll focus on how to get there: how to approach your data, how it can be put to use, and the necessary accompanying shift in mindset, leadership, and culture.

We all know that there is a wealth of possibility in data. But keeping the totality of customer data in one place—in one massive, unwieldy platform—is a pipe dream. The current popular system of housing certain bits of data in different departments, depending on perceived relevance, leads to missing pieces for some and repetition for others… a similar failure. Instead, data needs to live in multiple locations that can run on their own but can communicate with one another in real-time. The front-end website can be fed enough information on the back end to monitor the customer’s journey without having to hold every piece of that customer’s data itself.

A modern approach to housing, managing, and feeding data is important because you can only use what you can access. A couple of examples come to mind. One company we work with built a tool that can predict when a customer is about to abandon a cart, based on past purchase data as well as on the behaviors and habits of demographically similar individuals. In the first article, we also discussed the example of Amazon’s one-click button—the e-commerce giant’s answer to cart abandonment as a major source of retail loss and a prime area for improvement. My client’s solution to that problem was to come up with a fully automated tool that can identify the critical moment of cart abandonment and create a personalized discount coupon for the customer, keeping the customer on track.

Another company I work with tracks sentiment through data, to find the precise point when a consumer’s sentiment shifts. The idea is to solve for weak link theory, which, as we discussed earlier, explains that just one unpleasant interaction, even among overall positive experiences, is enough to lose a customer. The solution this company offers uses data from a range of customer interactions to determine if and when sentiment turns negative, and if so, to proactively reach out and re-engage the customer. The common thread connecting these tools is that they analyze the whole journey. How did the consumer get to making that purchase, in that particular position? What did they look at and abandon along the way? These data points represent key intelligence and areas for machine learning and pattern recognition to work behind the scenes.

The holistic integration of data, however, is only made possible by a corresponding unification of the ingredients that together comprise whatever it means when we use the term ‘experience.’ These include digital experience, analog or in-store experience, customer-company touchpoints, as well as where else the customer was looking before they even reached the company, the marketing they saw on Instagram, and the advertisement in the podcast they listened to; all of these ingredients are intertwined.  There is a massive disconnect when corporate structure fails to realize that essentially unified nature. The result is that it remains segmented within itself. What were once silos of different information, controlled by different people—purchasing, merchandising, Chief of Digital Operations, Chief Information Officer (CIO)—need to come together. Just as the data must talk to each other, so too must the leadership.

Retail experience concept on blackboard.  concep
Photo Credit: ra2studio

The CIO especially is now being charged with moving from function-centric applications to user-centric ones. That bears repeating – it’s the CIO’s job not to think in terms of the functionality of a given application, but to how the user engages with it. And by “user,” we could be referring either to the external user (i.e. the consumer), or the internal user (for example, the operations team). This thought is the backbone of an article in the Harvard Business Review,Why Every Company Needs a CXO,” which describes the integral part that employee experience (EX) plays in customer experience (CX), and advocates for the creation of a new position, the Chief Experience Officer (CXO), to oversee a more holistic approach. Denise Lee Yohn, the article’s author, explains how so many companies focus only on the customer experience, ironically to the detriment of customer experience: “If an organization separates leadership CX from EX, disconnects between CX and EX are likely to arise, even if those roles are part of the executive team. The fact is, employees can and will only deliver experiences to customers that they experience themselves.” Similar thinking and foundations underpin this approach to both customer and employee experience and their data-driven upgrades. Companies must rethink their internal operations, otherwise, their insides won’t match their shiny new outsides, and that gap will become clear.

Bringing retail into the digital age requires more than just a website. Rather, precision data tools championed by the right leadership is critical in fueling brand success. Of course, digitization became a more pressing issue as more and more people started to shop from home during the pandemic, and we can anticipate that for some, those habits will remain even as pandemic-era stay-at-home orders are lifted. One important lesson from the past year or so is that none of this will work without flexibility. Machine learning tools can analyze vast amounts of data, recognize patterns, and then implement tools to boost profits based on that knowledge—but any of those patterns can change at the drop of a hat. It’s imperative that our algorithms are constantly ready to experiment and learn alongside the corporate leadership that harnesses them. It’s only with their dual dynamism that retail can reach its potential for a seamlessly integrated, personal, and delightful experience.

SUMMARY:

  • Disparate data sources must be able to communicate with one another in real time, but this data can only become holistic when viewed through the lens of user experience.
  • The different strands of corporate leadership—the CIO, purchasing, merchandising, and digital operations—need to unify in order to move from a function-centric to a user-centric approach.
  • New positions like CXO—Chief Experience Officer—help to bridge the gap between corporate culture and state-of-the-art tech enablement, and consider the equal importance of the employee experience (UX) and the customer experience (CX).

PART ONE: Why Retailers Need to Personalize the Customer Experience

Bhrugu Pange is a Managing Director and leads the Technology Solutions practice at global management consultant AArete. He can be reached at bpange@aarete.com.  

Why Retailers Need to Personalize the Customer Experience

Shopping on smartphones
Photo Credit: Chaay_Tee

This is the first article in a two-part series that looks at the fundamental need, in today’s increasingly online consumer-driven ecosystem, for companies with retail operations to develop and personalize customer experience using data, and how management teams can carry that out.

The term ‘retail experience’ is often centered in the physical realm—namely as the combination of in-store phenomena and shopping ‘Easter eggs’ that make the experience exciting. What this approach leaves out is the more internal, organic experience laid out by the data driving every interaction a customer has with a brand or retailer. As our world began to require digital interactions—with each other as well as with companies—at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that latter version of “experience” has become much more important, as retailers try to bring their digital offerings into line with the physical.   We’ve seen a number of them leave out a critical piece of the puzzle, however: This two-part series of articles will examine that missing piece. Part One will look at the fragmented approach historically taken on the road to ‘customer experience,’ what this model leaves out, and a few examples.  The second part will dive into the shifting mindset in corporate leadership, addressing new modes of data analysis toward creating a new standard for the customer journey—and, further, why we actually need to expand our understanding of ‘experience’ beyond just that of the customer.

Why should any company with retail operations expend energy and funds in upgrading their customer experience? The measure of the potential impact speaks for itself: According to one report, by further personalizing the customer experience, especially in terms of digital interaction, several industry players have increased the lifetime value of a customer by 20 to 30 percent across high-priority segments.  It’s easier than one might think to get this wrong—even a small misstep can cause outsized losses. The weak link theory explains that one bad experience could make an otherwise loyal customer walk away forever.

Looking at a common approach to customer service reveals a number of potential weak links. Take for example a recent experience a friend described to me while trying to get his car serviced. Appointments for this particular brand have to be made using their app, but the app was down. My friend found a number to call, but no one answered at the other end. Now, even though the car only needs servicing a few times a year, technical glitches in accessing something as basic as making a service appointment reveals a massive missed opportunity. This is a fractured, fragmented approach to customer service: one destination for one kind of need (servicing), another destination thrown in (now the app needs servicing, too). The end result, and final insult, is that there is no one at the other end communicating with the customer.

Instead, there could be an integration of past customer data with current interactions: The app knows when your car needs servicing—based on when you bought it, when you last brought it in, and how much you drive—and it reminds you to make an appointment. It may offer you a coupon to the on-site café while you wait; it may suggest a number of weather-appropriate add-ons to servicing your car based on the time of year and the climate.

Bhrugu Pange leads the Technology Solutions practice at AArete.

Without such insight deployed in current day-to-day interactions, a retail operation will disappoint  its customers with a weak link in experience, but this “miss” also represents a major point of friction. Amazon is the standalone example of just how effective tweaking the system to remove friction can be. The single biggest move the company made toward that end was the one-click buy button. When that patent expired in 2017, it was, by one account, valued at $2.4 billion. It had single-handedly increased company sales by 5 percent, owing to its ability to decrease cart abandonment, which generally rests at a rate of about 70 percent. However, through data analysis, Amazon figured out that the place in the journey where customers most often abandoned their carts was when they had to fill out all of their information. The one-click button was Amazon’s tweak, allowing people to bypass repetitive data entry. It found that customers would rather have that ease of functioning than buy from independent retailers or other chains—even despite unfavorable price comparisons. In other words, they’d rather spend more at Amazon just to reduce the friction.

A successful approach to experience takes into account every interaction a customer has with the company—from store, to website and app, to transactions, phone calls, and emails. These interactions are both analog and digital. And all of the data gleaned from them need to go toward making the experience not simply satisfying, but delightful.

We know that the more personalized an interaction, the more emotional the level of engagement. Companies have a range of tools they can use to capture and keep the customer’s attention, including human-centric design, visual design, and other psychological principles. However, what provokes delight is not the same for every customer with every brand. One take on personalization for Amazon is a delivery tracker that tells you exactly how many stops away your package is. Does this cost the e-tailer many millions of dollars for a service that changes virtually nothing? Absolutely. But does it make you feel special? You bet it does.

After a tough pandemic year, demand for luxury goods isn’t expected to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels until the end of 2022—however, a November 2020 report shows online luxury shopping to have doubled, from 12 percent of total purchases in 2019 to 23 percent in 2020, and predicts that e-commerce will be the dominant channel for luxury by 2025. Industry leader Hermès was the first luxury brand to launch an e-commerce channel, way back in 2001, and has continued to expand and improve its online experience, to the point where, by July 2020 the company reported, even in the face of a massive revenue drop due to Covid-19, that 75 percent of its e-commerce customers were new. Even if people couldn’t afford it, Hermès listened, and made them feel special.

As the luxury sector—indeed, all of retail—eventually returns to normal, share of online shopping will only continue to grow. It will be critical for companies to design online experiences that are the digital twins of the personalized attention, recommendations, and structural control that a customer service rep/concierge may offer to an in-store customer. Emerging techniques to achieve this, such as machine learning (AI)-driven “concierge bots” and curated online journey managers all rely on past purchase history, consumer demo- and psychographics, purchase power, and more. All of these algorithms are hungry for data. 

Herein lie some of the keys to successful ‘retail experience.’ Conversion alone is not enough. Retention and resurrection—adopting the product, then coming back for more—are also critical to a fully successful experience. In order to get there, much needs to evolve from our traditional approach, including our models of data management and analysis, corporate culture and leadership.

SUMMARY:

  • Personalizing user experience can lead to a 20 to 30% bump in lifetime value of a customer across high priority segments.
  • Missing or weak links can create friction, causing breakdowns in communications and service; genius tweaks like the one-click payment button and delivery tracking can remove friction.
  • Successful experience encompasses every interaction a customer has with the company, digital and analog—from store, to website and app, to transactions, phone calls and emails.

Part Two of this series will examine the primacy of data and the new leadership mindset, with an eye toward moving retail into the age of true digital experience. 

PART TWO: Why Harnessing Data Is the Key to Making the Right Retail Experience Happen

Bhrugu Pange is a Managing Director and leads the Technology Solutions practice at global management consultant AArete. He can be reached at bpange@aarete.com.  

Presenting CT Lab’s 2021 Black Leaders in Consumer Tech

Black Leaders In Consumer Tech

To commemorate Juneteenth, CT Lab Global Media would like to share a snapshot of the diversity in our own industry. The inaugural Black Leaders in Consumer Tech Awards shines a special spotlight on nine African-American leaders in the CT space who are driving the industry forward and making history in the process. We collected first-hand accounts of their career paths, challenges they’ve faced along the way, and advice they’d give to non-Black colleagues who want to support the inclusion of Black people in the industry.

Hear their thoughts below and join us in celebrating their accomplishments!

The Benefits of HDMI 2.1 in Gaming

HDMI 2.1 gaming
Photo credit: Sanny11

The rise in popularity of online gaming over the past year comes as no surprise considering the vast amount of time Americans have had to spend at home. Anyone who plays video games knows that HDMI is an intricate part of any gaming apparatus. HDMI 2.1 is the first HDMI iteration designed with a unique focus on gaming specifications designed to improve framerate and cut down on user lag.  

In this episode of the Dealerscope podcast, join chief digital editor Jessica Guyon in a conversation with David Glen, president of the HDMI Forum, on the benefits of the HDMI 2.1 and its skyrocketing popularity over the first half of 2021.

The Stand Guitar Tuning Robot Is Just What Music Stores and Schools Needed

2unify The Stand hands-free robotic guitar tuning device
2unify's hands-free The Stand can tune several guitars simultaneously in just five to 20 seconds.

It may seem as though in-store robot scenarios need to be deployed at scale and at great cost, but even independent retailers can benefit from innovative solutions on an individual level. Toronto-based 2unify has created the 2unify Stand, a fully automated, hands-free robotic guitar tuning device.

“Our customers have been amazed because they’ve never seen anything for tuning that’s fully hands-free,” says 2unify Co-founder Michael Jobity, when speaking to Dealerscope at the recent Collision Conference. “Existing solutions for guitar tuning require integration into the guitar itself or active participation by a human, and human guitar tuners can be expensive.”

2unify Co-Founder Michael Jobity created The Stand robotic guitar tuning device
2unify Co-Founder Michael Jobity

At around $1,000 Canadian ($810 U.S. dollars), the Stand is priced well for guitar stores, music studios, and schools. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to listen for tones and sense where it is, the Stand’s robotic hands strum and individually turn each peg until the guitar is tuned. The device can tune several guitars of differing sizes and styles in five to 20 seconds at most, depending on how out of tune a guitar is, which is faster than many humans.

“We’ve been selling mostly to music businesses because they generally have a large volume of guitars,” says Jobity, “but also STEM companies and schools, as well as parents who like to get them for their kids.” Given the interest in robotics in education, 2unify is also now offering the robotic arms that are attached to the Stand as a standalone kit that kids can use to learn the Python programming language.

2unify is still a young company and its sales so far have been entirely in Canada, but interested U.S. retailers are welcome to reach out or reserve future shipments of the Stand. “We’re definitely looking to expand to the United States,” says Jobity.

2unify The Stand robotic guitar tuning device

Enclave Audio Partners With ProSource

The Enclave Audio THX® Certified CineHome PRO CineHub Edition
Enclave Audio's THX-Certified CineHome PRO CineHub Edition

Earlier this week, ProSource, the largest specialty and consumer merchandising group in the United States, welcomed the CineHome product line from vendor Enclave Audio into its consortium of more than 550 specialty retailers and custom integrators.  

With its production of the CineHome audio systems, Enclave Audio has been on the cutting edge of the immersive wireless audio industry. Both the CineHome II and THX-certified CineHome Pro wireless home theater systems bring surround sound audio enjoyment without the mess or complication of wires. All of Enclave Audio’s products are certified to WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) standards and can be set up in minutes using a smartphone app. 

Enclave’s built-in WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) technology helps its system’s base station communicate directly with each audio component for a more reliable and seamless connection.

In linking with ProSource, Enclave Audio will benefit from expanding its consumer base for the Enclave CineHome II and the Enclave CineHome Pro systems to the specialty audio/video retailers and integrators within the ProSource community. In return, ProSource, a cooperative, member-governed, nonprofit buying group, will now have access to Enclave Audio’s easy to set-up immersive wireless audio systems. This partnership is a part of a larger push by Paul Burgess, Executive Vice President of Sales for Enclave Audio, to expand the audio company’s market reach and bring the CineHome systems to a broader consumer base. 

As David Workman, CEO of ProSource, commented on the benefit of adding Enclave Audio to the ProSource buying group, “Our position this year was not to add any vendor partners to the group…However, the Enclave wireless systems offer a unique and compelling solution to the demand we are seeing in the market for a high quality, simple to install product that will enhance the home theater experience that so many TV customers are looking for.”

This partnership provides supply-side benefits to Enclave Audio, while giving the ProSource group access to easy-to-use cutting-edge technology within the immersive audio industry.

My 40-Year Relationship With Rega Turntables

Rega Turntables Rega Planar 10 turntable
Rega's reference Planar 10 turntable

Back in the 1970s, when I was growing up, the Technics SL-1200, now considered among the definitve DJ turntables, was the go-to table for many music lovers. Much of the iconic turntable’s reputation was centered around a direct-drive mechanism, derived from Technics’ experience building broadcast decks.

However, with the high-end audio industry’s birth in the mid-to-late ’70s, the highest-performance audio systems were using belt-drive turntables because they sounded more musical. The British led the charge with the legendary Linn Sondek LP-12, which was expensive and somewhat out of reach for the average audiophile at the time. A young Roy Gandy, then a mechanical engineer for Ford in Europe, happened to be quite the audiophile and anxious to solve this problem.

Rega, which will celebrate its 48th anniversary in September this year, was soon born, with Gandy producing belt-drive turntables that offered high performance at a reasonable cost. The first Rega turntables depended on someone else’s tonearm. Soon after, however, Rega would be building everything in-house, a practice it has continued to this day.

The audio world embraced Rega, and by the early 1980s, its flagship Planar 3 had become an audiophile standard, and a turntable one step above the mass-market offerings from Technics, Dual, and Pioneer, to name a few. I bought my first Planar 3 in 1981, and have owned about 10 Rega models since then. Rega’s turntables have always proven to be simple yet of high quality, requiring minimal setup. It’s a definite plus during review time, when using a turntable as a source component to compare to others.

Today, I use the latest Rega P10 with Rega’s third-generation Apheta moving coil cartridge. It offers a stunning performance, and it’s easy to see the roots of the original Planar 3 in this design.

RELATED: After Nearly 48 Years, Rega Turntables Continue to Captivate

Rega Planar 1 turntable in the matt white finish.
Rega Planar 1 turntable in the matt white finish.
Rega Alpheta 3 moving coil cartridge for Rega turntables
Rega Alpheta 3 moving coil cartridge

ZEISS’s Four Pillars to Profitability

ZEISS Vision Care

Sponsored by ZEISS

It’s a fact that the level of hygiene awareness among consumers has been elevated exponentially in the span of these past 12 months – in all aspects of their lives. And this amplified sensibility has also extended, quite naturally, to a desire to control and maintain the cleanliness of the surfaces of their most accessed and handled devices: smartphones, tablets and eyeglass lenses. 

Now, at the midpoint of 2021, we are entering a period of increased relaxation of rules on mask-wearing, and restaurant and public arena occupancy limits. There’s never been a more opportune time for retailers to step up and offer customers ways they can continue to support their comfort level of heightened “hygiene smarts” — good habits that have developed during the past year.

The ZEISS Vision Care portfolio, which speaks to consumer care needs with a set of products that are problem-solving solutions to address every aspect of lens and mobile device cleaning and maintenance, includes the following products:

Lens Wipes – individually wrapped, disposable wipes that are gentle enough to use on lens surfaces treated with high-quality antireflective coatings;

Mobile Screen Wipes – for benign, effective cleaning of debris from smartphones and tablet screens;

AntiFOG Wipes – non-abrasive wipes that are especially effective at keeping lenses fog-free when wearing a face mask; and the

Fog Defender System – A lens treatment regimen including both a spray and a cleaning cloth that work together to keep eyeglasses from fogging for up-to 72 hours.

These products are all high-margin add-on sales that offer CE retailers an opportunity to build incremental business – and that harmoniously complement the hardware products they already carry and sell.

ZEISS, for its part, has experienced a great adoption of our Vision Care product portfolio in this period — and is driving the growth in this market segment. Insights from IRI, a company that tracks syndicated data for consumer-packaged goods, revealed total market growth for lens cleaning products from 2018 to 2021 of an impressive 48 percent. And ZEISS’s share of what amounted to a total of $78 million in overall lens cleaning product sales in just the last year accounted for a market-leading 67 percent of that total.

ZEISS Vision Care
ZEISS represents 67% of Lens Cleaning Products sales share (Source: IRI Unify)

Even though the pandemic danger, given the increased vaccination rates, may hopefully be lessening, it’s our belief that consistent hygiene behaviors have now formed that will keep lens and device care and cleaning top of mind with customers.

And, what is more, with the arrival of the Fall season’s back-to-school months, and the return of in-person learning, comes another opportunity to drive home the need for ZEISS solutions.   

The best way for this market growth to be fueled, we think, is by the number of customers who can be captured by offering them knowledge of — and experience with — our products through retailers.

The ‘Four Pillar’ Approach

How can retailers reap the full potential of market penetration possible with ZEISS care products? Through ZEISS’s “four pillar” approach: assortment, sampling, merchandising, and promotion – each element of which can vary, depending upon the individual retail partner.

Product assortment, the first, is central to everything. We’re aware that not every product is right for every retailer, so recommending the right SKUs for a retailer is key.

Sampling, the second pillar, is ideal for getting the word out. Every time we make samples of our ZEISS care products available in-store, we track, on average, a double-digit increase in sales during that week. Customers may not be aware of these solutions at first, but once they try them, they love them  – and will return time and again to re-buy and re-fill their pantries.

Pillar Number Three is ZEISS’s merchandising solutions. We have a diverse array of those for secondary placements, such as PDQ retail-ready packaging, freestanding displays and eye-catching clip strips that help customers identify the products in-store.

Fourth is through promotional strategies that retailers can execute in key selling periods such as holidays and the aforementioned back-to-school period, when our individually wrapped Wipes can become backpack essentials.

These four pillars serve as the support structure for ZEISS’s greatest foundational skill: the ability to customize its programs. Being fully vested in our retailers’ success, we can fine-tune each of these pillars and our dealer support structure to the individual needs of each of our retail partners.

Dealers who sign onto the ZEISS Retail Partner Program can be assured that they will experience our total commitment to them, as the branded market-driver in this space, with a fully conceptualized and executable business model — and with exactly the right product mix for exactly the right time in our business.

To know more about ZEISS’s full line of cleaning products, please visit www.zeiss.com/cleaning.

Dealers interested in learning about participating in the ZEISS Retail Partner Program — and about how to harvest the rewards of high profitability; opportunity for sales expansion, repeat sales and recurring revenue; and the ability to easily attach an accessory to the purchase of a device with a lens or screen that will keep it clean and safe — can contact Valerie Motis at the following email address: Valerie.motis.ext@zeiss.com.

Country Music Stars Little Big Town To Take Stage at Nationwide PrimeTime

Little Big Town Nationwide PrimeTime

Nationwide Marketing Group has announced that GRAMMY Award-winning country group Little Big Town will perform as part of the upcoming PrimeTime, the organization’s first face-to-face session since early 2020. PrimeTime is a semi-annual event, featuring buying, education and networking opportunities for independent retailers in North America. The event will be held Aug. 15-18 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

The group is also kicking off its 50th anniversary celebration at PrimeTime. Themed “50 Years United,” the anniversary celebration will focus on the thousands of independent retailers who have called Nationwide Marketing Group home over the last five decades.

For more details, visit Connected Design.

The Pandemic Accelerated a New Era for Consumer Electronics Industry Growth and Global Access through Platforms like Alibaba.com

Consumer Electronics Alibaba.com

Today’s fast-growing consumer electronics industry is fueled by consumers’ desire for more advanced technology to make their daily lives better. While many companies across the value chain—design, manufacturing, production, and distribution—faced challenges brought on by the pandemic, from a shortage of materials to logistics slow-downs, the industry also saw heightened demand in some areas. Sales of PCs, for example, surged due to remote work and distance learning, shooting to their highest level since 2014. What happens next for businesses that suddenly found themselves surging and for those that are in recovery will depend on how fully and rapidly they embrace e-commerce and digital channels.

How the B2B E-commerce Boom has Changed the Game

Once nice to have, e-commerce is now a must-have, offering businesses access to more markets and global supply, greater operational flexibility, and the resilience to survive and thrive during challenging times.

Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. B2B companies have traditionally relied on building supplier relationships face-to-face at trade shows, factories and offices. When the pandemic restricted travel, buyers and sellers were forced to tap into the value of digital tools. Now, 93 percent of U.S. companies are doing some portion of their B2B business online, and 43 percent are using e-commerce, according to an Alibaba.com study.

Digital capabilities made all the difference for many businesses last year, serving as a lifeline as they were tasked with rapidly adapting to new and unprecedented social distancing norms. Going digital helped businesses across the country reimagine their operating models overnight, reach new customers and mitigate interruptions by diversifying their supply chains and reaching a global supplier base. Not only that, but shifting to digital has also given businesses key data and insights into consumer habits and needs.

The consumer electronics industry is no exception with e-commerce driving the market forward as millions of consumers shift from shopping in-store to online.  Going forward, one thing is clear: e-commerce is here to stay.

Why Consumer Electronics Companies Put Their Trust in Alibaba.com

As one of the world’s largest B2B and wholesale online marketplaces, Alibaba.com serves millions of business buyers and suppliers of all sizes across more than 200 countries and regions, offering a suite of powerful tools built specifically for B2B trade. Business buyers can discover new products and place orders on the Alibaba.com platform fast, securely, and efficiently and sellers can reach a global audience for their products. With Alibaba.com, companies can:

  • Expand its international footprint. The inherently global nature of Alibaba.com’s supply allows buyers—retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and service businesses– to grow their reach digitally without the need to travel. Time zones become unimportant, allowing business discovery and communication 24/7. According to Alibaba.com’s survey, the top benefits of online sourcing cited by buyers include finding suppliers more quickly (53%), reducing the need for travel (44%), greater purchasing power (38%), and higher profit margins (38%).
  • Optimize shipping efficiencies. Buyers can place large orders with international sellers to take advantage of transparent, reliable, and cost-effective shipping and logistics services, simplifying the entire process. Intelligent algorithms recommend the best routes, and multiple freight forwarders and carriers are available to ensure end-to-end transparency and real-time tracking.
  • Source securely from around the world. Alibaba.com supports over ten major global payment methods and 50+ currencies worldwide. To reduce the risk of global trade, buyers who purchase on the Alibaba.com platform can use the free proprietary order protection escrow service, Trade Assurance. Through Alibaba.com Trade Assurance, if anything goes wrong such as issues with quality or shipping delays, Alibaba.com will assist in reaching a satisfactory outcome, including getting your money back.
  • Access to trusted suppliers. To help buyers source efficiently and screen for quality, the “verified” logo will appear alongside professional suppliers that have been verified by independent third parties for industry-specific qualifications and services. When searching for product details or through company profiles, buyers can see these suppliers’ strengths like corporate qualification, product qualification, and corporate capabilities.

To make it even easier, Alibaba.com recently launched an always-on Elite Partner Event where buyers can find high-quality products and suppliers in one place. This vetted group of global suppliers features innovative, new technologies and products in a variety of categories to help enhance your competitive edge. On the consumer electronics side, Alibaba.com Verified Supplier and Elite Partner, COLMI has pushed the envelope in smart technology to produce cutting edge smart watches.

COLMI, a wearable technology company, is focused not just on creating consumer technology products but also on analyzing the customer market to design and engineer the most in-demand features. To create their most groundbreaking watch, Sport 3, COLMI analyzed more than 100,000 customer pain points and took 3 months to solve market problems like small screen and poor sensors to create a large screen, waterproof, high sensor watch. They have quickly created multiple new products and sold millions of units in the past three years. COLMI is known for helping customers ramp up sales and become local market leaders. Now, COLMI is working on smart home interconnection technology which will launch within this year to make it more convenient for people to live. COLMI’s continuous innovation and market research are just two of the reasons we hand-picked them to join our Elite Partner program.

Alibaba.com Summer Online Trade Show: Premium Suppliers. Efficient Sourcing.

Trade shows have been an incredibly valuable channel for B2B businesses to discover new suppliers and products and drive their bottom line. While in-person global shows are still on hold, Alibaba.com has been hosting a series of online trade shows that have resulted in tens of thousands of new connections.   Alibaba.com Online Trade Show | Summer will be starting June 14 and lasting through June 27, and will feature more than 10,000 premium suppliers across a spectrum of 30-plus categories.

“The Alibaba.com Summer Online Trade Show is a two-week event on the Alibaba.com website, where business buyers and sellers from around the globe can meet and do business with one another from the safety and convenience of their homes and offices,” said John Caplan, President of North America and Europe, Alibaba.com. “Our new Online Trade Show experience that makes it even easier for professional business buyers to connect and collaborate with premium suppliers, so that they can source more efficiently, effectively, and with ease.”

 Benefits of the experience will include:

  • Premium connections. Buyers can easily reach out to selected suppliers with outstanding products and services, from R&D and tailor-made design to customer service and order fulfillment.
  • Pro Buyer Discounts. Businesses who have upgraded to Pro Buyers on or before June 27 can receive a $100 coupon to use on Alibaba.com.
  • Exclusive VIP pavilion access. For the most efficient experience possible, there will be a dedicated “VIP Pavilion” where the top one percent of Alibaba.com buyers can meet and negotiate directly with managers rated four stars and above from more than 1,000 suppliers.
  • Cutting-edge industry insights. Businesses will be able to hear from Alibaba.com leaders like John Caplan, President, North America & Europe, and Flora Yan, Head of Integrated Marketing as well as Dirk Kowslowski, Director of IFA, Kai Hattendorf, CEO of Ufi and learn from successful buyers and sellers on Alibaba.com during the trade show opening ceremony. In-depth industrial reports filled with data and trends from Alibaba.com will also be available.

Attend the Show

Businesses in the Consumer Electronics industry can attend Alibaba.com’s Online Trade Show, June 14 through 27, here. High-quality suppliers are just a click away.

The Pros and Cons of Virtual Events

CEChina2019
CE China in Guangzhou, China in 2019.

Even though many parts of the U.S. are loosening mask restrictions, many trade shows are still being held as virtual events. California is set to lift most of its COVID-era rules on June 15, but the annual E3 Expo, which usually gathers the video game industry every June in Los Angeles, is nevertheless being held this week as an online virtual event only. 

Virtual events, for now, remain the primary way that the consumer electronics and appliance industries gather to find out about new trends, see new products, meet people, and hear panelists and keynote speakers. By some estimates, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s platform has helped third-party sellers generate more than $20 billion in B2B e-commerce sales over the past year, with consumer electronics and appliances among the most in-demand categories. The company has leaned into the virtual gathering space with its regular online tradeshows for B2B buyers and sellers–including many small-to-medium-sized U.S. businesses and manufacturers–to connect. 

Last month, Messe Berlin, which owns Dealerscope publisher CT Lab Global Media, announced that it would not hold its annual IFA Berlin consumer electronics and appliance trade show in September, but would resume its in-person event in September 2022 instead. Even so, IFA will move forward with its annual CE China event, which gathers CE and appliance brands looking to break into retail markets in Asia, in Guangzhou in person in September. 

Earlier today, IFA Director Dirk Koslowski was invited to speak at this week’s Alibaba.com Online Trade Show Summer, which runs from today through June 27th, to talk about the future of trade shows, including the pros and cons of virtual versus in-person events. Here’s what he said, which can also be seen and heard in the video below.

“I’d like to start with a big thank you to alibaba.com for inviting me to the launch of their online trade show today.

IFA  Berlin, CE China, and alibaba.com can look back at the fantastic cooperation. Most recently, this January with our alibaba.com electronics online trade show meets IFA event, where we were joined by IFA’s strategic partners, GfK, and Dealerscope.

Having said that, we all know the realities. Global travel restrictions, worries about new COVID variants, and, in too many countries, a slow rollout of vaccination programs.

That’s why, unfortunately, this year we’ll see only a few, if any, large-scale trade fairs. And that’s a blow, not just for our industry, but for the world at large.

We are manufacturers and brands, retailers, media, and–let’s not forge–the public. We need industry events like IFA to come back. We need them to turbocharge the pace of innovation and to drive co-innovation, which can happen only in places where people meet, where they compare notes and really inspire each other. 

And that’s why I know that soon we will all meet again, but this time in person, either at the next alibaba.com event in China or here in Berlin at IFA Berlin. Or, let’s say, at IFA’s own brand event for China. You know it well by now: It’s CE China in Guangzhou.

In just a few years, CE China has really become the premier event to connect Chinese brands and global brands with consumers all across Asia.

And that is so important, because if there’s one positive aspect of this pandemic, then it’s how our industry–the technology industry–has rallied, innovated, and really stepped up its game to support people around the world that had to live and work during the travel restrictions and lockdowns.  

Can you imagine our world if this pandemic had happened 10 or 15 years ago? The challenge of keeping economies around the world interconnected would have been absolutely overwhelming. During the past 18 months, however, it was technology that kept us productive, safer, healthier, connected and entertained.

As we emerge into a new world, nobody knows quite yet what this life will look like, but we can be certain of two things. First, it will be very different from our lives back in 2019, and secondly, it will be underpinned by innovation. Both alibaba.com and IFA Berlin have one common goal: To give retailers and consumers access to the best products and to the best innovation possible. 

Asia and Europe are also the world’s two largest markets for consumer technology. That’s another reason why alibaba.com and IFA Berlin are such a winning combination. 

I wish you a great virtual tradeshow. And I’m really looking forward to 2022, when I hope to welcome all of you at the world’s most important event for consumer electronics and household appliances–and that’s at IFA in Berlin.”

Warehouse Robots Will Replace Today’s Jobs With Cooler Ones

Warehouse robots and humans
Photo Credit: Evgeniy Shkolenko

One of the things I love most about my job is getting to interview so many fascinating innovators, technologists, entrepreneurs, and businesspeople about their work and thoughts on technology. Our recent “Robots in Retail” story, which covers the current state of everything from in-store to warehouse robots, was no exception. I only wish I could have included every last quote from every person I talked with, though I also managed to weave in some other quotes from robotics-themed press conferences and panels at the virtual iteration of the 2021 Collision Conference, an annual North American offshoot of Europe’s much bigger Web Summit, which will once again be held in-person in Lisbon in November.

While attending this conference that focuses on all the ways that business, culture, and society intersect with technology, I found it hard to stop thinking about the many ways that the pandemic accelerated disruptive trends across all industries and technologies. Robotics in the retail space is no exception.

The surge in online orders and omnichannel options such as BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in-store) over the past 15 months aside, there is a lot of interest and investment in warehouse robotics at the moment, which raises an obvious question: What happens to human workers when robots start doing their jobs faster and more precisely? With movies like Nomadland winning a Best Picture Oscar this year, the subject is as top-of-mind as robotics technology itself among businesses and consumers alike.

On one level, the rise of robots means that workers no longer have to walk 15 miles per day shuttling products across a warehouse; on the flip side, it also means they have to keep up with the ever-faster robots. Besides speed, improvements in computer vision and engineering have enabled robots to handle even mundane tasks more thoroughly and without much supervision: For example, today’s robot “pickers,” which essentially sort and pick up products from bins, are able to identify and easily grab various shapes and sizes without needing to be re-programmed and specifically placed as they did less than a decade ago. The technology is more accessible today, too. Companies such as Soft Robotics, which focuses mainly on grasping technology, creates robot kits and AI-powered development tools that companies can use in a variety of warehouse or other picking and sorting scenarios, enabling e-commerce operations to fill orders 24 hours a day and every day.

Warehouse robots: Melanee Wise CEO Fetch Robotics
Fetch Robotics CEO Melanee Wise

But while faster and smarter robots mean that some jobs done by humans now may indeed go the way of the dodo, they will also create new roles. For today’s workers to capitalize on those roles, however, they will need commitment and collaboration on the part of business and government sectors. Workers themselves must also increasingly be open to retraining and changing jobs on a regular basis. Last October, Amazon announced that it was investing more than $700 million in training programs to “upskill” workers into, whether those are jobs managing and maintaining robots or other jobs in areas such as data science or programming.

“There’s going to be this virtuous cycle,” said Melanee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics, at one of those Collision panels. Fetch Robotics makes cloud-based on-demand autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) solutions for warehouses. “We need to create incentives for companies to train these large groups of people for new jobs, and also support people who struggle to be re-educated or re-tasked. It’s a problem that we are struggling with societally, and we need to focus more on changing jobs on a regular basis. and re-education for job switching. The answer is not to stop developing technology; the answer is to fix our problems in society.”

There’s no denying that robots are cool. Dr. Eugene Izhikevich, CEO and co-founder of Brain Corp, which makes software for in-store robots that clean, among other services, doesn’t think it’ll be too hard to get people interested in job-switching. “Many of our robots are deployed by janitors, many of whom didn’t graduate from high school,” said Izhikevich at that same Collision panel in April. “I asked one of them if he was afraid for his job and his reply was, ‘Are you kidding? I’m the robot guy!’ So think of this as robots elevating professions to the next level, where people feel good about what they’re doing.”

The Stay-at-Home Trend is Moving Outdoors

Stay at Home Outdoors
Credit: iStock

Simultaneously, as many in the U.S. are seeing pandemic restrictions ease, residents are also welcoming warmer temps, the end of the school year, and, inevitably, more fun in the sun.

During the past year, many took to the outdoors as a respite from coronavirus woes. In Pennsylvania, where this author lives, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reported that state park attendance grew from 37 million visitors in 2019 to nearly 47 million in 2020 — a 27 percent increase. In a poll conducted by the agency, four out of five Pennsylvanians who visited parks and trails during the pandemic believe that time spent outdoors is essential to their physical and mental health. As Matthew Galluzzo, president and CEO of Pittsburgh’s RiverLife, stated: “The use of trails and open spaces has spiked 62 percent during the pandemic.”

Such stats clarify why many consumers have created oases surrounding their homes. NPR reported in September 2020 that home improvement projects in the backyard are surging. It states that there has been an almost threefold increase not only in the building of decks, but also in the number of people putting up fences.

“People have more interest in their homes, and they’re spending more time outside; they want their homes to be better,” says David Pidgeon, president of Starpower. The Dallas-based home entertainment and technology retailer and integrator has seen a rise in requests for tech of all kinds to speckle these newly crafted outdoor spaces, including audio, video, and even outdoor kitchens with pizza ovens. He predicts the demand for these types of products will level out a bit once the world returns to normal, but says he expects this trend to continue for at least the next six to 12 months.

CTA’s Vice President of Research, Steve Koenig, is noticing similar trends, particularly in outdoor audio and smart home technology such as doorbells, outdoor security cameras, and mesh networks.

“I would say competition has been heating up in recent years in [the mesh network] category just simply because everybody wants better connectivity in the home, [while also] extending that signal outside, allowing people to take their tech outdoors,” Koenig explains. “This is key when you’re installing smart home tech outside. There’s no need to run a wire; they can connect to the home’s Wi-Fi quite easily.” Broader Wi-Fi signals help extend the smart home outside — not just for laptops and streaming audio, but also for security cameras or even larger-scale video surveillance networks. According to Koenig, smart door locks with cameras are a big player, as people spend more time at home and have more products delivered to the front step. Outdoor audio, too. “Smart home, in particular, has greatly benefited from this stay-at-home dynamic,” he adds. “People are investing in bringing their homes into the 21st Century.”

Cat Toomey, CEO of marketing firm CATalyzing Communications, says her clients are seeing a surge in outdoor projects — specifically a shift from box speakers to more satellite systems, where speakers are less visible and can fit more seamlessly into the landscape, while delivering consistency of sound quality across a yard. Toomey also sees increased demand for outdoor TVs, motorized shades controlled through apps, and architectural lighting.

“With the teachings of the past year, [people] are seeking that special getaway at home, and the outdoors is an extension of their safe haven,” she says. “Landscape lighting brings the mood of well-being, peace, and comfort to the home, and the great outdoors is no exception. And this category is on the rise.” While sales are up for these outdoor systems, there are obstacles. “Some of our dealers are seeing a growing backlog of outdoor systems that they just can’t complete because of the lack of availability of other pieces in the system,” Toomey says.

In his business, Pidgeon, who primarily serves the luxury market, is capitalizing on customers’ surging interest in all things outdoor. His clients have a growing desire for larger weather-proof TVs in the 65-inch-to-75-inch range, but their general interest opens up conversations leading to full outdoor kitchens and connectivity options. He keeps in close contact with his customer base through marketing campaigns, so he can “wake them up to the possibilities of luxury living outside.”

The crucial element is the network. “It all begins with connectivity. When you’re talking with customers about connectivity in their home, [you need to find out if there are] any issues or weak spots,” Koenig says. “Then you can ask, ‘Do you want to take your technology outside?’ This may be a way to cultivate more engagement and use of technology outdoors.”

Lessons I learned From Transforming Legacy Audio Company, Victrola

Victrola

I joined Victrola as CEO in October 2019. As a lifelong music lover, the brand is at the center of some of my earliest and most vivid music memories. I can still see and hold the blue Victrola suitcase turntable gifted to me when I was a child. On it, I wore out the Beatles 45rpm record of “Hey Jude” with “Revolution” on the flip side.

Scott Hagen
Scott Hagen, CEO of Victrola

But I knew nostalgia alone shouldn’t drive my decision to lead a company. I did a lot of research to answer two key questions: “Is there a clear path forward for the 100-plus-year-old brand?” and, “Can I positively influence that path forward?”

The answer to both questions was yes. Since then, my team and I have embarked on a massive transformation to re-center Victrola as a music-first, memory-building brand, delivering quality products to fans in collaboration with partners.

We are nowhere near done, but we have learned some things about evolving a legacy company along the way.

Without a ‘why,’ there is no anchor.

When I arrived, the company had passionate employees but no mission statement. It was clear that Victrola was a music brand, but what we didn’t have defined was our underlying promise to consumers.
Some may think mission statements are superficial. I think they should capture a brand’s reason for being. Our approach was to build our mission up in a way that grounds company strategy and serves as a lighthouse for future product development, internal and external communications, partnerships, and more.

After much research and discussion, we agreed on a mission statement: We create lifelong music memories for everyone. Almost every word in it is meaningful.

Lifelong stands for quality, trust, and timelessness. As a brand, Victrola first emerged as a product of the Victor Talking Machine Company, which was founded in Camden, N.J. in 1901. Its iconic original logo — a dog sticking its snout into the horn of a phonograph — remains synonymous with the idea of the record player. Lifelong is about living in people’s homes across generations — I first experienced records on a many-decades-old crank-up Victrola at my grandmother’s house. The technology and design may have originated more than a century ago, but except for the horn speaker, record players pretty much work the same way.

As for music, it’s our craft and our passion. If a Victrola product is not delivering music, we’re not creating it. Similarly, if you’re working at Victrola, you’re a music lover (or a failed musician, like me).

The word memories ensures our products help consumers create special moments on which they can reflect — the first time they play their favorite album for their son or daughter, for example. And everyone is about accessibility. There are music lovers of all shapes and sizes out there, and we want to be their brand of choice.

The mission statement became our why, and we make every decision with it in mind.

Consult with customers and partners.

To get to our why, we looked internally. Looking externally was also critical to arriving at the truth.Here’s what we learned from our customers. Awareness levels for Victrola were 56 percent higher than our closest competitor, but a significant number of people thought the brand was obsolete. Those who did buy were not fully satisfied with the overall experience. A common thread was: “It doesn’t quite sound as good as it looks.” Still, those consumers were attached to the brand and looking for more opportunities to engage. Customers also told us they were willing to spend more for better sound quality, but they wanted simplicity. This led us to immediately addressing our current assortment, improving the acoustics, electronics, and materials.

For our factories and reseller partners, we took a consultative approach. Our goal was to understand what was working, and what we could do better. We learned there were too many products in our line and not enough focus on quality and differentiation. Because of that, it was hard for partners to understand what Victrola stood for, the clear benefits for end consumers, and what products to put on shelves. Some of our partners had gaps in their assortment that, if filled, could increase their profitability.

At the same time, we understood more people were listening to records than we ever imagined, and music continued to be a lifelong passion point. We did a survey and asked people if they had a vinyl record player in the home. Sixty percent said yes. Of those, more than 60 percent said they used it more than once a month, and nearly half of them stated they were interested in purchasing another record player.

The potential was undeniable. And, starting a new online record store, which we launched at the end of 2020, became an obvious strategy.

Our store is an important tool for us. It teaches us about customer preference, builds lifelong relationships, and helps drive a complete solution for consumers. The added online retail experience means that today, customers come to our website to browse, purchase, and tell us what they think more regularly. We’ll be listening (and also, ready to sell them a new record player).

Don’t skimp on product development.

It seems counterintuitive, but the first thing we did to elevate product development was to dramatically decrease the number of products we created.

We went from about 340 active SKUs per year to 50. This move eliminated distractions in our product offerings — retro refrigerators, lava lamps with speakers — that didn’t align completely with our mission. It allowed us to refocus on music products that not only look and sound great, but are also easy to use.

We also invested in engineering, acoustics, and design talent — people equipped to build products with soul.

But it wasn’t a straight path. We had to zig and zag a bit to meet market demand. When our new Head of Product and Brand, Don Inmon, joined in January 2020, his Number One charge focused on our holiday products. Don squeezed a product development process that typically spans a year and a half into just three months. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend such an accelerated overhaul, but we were fortunate to have the immense talent of Don and his team to create some solid interim products with improved audio quality.

Moving forward, we will afford product development the space it deserves and approach it from a position of quality and building trust.

Build operations around the strategic plan.

For many years, Victrola operated like a successful entrepreneurial, founder-led organization. However, few processes existed to allow for sustainable practices or an ongoing global business rhythm. This wasn’t a big deal…until it came time to scale. When a company moves to meet the masses, the need for structure becomes imperative.

We had so much to tackle on the product side that we pushed off truly operationalizing our business rhythms, structures, and practices until recently.

In hindsight, I’d build an operating rhythm around the strategic plan out of the gate instead of forcing a strategic plan into current and limited processes. Processes ensure you achieve the critical outcomes to complete a strategic plan; they are not meant to make life easier for one person or group. The moment a process gets in the way of serving the grand mission, it’s wrong. It needs to be fixed or even blown up.

So, where are we on our transformation mission? I’d say about three-fourths there.

We are months away from completing our operational transformation, and from a product and customer perspective, we are well down the path of delivering the future of Victrola. For example, we added a new product development team that in less than one year filled the gaps our customers told us exist in the record player category. This includes an all-in-one system that looks beautiful, is easy to use, and sounds like a premium audio system, as well as a more portable suitcase turntable. The products will be in the market starting late summer.

Next, we want to explore how technology and vinyl complement each other. Playing records over Bluetooth resulted in a customer wow factor. You will see us continue to use our understanding of acoustics and technology to improve sound even more on our players.

I get jazzed when we see signs of positive evangelism. Partners are responding to the differentiated line by carrying more of our products in-store. We are increasing our share-of-shelf.

We started addressing consumers more proactively via different media channels and achieved one billion impressions in under 60 days as a result of a strategic campaign and our PR agency’s partnership. Consumers are also finding the connection they sought. One customer told us: “I can’t believe how great it is to listen to my old records again. It feels like home.” Moments like these, when you see the mission come to life, cause a collective employee rush.

If I’m honest, I’d probably say we are always three-fourths there. The funny thing about potential is the more of it you achieve, the more it expands. Some may consider that a tease, but I see it as an opportunity to become even better, every day.

Cleer Audio Partners with Zentech for Canadian Distribution

Cleer Audio Zentech

Industry-leading headphone and smart speaker manufacturer, Cleer Audio, is set on worldwide expansion. The company’s latest effort in achieving that goal, announced this week, has been its partnership with Canadian distributor, Zentech.

Zentech focuses on Canadian retail and e-commerce, and aims to alleviate market challenges faced by international brands and manufacturers in the CE industry. The decade-old distributor’s three guiding principles of stewardship, efficiency and organization support brands entering the market for the first time.

“We are proud and excited to be selected as the supporting company to launch Cleer Audio with our Canadian partners,” says Matthew Ricci, Managing Partner at Zentech. “Our initial strategies with both our retail partners and the Cleer Audio management team have been fruitful. We’re confident in the sustainable and controlled Canadian business growth that the Cleer brand will experience in the years ahead.”

Cleer Audio is slated for a June 2021 launch in several of Zentech’s largest Canadian partners, including:

  • Best Buy Canada
  • Costco Canada
  • Amazon Canada
  • Toronto Dominion Bank
  • Bank of Montreal
  • Desjardin 
  • Scotiabank 
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Visa Rewards 
  • And more

“Matt and his team were highly recommended by Zentech’s vendor partners for their drive, results and commitment,” says Scott Ashbaugh, Global Sales Director at Cleer. “We are ready and excited to launch our Canadian business with the Zentech team.”

Four Tech YouTubers to Follow

Tech YouTubers to Follow
Credit: iStock

Just a decade ago, the term “social media influencer” was practically unheard of. Now, many of these internet sensations can be credited with driving billions of sales to companies across almost every category imaginable — including consumer tech.

As a brand, staying in the loop on what influencers are talking about is important because their viewership may look a lot like your target audience. As a retailer, these YouTube creators will help you stay on top of new products, how they work, and which ones will be in demand.

Let’s take a closer look at a few YouTube creators in the consumer electronics space. Subscribe to these channels, and you’ll be sure to stay in the loop.

Mr. Mobile

As his username suggests, Michael Fisher’s main beat is mobile phone reviews, though viewers also get a taste of other gadgets such as laptops, smartwatches, and headphones. The affable Fisher doesn’t shy away from any brand or style of phone — he’s reviewed everything from iPhones and Androids to touchscreens and foldables. And not everything is new: Some of his best-performing videos take viewers back in time to the era of flip phones and QWERTY keyboards. While Samsung and Apple still dominate the market on a global scale, MrMobile’s videos prove that there is a lot of nostalgia tied to mobile phones that may be worth tapping into.

Marques Brownlee

The 27-year-old has been creating videos since he was in high school and has made quite a name for himself in that 13-year-span. Brownlee is not just another online gadget reviewer; his channel started with hardware tutorials and freeware videos, and later blossomed into product reviews and interviews with high-level executives and politicians. Some of his past interviewees include Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. He even made an appearance in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary debates, where he wasn’t afraid to ask hard questions about privacy and national security as they relate to tech companies.

TechMe0ut

TechMe0ut got her start on YouTube after recognizing a major gap in technology tutorials on the platform. Though tech-savvy herself, she noticed many of the videos she was coming across were geared toward those with a higher skill set. She set out to create more content for beginners who wanted to learn more about all the features on their iPhones and Androids. These smartphone “tips and tricks” have become a cornerstone of her channel, which also features reviews, gift guides, giveaways, and more.

iJustine

Justine Ezarik has one of the most varied tech channels on YouTube, with everything from product reviews to video game streams to what she refers to as “failed cooking attempts.” In addition to poking fun at herself, Ezarik also cracks jokes about politics and the controversy around 5G. Product reviews and blogs make up the bulk of her content, but she’s also been spotted behind the wheel of a few luxury vehicles, and test drives electric bikes and drones. Ezarik was also a digital anchor at CES 2021, where she captured her experience in a behind-the-scenes vlog for her subscribers. Ezarik’s videos are as informative as they are humorous.

Optoma Releases Large, Commercial LED Display

Optoma Releases New LED Display

Optoma, the manufacturer of large image display products, has announced its new, fully-optimized 130″ Optoma FHDS130 SOLO LED display for boardrooms, classrooms, houses of worship, retail, and hospitality. Pre-calibrated out of the box, the FHDS130 can be installed within hours. 

“The Optoma FHDS130 was designed to appeal to a larger install base and variety of usage cases with its easy out-of-the-box installation and high-value price point,” said Leonardo Giuffrida, product manager at Optoma.

The full story can be found at Connected Design.

LG Makes a Comeback in the Esports Arena

LG Esports

This week, LG Business Solutions USA announced it would be renewing its sponsorship of Battle Academy, a free-to-enter esports multi-game tournament series for high school and college students, following a successful 2020 season. Several of last year’s participants were recruited to play at the collegiate level, and even received scholarships from various universities and colleges.

“Battle Academy’s 2020 launch was an overwhelming success that has given students a new avenue to hone their skills in multiple competitive esports games while attracting interest and even financial assistance from colleges looking to bolster their nascent esports programs and rosters,” said LG Business Solutions USA gaming monitor expert, Aaron Addison. “As a leading sponsor for the tournament, LG Business Solutions USA provides professional broadcasters to cover the live, online competitions on Twitch, solidifying the series as a force to be reckoned with amid a rapid rise in viewership and general interest.”

With the acceleration of gaming brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, students and their parents are beginning to realize the potential benefits gaming can have both personally and professionally. An education-focused competition league offers gamers a sense of community and structure, the same as any other college sport. On top of that, students can go on to pursue a number of different career paths in the gaming field including players, designers, artists, accountants, broadcasters, marketers, journalists and software engineers.

“We are putting more eyes on high school and collegiate esports competitions while informing people of the new career pathways emerging within the growing esports market,” Jackson explained. “Thanks to LG and our other valued partners we are offering a no-cost-of-entry model that develops an all-inclusive opportunity for students of all backgrounds and provides scholarships with amazing esports gear.”

Battle Academy has held tournaments for games like Rocket League and VALORANT, with additional titles planned for the upcoming 2021 season. The winning schools of each tournament will receive an array of leading gaming equipment, including LG’s own UltraGear monitors, designed to have ultra-low latency, high color accuracy and blistering refresh rates that enable players to compete at their best.

“Premium gaming equipment is to esports what the latest space-age swimsuits or sneakers are to Olympic athletes,” Addison added. “Forming an effective, competitive esports team or brand requires the latest computer technologies, from graphics processors to gaming mice to monitors such as the LG Ultragear. As colleges and universities increasingly recognize the career and enrollment potential of esports programs and teams, investment in proper computer labs and competition spaces will likely include multiple gaming stations and Twitch-friendly components such as video walls, display monitors and broadcasting workstations to help prepare students for careers in professional esports.”

ENHANCE Gaming Drops New Products Ahead of Upcoming Season

ENHANCE Gaming New Products 2021

In preparation for the upcoming gaming season, ENHANCE Gaming just released a family of new products across multiple systems including PC, console, and tabletop options. The lineup includes a mechanical gaming keyboard, three colors of console gaming headsets, a role-playing organizer case, and several accompanying accessories.

The ENHANCE Pathogen 2 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard was made specifically for gamers whose play benefits from a tactile, audible, and visible response. Each action is precise and illuminated with blue switches and side panels, and a wrap-around light strip. Other new items include the ENHANCE Dual Headphone Holder, the ENHANCE Cryogen 2 Laptop Cooling Stand, and the ENHANCE Gaming Hub Bungee with Built-in Headset Stand.

On the console gaming side, ENHANCE Gaming announced the new Infiltrate GX-H5 Gaming Headset in three colors: green, red, and blue. The headset also comes with a computer splitter cable to convert a single 3.5mm audio/microphone port into dual 3.5mm plugs – one for audio and one for the microphone. The GX-H5 headset is light-weight and soft to withstand long gaming sessions and traveling.

ENHANCE Gaming can also be credited with designing the world’s first PS5 and Xbox Series X / S console cases: the USA GEAR S23 Console Case. For transporting these larger consoles, ENHANCE Console Backpacks (available in green and blue) can house a PS5 or Xbox Series X / S, along with all the necessary accessories.

Tabletop gamers can also enjoy some new releases including the ENHANCE Tabletop RPG Case, the ENHANCE Tabletop RPG Organizer Case, the ENHANCE Tabletop Trading Card Backpack, the ENHANCE Tabletop Board Game Backpack, and RPG accessories like the ENHANCE Metal RPG Dice Set.

Pioneer Music Company Announces New Chicago Location

Pioneer Music Company
Credit: iStock

Pioneer Music Company (PMC) today announced the expansion of its distribution facilities in Elk Grove Village, IL. The century-and-a-half-old company serves the distribution needs of various audio, video, surveillance, networking, and remote management products. This latest facility in the Chicago metro area builds on PMC’s history of success with an additional 20,000 square feet of warehouse space and a training facility capable of accommodating over 50 attendees.

“The role of the distributor is changing faster than ever before, and we’ve invested in that change,” says PMC Vice President and sixth-generation owner, Alec Haight. “The last five years we strategically expanded our footprint in the Central Midwest. After refining operations and introducing more automation and value-add services to our business, we are beyond excited to scale our vision into the Northern Midwest market, starting with welcoming the local Chicago dealers to our family.”

Haight says the expansion is a result of their increased investment and commitment to the custom integration channel. PMC’s Elk Grove Village location will provide local dealers with flexible logistics support and same-day product availability, all within an open shopping format where customers are free to browse aisles of products. Dealers will also appreciate PMC’s self-service app, communications service, and live-inventory website with bill payment.

“The support from our vendor partners has been a huge driver for our expansion into this market,” Haight adds. “We sincerely believe in our value-add strategy to the custom integration channel, and it is rewarding to see our vendors share that belief. We’re proud to offer our services to the local dealers with a local team of experts under the leadership of industry veteran, Mike Baginski. Our company is already benefitting from the addition of top-notch personnel, vendor support, and dealer activity in the area. It is an exciting time to be in our industry, and we feel that excitement here at Pioneer Music.”

International Tech Up Talks Address Advancing Innovation

Tech Up Talks Samsung Google
Credit: iStock

IFA Berlin and Tech Up For Women recently hosted a webinar exploring strategies for advancing innovation as part of the International Tech Up Talks series. Moderator Faye Holland of Cofinitive welcomed Samsung Electronics America’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing & Communications, Michelle Crossan-Matos, and Google’s Managing Director of Apps, Imma Calvo to discuss the topic.

The conversation touched on how the pandemic has accelerated the pace at which brands are bringing new ideas to market, and how consumer confidence has been rebounding in the US. Crossan-Matos and Calvo shared insightful messages about ways companies can implement meaningful change.

“Innovation doesn’t just happen — it’s designed by humans for humans. And diversity is a critical ingredient. The innovation process is a multidimensional one and we must learn to approach it empathetically and surrounded by colleagues of diverse backgrounds with varied point of views so we can all bring something uniquely remarkable to the table,” said Crossan-Matos.

“Embrace disruption, even if it means becoming industry-agnostic to create a differentiated experience. The industry you operate in or founded your business on doesn’t matter as much as who your consumer is and what you can offer them. For example, gaming adapted and moved into social and social moved into e-commerce,” said Calvo.

“Leverage innovation to not just fulfill consumers’ current or predict future unmet needs, but to also build a brighter tomorrow – one that is more inclusive and sustainable. Social responsibility, accessibility, and sustainability aren’t just buzz words. At Samsung, we’ve accelerated the design and development of green technology and launched initiatives like our Galaxy Upcycling program and our Eco-Packaging solution – all to create a positive long-term impact on our planet. We’re also revolutionizing access to technology for ALL through a wide range of accessibility features and functionalities,” said Crossan-Matos.

“Be fearless about failure! Fear of failure actually inhibits innovation by suppressing new ideas. Being fearless means being someone who makes mistakes but rather than dwell on those mistakes, view them as learning experiences that give you the opportunity to iterate and evolve,” said Crossan-Matos. Expanding on her point, Calvo added, “Try to find a company that creates a space for you to fearlessly exercise your innovation muscles. And once you’re there and you become a leader, don’t forget to create an inclusive, failure-safe place for the new industry entrants.”

The full Tech Up Talks session can be found below.

DEADLINE EXTENDED Nominate Your Product for Dealerscope’s Audience Awards

Dealerscope Audience Award

What better year than the one following an election cycle to introduce our inaugural Dealerscope Audience Awards! Unlike the Dealerscope IMPACT Awards which are decided upon by a panel of judges, the Dealerscope Audience Awards put all the voting power in the hands of our dedicated readership.

Our audience of over 45,000 industry experts span a variety of fields including retailers, manufacturers, buying groups, distributors, and more. Dealerscope has served the consumer electronics industry for over three decades, so our audience is also fiercely loyal, and the ones we trust most to expertly judge these innovative products.

If you think you have what it takes to earn our readers’ vote, we invite you to submit your product now. The deadline for submissions is June 17, 2021.

Be prepared. Your product will be judged on its design, value, ease of use, performance, and features. Once submissions close, we will open up voting to our entire readership, and you can begin to “campaign” for your product. If you are selected as a winner, you will be featured in our magazine, on our website, in a special newsletter and digital magazine, and on our social media channels. You will also be presented with a physical award to display in your office or showroom and a digital award to add to your website or product listing to further establish your product’s positioning in the market.

Best of luck to all of our entrants!

Retail Robots Are Everywhere, Except in Consumer Electronics

Retail robots
Photo credit: AndreyPopov

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word robot? It’s likely anything from a walking, talking C-3PO-like bipod to a wheeled cylinder-like R2D2 to an unstable computer like HAL 9000. The truth is, just about anything mechanized that can pull off human actions can be considered a robot. It doesn’t need to look like a human, either. Because robots don’t necessarily have to walk and talk or even think much, they can be deployed in many different ways, both consumer-facing and behind the scenes. The retail space is no exception. Social distancing and sanitization requirements over the past 14 months led to a surge in online ordering and a dearth of shoppers heading to the malls, which accelerated the use of certain types of robots in warehouses and brick-and-mortar stores. Some of those trends are here to stay, others not so much. Here’s a rundown of significant technologies and trends in the retail robots space.

What’s In Store
“The general trend is that we’re seeing more robots in retail stores,” says John Harmon, senior analyst at Coresight Research. “That’s picked up quite a bit during the pandemic. The major applications tend to be among mass merchandisers and grocery stores.” Lowe’s may have had its LoweBot roaming the aisles answering shopper questions as far back as 2016, and Best Buy still has mechanized kiosks in airports and other public spaces across the country, but most of the in-store robots operating today are to be found in grocery stores or big-box stores that sell groceries. And on that front, Harmon says, “Walmart is the leader.”

Walmart has used cleaning robots since 2018.

Since 2018, Walmart has used robotic floor scrubbers at many of its brick-and-mortar locations and continues to expand its in-store robotics initiatives at its Sam’s Club subsidiary, with some clever iterations. The 372 new Tennant T7 AMR floor scrubbers that the warehouse club recently deployed to its retail locations will soon also have AI-enabled scanners that check for out-of-stock or misshelved items, as well as gather inventory data, mounted on top of them. It’s an ingenious hack that gives new meaning to the concept of multitasking.

In January, Walmart announced that it would be expanding its use of market fulfillment centers (MFC), essentially mini-warehouses attached to or inside of brick and mortar stores that contain thousands of products including groceries and consumer electronics. Purchased items are retrieved by a mix of humans and robots and then placed on a table, where humans put orders together for pickup by customers. The system has been in place at a Walmart in Salem, NH since 2019.

In other countries, some big-box and warehouse clubs have deployed robots. For example, French big-box chain Carrefour’s stores in the United Arab Emirates are using Simbe Robotics’s “Tally,” a tall pillar-like robot on wheels that uses computer vision-powered cameras to scan store shelves for items that are out of stock, misshelved, or mispriced. It’s then able to alert human stockers, who can surgically correct any errors or restock shelves without having to find these issues themselves. Tally’s built-in AI software also develops insight over time around what products are selling out and correlates that with other data such as discounts, weather, dates, and the like, allowing for better inventory and supply chain management; imagine if Tally robots had been more widespread during the shortages of toilet paper, sanitizer, flour, and other staples during the first months of COVID quarantine in 2020.

Simbe Robotics’s “Tally” robot roams the aisles of Decathlon San Francisco.

Moving Right Along
While Walmart is proactive in its robotics strategy, it acts as a lean startup when it’s time to pivot. For the retailer, the reduction in human foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores didn’t result in inventory-scanning robots as a long-term solution. Late last year, the company ended its partnership with Bossa Nova Robotics for an army of 1,000 stock-scanning robots at its stores. With more store employees scouring shelves to pick up delivery items in person for increased curbside pickups of the past 12 months, keeping track of on-shelf inventory was better handled the old-fashioned way. “It set the category back,” says Harmon. “I would say if they don’t work for Walmart, they probably won’t work for anyone.”

Walmart also recently pulled the plug on its automated pickup towers. Sort of a cross between Redbox kiosks and Amazon’s lockers, the pickup towers kept online purchases secure until customers came by in person, entered their information onto a screen, then sat back as the items were dispensed to them—not too different from a soda machine. With curbside service becoming the norm in 2020, and so many workers picking up online orders themselves and bagging them for consumers to pick up, these towers lost some of their relevance. The towers, at least, are technically on hiatus until Walmart figures out what to do with them as social distancing and mask requirements are removed and people are more comfortable going back to stores.

Walmart isn’t getting out of the robotics game by any means, however. “Robotics, along with a lot of other new and emerging technologies, will always have a role to play in terms of where we want to be both from the customer experience perspective but also an operational perspective,” said Walmart Executive Vice President and Chief Omni Strategy Officer Casey Carl to a Q&A session question posted by Dealerscope at the recent online Collision conference. “How will it make a better customer experience and how will it make it more operationally productive. If robotics is the right answer for that, then we’ll look at these sorts of things. We’re always testing new technology and innovations, asking ‘What could we do with this and how could we create more value for our customers?’” Such scrutiny and requirement for ROI will keep the robotics industry working hard to innovate and fine-tune its products, given Walmart’s size.

Other than Walmart, not many other retailers that sell consumer electronics or appliances are deploying robots in any meaningful way yet, which is surprising considering they are in the business of selling technology. “Somebody like a Best Buy could benefit a lot from robots fetching items for e-commerce in a fulfillment center,” says Harmon, “and certainly the trend has been for Best Buy and Target to ship from store lately. Best Buy’s new plan to convert some of the space in its stores to on-site warehouses and fulfillment centers falls in line with what Walmart is doing with its MFCs.

Big Box Boom
Nowhere has the push to automate been greater than in the warehouse and fulfillment center sector, a trend that has been growing ever since Amazon’s 2012 purchase of Kiva Systems. Renamed Amazon Robotics in 2015, the soup-to-nuts fulfillment center solution is a human-machine “cobot” setup, whereby autonomous wheeled robots grab merchandise from designated pods and deliver them to humans to pack for shipment. The e-commerce giant now is estimated to have deployed approximately 250,000 robots at its fulfillment centers across the globe, spurring on a robotics race among investors and companies looking to leverage new technologies.

And investors are taking note. Last month, The Softbank Group dropped $2.8 billion for a 40-percent stake of Norwegian robotics manufacturer AutoStore, which makes a warehouse robot known as “The Router” that maximizes storage space of products in big cubes, retrieving and re-organizing items on the fly at a superfast clip that has enabled it to create up to 25 percent more space for its warehouse partners. AutoStore currently has about 600 deployments around the world, many of which are small- and medium-sized e-commerce operations.

AutoStore’s “The Router” optimizes storage Rubik’s Cube-style, creating more space.

In recent years, Boston Dynamics has been better known for its two- and four-legged bipod and dog robots that could climb stairs or perform basic gymnastics and dance moves—some of the hardest robotics feats to pull off, but still not ready for mass business deployment just yet. Nevertheless, Boston Dynamics’s prowess with robotic legs gave it a particular edge with Stretch, the company’s first commercial robot, which was announced in April. Designed for warehouses, Stretch can move up to 800 boxes an hour with its versatile arm and sensor-laden smart gripper. Unlike many warehouse robots—Amazon’s included—that need to follow specific routes to move autonomously, Stretch’s computer vision capabilities are good enough to let it move around any space and easily recognize objects and boxes on its own

The state of retail robots, like so much technology, is a mix of booms and busts, though it’s clear that warehouse robots are here to stay and flourish, and they can be leveraged by big-box giants and independent retailers alike. In-store robots, at least of the pricey and non-janitorial kind, maybe a work in progress for many retailers. “[Robots] cost a lot and it’s hard to get your money’s worth,” says Harmon. “This is why Walmart abandoned these inventory robots.” Walmart (and Amazon) can’t and should not be doing this alone. It might be time for some of the more deep-pocketed retailers that carry CE and appliances to leverage their tech DNA and see where they can innovate on the robotics front

Designed for use in warehouses, Stretch is the first commercial robot from Boston Dynamics and can move up to 800 boxes an hour.

Howard’s Acquires Midway Home Solutions, Welcomes New Leadership

Howard's Acquires Midway

After teasing a desire for further expansion across California in our recent store visit, Howard’s officially announced its acquisition of Midway Home Solutions’ operations and assets this week. The acquired company is a leading provider of appliances in Victorville, Cal., and a member of the Nationwide Marketing Group network of independent retailers.

Since its founding 1961, Midway has been one of the largest single-store appliance retailers in the country by volume, serving the home appliance needs of the greater High Desert region including Apple Valley, Hesperia, Pinon Hills, Phelan, Oak Hills, Barstow, Victorville, Rancho Cucamonga, Adelanto, and Fort Irwin. Howard’s will begin operating in the same location on the official acquisition date of June 15, 2021.

“We are thrilled that Howard’s will continue the legacy of what we have built here in Victorville,” remarks Don Lager, Founder & CEO of Midway Home Solutions, who will serve on Howard’s Executive Advisory Board. “Howard’s commitment to the customer experience and product support mirrors our own. We look forward to seeing what new and exciting opportunities Howard’s will bring to the area’s 400,000 residents.”

To start, Midway’s 45,000 sq. ft. showroom and 50,000 sq. ft. distribution center will be rebranded under the Howard’s name. The company will also be welcoming some new leadership in Brian Doran, who will act as Vice President of Supply Chain and Logistics responsible for managing third party relationships, all DC activities, operations. The 41 employees currently employed by Midway will now support Howard’s customer service and sales initiatives at the Victorville location. Howard’s and Midway have carried many of the same brands over the years, including Bosch, Monogram, GE, LG, Samsung, JennAir, Thermador, and more, which should make for a seamless transition.

“The acquisition of Midway’s business holdings and store location solidifies Howard’s position as the largest independent retailer of major appliances on the West Coast,” said John Riddle, President & CEO, Howard’s. “We look forward to introducing shoppers at this location to products from a wide range of brands. We will also bring the same types of hands-on displays and room packages to the store that have become so popular at our other showrooms.”

Adding to its growth in the High Desert area, Howard’s is also anticipating its expansion into West Hollywood in Fall 2021. Renovations are also expecting to begin in a few weeks at the company’s Huntington Beach location followed by and Irvine in Winter 2021. At the close of the year, there will be a total of four Howard’s experience centers throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties, with more to come in 2022.

Catch our conversation with Howard’s on Dealerscope Insider Talk:

iRoom, DTools Form Partnership

iRoom & DTools partner

A new agreement between iRoom, a global Apple-certified manufacturer of iPad docking and smart control solutions, and D-Tools, Inc. will provide dealers access to the full iRoom iO product catalog, along with dealer-specific pricing, to help them increase productivity and improve their bottom line.

For the complete story, visit Connected Design.

Helping Consumers Upgrade and Migrate Their Technology from Home to Office

Home Office Upgrade
Credit: iStock

As offices begin to reopen in some cities and portions of the country, consumers will continue seeking ways to upgrade their work-from-home environments while migrating some of their favorite productivity tools and technologies back to the office with them.

As these needs continue to increase, it’s critically important for retailers to provide consumers the latest technology for both home and work, especially as the line between the two becomes even more blurred. Consumers want to be connected 24/7 regardless of location, and there is enormous sales opportunity in meeting that demand.

Returning to the Office

As companies bring employees back to the office, workers return more technologically savvy, with ever greater expectations for comfort and productivity. They want the same products they have become accustomed to using at home. Just as workers upgraded their home office technology with the addition of multiple monitors, ergonomic keyboards, mice, and chairs, employers and retailers should prepare to provide some of the same advanced technologies and ergonomics their employees adopted at home.
Video calls will remain the norm going forward, and products such as high-resolution web cameras will be in demand. Ultra-light weight bone conduction headsets provide for comfortable all-day use while offering better situational awareness because you can hear what’s going on around you.

Hybrid work environments require technologies that make it easy and convenient for employees to transition as they divide their time between the office and working from home. Accessories employing USB-C simplify connecting monitors, phones, keyboards, notebooks, and cameras in various environments. Employees are seeking robust storage drives to easily access work when they are not connected to the company network, whether at home or on the go.

With the acceleration of 5G, manufacturers are integrating LTE into products so that employees can make calls directly from their notebooks and tablets.

Making Remote Work Work for You

As many businesses and schools shut down in-person environments last year, consumers cobbled together the available technology for remote work and learning. As the year went on, consumers began to identify the products that best meet their needs and started upgrading accessories that provided more efficient communication and comfort.

One year later, consumers looking to fine-tune their remote setup are seeking to upgrade accessories like keyboards, mice, and cameras that make it easier to work. Some are choosing to stick with a single brand so that their ecosystem of devices and accessories work seamlessly together.

With the prevalence of video calls, consumers are starting to look at cameras with a higher capacity (1080p or 4K) for more detail work, whiteboarding, or doing product demos. They want cameras with better microphones, image tracking, and other advanced features.

They are looking to the larger bandwidth of Wi-Fi 6 and mesh networks to ensure robust connectivity for work and for streaming entertainment.

In addition to upgrading for the latest features and functionality, the ability to work comfortably is becoming increasingly important, and consumers are swapping out their old equipment. Many workers seated for a large portion of the day are adopting ergonomic chairs, stands, and standing desks along with smart watches that remind them to get up and move.

Staying Connected at Home

As consumers become more connected at home through remote work, learning and daily activities, they are looking for a hub device that acts as a command center for the home. People are recognizing the importance of having an all-in-one smart device with a screen and speakers to check the weather, view the front door, see what’s next on their schedule, and play music or news.

More in-person interactions are driving a rise in home medical devices such as contactless thermometers and oxygen level monitors to stay in tune with their personal health. Wireless home security cameras that can operate for up to two years on a battery charge provide inexpensive solutions that don’t require hardwiring to networks and power sources.

As consumers continue to be more connected than ever — whether at home, in the office, or on the go — it is important for retailers to understand the different consumer profiles and what products fit into each environment.

There is enormous opportunity to address these needs, especially with the rise of 5G and broadband for better connectivity. We have entered a hybrid world, where consumers can choose virtual or in-person, and retailers should be prepared with something to offer everyone.

House of Marley Adds to Positive Vibration Series

House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC

The latest addition to the House of Marley Positive Vibration line is the Positive Vibration XL ANC over-ear wireless headphones. This time around, the headphones feature even more comfort and battery life than their predecessor, Positive Vibration XL.

As always, House of Marley stayed true to its mission with an eco-conscious design with materials such as FSC certified wood and recyclable aluminum ear cups. The secure, over-ear design with memory foam cushions ensure a comfortable fit for the longest listening sessions imaginable. Positive Vibration XL ANC provides 26 hours of battery life with Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) on and 35 hours with ANC off – that’s three times the amount of battery life of the original.

As far as sound goes, Positive Vibration XL ANC delivers with 40mm high-definition drivers producing House of Marley’s signature, powerful sound while hybrid active noise cancellation works to tune out surrounding sounds through dual sets of integrated microphones. The headphones pair seamlessly with any Bluetooth device, and power up quickly thanks to quick-charge technology.

“Our Positive Vibration series of headphones has always been a popular favorite for its quality sound and affordability. By creating the next generation with the Positive Vibration XL ANC, we are upgrading the experience and making active noise cancellation a standard feature,” explains House of Marley Director of Product Development, Josh Poulsen. “Today’s environment often has us working in new spaces, on-the-go outside, and frequently in need of blocking out unwanted noise. The Positive Vibration XL ANC is delivering that listening experience within the under $150USD category.”

Positive Vibration XL ANC is available now at www.HouseofMarley.com for $149.99 MAP.

Beko Makes a Bold Promise on its Refrigerators

Beko Fresh Produce Promise

Beko U.S., a subsidiary of Europe’s leading home appliance brand stands by their refrigerators so much that they are willing to put their money where their mouth is. The Fresh Produce Promise, launching on May 27, promises customers that their fruits and vegetables will remain fresh for 30 days with Beko’s EverFresh+ technology or their money back.

The global home appliance manufacturer says they will work with dealers to ensure customers’ full satisfaction with their refrigerator purchases. In order to qualify for a refund or store credit, customers must keep their refrigerators for the full 30-day freshness cycle and fulfill a few simple requirements detailed on Beko’s dealer-specific webpage. The Fresh Produce Promise applies to all ten Beko refrigerator models that include the advanced technology, including French door, side-by-side, top-freezer and bottom-freezer models.

Because of their safe and efficient pandemic plan, Beko is one of the few appliance manufacturers with significant inventory immediately available to ship to U.S. dealers. Beko US, Inc., President Zack Elkin will begin previewing the Fresh Produce Promise to dealers this week, appropriately coinciding with National Eat More Fruits and Vegetables Day.

“While Beko is a fixture in millions of European kitchens and operates in 130 countries worldwide, we’ve only been in the U.S. for several years so still relatively unknown here,” Elkin said. “The Fresh Produce Promise is our way to take the guesswork out of dealers having to predict the next hot-selling refrigerator model simply because they need immediate inventory. Our dealers can recommend a Beko refrigerator to their health-, wellness- and nutrition-minded customers with full confidence that it will contribute to their healthy lifestyle by keeping their produce fresh for up to 30 days – or we’ll buy it back.”

Beko’s EverFresh+ with Active Fresh Blue Light technology works by recreating photosynthesis to preserve vitamin C. Paired with energy-saving, ProSmart inverter compressors, the end result is a refrigeration system that maximizes humidity and minimizes moisture loss to preserve the life of produce.

“For the consumer, the potential is dramatically less food waste, a healthier diet and a reduced carbon footprint thanks to less frequent shopping trips,” Bugay said. “For dealers, designers, builders and architects, as well as dietitians, chefs and foodies, the result is another reason to choose Beko over the competition.”

Beko’s commitment to sustainability also applies to other areas of the home through its selection of 29 kitchen and laundry products including heat-pump dryers, dishwashers, washing machines, bottom-mount freezer refirgerators and upright freezers ­­– recipients of EPA’s Most Efficient and Emerging Technology Awards. Beko’s mission is to be one of the world’s most sustainable companies, an accolade they are reaching toward by exceeding ENERGY STAR, EPA, and DOE requirements.

A Q&A With CE and Appliance Distributors

CE and Appliance Distributors
Credit: iStock

SUMMARY 
•  Distributors have acted adroitly through the yearlong pandemic, swiftly tailoring programs to get dealers up to speed in digital, and in streamlining their just-in-time delivery processes.  

•  An especially challenging issue for dealers early on was securing adequate inventory to meet exceedingly high demand for certain categories such as networking products, replacement appliances and large-screen TVs – but distributor tools that aided dealers in accurate forecasting and product cycle planning proved to be invaluable resources

Having successfully adjusted to the “new normal,” distributors say they foresee business eventually settling down in the post-COVID period to a combination hybrid digital and in-person model – and add that they now have the resources in place to manage all aspects of it, moving forward.

Dealerscope: What will be the most salient features of your product and program presentations moving through the balance of 2021 and into 2022 that offer your retailers benefits beyond customary buying opportunities (i.e., educational initiatives, training events, seminars on business best practices, etc.)? 

Tyler Nelson, Director, Marketing/Training, 21st Century Distributing:  21st Century Distributing has taken pride in offering not only the best in customer service and product offerings but also additional educational opportunities to help our dealers achieve their absolute best. In addition to our multiple monthly trainings from manufacturers and business professionals, we are hosting our annual dealer roadshow. This will be the second year of our fully virtual event and provides opportunities for educational sessions with our manufacturing partners on products and solutions selling techniques. Additionally, dealers have an opportunity to earn rewards, win prizes and take advantage of special promotions only available during the show.  

 

Jack Halperin, Senior VP, Dealer Channel Division, Almo Corp.: Dealer needs vary. Some prefer attending in-person physical meetings and events while others, with staff limitations or for other reasons, have grown accustomed to virtual interaction. Since COVID-19 has become a major catalyst for the evolving online consumer decision-making and buying process, we continue to work with dealers on the development, enhancement and expansion of their online offerings. Successful independent dealers can no longer ignore this trend in the home appliance segment. 

 

Helge Fischer, Executive Director, Catalyst AV: Business has been very healthy; the biggest issue is getting merchandise such as AV receivers. We are trying to provide great training and updates for the dealers. Most dealers are sick of Zoom meetings, so that part is hard. Catalyst AV distributors go the extra mile; it still is all about education, customer service, and training. 

Doug Allen, President, Climatic Home Products: COVID has created many challenges over the last year within the appliance industry. At Climatic Home Products, we have been able to pivot to meet many of our customers’ needs. We have been able to get many customers to join in Microsoft Teams or Zoom calls to participate in new product launches and trainings. In recent weeks, we were able to get our customers together on a Zoom call in small groups to participate in vendor booth presentations at the virtual group shows. For the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, we are planning to start in-person meetings for training and customer sales calls. We will continue to use Zoom meetings for launching new products and programs as well as quarterly business reviews. 

Fred Eddy, VP of US Retail & NSP Sales, D&H Distributing: D&H has added a new vendor onboarding specialist program, as both partners and vendors demand more robust work/learn/play-from-home technologies. To bring new products to market faster in the U.S., we recently trained our sales force on more than 20 new technologies. This included medical monitoring and purification/sanitation devices, home entertainment products like PC gaming and projectors, plus tablets, cameras, and accessories for school from home. This has resulted in triple-digit growth in emerging tech in six months. Also new for 2021: D&H’s enablement services and retail marketing resources allow consumer electronics manufacturers to accelerate their investment and return with key etailers. In addition, our National Solution Providers Group will continue to host virtual, field-based product training in high-demand categories relative to COVID-19 recovery, including consumer and commercial-grade PC devices, upgraded consumer networking solutions, home and outdoor products, plus entertainment merchandise like PC and console gaming.  

Rex Berfield, National Sales Manager, DAS Companies, Inc.: As everyone knows, inventory is the name of the game in 2021. New requests from distant territories are much more common. Distributors face challenging issues — either take care of existing customers or forge new relationships. We have continued our stance. We keep it simple. We prioritize our retail partners ahead of all others, making sure they understand we are here to support them through good times and bad. As we all adjust in these COVID-19 times, we have adjusted our attention towards marketing opportunities for the dealers. Yes, we are still advertising, but we are focusing the communication on letting the dealers know what is available, what alternative options exist, and all new opportunities. The word remote has taken on a life of its own over the past 12 months, and will continue to impact how customer service is provided through 2021. Multiple locations and outside sales teams will continue to offer advantages that will expand in 2021, providing our dealers better, quicker information and quicker deliveries. 

Kevin Kelly, President & CEO, Exertis: Exertis has more than doubled its outreach initiatives to retailers, supporting their retail and business divisions across all vertical markets by deploying the industry’s most robust virtual event and training platform that allows us to offer more customized product introductions, webinars, training sessions and, yes, buying opportunities. By taking our Big Book of AV Tour to this platform we are able to host more tour stops in more locations than ever before. We’ve removed all of the obstacles inherent with physical events and replaced them with a robust schedule of virtual programs that, we believe, will enable our customers to offer customized solutions across all verticals.   

Raymond Levy, COO, The Fesco Group: As the world experiences major changes, inevitably, there are going to be some adjustments to the way people work and the way people purchase their products. 2020 was a year filled with extreme situations. The pandemic did a lot to change people’s work and purchasing habits. Some of those changes, such as work from home, web meetings, and purchasing online, will be permanent. Nevertheless, I believe that ultimately people will want again to work from an office, purchase from a store, and meet clients in person. Many of us were denied these privileges that maybe we didn’t appreciate, and not having them only caused us to yearn for that which we lost. As much destruction and loss of life as COVID caused, the one takeaway was that we all gained a new appreciation for that which we took for granted. As businesses, we need to keep all of this in mind and prepare accordingly. As a company, we’ve adjusted in 2020 and offered our customers a much broader range of products to meet their ever-changing needs. We now offer remote office solutions, personal sanitization devices, and a wider variety of grooming products. We’re continuously adjusting and anticipating. Never a dull moment! 

Alexandra Harding, Director, Vendor Management, Business and Consumer Solutions, Ingram Micro: We are planning a national BCS Connections live show in Puerto Rico in 2022. For this year, beginning in May, we will host a virtual event roadshow that starts on May 18 that will focus on real-life solutions following the “Work Better, Play Better, Live Better” theme.  A six-city virtual show tour will begin in San Diego, followed by Scottsdale, San Antonio, Buffalo, Greenville, and wrapping up in Miami. Each show will focus on the themed solutions, beginning with the theme “Work From Anywhere, Learn From Anywhere.” We will showcase some cool videos showing those solutions in action and go into more detail about those solutions. We will also focus on wearables for digital health. Part of each tour will include main stages for vendors and virtual evening social events, and select vendors will have 1:1 meetings with attendees. Prizes will be given away at each location. Our virtual Ingram Micro ONE experience is scheduled for this fall. It’s a big annual event where top vendors come to engage with various customers, including members of our Trust X Alliance and SMB Alliance solution-provider communities. Various tracks of our Business and Consumer Solutions program are also continuing in this virtual world until Q4, and we’ll continue to partner with key vendors to offer trainings. 

Fred Towns, President, New Age Electronics: New Age will continue to provide training on our product portfolio and host events to further engage with vendors throughout the year. We will provide line reviews along with the vendors to bring exposure to new product direction and trends. We also have a collaborative forecast model that we can work on with our customers to provide the best inventory support. In addition to our training, New Age provides bundled solution options to retailers so they can bring a complete solution to their end users, versus just selling a product.   

Jonathan Elster, CEO, Next Level Distribution: Over the last year, with trade shows and conferences having been cancelled, we were not able to get in front of our customers — so we’ve had to pivot.  We’ve done this through digital platforms; that’s been a major focus for us. We offer virtual seminars on our website which have been very successful. We’ve launched new products and training videos that way; several vendors have provided unboxing and training videos. Unboxing videos are something we’ve never done in the past. They started in the traditional ecommerce world, where people liked to see products being unboxed. They’re no different from our customers. If LG, for example, releases a new OLED TV, we have one of our employees do an unboxing, we turn on the TV, and viewers can see the product live. Traditionally, we’d have gone to customers to show them, but since we’re not doing as much of that because of COVID, we had to come up with digital ways to conduct business in a virtual manner. And the feedback has been great – incredible, quite honestly. We’ve done a virtual seminar on how to get our customers more involved in social media, with a social media expert explaining how to get in front of their customers and use it to market to them with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We also just launched SMS marketing, so now we’re texting our customers, and we’re continuing to do eblasts and shipping stuffers. We’ve just opened our new Atlanta facility, and our biggest concern was making sure our customers knew that we moved. Of course, we sent emails and letters and put it on invoices – but people always have their phones on, so why not text them? It’s a great way to remind customers of a new product launch or vendor as well.  

Dennis Holzer, Executive Director, PowerHouse Alliance: As we move through the next year, the PowerHouse Alliance members look forward to implementing new events and initiatives for our dealers as we begin to transition to life post-pandemic. Most importantly, we look forward to opportunities to connect face-to-face. The pandemic certainly slowed down the introduction of new products and we expect that new SKUs will be entering the market at a rapid pace this year. Those new SKUs, coupled with some of the new products, new dealer relationships, and vendors we have slated for 2021, means dealers can also expect a hearty lineup of product and best practice training. Additionally, capitalizing on what was a very strong year for PowerHouse Alliance members, we will see several new locations across the United States, and several locations will move to larger facilities in the same areas, giving dealers convenient access to additional product lines needed to complete projects successfully. The overall availability and delivery of products to dealers will be more efficient throughout the next year.  

Can you review how you have adjusted or tailored your activities to help the retailers you serve this year, in light of the challenges posed by COVID-19 over the past 12 months? 

Holzer: I’m proud of the way that PowerHouse Alliance members have served their dealers over the last 12 months. Dealers across the country saw an enhanced demand from homeowner clients for new technology and PowerHouse members were prepared not only with the product that was needed but with safety protocols at the forefront. Members implemented changes to daily operations including social distancing guidelines for dealers and employees. Restricted will-call and drive-through pickup allowed for dealers to get products they needed quickly while following social distancing guidelines. Warehouse locations also implemented strict cleaning procedures including freight disinfectant for inbound and outbound orders.  

Towns: Despite the challenges of this past year, our focus continues to be keeping customers up to speed on the trends and direction of technology. Like many organizations, we have shifted our communications to virtual platforms, connecting regularly with customers through virtual meetings and events. To keep events and interactions with partners engaging, we have incorporated activities like a cooking class led by top chefs, providing a great opportunity to have fun and network. We have also worked with industry leaders like the CTA to provide content on industry trends through short, digestible videos.   

Elster: We’ve been getting product to our customers even faster than ever. Regarding 24-hour delivery, we partner with mobile courier services to get product to customers within 50 miles the same day. More and more of our customers rely very heavily on distribution; 95 percent of our territory that we sell into gets product same or next day. Things like that are critically important – to make sure that our customers are getting what they need as fast as possible.   

We’ve done so much to help our retailers. When COVID hit, we had to go beyond the norm for customers who were challenged and needed help, as far as things like extending credit and extending payment terms, and providing extra resources for them to help them stay in business. We’ve also provided curbside pickup. These were things we did to make sure our customers were able to get product just in time.   

Eddy: Distribution hinges on logistics. D&H’s distribution centers remained open throughout COVID-19, and our transportation team responded amazingly quickly to challenges like matching inconsistent supply with the incredible demand seen from retailers for their BOPIS (Buy Online Pick Up In Store) and ecommerce initiatives. The flexibility of our freight and warehousing management was impressive, delivering better partner experiences as we navigated these unchartered waters, particularly through the 2020 holiday season. We helped retailers pivot to a stock, dropship, or curbside pickup selling model as needed. One of the most significant adjustments was securing inventory when production was constrained and addressing shipping delays caused by global port congestion. Our broad category knowledge and best-in-class services allowed us to help retailers provide the categories that were most urgently required during the pandemic. Our customer engagement activities, including cycle planning, forecasting, and execution, all successfully pivoted to virtual sales environments in 2020.

Allen: During the last 12 months, one thing became very clear, when unprecedented demand started in our industry, as well as the shutdown of North American factories. It put many customers [in the mode of] looking for new partners to help meet their sales demand. We at Climatic Home Products had been working on new partnerships prior to COVID that enabled us to receive products to help supply many of our customers’ needs. We were also able to get ahead of forecasting on key products and were able to get a consistent product flow until late Q4 2020. Late-2020 container shortage plus high demand created a slowdown of receiving imported products. At that time, we were able to shift some key production back to North American factories to continue to flow key models. 

Kelly: In addition to the launch of our virtual event program, we have taken aggressive steps to realign our product strategy to offer solutions that are in demand in today’s post-COVID environment. [These include] audio and video collaboration solutions, displays, cameras, speakers, microphones — literally anything that enhances the work and learn-from-home world that we live in today. We’ve also expanded, significantly, the support programs we offer our customers.  We created the Exertis XtraCare Program to provide employees with much-needed extra protection, and our partners with business relief and facilitation tools, as well as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits to enable them to complete projects in a safe and secure way. We also created the PROAVXchange online auction hub where resellers can turn slow-moving product into cash that is needed to operate their business. The PROAVXchange provides resellers with an opportunity to sell product for a price that is most likely greater than what a bank would offer. We’re also working with all credit-worthy customers to roll out FleXFinancing that extends existing and future invoices payment terms by 30 days. Exertis also rolled out a new AV as a Service (AVaaS) plan that provides end users with a monthly payment option that enables them to upgrade to the most up-to-date technology in the future. Partners will get paid in full up front. Everyone at Exertis can take great pride in all that we have achieved during the last very challenging year.   

Nelson: 21st Century Distributing took a proactive and educational approach to the challenges posed by COVID-19 over the past 12 months. We provided our dealers with direction and resources with PPP loans and Employee Retention programs. We secured 24-hour non-contact and curbside pickup at our locations.  We upgraded our servers and online POS systems to handle the uptick in online ordering and processing.  Finally, we implemented a robust cleaning and hygiene program at all our facilities to align with the WHO and CDC guidelines to help stop the spread of COVID-19.    

Halperin: Our priority has always been on keeping everyone safe and healthy, while still moving business forward. At Almo, we quickly acquired tools to allow our employees to effectively engage remotely with dealers. We also stocked as much core appliance inventory as possible early last year, which has allowed dealers to continue moving product, especially as the appliance demands increased.  

Harding: It is all about virtual. We use Microsoft Teams and encourage every associate to have video calls with their customers and tell them to turn the camera on –  it’s OK if they see your living room, or if the dog barks in the background or if the kid comes up and asks a question; it’s OK to be human, with life going on around you. 

Consistency is key, and we’re constantly driving that message to be face to face and not just hide behind email or phone calls only. It’s important to keep that customer connection. We also looked into customer needs and are looking at credit facilities and at payment terms to adjust where needed. 

We did a lot of different things to make sure our customers have what they need to be successful. We also made the trainings fun by adding personal touches – what we call door drops –  that is, sending DIY kits to learn how to cook or bake or make charcuterie boards – and we even send whiskey boxes.   

Fischer: So yes, the protocols have changed. The most important thing is that the dealers need to feel safe when they pick up products, so there is a lot less personal contact, and more pickup after hours and ordering remotely. We have secured the areas of pickup, increased sanitizing, and [implemented] social distancing, etc., to make sure our customers feel good about being at their distributor. 

What do you think constitutes the ‘new normal’ in the distribution business, for the post-COVID recovery period – what do you expect to return to the way it was before, and what do you think has changed irrevocably?    

Towns: I feel we have a new business climate that moves faster with digital information and content and communication. Meetings can share information and open discussions and not have to wait for a face-to-face visit – SPEED is key! 

I am not sure if the world will ever return to the traditional ways that we had in 2020 — it will be a hybrid model with new SLAs and fresh, new ideas. I think the role of distribution will be more important than ever to support our retailers with the right inventory and fulfillment of goods faster to their customers. I also feel in-person meetings will be better planned with more focus for the vendors and customers because we can have planning discussions and provide content digitally before we sit down in person to meet. We have entered into a hybrid world, where people can choose in-person or virtual, depending on what avenue best suits their needs. Like we experienced in 2020, there is something for everyone, and NAE will provide the solutions in all formats so that our customers will continue to enjoy growth in their business.  

Elster: I hear people talk about the new normal. I do think the digital approaches we’re taking will continue. We’ve seen a lot of value in it and so have my customers.  [Even in non-COVID times] not every customer is able to travel to a trade show because of cost or because they are owner-operated. However, I do envision getting back in front of customers and getting back to trade shows, and getting in front of our suppliers.  I don’t think this is the new normal – that we’re going to sit inside and just work from our workplaces. But as for the digital aspect of doing business, that will continue 100 percent. It’s really provided another avenue for us to get product in front of our customers even quicker than we have in the past. It’s been very successful, we’ve enhanced our website to be best in class, and we’ve made a lot of changes to search capabilities, online promos, invoice tracking and bill paying, that have been very valuable to our dealers.  

Holzer: I expect the distribution business to return to business as normal prior to the pandemic in the post-COVID recovery period, but we have certainly learned some important lessons as a result of COVID-19.  Through the pandemic, communication was key to keeping dealers and distributors successful. PowerHouse Alliance distributor members have adopted new options to get products to dealers including same-day delivery, more member trucks on the roads, additional locations, and stocking warehouses with larger quantities of product. Through the remainder of 2021, we will continue to reap the benefits of enhanced communication as we introduce new locations, vendors, and products and return to a consistent in-person training schedule that offers more, including some additional surprises to be unveiled.  

Levy: We all experienced the attenuation of the distribution business as brands went direct to retail and bypassed the distributor in the middle. More retailers have closed, and we find ourselves in a new world with more and more brands chasing less and less retailers. Retailers are continuously trying to simplify their supply chain by shrinking their vendor base. As a result, opportunities have opened up for distributors who have vendor numbers and can supply a multitude of solutions. 

Fischer: Things will normalize, as restaurants, movie theaters and more open up, and people ‘feel’ like things are getting normal, and they are being vaccinated… There will be less fear — that is key to actually having meetings and demonstrations with dealers. I believe we will have mask mandates at trainings and still use video conferencing more than in the past, so networking products will continue to have strong growth. The world is maybe going back to the office, but a lot of companies will still prefer their employees to have a mix of office and at-home work. Again, there are many great opportunities for our Catalyst AV members and dealers. 

Nelson: We at 21st Century Distributing believe that change is inevitable and are always looking to improve our dealer experience day to day. Will we see the same kind of face-to-face interaction that was considered the “normal” prior to COVID? No.  However, that was changing regardless, with dealers utilizing incredible technological tools to showcase pre-project designs and proposals online without needing to be in front of the client. This change was also coming on the distribution side, and a need for dealers to have access to their products quickly. We implemented a 24-hour pickup program at our locations specifically to address this need so an integrator could place an order anytime and know it would be waiting for them that night or early the next morning. Change happens sometimes slowly and sometimes in the blink of an eye. It’s how you adapt and adjust your business models to meet this change, and then anticipate the next one that will determine your level of success.  21st is looking forward to the future.   

Allen: As we move to the next chapter of the pandemic, there will be a “new normal” in distribution. This new normal will allow distributors to use technology and speed to market that will help better communications to our customers and delivery of new products. I believe that customers who were able to find distributors that could support some of their needs over the last 12 months will continue to support some percentage of their business moving forward because of the lessons learned during the pandemic. 

Just as retailers found out that less suppliers are probably not the way of the future, distributors also found that a mix of suppliers from around the globe is important to the future of their businesses. 

Halperin: We anticipate overall manufacturer inventory levels will continue to improve as the year goes on. Manufacturers will be looking to make up lost share from the previous 12 months — this year’s holiday appliance offerings should be more in line with the traditional promotional period. 

We also expect the buying groups to some extent will be able to conduct physical Buy Fairs. While the virtual experience has become a necessary and relevant way to conduct business, it’s still important to meet with dealers and vendors in person at such events when safely possible.  

Over the past 12 months, we have learned that conducting business remotely is effective. Once our offices fully reopen, we’ll be able to provide a hybrid balance that is effective and productive for both employees and dealers.  

Eddy: The new normal — whatever that looks like — will require versatility and fortitude. D&H has a depth and breadth of consumer and commercial solutions, and has proven its ability to provide high service levels regardless of how or what the world wants to buy. That agility applies across retail, ecommerce, and B2B disciplines. Even if business travel remains limited, D&H’s tenured field sales team will serve as a vital resource for manufacturer and retail partners. We’re positioned to fulfill day-to-day business needs in the short and long term, both virtually and in person. No one can fully predict the permanence of recent developments, but based on D&H’s 104-year history and current growth trajectory, we’ll be here, ready to support the channel’s evolution for many post-pandemic years to come. 

Harding: I do not think we will ever go back to the way it was. We are going to continue to see growth in ecommerce sales. I am happy to see some of these retail stores succeed in changing their model to curbside pickup and same-day delivery options. I think when we see each state start to reopen, you are going to see more of a rush, because people are so tired of being cooped up. You are going to see [unleashed] that pent-up demand just to get out. Ecommerce is still going to drive it; there is still going to be pressure on the carriers and that whole network. The delays will continue with delivery, but patience has changed things, and lowered the expectation of 24-to-48-hour delivery – and consumers understand this. 

How will businesses open?  When offices open back up, they will not open 100 percent – maybe only 50 percent. Will they offer hybrid work solutions that will continue to drive those work-from-home solutions? People rushed and went out and bought whatever it was that they could to make work from home do-able. Fast forward one year, and people are going to refresh these things because they will continue to work from home, and they will want to have a better camera, better monitor docking stations, and better networks. Once they realized they had their entire family working online, they realized that that four-year-old router needed to be thrown in the trash and upgraded, so that they could get on board with the latest Wi-Fi solutions that are available now, with mesh networking protection. So these are areas of business that are going to continue to see growth. 

I think travel will resume being the way it was before because, again, people want to get out. But things will be slightly different – like that dining experience using QR codes to scan the menu, for example, will continue. These solutions save some trees. Touchless displays are out there a lot more. Not touching things as much, but where self-checkout options or mobile pay options are available, are trends, and because of these trends, things will change for the better for the environment. 

My takeaway from this is that I hope people can be more kind and more compassionate. Many lives were lost during this pandemic; we shouldn’t lose sight of that.  People are going to be more health-conscious, and more aware of their surroundings. 

Kelly: COVID has demonstrated that manufacturers and resellers alike have to work with a distribution partner that is capable to provide the resources and solutions needed to meet a challenge that is unthinkable in scale and scope. That’s exactly what COVID was — and is: A challenge that shook the business to the core. We demonstrated the true value of a distribution partner during the last year. In good times, everyone can use the word ‘partner’ when it comes to distribution. It’s easy to be a partner when times are good. When times are bad, really bad, manufacturers and retailers need a distribution partner that can stand with them and help them through a crisis in every way they need, including business support, expanded credit, flexible terms, and staged delivery of solutions. We did all of this — and more. Frankly, retailers need a distribution partner who, in every sense, is their business partner. I believe for all of these reasons the era of small distributors is coming to an end. Consolidation, already under way, will accelerate. 

CE Industry Leaders Share Their Insights on Business Today

Consumer Electronics Industry

What’s been happening in the last couple of months in your business sector?  

Robin Raskin: What hasn’t been happening? The events business transformed overnight from one that was mostly in-person live events to one that was mostly online and virtual events. As we emerge from the pandemic, the scales will shift to events that are essentially digital-first, with in-person meetings that are smaller and more intimate.

Toni Sabatino: The last couple of months in the home remodeling, building and specifically kitchen and bath sector have been interesting, to say the least. The pandemic created new needs, exposed flaws at home as well as challenges in vital supply chains. Appliances, spray foam and other building materials have been in short supply, and lead times have increased. The home has become much more vital to our way of life than ever before. Working from home, home school and all the other activities that the pandemic has forced us to do in our personal spaces — cooking more, working out, entertaining ourselves and storing all that we need to accomplish these goals — has posed new challenges to many, for sure! Problems with IT, network and broadband issues have also surfaced as people scramble to use the internet for EVERYTHING! Communication, shopping, streaming, social networks as well as work and school from home have forced many to make needed adjustments in their infrastructure.

Dawn Pratt: Wow! The technology sector has been rapidly changing during COVID, creating so many new ways to do business. There have been accelerated trends we’ve seen at mass scale. [We at] Global Training & Events Group are happy to be providing a global platform to stay up to date with these advances.

I have to admit that I, myself, even have a hard time keeping up with the daily advancements in the technology business, given the speed at which we’re seeing new offerings! This speed of innovation, of course, is a beautiful thing. Our current offerings include Tech Up Talks Webinar Series, Tech Up for Women Conferences, and Tech Trends weekly updates, all of which help keep everyone up on the latest trends.

What excites you most about the next two months as it relates to your business? What most concerns you?

Robin Raskin: Same answer to both questions. I pivoted and took a big bet on the ongoing sustainability of every company having a virtual component to their traditional events. And I pivoted further to believe I could create an organization at the center of it for all the stakeholders, as they make digital part of their core business strategy. Normally not the gambling type, I guess I’m now old enough to believe in myself enough to make this happen. If not now, when, as they say.

Toni Sabatino: I am excited about the home becoming the haven. I see that homes need to nurture inhabitants, and the “smart home” has become a realistic goal for so many people. Innovations in operating systems, addition of voice control, integration of security and safety as well as “smart appliances” make the home design business and the world of technology ever more intertwined.

Dawn Pratt: As we come out of the pandemic, there are excellent opportunities to “refresh” how everyone does business through the use of technology. I am particularly watchful and passionate about the technological advances in the medical sector as we collectively fight a truly global pandemic. What most concerns me is that it will take longer for us all to get back to working together again, face to face.

What is the most important thing for our readership to know about your business?  

Robin Raskin: We’re building a community for everyone who cares about making better virtual events, now and in the future. It has newsletters, meetups, reviews, and networking that are spawning this new industry.

Toni Sabatino: The kitchen and bath business are evolving. Business models are changing. While certain showrooms will always have a place, people are becoming more confident in working remotely and shopping online. The team approach, dedicated to creating a great user experience for the client as well as a smoother construction phase process, is also becoming more common. Networking between trades has become more important as we have not been able to meet in person at trade shows. The designers have also realized how necessary integration of technology has become to the success of projects as well as their business.

Dawn Pratt: We provide “tech up” opportunities to advance yourself and your business. The world is changing so fast, new technologies are evolving rapidly, and we all need to find new ways to grow ourselves, our careers, and our companies. Our Tech Up For Women, techupforwomen.com and Tech Up Smart Buildings, techupsmartbuildings.com are creating new ways to find these resources to stay current.

Hot Kitchen Appliances That Nutrition-Minded Consumers Want

Kitchen Appliances: Breville Bluicer Pro

While people are still anxious to return to their local restaurants, the skills and interests they acquired over the last year are here to stay, along with a general interest in health and nutrition. These three kitchen appliances make healthful cooking easier than ever.

Accelerating the juicing trend is Breville’s 3X Bluicer Pro ($400), coining a new micro-trend: “Bluicing,” which is mixing fresh juice with fresh blends using the same kitchen appliance. Users can combine freshly extracted juice into blends, while incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables. It fits comfortably on the counter with a space-saving design that consists of one base with interchangeable parts — a juicing chute with an attachable pulp bin along with a blending jug that doubles as a carafe for juicing.

The Ninja Foodi Smoothie Bowl Maker and Nutrient Extractor ($120) is designed specifically for preparing smoothie bowls. The smartTORQUE technology blends and powers through the thickest ingredients at high speed without stalling or the need to stir or shake, making the creation of a smoothie bowl quick and easy. The Ninja Foodi Smoothie Bowl Maker and Nutrient Extractor also features a built-in tamper, which pushes ingredients towards the blades for perfect, spoon-thick smoothie bowls. The Auto-iQ programs allow you to create one-touch bowls.

The GE Profile 30-inch Smart Slide-In Front-Control Induction Range with In-Oven CookCam ($4,000) allows users to live stream the contents of their ovens to any smart device. The video-guided recipes from chefs work with the precision cooktop sensor technology on the cooktop to automatically adjust cooking time, temperature and pace.  GE Profile’s over-the-range interactive smart screen and ventilation system, the Kitchen Hub, even allows users to calculate the nutritional value of meals, store the data in recipe favorites and/or send it to other connected devices.

Health and Nutrition Spur Growth in Kitchen Appliance Sales

Smoothie blender sales on the rise
Credit: iStock

A year ago, the worldwide population had to abruptly transform its normal daily activities to meet demands forced by lockdowns and social distancing measures. Naturally, being at home more than usual meant that we would prepare more meals, constantly switching between our kitchen appliances and laptops as we managed virtual meetings for parents and learning for children.

Evolution of the Home Cook

According to Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for the NPD Group, consumers at the start of the pandemic fed their emotions, reaching for not-so-healthful options, snacking more often and consuming more sugar and alcohol as the lockdowns continued. As the months progressed and any hope of returning to “normal” anytime soon diminished, the population had an awakening of sorts.

“They said to themselves, ‘I really can’t sustain this indulgence,’” Seifer explains. “And so we started to see consumers choosing better options. They were looking to indulge, but tried to do it more sensitively.” Foods such as nutrition bars or popcorn that were lower in fat or sugar suddenly became popular.

Grocery shopping habits changed a bit as well — also a result of consumers being at home more. Instead of the proverbial “What’s for dinner?” question, there was a shift in focus to preparing more breakfast meals because families were not rushing out of the house for work and school. Seifer says that not only did pancake mix and egg sales increase, but also, sales of appliances — everything from waffle and bread makers to and juice and smoothie blenders — rose.

Registered dietician Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RDN, says there has been a surge in interest to prepare the trendy smoothie bowl, which she calls a “breakfast staple.” She would know, as she was recently named the first smoothie bowl sommelier from small appliance manufacturer Ninja. Barkyoumb’s mission is to make nutrition “simple and convenient,” especially for millennial women. She has more than 8,000 Instagram followers (@MillenialNutrition), where she shares tips and tricks to stay healthy, fit and energized. The Ninja Foodi Smoothie Bowl Maker and Nutrient Extractor allows consumers to “build confidence in the kitchen,” while following her simple and convenient mantra, Barkyoumb said. (See sidebar for more info on this product and more.)

Countertop Appliances for the Win

Equipping consumers with the products they need in the kitchen to fuel their newfound cooking passion (or necessity) will serve as a win–win.

“Over the past year, people have shifted from dining out to creating their own homemade meals; and with a spike in culinary interests, Americans are now cooking from the comfort of their kitchen more often than before,” Barkyoumb explains. “I’ve noticed the growing popularity of one-pan/-pot cooking as consumers are looking for convenience, fewer instructions and less cleanup time. People are also interested in appliances that are multifunctional.”

Air fryers, such as the Ninja Digital Air Fry Oven (above), are also “big winners,” with the global air fryer market expected to increase to $1.2 billion by 2026.

Seifer has seen a similar trend, reporting that there is increased interest in all kitchen appliances, most particularly those in the countertop category, with a 30 percent increase in 2020 in sales. Air fryers are also “big winners,” according to both Seifer and Barkyoumb, with the global air fryer market expected to increase to $1.2 billion by 2026. Seifer personally purchased one for his home, and Barkyoumb is currently testing the Ninja Digital Air Fry Oven. Convenience and quickness is key in these appliances as they have multiple functions, including reheat options — think leftover French fries.

Barkyoumb notes: “Plant-based meals are still a popular trend as well as homemade classics like breads, nut butters, and juices. We are spending more time at home and finding joy and creativity in the kitchen by making classic, nutrient-dense meals.” This nutrient-focused diet is not entirely new, however. In conjunction with necessity, consumers are elevating a previously held belief that food is medicine.

“Before COVID, we were thinking about things like brain health, Omega 3, gut health, and probiotics,” says Seifer. “We noticed a shift in focus to items that could help out with anxiety, stress, and immunity. As COVID concerns wane, we won’t look much for immunity-boosting properties other than for the occasional cold or illness. The aging population will concentrate on gut and heart health. The younger generation will focus on brain and eye heath, and how to sustain this health with foods that help with these properties.”

Assistance from Smart Appliances

To assist the novice home chef in the kitchen, smart, connected appliances offer a variety of options to make meal prep easy and fun. One example of this is the GE Profile 30-inch Smart Slide-In Front-Control Induction Range. This range not only includes a built-in, no pre-heat air-fry option, but also a built-in oven cam and guided cooking capabilities that connect with your smart device.

RELATED: 3 Hot Kitchen Appliances That Nutrition-Minded Consumers Want

SUMMARY:

  • While consumers indulged in unhealthful foods at the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a shift toward more healthful choices; quick and easy meal prep is key.
  • Kitchen appliance sales have grown 30 percent; air fryers take the lead.
  • Consumers will continue to choose more nutritious meals as medicine, health, and wellness remains top of mind.

IFA 2021 Canceled Due to Pandemic Uncertainty

Flags at IFA 2020 Special Edition in Berlin

While less stringent CDC mask guidelines suggest that things are getting back to normal in some parts of the United States, the pandemic rages on in many other areas of the globe. In addition to causing tragic losses of life, the coronavirus also continues to present challenges for live events, particularly those of a global nature. Citing concerns around new variants of COVID-19, the slower-than-expected distribution of vaccines, and the ensuing uncertainty of travel conditions for attendees, Messe Berlin and gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH today announced that IFA 2021 will not be held in September. “We did not take this decision lightly,” said Messe Berlin CEO Martin Ecknig in a statement. “However, the health and safety of everybody has to be absolutely paramount.”

Even though the number of fully vaccinated people continues to rise in countries such as Israel, the UAE, the UK, and the United States—and Germany’s health minister recently announced that vaccines would be available to everyone on June 7thother parts of the globe have limited or no access to vaccines at all.  With 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed every day in India at the moment, and recent outbreaks in Japan and Nepal, it’s no surprise that most pandemic-related international travel restrictions remain in place. Visas and business travel for conferences and shows are challenging and costly enough even in normal times, but with no official or clear timeline on when the pandemic will subside across the globe, it’s hard to plan. 

“Innovation needs a platform; it needs the focus of global attention. That’s why brands and manufacturers across the tech industry were very keen to come to IFA Berlin 2021,” said Kai Hillebrandt, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH. “There simply now are too many uncertainties. Therefore, right now it has become near impossible for anyone to responsibly plan their participation in any trade show.” Since the pandemic started at the beginning of 2020, most trade shows and conventions have been held as virtual online events. So far this year, that trend continues, with some global events such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) earlier this week canceling its annual meeting that was supposed to have taken place in Singapore in August. Even so, some smaller stateside 2021 consumer electronics gatherings such as CEDIA are scheduled to resume as in-person events.

IFA, which is held every year in Berlin, has a particularly international footprint, making pandemic-era logistics even more complicated. Approximately 245,990 attendees from more than 130 countries attended the last full version of IFA in 2019. That’s a lot of travel plans and visas. 

“The efforts to contain this pandemic—from the roll-out of vaccination programs to the resumption of international travel—did not happen at the pace we had hoped for,” said Ecknig. “Given these developments, this difficult and disappointing decision was inevitable.”

It was just a little over one month ago that IFA organizers announced the full-scale return of the event, with some sections of the conference reserved by more than 80 percent. Despite the cancelation this year, conference organizers say they are working with exhibitors and other attendees to shift their planning focus on IFA 2022, which will be held on September 2-6 next year.

It’s not clear if there will be a smaller-scale, invite-only, or virtual version of the event, as was held in 2020, but as of today, both Berlin Photo Week and SHIFT Mobility,  two IFA events also scheduled for September, are still slated to take place this year. 

After 48 Years, Rega Turntables Continue to Captivate

Rega Planar 1 Turntablew
Even Rega's entry-level Planar 1 ($475) turntable is hand-assembled at the company's 38,000-square-foot factory in South East England.

The vinyl craze seems to have no end in sight. Many companies, even those that aren’t traditionally known for turntables, are taking advantage of this retro trend. So who do you give your hard-earned cash to when it comes to hardware? Consider English manufacturer Rega, which has been making turntables since 1973 — that’s longer than some of our parents have been around!

The highly skilled workforce inhabiting the audio manufacturer’s 38,000-square-foot facility in South East England is a model of diversity, teamwork, and efficiency. The last time I paid a visit to Rega’s factory, in 2018, “the new people” had been around about 15 to 20 years. This is a job that people typically keep for life, and founder Roy Gandy has found the perfect balance of motivation, benefits, and working conditions. The first thing you see walking past the giant, bright green numeral “6” on the front door is a foosball table. There’s no big corporate office, either. Gandy is one of the most laid back, yet uniquely successful, businessmen you’ll ever meet.

While Rega is best known for its turntables, the company also makes a full line of electronics and speakers that have all achieved worldwide acclaim. Rega’s entire product lineup is built in this factory, though some minor bits are sourced locally. Thanks to Rega’s full line of speakers, amplifiers, and, of course, source components, audio consumers can build an entire Rega system at any Rega dealer (or, as they say in the U.K., “specialist”). Rega components work well together, with obvious synergy, but also play well with other components.

The only thing missing from the Rega lineup is a streamer, though it does produce an excellent lineup of digital-to-analog converters (DAC) with integrated CD transports. No surprise here: Rega is maybe one of the most evolutionary companies in audio, so don’t expect it to jump on the streaming trend anytime soo

Back to Spinning Records

Because of Gandy’s background as a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry, he has ensured that Rega turntables are based on simplicity, light weight, and low mass. Everything in the design has a purpose, with all of the tables built around Rega’s exclusive tonearms — four in all. As you go up the range, the bearings are of higher quality, and the level of machining tolerance becomes tighter. Even so, all turntables are hand-assembled, -tested, and -calibrated to provide extremely low levels of friction. This allows Rega tonearms to extract the maximum amount of information from the tiny record grooves.

If you spend any time talking to your customers or perusing various internet forums, the amount of arguing about just how to set a turntable up properly is staggering. Rega addresses this issue by offering a full range of moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) cartridges that offer a unique mounting system.

Other cartridges have two mounting holes. This allows for a tremendous amount of installation error, and a coterie of tools and expertise is needed to pull it off properly. These days, there are fewer people with this knowledge and fewer customers with the patience to get this right. In the end, it often leaves vinyl lovers new and old with frustration that can drive them away. Rega solves this problem by optimizing its tonearms for the physical dimensions of its cartridge bodies. VTA (vertical tracking angle) does not need to be adjusted by the dealer or end-user. Additionally, a three-screw mounting system is utilized, so the cartridge body is perfectly aligned at the end of the tonearm. It’s simple but brilliant.

Rega also makes a full line of amplifiers, speakers, and other components. Its System One includes the Planar 1 turntable, the io amplifier, and a pair of Kyte speakers.

Range of Refinement

Eight tables make up the entire range, from the Planar 1, at $475, to the Planar 10, at $5,695, offering something for every level of budget and music lover. Rega even provides a table for dedicated 78 r.p.m. use (with a cartridge optimized for these discs), should you have some truly old records in your collection. Ditto for the cartridges, which range from the entry-level Carbon ($65) to the Aphelion ($4,995), with six other models in between.

Having a Planar 1, Planar 6, and a Planar 10 all together makes it even easier to see and hear what you get as you go up the Rega range. The Planar 1 uses a basic MDF platter (also used by others like Pro-Ject and Avid, to name a few) with a belt-drive system. The Planar 10, which has just become a permanent reference in my system, uses a ceramic composite platter, something that Rega pioneered with its P9 turntable almost 20 years ago. At the time, the cost of the P9’s ceramic platter was higher than the cost of the parts of an entire P3.

Moving up means more mechanical refinement, which in turn does a better job at isolating noise from the motor and drive system to get to that delicate record groove. Playing the same record on a P1, then the P6, and ultimately the P10 makes for a bigger, broader, and more engaging presentation.

A Few Words from the North American Importer

Steve Daniels is the owner of The Sound Organisation, located in Arlington, Texas. He’s been importing some of the top British hi-fi brands since 2003, but his journey started with Rega. A long-time veteran of the hi-fi industry, Daniels started in retail in London before moving to America. He answered a few of my questions about the changes the company has seen in the industry, its customer base, and vinyl enthusiasts in general.

For many of us covering the high-end audio beat, vinyl enthusiasm never waned. Still, Daniels noticed a slight — though “not dramatic” — downturn in the early 2000s. What’s changed in the Sound Org’s customer base is the newer crop of analog customers and audio purchasers in general. “Thirty to 40 percent of our customers are new, but they are not hobbyists in the way that the generation before them was,” says Daniels. “They want a good music system, but playing records is not the ritual it used to be.”

Rega’s sales bear this out, with purchases of the P1, P2, and P3 through the roof. “We are ordering turntables by the shipping container these days,” Daniels says. Rega is a brand with a superlative reputation, thanks in part to all the good press it has received over the years.

Rega still engages the higher-end audiophiles in addition to entry-level consumers, especially with the top three models: the P6, P8, and P10. Its turntables have always offered high performance for the price point, but the P8 and P10 easily compete with models that cost considerably more. Regardless of price, simplicity and ease of setup are as consistent on the top-end models as on the base models.

In the end, Rega is a company that proves experience makes the difference, and its engineering-based, evolutionary approach to product design continues to delight music lovers the world over. When I asked Daniels if Roy Gandy would ever retire, he just laughed.

SUMMARY

  • Rega has been making reference turntables from $575 to $5,695 since 1973.
  • Its entire line of turntables, speakers, amplifiers, and source components are
    hand-assembled in its 38,000-square-foot U.K. factory.
  • Thanks to the current vinyl boom, the brand is experienc- ing a new wave of younger buyers.

RELATED: Why Rega Turntables Are My Audio Source Component of Choice

A Store Visit with Joseph Akhtarzad, Co-Owner, Video & Audio Center

What’s the history of Video & Audio Center?

This is our 40th anniversary year — we’ve been around since 1981, which is also the year I came to the U.S. to join my brother, Mayer, who already had a store selling video games and renting out movies. Based on what my customers were asking me about, I realized shortly after joining him that there was more demand for electronics and gadgets. So the very next January, in 1982, we went to our first CES show and realized, my goodness, there are so many gadgets and so many brands — Sony, Fisher, Sanyo, Casio, and Goldstar (LG) — so we signed up for a dealership and shortly after that we became an electronics business.

Back then, there were 800 electronics retailers in L.A. alone, throughout the 1980s. So we had a lot of competitors. Right off the bat, my aim was always to carry the best and to sell solutions rather than try to compete on pricing. Then, about 23 years ago, I saw that electronics were getting more complicated and control systems were growing, so right across the street from the original Video & Audio Center store in Santa Monica, I opened up a 5,000-square-foot showroom specifically aimed at customers who were interested in custom installation. It had a home theater, master bedroom, living room — whatever is in the home, we had built out in the showroom. Over time, we realized that our customers were increasingly aware of custom installation options and did not need to be convinced with a showroom — much better to go right to their home, office, or other job site to assess and then tell them what they need. So about 10 years ago, we closed the showroom location.

A couple of years after that, we noticed that many of our competitors didn’t exist anymore, so we started to open up new locations throughout the Los Angeles area for the first time.

How many stores do you have now?

Right now, we have five locations — superstores in Santa Monica, Lawndale, and Agoura Hills — and smaller showcase boutiques like this one in Century City and Agoura Hills. The store at Westfield Century City, where we are now, is in a prime location near the escalator as people are coming out of the parking garage. In normal times, this mall gets more than 2 million visitors per month, and this area is full of offices — more than 400,000 people work within two blocks of this store. They need gadgets and electronics, and even though many malls haven’t been doing well, this one has flourished because so many people come here to eat. Even over the last 12 months, this has been a well-visited shopping mall because it’s outside and has just undergone a $1 billion renovation. Locations like this one are important for manufacturers, too, because big regional stores that are a destination don’t really exist anymore, so having a showcase like our Century City location for products is a good place for consumers to see what they cannot see online.

In what ways is Video & Audio Center different from the competition?

My aim over the past 40 years has been to concentrate on any level of consumer, whether that consumer wants a $199 50-inch TV or a $400,000 Samsung Wall TV, which we were among the first to install in the U.S. We’ve built many home theaters, which ranged in price from $100,000 to $2 million, as well as underwater audio systems in pools. We’ve built custom solutions for everyone from Elizabeth Taylor and other celebrities to movie studios.

Making things easy has also always been a part of our strategy, especially with custom installation. It’s where our “Just OneTouch” motto came from 23 years ago. We’re also always technology-forward, always staying on top of the cutting edge and carrying the latest products.

I have always led with the idea that price is no objection — I want to bring everything in that exists, as long as there is interest. We have sections in our stores for the latest high-tech products across categories — not just video and audio — from Nest cameras and Dyson vacuums to video game consoles and laptops. Our aim with this and other stores is to provide a place where the consumer comes in, then sees and touches products and gets the same excitement that I and so many other people get when walking the CES show floor. I don’t see online stores, Costco, or Best Buy as competition because they don’t really create that kind of in-store excitement or provide first-class service. For example, if you buy something from us, we’ll do a same-day setup for you. We also have a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week customer hotline in case anything goes wrong with your purchase or you have any questions on how it works.

What is Video & Audio Center’s online or e-commerce approach?

Obviously, online business is not something that’s going to go away, and as you can see, it’s a growing trend. When something like this happens, you have to embrace it. You have to follow the direction of consumer habits. We started our online operation about 10 years ago. We have a beautiful website, and whenever someone buys something online, we quickly send them a message and always follow through with an installation if they’re local. And if they’re not local, then we can reach out to any members of the HTSA, which is the 63-plus-member buying group to which we belong, to help with that installation or any other advice. We do a lot of advertising everywhere, including online, and we get a lot of customers coming in from that — I’d say about 25- to 35 percent of our business comes from online ads, and it’s often new customers who want to see things in person and make sure they work, and often need advice.

Did the pandemic change the way you do business in any way?

Our 24/7 hotline was launched during the pandemic — and as a direct result of it. We’d never had a hotline before, but we figured that customers did not want to come into the store, so we made sure that hotline was all over the media — print, TV, radio, and social media — and we closed many deals over the phone. We had so many people calling us about all kinds of products and realized that we have as many customers interested in 32-inch TVs as we do in million-dollar installations.

Name three things that the management team at Video & Audio Center has implemented that you attribute to the success of the store.

Number One is the weekly training we do for our salespeople. If our salespeople can’t demonstrate products, they should not be on the floor. Number Two is the design of the showrooms. Our stores are set up with a different “store within a store” section for each manufacturer. So when you walk into the store, you visit each brand’s area and see its products, as at a trade show. Number Three would be product selection; we always carry the latest meaningful product, which means it’s part of a growing category— not some hyped trend technology. We also only carry top-tier brands.

What are your goals this year?

Well, in addition to continuing to build on the Video & Audio Center brand, we are launching an additional new motto — ”Just One Whisper” — which complements “Just One Touch,” but also takes into account the enormous growth of voice-activated interfaces for controlling all the devices in the home, including custom installations. Also, with the pandemic subsiding and at least some people heading back to work, we want to get people back into stores to see, touch, and experience the products. Our approach is centered on what I call the three Ds: discovery, desire, and demand. That means getting all the great new products and brands out in front of customers through hyperlocal advertising and enticing in-store displays. My main goal this year is to get manufacturers and their new products right in front of consumers to create the desire and demand.

Do you have any plans to expand in other ways or sell other categories?

Yes, we’re expanding rapidly into the health and wellness category. Obviously, these smart watches and other devices are essential for, say, diabetics who need to know if their blood sugar is high, or anyone who wants to check their blood pressure throughout the day. We’ll be creating health and wellness categories and sections in our stores, and will put some marketing behind them. The advertising will be a little different, such as sending mailers directly to homes and working with doctors and hospitals to get awareness around this category and help it succeed.

Is there anything in the building of your business that did not go the way you expected, and that you learned from?

Well, the best thing I did was create the Just One Touch showroom 23 years ago, which was very successful for nearly a decade, but the worst thing was when I realized after 10 years that it wasn’t necessary anymore. People no longer needed to be convinced to move forward with custom installations; they were just calling and asking for me to come to their homes, spec it out, and come up with a solution. So I had to get rid of it. As a result of closing that location, I learned that business is always evolving and if you don’t evolve, you die. So that practice is now in place every day not only with myself, but also with my marketing people and my buyers: Always look ahead for newer and better technologies and bring those to the consumer in the ways that consumers want.

Where is your favorite section of the store?

I designed this big carousel in the back where every manufacturer — Sony, Samsung, LG — has their TV mounted side by side and people can see what different monitors look like from every angle. When you have a TV on the wall, you don’t see how thin it is. No one else has a beautiful showcase like this.

How does Dealerscope help you in your everyday business?

For years, I’ve made sure that all my employees subscribe, to the point where I used to ask them if they knew what was in Dealerscope in terms of what new TV or technology is coming. So it’s really for awareness — to make sure our people not only know what’s coming in the future, but also what other retailers are doing so we can adapt.

Next Level Acoustics Drops Low Profile Soundbar

Next Level Acoustics FUSION S3

Certain television setups are less than forgiving when it comes to adding audio. Height restrictions imposed by a fireplace, for example, can often mean sacrificing performance for size. That’s why Next Level Acoustics released a soundbar that delivers high-quality audio in a design less than 3″ high (2.95″ to be exact).

The Fusion S3 is now shipping and comes in a variety of sizes: Fusion S3 – 55 (48.8″ wide), Fusion S3 – 65 (56.9″ wide), and Fusion S3 – 75 (65.9″ wide). The high gloss black soundbars use superior quality 2.5″ drivers, and a textured front surface to minimize high-frequency reflections.

Users can also tailor the Fusion S3 to their exact liking. Custom configurations include: LCR, Stereo and Center Channel versions, custom widths, IR grille notch badges, colors and finishes.

Pricing for the Fusion S3 ranges from $1199 to $1699 depending on size. Certain models are also available for Quick Ship.

4 Tips to Transform Yourself into a Video Person

Video Person
Credit: iStock

We’re all on camera now. Prior to the pandemic, I knew plenty of people who taped over their laptop’s built-in webcam lens, certain that its only purpose was to allow hackers to spy on them. Now, a lot of those same friends and acquaintances have dedicated videoconference lighting. Broader sampling reflects my personal experience: At the end of 2019, Zoom averaged 10 million meeting participants per day. In April 2020, it reported getting 300 million. Video has become one of society’s primary methods of daily communication. As a result, standards for video experiences have risen. 

Organizations that never expected to provide video experiences of any kind — businesses, schools, houses of worship — are now regularly charged with creating engaging, interactive, real-time video.

Retailers that previously relied on in-person traffic for browsing and shopping are now finding that both pre-recorded and live video are an essential part of the omnichannel playbook. On top of it all, many of these organizations have no choice but to undertake these efforts with skeleton crews. 2020 was a rough year, financially speaking. Few organizations could afford to take on new employees specializing in video production. What’s more, social distancing requirements and strict gathering size limitations often precluded building out a large video production team, even for those organizations that could afford to hire. Increasing the size of, say, a church’s AV production team is a non-starter when only 10 people are allowed to be in the building. 

The pandemic created a vast need for enhanced video production that can be executed by a small team at an affordable price point. End-user ingenuity and technological innovation has flowed into that gap. It’s easier to pull off than you’d think, given the right approach. Below, I’ll explore my four favorite video production hacks to enable affordable, high-quality video production. 

1. Let the robots do it. 

Robotic cameras have grown incredibly capable. Motion sync has improved so that the pan, tilt, and zoom actions of a remotely controlled camera better mimic the movements of a manual operator. Even more impressive, though, is the fact that some cameras no longer require a human operator at all. Cameras equipped with auto-follow features can follow a subject — such as a teacher, pastor, or presenter — around a predefined space, keeping them centered in the frame.  

After defining a capture area with built-in software, these AI-driven cameras can find and follow a presenter as they move through the area. Computer vision algorithms can now successfully differentiate between the shot’s intended focus and other motion: The camera won’t be distracted by flashing lights or restless audience members. It’s even possible to create “trigger zones” within the capture area that initiate pre-programmed commands when the subject enters them. For instance, the area in front of a lectern can be programmed as a trigger zone so that every time a speaker steps up to the mic, a graphic showing the event title and logo pops up at the bottom of the screen.

2. Empower non-experts to assist with video production.

Video production is a nuanced art that takes many years to master. It’s also fun. Schools, churches, and even businesses often have a healthy population of volunteers who will gladly assist on video production in exchange for learning some of the ropes. Allowing volunteers to participate in the production process may seem risky, especially in a real-time scenario such as a worship service on Zoom or a Facebook Live sale, but it is possible to create appropriate technological boundaries and fail-safes. 

Attention to the initial system setup pays massive dividends here, too. Using camera control software or hardware, the camera system can be programmed with presets defining the proper camera selection, position, and zoom for various scenes. These presets ensure that volunteers aren’t overwhelmed by options when they sit down at the controls — all they have to do is push the right button for the scene. Some control devices can even be locked into “safe” or “basic” mode, allowing access to presets but preventing the user from changing any settings they shouldn’t. 

Many network-connected cameras and control devices also have web interfaces, which offer another safety net for volunteers.  If one production lead is managing several less experienced team members, a web interface can allow them to immediately correct any mistakes remotely from their tablet or smartphone, wherever they happen to be within the space. Conversely, team members can be given access to simplified, “basic mode” controls via a web interface instead of giving them unfettered access to the control console.

3. Use one camera to do the job of many. 

Most organizations don’t really need 4K video. If they are livestreaming over a platform like Zoom, they in most cases can’t broadcast a resolution higher than 1080p. However, some 4K cameras have dual outputs, allowing the user to capture two live shots from a single device. The camera captures a single, high-resolution field of view. The outputs each show a 1080- or 720-pixel section of that capture. By switching between the two outputs, the user can mimic a multi-camera setup. For instance, when filming a tutorial or product demonstration, the stream can toggle between a wide shot and a close-up.  

In some cases, the camera output can also electronically “pan, tilt, and zoom” (PTZ) across its field of view. In this case, the camera itself doesn’t actually move. Instead, it sends different parts of its field of view to the output. These “ePTZ” cameras can thereby imitate the movement effects of their robotic standard PTZ cousins, especially in live video situations where HD rather than 4K video is required.  

4. Take advantage of free training resources. 

There is a robust online community ready to support those interested in learning more about DIY production. Free video production software tools like Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) often have lively user forums, packed with both extensive guides and documentation, as well as video enthusiasts who will gladly help troubleshoot specific issues. Equipment manufacturers can also be a wealth of knowledge. My own company, PTZOptics, offers free training resources including a detailed knowledge base, online Udemy courses, and live shows — and the skills you can pick up here can be applied to any kind of camera, including non-PTZOptics models. It’s in a manufacturer’s interest to provide rich video production resources to their end users because we want them to get comfortable with and love using cameras. The more users become the kind of video enthusiasts who are assisting others on online message boards, the happier we are. 

There’s a difference between being on camera and being a video person. Those who are on camera may join a community, but video people create communities. They offer a window into remote events. They manage teams of volunteers. They create engaging content that captures the viewer’s attention.  Take advantage of resources, technologies, and learning resources that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic. You can become the “video person” for your organization.

OnePlus Watch: Great Price and Looks, But Wait for Updates

OnePlus has always been popular with the obsessive early adopter crowd, as year after year of slick smartphone releases since 2013 demonstrates. Released last month along with the OnePlus Series 9 smartphones, the OnePlus Watch, which is the company’s first-ever smartwatch, is no exception. In addition to tracking for more than 110 different workout types, the slim and sleek stainless steel and curved glass watch also has built-in GPS, an IP68 waterproof rating, ultra-long battery life of two weeks on a single charge, and heart rate, stress, sleep, and blood oxygen monitors.

OnePlus Watch Face

We’ve been trying it out since last month’s launch on walks, bike rides, hikes, and sleep sessions. Despite its sophisticated looks and fun watch face options, we’ve experienced a few issues. As we and multitudes of OnePlus fans commenting online have experienced in the first few weeks after the launch, not all of the billed features—SpO2 sleep measurement, message replies, thorough smartphone syncing–work as announced. For example, we wore it to bed to analyze our sleep, but the SpO2 measurement simply didn’t work, though it did track hours and levels of sleep.

To keep the $159 price point, OnePlus has forgone the Android-based Wear OS and replaced it with a proprietary OS that isn’t always intuitive or user-friendly. We could not find any way to switch distance tracking on workouts to Imperial measurements; it might well be there, but we couldn’t find it so metric kilometers it was whether hiking or biking. Also impractical: When monitoring workouts, there is no way to see what time it is on the watch face; users have to pause the workout and then toggle back to the main screen to see the time, which seems very un-watch-like. These aren’t dealbreakers, especially considering the $159 price point, but they’re just surprising user experience oversights from a company that is known for smart design.

In terms of the bugs, OnePlus says it will address these issues in updates; the remaining 90 or so promised workout types are set to be added in May. And it seems as though the ability to switch between imperial and metric measurements could be added (or made more apparent). Even so, the watch is often sold out online, so if you’re an early adopter who manages to find a unit, go for it. Everyone else may want to wait a few months until the kinks are ironed out.


The OnePlus Watch ($159) is available at oneplus.com and select retailers.

Samsung Proves Appliances Can Be Beautiful and Smart

Samsung Bespoke Line

Why have an appliance that blends in when it could stand out? That’s been Samsung’s mindset since the introduction of their Bespoke refrigerators, and it remains to be seen in the latest iteration of the line.

This week, Samsung announced that the Bespoke line of products would be adding even more color and control to the kitchen with appliances like the Front Control Slide-In Range, which has Samsung’s signature Smart Dial, a matching over-the-range microwave, and a complementary Linear Wash dishwasher. But, the company also announced that it would be expanding beyond the kitchen to include health and hygiene products, like the new AirDresser, Cube Air Purifier, and the Jet Cordless Stick Vacuum

Get all the details on the latest product offerings from Samsung’s Bespoke line now on Connected Design.

Last Chance for 40 Under 40 Award Nominations

Dealerscope 40 Under 40
Credit: iStock

Nominations are now open for Dealerscope’s annual 40 Under 40 awards program, which recognizes the young and up-and-coming talent in consumer electronics. Each year, Dealerscope calls upon the entire industry for help in recognizing these professionals by requesting that those interested in nominating someone fill out a brief form with their nominee’s basic information and the key reasons why they deserve to be recognized.

Nominees can be from every corner of the consumer electronics industry from retail, distribution, and buying groups to manufacturing and technology development. Besides being under the age of 40, nominees must also have a history of hard work, natural leadership, and a passion for their career.

The deadline for nominations is May 28, 2021.

Once nominations are closed, Dealerscope will review the submissions and contact the 40 individuals who have been selected. The 2021 honorees will have their own special spotlight in Dealerscope’s July 2021 issue and on Dealerscope.com. They will also receive a physical award to mark their achievement.

Check out the 40 Under 40 honorees from 2020 here.

OnePlus 9 Series: Worthy Alternatives to More Famous Flagship Smartphones

OnePlus 9 Pro Phone Morning Mist color
The OnePlus 9 Pro in the "Morning Mist" color option.

While nothing beats the fan base of the iPhone, some Android brands such as Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel have plenty of loyalists. Thanks to its sleek designs, bang-for-your-buck technology, and some of the coolest branding and packaging of any smartphone brand, OnePlus, which has been releasing new generations of its eponymous Android flagships every year since it was founded in 2013, has long punched way above its weight and remained popular among tech hipsters and enthusiasts. Last month, the Chinese mobile manufacturer released not only its latest OnePlus Series 9 smartphones, but also its first-ever smartwatch. After spending a month with all three devices — the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro smartphones and the OnePlus Watch — we continue to be fans, too.

State-of-the-Art Siblings

As with previous generations, OnePlus offers its 9 Series in two flavors: the OnePlus 9 ($729-$829), and the top-of-the-line OnePlus 9 Pro ($969-$1,069). The higher-priced version of each phone ups the RAM from 8GB to 12GB and the ROM from 128GB to 256GB.
Despite the $200 price difference, both models share most of the cutting-edge features, including a best-in-class Snapdragon 888 chipset (the same as the Samsung S21), superfast 65W Warp 29-minutes-to-full-charge capability, and AMOLED displays with 120Hz refresh rates. In addition to 8K at 30fps video capability, both phones have a 48MP main camera, a 50MP ultra-wide-angle camera, and a 2MP monochrome camera.
The 9 Series phones include the new Hasselblad Camera for Mobile imaging software, which OnePlus developed together with the iconic Swedish camera manufacturer. Realistic color calibration is the main focus of this software, though the Pro mode features a similar interface to Hasselblad’s cameras and allows for manual control of ISO, exposure, focus, and white balance, among other settings, which serious photographers will appreciate since both phones can shoot 12-bit RAW photos for ultimate editing flexibility.

Points of Difference

The main differences between the two models lie in the overall size, screen resolutions, and imaging features. The OnePlus 9 has a 6.65-inch fully flat screen versus the OnePlus 9 Pro’s 6.7-inch screen, which is curved at the edges. The 9 has FHD+ resolution versus the 9 Pro’s QHD+ resolution. At this size, though, it’s hard for most people to tell too much of a difference when the baseline of both models is seamlessly quick responsiveness and faithful color reproduction whether displaying high-def videos or video games.
On the camera front, the main difference is that unlike the OnePlus 9, the OnePlus 9 Pro has an 8MP telephoto camera for better zoom capability. And while both phones can be charged wirelessly, only the 9 Pro has a 50W wireless charging capability with OnePlus’s optional new Warp Charge 50 Wireless ($70), which cordlessly juices the phone from empty to 100 percent in 43 minutes.

Canny Valley

Photo-wise, we found both phones to deliver stellar sharpness and differentiated colors in most cases. Bokeh effects in the background of portrait mode pictures always delivered artful results, while most pictures remained focused even while taken on the fly with some shakiness in low light. We got the most use out of the ultrawide camera, which allowed us to capture the broad expanse and scale of Death Valley on a recent trip, as well as extreme close-ups of the occasional rare succulent at high altitudes. Even in Death Valley’s extremes of intense brightness and low light, which results in ever-changing multiple shades of brown and red, the 9 Series cameras delivered accurate, detailed, and nuanced results.
While 8K at 30fps video capability certainly offers bragging rights, it’s not that useful unless you own an 8K TV. We shot mostly in 1080p and 4K 120fps, which is plenty state-of-the-art for most people, though the results were not as crisp and clear as we expected, despite the 9 Pro’s DOL-HDR-powered image stabilization — even in the instances where shakiness was at a minimum both in bright sunlight and around a candlelit dinner table at home.

Fast and Fabulous

Thanks to the 9 Series’s state-of-the-art Snapdragon 888 processor, we found both phones to deliver stellar responsiveness via touchscreen, fast operation when opening and closing apps, and seamless multitasking, enabling us to check emails and surf the web even as we were using the phone as a WiFi 6 hotspot with the rest of our travel companions in the car. Both phones are 5G capable and compatible with T-Mobile’s 5G network, but only the 9 Pro also supports Verizon’s Gigabit-fast (but scarcely available) millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies. AT&T users will simply get LTE and 4G speeds. We used both a standard T-Mobile SIM and a Google Fi SIM, which uses T-Mobile networks, and experienced consistent 5G performance wherever a signal was available.

Watching video is a satisfying experience on both phones, but particularly delightful on the 9 Pro’s slightly larger 6.75-inch AMOLED screen, especially in QHD+ for content that supports it. For content that doesn’t, the built-in low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) technology automatically reduces the 120Hz refresh rate according to whatever content is onscreen, which also saves battery power. Displays on both phones have HDR10+ and 10-bit color depth capability, which means compatible content on everything from Disney Plus and Netflix to Prime Video and YouTube is astonishingly cinematic and immersive, even in the palm of our hands. While watching Mank on the 9 Pro, we were impressed with the depth, detail, and defined contrast of big set pieces, with layered smoke in the foreground and discernable horse riders in the background—and this was in black and white. There’s even a new Ultra-high Video Resolution setting that uses an algorithm to optimize video clarity, though so far only Instagram supports it, offering outsized detail and vividness even in an endless feed of vertical video ads for next-gen shoes and pants.

Big and Rugged

At 160 by 74.2 by 8.7mm and 163.2 by 73.6 by 8.2mm, the OnePlus and OnePlus 9 Pro, respectively, are on the tall side and don’t fully fit in shallower pockets. That said, the overall look is sleek and slim, with the latter model’s aluminum body only 2.2mm (.08 inches) thin. Even so, you’ll likely want to add one of OnePlus’s Sandstone Bumper or Karbon Bumper protective cases. Both phones are IP68 rated, which means they’re waterproof to a depth of 1.5m (4.9 feet) underwater for 30 minutes.
If there is one small hitch in the otherwise flawless design of these phones, it’s the non-retractable metal prongs on the included 65W Warp Charger, not a huge trade-off considering its dazzlingly speedy charging capabilities, but it makes totally portability tricky if you don’t want to scratch anything in your bag or hurt yourself while fumbling for it. Overall, though, this is among the most surprising and delightful Android offerings on the market.

OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro are available at T-Mobile, Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, and oneplus.com.

BrandSource 2021 Convention Will Be In Person

BrandSource returns to Nashville for live convention in August
BrandSource last gathered at the Gaylord Opryland for its 2019 50th Anniversary Summit. On stage: AVB CEO Jim Ristow.

The BrandSource 2021 Convention is slated for Aug. 21-24 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. This event marks the buying co-op’s first in-person show since March of last year.

Registration for this summer’s event will go live on Monday, May 17, at AVBevents.com.

The August convention will be BrandSource’s third visit to the Nashville venue. The event will include separate Town Halls for self-servicing members and furniture dealers, while additional hours will be set aside on Day 1 of the Convention for members to meet with their account representatives from AVB Marketing, BrandSource’s e-commerce and digital marketing arm.

The show’s Expo buying fair begins on Monday, Aug. 23. It will include two days of hands-on product demos with the appliance, furniture and tech industry’s latest introductions.

BrandSource has a failsafe built-in, thanks to AVB’s new “Book with Confidence” policy. This allows attendees to cancel their registrations up to 30 days before the show and still have their deposits fully refunded. 

How the Wireless Industry Will Evolve in a Post-Pandemic 2021

Wireless Industry
Credit: iStock

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has affected nearly every industry across the globe, including those in wireless and mobile technology. However, even with any hurdles or challenges that have arisen, industry professionals continue to innovate and enhance technology, which will continue for the rest of 2021.  

Even with the pace of vaccinations rising by the day, much of the world continues to operate virtually in some capacity, and that will likely remain an integral part of how we connect and conduct business even after this pandemic subsides. This means much of the population will increasingly need cutting-edge connectivity and devices to work, learn and operate remotely in this new global climate. 

Many different wireless trends and themes will take over throughout the rest of 2021, but three may be the most noticeable and most impactful: expanded 5G connectivity, smart office technology, and the continued rise of artificial intelligence. Below, we take an in-depth look at each of these trends and how they will impact our industry and world between now and the start of 2022. 

Expanded 5G Connectivity

It’s finally here. 5G, or the fifth-generation wireless network, is set to make a major splash in the coming months and years, with many of our mobile carriers already developing and expanding their own 5G networks throughout 2020. Due to the virtual global environment in which we now reside, the addition of widespread 5G will bring many benefits to the mobile phones and various devices we rely so heavily  upon. 

5G networks will dramatically improve upon already existing 4G wireless networks, making it easier than ever for people to connect across their wireless devices. The speeds and bandwidth of 5G will affect consumers across the globe with the technology’s higher network reliability, improved data rates, and faster download speeds, which can be up to 100 times faster than 4G, depending on your location. Businesses will also utilize expanded 5G technology to improve their overall efficiency during the remote work era. For example, Verizon is using its 5G networks to introduce Verizon 5G Edge in the U.S., a service combined with Amazon Web Services that allows businesses to utilize cloud technology with the overwhelming benefits of 5G technology. 

Consumers will also benefit from 5G enabling them to connect more of their devices with fewer latency issues. 5G’s low latency will decrease the lag between weblink uploads or lags in video conference calls, for example, getting consumers their answers and needs faster, and helping businesses avoid those awkward pauses in their next virtual staff meetings. 

As many businesses continue to work remotely, students conduct e-learning, and people rely on their networks to connect with friends and family, the need for 5G is drastically higher now than when this technology was originally introduced. Carriers and mobile device manufacturers are racing to equip consumers with the latest network upgrade. In 2021, 60 percent of mobile phones sold in Western Europe and North America are expected to support 5G with the number to increase to about 85 percent in 2024. 

Smart Office Capabilities 

Nearly all businesses and industries across the globe have moved to a virtual setting in some form for the time being, with some using remote work indefinitely, as COVID-19 continues to surge across the nation. 

Some businesses, however, will be looking to welcome their employees back to the office in some capacity in the coming months, now that the vaccine has become available to anyone over the age of 16 in the United States. Luckily, new technology can help business owners create “smart offices.” Businesses can maximize the efficiency of expanded 5G and the benefit of connecting more devices together by using Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which will run more effectively utilizing 5G and can make offices more connected and safe for employees in the COVID era and beyond. 

We already use IoT devices — Fitbit watches, Alexa or Google Home devices, smart appliances — in our personal lives. The further development of 5G will allow office spaces to also benefit from smart devices. For example, fitness centers across the nation have been utilizing crowd trackers to keep guests safe and distant during the pandemic. A similar version can be used in an office setting to help employees maintain social distancing when they are on-site. We can even see businesses incorporate smart office capabilities with minimal in-office capacity by simply using smart lighting, power, and energy systems to save overall operating costs with fewer employees on-site. The continued advancement of our wireless networks and IoT devices will aid business owners immensely as they adapt to the new ways to operate their company. 

Renewed Dedication to Brick and Mortar 

The hiatus of customers in stores since the beginning of the pandemic has had drastic effects on businesses that once relied on in-person transactions. Customers have turned to chatbots, mobile apps, and other digital features to answer their questions and fulfill their needs, but these interactions have lacked valuable person-to-person engagement with in-store representatives. As it grows safer to operate stores in a similar capacity to what we were used to, businesses will need to meet consumers where they’re at and adapt to new habits that revitalize their in-store customer experience strategies. 

Adequate customer service is important for customers, whether they are engaging with businesses and brands remotely or in person. In recent research, 79 percent of consumers reported customer service is extremely important when deciding on where to shop and what stores to engage with. As customers begin to return to store locations this summer and beyond, businesses need to ensure their customer service, both in-store and online, is up to standard to meet customers’ needs and wants. 

It’s likely that social distancing precautions and regulations will remain in place for some time, even as more people get vaccinated, but there are many ways to address this through technology. For example, in-store employees can refer customers to online resources or apps that answer their questions more efficiently while in-store. This can also decrease the amount of time consumers are in-store, which not only keeps consumers safe, but also means fewer in-store employees need to overload capacity rules. To continue to offer safe options to customers, stores can also utilize touchless options such as curbside services, touchless payments, buy online/pick up in-store, and more. Businesses that can adapt their customer engagement models to fit customers’ evolved needs since the pandemic began will thrive in our post-pandemic business world. 

The ways people and businesses operate are drastically different than they were one year ago, and it’s likely that it will be even more different a year from now. The good news is that our technology will continue to adapt and enhance the way we navigate the coming changes this year and beyond.

Nationwide Resumes Its Official In-Person Group Gatherings

Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center
On May 25th, Nationwide will resume its in-person regional meetings at Dallas's Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center. (Photo courtesy of Marriott/Gaylord Texan Resort)

Slowly but surely, the country is easing back into “normal.” Nothing illustrates this more than seeing upcoming LIVE events on the calendar, including Nationwide Marketing Group (NMG), which is set to hold meet in its first series of regional live events since Houston PrimeTime in February 2020. NMG will restart its in-person meetings later this month with the Regional Member Meeting in Dallas on May 25-26 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center. The two-day meeting is just the first of four Regional Member Meetings. Following will be Seattle (June 3-4), Orlando (June 7-8), and St. Louis (June 9-10). Members will hear from topical experts who will deliver best practices and strategies for succeeding throughout the customer journey. They also will participate in multiple open discussion roundtables, focused on key business areas.

“Each regional event will deliver an educational track that resembles the typical shopping cycle,” said Nationwide in its announcement on Friday. “Attendees will be guided through best practices and strategies for driving awareness, capitalizing on the consideration and evaluation phases, and closing the sale.” In addition to topics such as digital marketing and social media, insights on everything from in-store experience and website management to data-driven merchandising and review management will be shared by industry experts. Rounding out the event will be category-based roundtable discussions for members and retailers alike from the appliance, consumer electronics, and furniture and bedding sectors.

While the increase in vaccinations in the U.S. is one of the main reasons that live events are easier to hold, Nationwide says that it is also ensuring that safety and health protocols will be followed. As the group’s VP of member experience said in the announcement: “We’ve been in constant communication with the local hotels and city officials at each location to ensure we’re in lockstep with their safety guidelines, as well as those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re ecstatic about the opportunity to get back to face-to-face meetings with our members in a safe environment that will still be conducive to our program.”

If you’re already a Nationwide member, you can register for any of these events via MemberNet. Not a member yet? Email teamup@nationwidegroup.org for more information.

Five Twitter Updates You Need to Know

Changes at Twitter 2021
Credit: iStock

Twitter has been notoriously slow at implementing changes to its platform, with one of its biggest developments of recent years being the shift from stars (favorites) to hearts (likes). But the past year has significantly changed how the entire population uses social media, and the need for our favorite platforms to keep up has never been more apparent. 

In an interview with The Verge from March 2021, Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s head of consumer product, recently said that the social media giant is “reinventing itself,” and the slew of changes coming to the platform prove that this is not an overstatement. Here are a few important updates that will help you cut to the chase. 

Super Followers

Social media has given us a deeper look into the lives of celebrities and influencers, and for the most part, it has been completely free of charge. But certain apps are proving that there is also money to be made by reserving some content for exclusive (i.e., paying) members. Twitter’s Super Followers feature hasn’t been given the green light quite yet, but a mockup from its site shows that influencers will be able to charge their audience for bonus tweets, community group access, newsletter subscriptions, and even a special badge for their profile. 

Communities

During its Analyst Day presentation, Twitter announced a new feature to enable like-minded individuals to more easily connect. Just like Facebook Groups, which have been wildly successful, Twitter Communities will focus on a particular topic, and users can post tweets privately within these subsets. A mockup of the new feature shows a blank tweet where users can choose to share their tweet with everyone who follows them, or solely within their chosen Communities.  

Spaces

It was only a matter of time until Clubhouse started to entice some competition. Twitter’s take on the conversation-starter is called Spaces and shares many of the same features as the pioneer. The creator of a Space is the Host, and can invite up to 10 others to join the conversation by sending them an invitation. Unlike Clubhouse, though, Twitter Spaces are public, and anyone can join in as a listener. The new feature is also available to iOS and Android users alike. 

Revue

In a company blog post from January, Twitter says it is making its platform “a better home for writers” with its acquisition of newsletter provider Revue. The service is available to anyone who wants to publish editorial newsletters and make money in the process. Email contacts can be imported through CSVs, MailChimp, or added manually, and writers can design the newsletter however they’d like. Although the service is free, Twitter will collect five percent of the revenue generated from paid subscriptions.  

Goodbye, Periscope

Twitter decided to sunset its Periscope iOS and Android apps as of March 31, citing “declining usage.” Twitter admitted in a blog post that the cut would have been made sooner had it not been for the events of 2020. For standard users, live broadcasts will now be done through Twitter Live. For brands, publishers, and creators, Media Studio will be the place to go. 

Despite Chip Shortages, Global PC Sales Trend Upward

PC sales up 43% YoY in 2020 in Europe
Credit: iStock

With smartphones and the hoteling of offices on the upswing, PC sales were once thought to be on the downswing. It would be a world of tablets and mobile phones in the future. But the pandemic changed all that. PC sales have been soaring while chip shortages are pushing up prices and causing concern throughout the industry.

In Europe, where rolling lockdowns afflicted country after country, in 2020, there was a 43 percent sales increase year over year of notebook PCs, according to new data from GfK. And while enterprise IT departments all but shut down spending during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, working-from-home consumers created a surge in demand, spurring the charge for new computers.

“There was an overwhelming demand for electronics in general,” acknowledged Josh Wanderman, GfK´s vice president of global market insights, “but in particular for laptops and notebooks.” And that helped create a shortage of processors.

“For the electronics world, COVID was a one-two punch, first due to manufacturing shutdowns, and second was the ‘work-from-home’ surge of demand for laptops, tablets, etc.,” said Steve Oliver, vice president of corporate marketing and investor relations at Navitas Semiconductor. That, in turn, drove resulting 26- to 52-week lead times for silicon chips, he said.

Retailers can expect the trend to continue well into this year, said Wanderman, with a 12 percent rise in unit sales of laptops in the first 10 weeks of 2021 in the five largest European countries (the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Spain).

Meanwhile, chip and, in particular, CPU shortages have helped drive up prices. Dollar sales for the same period increased by 28 percent, a reflection of the shortages and consumer shift to faster and more premium-priced laptops. It also revealed consumer sentiment that home-based work and study would become more of a long-term situation, justifying greater investment in the technology.

Similar trends were seen in the U.S. last year, with overall PC sales, including desktops, up 13.1 percent in 2020 over 2019, according to IDC.

As a result, worldwide semiconductor revenue totaled $466.2 billion in 2020, an increase of 10.4 percent compared to 2019, according to Gartner, Inc. It was led by demand for graphics processors, 5G chipsets, and PC demand, according to Gartner. Simultaneously, the chip shortage has sparked concerns over the supply of not only laptops but also everything from communications equipment to cars.

It’s why Michael Dell attended a virtual semiconductor summit initiated by the White House on April 12. In a statement to Dealerscope, the company underscored the fact that semiconductors are critical to everything from vaccine deployment to remote learning, and that a long-term solution to the semiconductor problem is needed.

But advanced chip fabrication plants cannot be built overnight. “There is very little slack in manufacturing capacity, plus a minimum 12-week throughput time, so it could be two to three quarters before supply chains recover,” said Navitas’ Oliver.

On the other hand, “every government around the world sees this as a national security issue and as a result is throwing a lot of money at this,” said GfK’s Wanderman, predicting that while chip shortages won’t ease up in the next couple of months, things might look better by the end of the year.

In the meantime, how high will prices for laptops and notebooks go?
While it’s difficult for anyone to predict, there have been threatening signs of inflation. U.S. consumer prices rose sharply in March, for example. The Labor Department reported that its consumer-price index — which measures what consumers pay for everyday items including groceries, clothes, recreational activities, and vehicles — jumped 2.6 percent, the biggest 12-month increase since August 2018. While nearly half of that increase was due to a 9.1 percent increase in gasoline prices, it has caused the Federal Reserve, among others, to focus on inflation concerns.

Meanwhile, “COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on IT sales, changing consumer behavior for the long term,” says GfK’s Wanderman. He said some of the continued demand for laptops is the result of pent-up demand among consumers who were unable to get the products they wanted earlier. They’ll have even more models to choose from: In April alone, Acer, Dell, Microsoft, and Razer either released or announced new laptop models for the spring. So the price increases won’t continue forever, he said: “At some point, that growth is going to go down.”

SUMMARY:

  • In Europe in 2020, there was a 43-percent sales increase year over year of notebook PCs, per GfK.
  • The five largest EU countries experienced a 12-percent rise in unit sales of laptops in the first 10 weeks of 2021.
  • Analysts expect continued high demand and global chip shortages through the rest of the year, even as people head back to offices.

The 2021 Samsung The Frame TV Gets a Soundbar to Match

Samsung The Frame Next Level Acoustics

Since Samsung’s The Frame launched in 2017, it has been one of the most highly sought after televisions for its ability to transform a standard “black box” into a work of art. It has racked up tons of awards, and led Samsung to follow up with a newer model, which earned one of our very own Dealerscope IMPACT Awards.

One of the biggest challenges integrators and consumers have faced with this product though is deciding how to incorporate high-end audio to The Frame without it losing its organic appeal. The solution, then, was to create something designed specifically for this product. And that’s exactly what Next Level Acoustics did.

The audio company known for its American-made custom-install speakers introduced Fusion soundbars and Elite Series enclosures to give Samsung’s The Frame TV the audio it deserves.

The Fusion Frame Slim was crafted by master engineers at Next Level Acoustics to complement the ultra-low depth of the 2021 version of The Frame. Despite its small makeup of 1.25″ of exposed depth, the soundbar exhibits rich sound quality and room filling dynamics. A variety of framing color options including standard colors and a custom paint option further ensure that The Fusion Frame Slim will pair nicely with both The Frame and any home’s aesthetic.

The Fusion Frame Slim, now shipping, ranges in price from $1499 to $2999 depending on size and customizations.

Metra Adds to Jeep Accessories Line

Metra Jeep Accessories

Metra Electronics has added to its Jeep Accessories line with two new aftermarket products designed to help installers upgrade the sound and lighting systems within Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator models. Metra’s new soundbar speaker adapter and RGB off-road fog lights expand on the line’s existing speaker pods and RGB off-road headlights for a complete solution for Jeep upgrades.

Jeep owners looking to take the next step can choose to keep the factory soundbar and upgrade to larger speakers in 2018-up Jeep Wrangler JL and 2020-up Jeep Gladiator models. The JP-1015 soundbar speaker kit is designed to adapt the OEM four-inch speakers and one-inch tweeter to an aftermarket 6.5-inch speaker and optional tweeter. The soundbar speaker adapter enclosure is designed to withstand tough, off-road adventures with its high-quality ABS plastic.

The JP-1014 replacement speaker pods for 2018-up Jeep Wrangler JL and 2020-up Jeep Gladiator models complement the new JP-1015 when upgrading the sound system. This pair replaces the original four-inch speakers located under the driver and passenger dashboard to install a six to 6.75-inch aftermarket speaker. Like the JP-1015, the JP-1014 was created with ABS housing that utilizes the factory mounting locations for a secure fit.

For some added “wow factor,” JeepWrangler JK, JL, and Gladiator models, can add a set of four-inch RGB backlit halo off-road fog lights (JP-704RGBFL) designed to match Metra’s existing JP-704RGB seven-inch round off-road headlights. The polycarbonate lens cover offers a strong seal rated IP67 to withstand harsh weather and off-road environments. The 15 white LEDs have a bright 800-lumen output for each fog light, consuming 30 watts total per light. The backlight RGB lights have 16 million different color options – all controlled through Metra’s RGB smartphone app. The fog lights plug-n-play with Metra’s RGB-CB1 controller, which is sold separately and required for operation. Depending on the model or trim level, additional fog light mount brackets may be required for the installation, and installers should see the JP-JFOG or JP-JFOG2 for vehicle-specific details. All of the products mentioned above are in stock and shipping now.

Green Lights in Corporate Sustainability

Corporate Sustainability
Credit: iStock

Sustainability is such a buzzword these days that it can seem meaningless, especially when big tech and retail talk pledges to reduce emissions, invest in eco-technologies, or pay for carbon offsets. But brush off those self-satisfied marketing messages and seemingly hyped-up initiatives as just more “greenwashing” would be a mistake, especially for the retail sector. On a straight-up, save-the-Earth level, it’s essential: In January, research by the Boston Consulting Group and the World Economic Forum found that eight supply chains, including electronics, freight, and automotive, accounted for more than half of all global emissions. That’s why big retail from Amazon to Best Buy to Walmart, along with appliance and consumer electronics manufacturers, are doubling down and accelerating their sustainability initiatives.

Another motivator, of course, is the Paris Climate Agreement, which the United States recently rejoined, and its goals of reducing global emissions in half by the end of this decade. But the Paris Climate Agreement is not even the most ambitious of accords, some of which are coming from the private sector. Just last month, a consortium of tech companies including Dell, Google, Microsoft, and Vodafone, announced the formation of the Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP). This new platform aims to encourage, facilitate, and invest in systems that develop and implement “closed-loop” products and services — think recyclable packaging, materials, and gadgets — in the electronics sector.

But it’s not just a concern for the environment: Not only is it estimated that unchecked climate change will affect the bottom line — approximately $1 trillion is at risk due to climate change through 2024 per 215 global companies surveyed in a 2019 CDP report — but consumers young and old also increasingly demand sustainability when shopping. Over the past year of mostly mail-order e-commerce, more than 72 percent of Americans said they would be more likely to buy from companies that have sustainable shipping practices, according to a 2020 Harris Poll, while a 2020 IBM and National Retail Federation study found that 70 percent of shoppers in the U.S. and Canada place a high value on eco-friendly brands.

And there’s progress from the consumer technology sector. Even though the consumer electronics industry grew by 11.4 percent between 2017 and 2018, it was responsible for 7.4 percent fewer emissions, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

These days, it’s hard to find a company in any sector that hasn’t deployed some kind of sustainability practice — just go to that tab on its website and you’ll find an entire section devoted to eco-practices. That goes for many appliance and CE manufacturers and retailers, as the entire subsection on sustainability at CES 2021 demonstrated. Some companies in this sector have been focused on sustainable practices for more than a decade, while others are just getting started. Here are some current highlights in the space.

Trading Out and In 

Best Buy has singularly addressed its role as an electronics retailer in the proliferation of e-waste by leading on eco-trends for more than a decade; its well-known trade-in and recycling program has processed more than two billion pounds of both appliances and electronics since it was first launched in 2009. The program is the largest electronics and appliances program in the U.S. and also the most comprehensive: In exchange for gift cards on newer products, anyone can trade-in or submit a wide range of items including TV and audio, cell phones, cameras, car audio, CDs and DVDs, and appliances. For ink and toner, the store will provide $2 in credit toward the next purchase. And even though it’s not free, Best Buy makes disposing of bigger items a cinch with its haul-away service that’ll go to homes and pick up everything from big TVs treadmills to dishwashers and wall ovens.

Since 2009, Best Buy’s trade-in program has processed more than 2 billion pounds of appliances and electronics.

The store has added a boatload of additional initiatives over the past 10 years, including a special shopping category devoted to sustainable products, a marketplace for pre-owned refurbished gadgets, energy-saving LED lighting in its stores, and a fleet of hybrid GeekMobile vehicles for its GeekSquad house calls. 

Corporate Collaboration 

Corporate Collaboration

As with many tech companies of late, Best Buy has also signed on to The Climate Pledge, a global pact among companies to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2040. Founded by Amazon and political and communications strategy organization Global Optimism, the Pledge has already been signed by 31 companies, including other tech firms such as IBM, Microsoft, Rubicon, Schneider Electric, Siemens, and Verizon — all of which have agreed to collaborate on the 2040 goal by updating their business and manufacturing methods, as well as quantifying, sharing, and offsetting their greenhouse emissions “Our ambition in joining forces with Jeff Bezos and Amazon was to get large, tip-of-the-spear companies together at a pre-competitive level to establish a framework for cutting operational emissions across supply chains with the greatest ambition,” says Global Optimism’s founding partner, Tom Rivett-Carnac, who previously worked the Paris Climate Agreement in his capacity as Executive Secretary at the UN Climate Convention. “Time represents ambition because it improves the chances of staying below 1.5 °C (34.7 °F), according to scientists.”

Besides its work on The Climate Pledge, Amazon is active on many sustainability fronts around electronics and appliances, including reducing the immense amount of waste inherently involved in shipping packages. As anyone who has ever had to pry open a shrink-wrapped box containing a smartphone or earbud can attest, e-commerce and consumer electronics businesses — despite some advances in eco-packaging — still use a lot of cardboard, plastic, polystyrene, and paper to store and transport products in a safe way.

Amazon has cut down the packaging it uses by 900,000 tons, or about 1.6 billion shipping boxes, since 2008. 

In addition to making packages and product boxes easier to open, Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging program collaborates directly with manufacturers on innovative e-commerce-optimized packaging designs that reduce the use of materials. For example, Hasbro, which started phasing out plastic packaging in 2020, developed with Amazon a sustainable, mail-order-friendly container-cum-shipping box for its Baby Alive doll that reduces the open space around the toy inside and eliminates the see-through plastic window, which is no longer necessary since it won’t be sitting on a store shelf. Corporate collaborations such as these have helped the e-tailing giant cut down the packaging materials it uses by 900,000 tons, about the same as 1.6 billion shipping boxes.

On a product level, the Amazon-owned Ring has recently released a series of nifty solar-powered products, including a solar panel to power its Spotlight Camera, a solar charger to power the Ring Video Doorbell, and the new, motion-sensitive Smart Lighting Solar Pathlight, several of which can be staked into the ground to illuminate walkways with no need for complicated wiring or custom installations.

What about all those carbon-emitting delivery trucks that aren’t doing climate change any favors? As part of its Climate Pledge activities, Amazon bought 100,000 electric vans from Rivian to use in its home delivery operations. Already the Rivian delivery EVs are rolling out in Los Angeles and San Francisco, with plans to get 10,000 on the road in 16 U.S. cities by the end of 2021. With Tesla and GM working on higher-capacity battery platforms and bigger electric vehicles, it’s only a matter of time before getting delivery ceases to be a carbon-emitting issue.

Supplier Side Sustainability 

While it hasn’t signed the Climate Pledge, another e-commerce and big-box giant, Walmart, has been working on sustainability initiatives since 2005, when it set a goal to one day transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Through investments in renewable energy technologies and companies, along with upgrading to solar- and wind-power infrastructure at many of its stores, Walmart is moving forward on its goal to get to at least 50 percent renewable energy by 2025.

This Sam’s Club (a subsidiary of Walmart) is powered by a wind farm.

Part of the solution not only for the renewable energy goal but also broader aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 is Walmart’s Project Gigaton, which is a coordinated and collaborative program to help the company’s more than 3,000 third-party suppliers implement everything from eco-packaging and e-waste management to energy efficiency and climate-friendly manufacturing and supply chain upgrades. At his CES 2021 keynote in January, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon detailed his vision for the company not only as a force for carbon offsets to zero out emissions, but also as a regenerative company that would proactively help reverse climate change.

Independent Thinkers 

But it’s not just big-box stores that are leading the charge. Many independent retailers have been But it’s not just big-box stores that are leading the charge. Many independent retailers have been more quietly but consistently running sustainability practices throughout their operations. Crutchfield, for example, eschews polystyrene packing peanuts in favor of corn-and-potato-starch-based biodegradable peanuts, which it manufactures on-site from expandable pellets that have an added cost-saving bonus: They use less truck space on deliveries than pre-made polystyrene peanuts. In addition, Crutchfield ships all of its purchases with Packsize’s On Demand Packaging tool, which ensures that products are shipped in the smallest possible box size. Smaller freight sizes, whether from expandable pellets or smaller boxes, means fewer trucks and therefore reduced diesel emissions in general.

‘When a box is in pristine condition, it just seems it’s something that shouldn’t just be thrown away,’ says HiDEF Lifestyle President Aaron Sholtis. 

In addition to next-gen, eco-friendly packing materials, there is plenty of actionable low-hanging fruit with the boxes being used already. Audio-video retailer HiDEF Lifestyle, for example, reuses boxes that contained shipments to its facilities for sending out products to customers. “If we order a case of Sony car receivers, they’re going to ship eight or 20 in a box,” says HiDEF Lifestyle President Aaron Sholtis. “We’re not going to ship car stereos in that box again, but a receiver might fit in there perfectly. We won’t send something out that’s been used five times already, but so many manufacturers over-box their products when they send them, and when a box is in pristine condition, it just seems it’s something that shouldn’t just be thrown away.” Sometimes, the circular economy is right in front of you. 

Phasing Out of Upgrade Mania 

There are more than five billion, and counting, mobile phone users in the world, according to GSMA Research, and it’s estimated that 151.8 million phones are thrown away each year in the U.S. alone. These statistics are not lost on consumer electronics manufacturers, which also have to contend with all the waste that comes with cardboard and plastic packaging.

“What I’ve seen over the last decade is an awareness and acknowledgment of climate change and a commitment to doing something about it across the industry,” says Walter Alcorn, vice president of environmental affairs at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).  “That’s new, and there is now a consensus in the technology industry that not only is this a global crisis, but also that we as an industry have a responsibility to do something about it.” Indeed, one of the main themes at this year’s virtual iteration of CES was sustainability, and many of the show’s biggest exhibitors — Microsoft, Samsung, LG, GM, Schneider Electric, Bosch, Panasonic, and Mercedes-Benz, to name just a few — were demonstrating their carbon- and electronic-waste technologies and strategies.

Samsung’s Upcycling program lets users turn their old Galaxy smartphones into baby monitors.

When the Samsung Upcycling program launches later this year, consumers who are planning to replace their Galaxy smartphones will have the option to download software to repurpose and convert their smartphones into everything from baby monitors to motion sensors for activating lights.  There’s nothing new about using your old phone as a music player or security camera, but by simply offering software for that very purpose, Samsung is making the process user-friendly, enticing, and seamless. Earlier this year at CES, Samsung also announced that its innovative eco-packaging, whereby boxes containing products can be easily repurposed into small-scale furniture, would be rolled out to its audio products, computer monitors, and QLED and UHD televisions (see sidebar).

A Cleaner Way to Clean Clothes 

The LG WashTower saves energy thanks to built-in AI that optimizes cleaning cycles, water levels, and temperature.

Besides the cursory commitments of carbon-reduction and the like, LG has always been on the cutting edge of efficiency in its appliances, from refrigerators and air conditioners to refrigerators and washing machines. Its recent line of ThinQ appliances includes the LG WashTower, an all-in-one unit that uses AI to optimize washing cycles, drying temperatures, and more to not only save water and energy, but also wear-and-tear on clothing.

Besides electronics and appliances, LG is also a player in solar energy. Its LG Business Solutions division recently unveiled two new solar panels, both of which are aimed at homeowners, at the virtual International Builders’ Show.

Something Old, Something New 

PC and PC peripheral manufacturers also lead the way when it comes to sustainability, in particular with “closed-loop” circular practices. HP, for example, has run its Plastic Partners recycling program since 1991. The closed-loop program accepts various types of plastic — bottles, apparel hangers, and printer ink cartridges — then recycles the plastic and reuses it in new printer ink cartridges. In addition to printer ink cartridges, HP now also incorporates recycled plastic into hardware, including the HP Tango printer, the HP Elite Dragonfly laptop, and HP Pro desktops and laptops, to name a few. Last year, the company unveiled new biodegradable packaging made from molded fiber, which itself is created out of paperboard, newspaper, bamboo, and wheat straw.

HP’s new biodegradable packaging is made from molded fiber, which is created out of paperboard, newspaper, bamboo, and wheat straw.

At CES this year, Dell, which has been incorporating recycled carbon fiber and other material into its laptops for the past decade, introduced a line of commercial laptops — the Latitude 5000 and Precision 3560 series — both of which feature lids made from a new bioplastic polymer and bodies made from recycled plastic. And Razer, which makes high-performance gaming laptops, headsets, and mice, announced at the end of March that all of its products would be made from recycled plastics and use FCS-certified biodegradable packaging. Logitech, which also makes keyboards, mice, and other peripherals for gaming and work, announced a similar initiative in 2019, with goals to incorporate recyclable materials in all of its products by 2030.

Going Green from the Ground Up 

The Sensibo Air sensor turns standard air conditioners into smart appliances.

Big companies and their flashy pledges about carbon offsets, eco-investing, and climate neutrality goals aside, several startups and smaller companies are walking the walk with products that are designed to be sustainable from the ground up or help manage resources better. Sensibo, for example, is an innovative, user-friendly, and inexpensive system of Wi-FI-connected sensors that not only let you remote control your existing “dumb” air conditioners remotely via Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, but automatically maintain temperatures (thanks to a combination of real-time, cloud-connected weather information, as well as built-in motion and temperature sensors). The company also makes a line of air purifiers that behave similarly based on real-time outdoor air quality reports. Meanwhile, Goal Zero has long made a line of solar-panel-embedded chargers, power stations, and lights, among other products, that have been a favorite of adventurers, campers, and disaster preppers alike. Founded by veterans of Mophie, which made innovative portable chargers and batteries, Nimble is an eco-first manufacturer of sustainable charging products.  

What we’re seeing with a lot of, let’s say, new companies, is that they’re doing cooler stuff and are willing to put money into innovation, and to new ideas coming out,’ says Dr. Deborah Brosnan. 

“What we’re seeing with a lot of, let’s say, new companies, is that they’re doing cooler stuff and are willing to put money into innovation, and to new ideas coming out,” says Dr. Deborah Brosnan, whose eponymous scientific consulting firm pools government, business, and communities to address environmental and climate change crises. That innovation extends to software companies that power retail experiences. It doesn’t always have to be massive or cost $1.2 billion, as is the case with Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund. Shopify, for example, has established a Sustainability Fund, which invests in truly next-gen approaches that aren’t your typical carbon offset program. Case in point: The e-commerce platform invested in Running Tide, an organization that grows kelp and submerges it to the bottom of the ocean, where it sequesters carbon for thousands of years, at scale, for much less than building a pricey wind or solar farm, as every behemoth retailer from Amazon to Best Buy to Walmart has done.

Actual and vital need aside, sustainability has become such the norm in any corporate organization and messaging that sometimes it runs the danger of being just theater, or “greenwashing.” Pledging to carbon offsets is great, but it’s not always stopping the original carbon-emitting practice that it’s offsetting. Moving the needle on climate change takes more than sustainability pledges and eco-investments; it requires monitoring, transparency, and cooperation among the private and public sectors. “There has been a great deal of greenwashing over the years — now is the time for real action,” says Rivett-Carnac. “We have the tools, technologies, and resources to make the changes to operations — there is very little we don’t yet have or cannot collectively develop and invest in.”

Azione Unlimited Spring 2021 Conference Loaded With Innovative Programming

Azione Unlimited Spring 2021 Conference

Azione Unlimited, The Smart Home Association, opened its virtual doors for a two-day event this week—The Expedient Exposition, which President Richard Glikes called the last conference of its kind. Live from their Chester Springs, PA, headquarters, the Azione team beamed with excitement about the current conference agenda, and looked grinningly toward in-person events in the fall.

“This is the best year ever and it isn’t going to stop in this calendar year,” says Glikes. “Housing starts are at historic highs, renovations are booming and home offices are not slowing down, and we are directly tied to this market. Azione Unlimited is already up 32 percent for the first three months of 2021 – and that’s based on pre-pandemic levels. It’s just an amazing time for integrators.”

Head to Connected Design to read the full story.

Petra Partners with Smart Baby Care Brand, Owlet

Wholesale electronics distributor, Petra Industries, has partnered with Owlet Baby Care to expand the availability of its award-winning smart baby monitor. This new partnership brings Owlet products to QVC, Home Shopping Network and many other retailers.

“We’re always excited to partner with vendors who offer unique solutions to age old concerns,” says Tate Morgan, President of Petra. “Owlet brings a sense of safety and security to parents who are eager to look out for their children, and we’re thrilled to bring their products on board.”

Owlet’s ecosystem of products brings technology and vital data to modern parenting. Its flagship product, the Owlet Smart Sock baby monitor tracks a baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels to ensure safe sleep – a growing concern among parents of babies and newborns.

Since the company’s launch in 2012, over 1.5 million people have turned to Owlet in their parenting journey. In return, Owlet has eased many of their deepest concerns, and actually helped them sleep better as well.

The Smart Sock also integrates seamlessly with Owlet’s camera product, the Owlet Cam, enabling parents to see and hear their babies even when they’re not in the room through Owlet’s convenient smartphone app.

Vaccinated Americans All Clear to Attend IFA 2021

Vaccinated Americans IFA 2021
Credit: iStock

Fully vaccinated Americans have been given the okay to visit the European Union this summer by president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. The news comes five months ahead of IFA Berlin, the world’s leading event for consumer electronics and appliances, which runs from September 3-7 in Berlin.

IFA will be held as a full-scale, in-person event for the first time since 2019, and these easing travel restrictions will allow for greater participation.

“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” von der Leyen said, according to the Times report. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 28% of Americans are now fully vaccinated, and that number is continuing to grow.

“What the world is basically saying is, they’re looking at the US, they’re looking at the success of our vaccination program, they’re looking at the reduction of disease, and while they know we’re not done yet, they’re saying those Americans are safe to come to our country without risk of spreading Covid-19,” White House senior Covid-19 adviser Andy Slavitt told CNN’s Pamela Brown.

CES to Make its Las Vegas Return in 2022

CES 2022 Las Vegas

In 2020, CES was one of the last few trade shows to squeak by before the world shut down. In 2021, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) made the decision to go all-virtual with the event while infections were still climbing and before a vaccine plan was really in place. Today, CTA announced that CES will make its long-awaited return to Las Vegas from Jan. 5-8, 2022. The show will welcome both in-person and virtual attendees. Media days are set to take place ahead of the show from Jan. 3-4, 2022.

“We’re thrilled to return to Las Vegas – home to CES for more than 40 years – and look forward to seeing many new and returning faces,” says Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CTA. “Hundreds of executives have told us how much they need CES to meet new and existing customers, find partners, reach media and discover innovation.”

Over 1,000 companies have already committed to CES 2022 including global brands like Amazon, AMD, AT&T, Daimler AG, Dell, Google, Hyundai, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics and Sony. Once again, Eureka Park will offer startups from all around the world the chance to showcase their latest innovations.

For attendees and brands who choose not to make the trip to Vegas, the virtual side of CES 2022 is shaping up to be just as strong. CTA plans to bring back the CES anchor desk where attendees can connect with exhibitors, attend conference sessions and keynotes, and get the latest product announcements. Even after the show closes, the platform will continue to be updated with new content for even more opportunities for people to explore and connect.

“Our customers are enthusiastic about returning to a live event in Las Vegas,” says Karen Chupka, EVP, CES, CTA. “Global brands and startups have shared that plans are already well underway and are committed to sharing the magic of an in-person CES with even more people from around the world.”

CTA says they will be reviewing guidelines for coronavirus safety measures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in addition to state and local guidelines ahead of the show. CTA will also be following applicable federal, state and local laws, adapting CES plans accordingly and sharing updates with its audiences.

Jabra’s PanaCast Cameras Help Ease the Return to the Office

Jabra PanaCast

More and more businesses are opening back up their offices for employees but they are suddenly finding that their old ways of working just aren’t cutting it anymore. Jabra today announced a new camera lineup designed specifically for post-COVID office life that doesn’t sacrifice on high-definition video or outstanding audio.

The Jabra PanaCast camera lineup consists of the Jabra PanaCast 50 – a plug and play solution coined the world’s first new-normal-ready intelligent video bar, and the Jabra PanaCast 20 – a ground-breaking intelligent personal camera. Together, the range provides businesses with the flexibility they need to balance their new hybrid workflow with world-leading audio technologies and cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence (AI).

PanaCast 50

The PanaCast 50 is essentially the “director” of the meeting with the ability to adjust the video stream to follow the action. Three 13-megapixel cameras mounted in a high-precision multi-camera array create an immersive 180° field of view in Panoramic-4K that spans the entire room, ensuring everyone is in full view without people having to sit too close together.

Jabra PanaCast 50 features nine powerful Edge processors, including two state-of-the art Edge AI processors. This ultra-advanced system architecture enables the intelligent video bar to carry out real-time integration of audio, video and data. The PanaCast 50 also features eight beamforming microphones with precision voice detection, backed up with intelligent algorithms that remove disruptive noise. Four powerful Jabra-engineered speakers – two 50mm woofers and two 20mm tweeters – in a zero-vibration stereo setup fill the room with premium, high-definition audio, while the latest two-way audio technology allows for more natural conversations.

The Jabra PanaCast 50 can deliver two video streams simultaneously, allowing the speaker to remain on screen while sharing whiteboard content in real time. It also delivers an independent data stream which provides anonymous people count meta-data as real-time numerical information. The PeopleCount feature enables the system to compare that count with a customer-defined room capacity limit number to determine if the room utilization is over capacity. If the number of people exceeds the capacity limit, the PanaCast 50 provides visual and aural cues to the people present, enabling them to adjust their positioning for a safer experience.

Additionally, through the network interface, longer-term analytics data is available for IT administrators, enabling the business to make data-driven decisions about how they’re utilizing their meeting spaces. Organizations will have an overview of how many rooms are being used, even when there is no active meeting, helping inform decisions on office space.

PanaCast 20

With the Jabra PanaCast 20, flexible workers can benefit from high-quality, secure video collaboration – even when they’re not in the office. The device features AI that is managed on-device with Edge processing – and advanced experiences are generated directly on the device without extra data being sent to the cloud for processing, or the need to install additional software. For those using the camera, it has a built-in lens cover for added privacy, and peace of mind that the camera will not accidentally be left on.

The PanaCast 20 delivers 4K Ultra HD Video, HDR video as well as personalized Intelligent Zoom, which always frames the main user properly, regardless of their surrounding. It also features automatic lighting correction.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary solutions and we believe the new Jabra PanaCast 50 and PanaCast 20 deliver just that,” says Aurangzeb Khan, Senior Vice President of Intelligent Vision Systems at Jabra. “We are happy to present the PanaCast 50, the first video bar to combine world-leading Jabra audio with our unique 180° field of view and unique room usage insights, for inclusive, collaborative meetings in the new normal. The time is now to start thinking about future-proofing offices, creating optimal collaboration circumstances for flexible hybrid workers and to ensure maximum productivity as your teams return. We invite businesses, organizations and institutions all around the world to experience audio and video like never before with the Jabra PanaCast intelligent devices.”

The Jabra PanaCast 50 will be available beginning on June 15 in black and grey for $1,195 while the Jabra PanaCast 20 will be available beginning on Aug. 1 in black for $299.

Nationwide Marketing Group to Host Service Leaders Network Conference

Nationwide Marketing Group Service Leaders Network Conference
Whirlpool will take part in a live roundtable session at the Service Leaders Network Conference.

In continuation of its efforts to support the appliance service industry, Nationwide Marketing Group will host its first Service Leaders Network Conference from May 13-14. The two-day, virtual conference is free to attend for all North American appliance service retailers and will feature over two dozen business- and training-oriented courses.

“Service Leaders Network is the culmination of years of concepting, researching, designing and planning an entirely new division within Nationwide Marketing Group, all intently built to support the service operations of our self-servicing appliance members,” says Ron Romero, executive director of Nationwide’s West Region group of dealers and the third-generation owner of Schaefer’s in Lincoln, Nebraska. “We want to ensure that our servicing members have the tools they need to run service departments that are efficient, effective and profitable. And the Service Leaders Network Conference is yet another extension of our efforts to better support and strengthen Nationwide’s program offering for servicing members.”

The event is open to all appliance members, including Cantrex Nationwide dealers in Canada, as well as any interested independent appliance service retailers regardless of buying group affiliation.

Sessions include:

The more than 27 courses surely will not leave attendees wanting. Nationwide will also be recording the sessions, and offering them on demand for 30 days after the show closes.

“It is so difficult when you’re out there on an island as a small-to-medium or even a large company for that matter, and you don’t have the backing or support of a group like the Service Leaders Network,” Nationwide Director of Service Mark Pollitz says in a press release. “Our core mission is to build on all of the great benefits that Nationwide provides by bringing additional value to the table through robust educational offerings that these dealers can’t find anywhere else.”

The Service Leaders Network Conference is backed by the same virtual event platform that helped facilitate Nationwide’s own March Virtual PrimeTime event. Registration for the Nationwide event is open to all appliance sales and service retailers eager to learn more about what it takes to run an efficient and profitable service department.

Smoothing the Path to Purchase

Financial Services Consumer Electronics
Credit: iStock

Dealerscope: In what ways has the dramatic consumer shift during the pandemic period towards an eCommerce shopping experience impacted the retail finance sector – particularly for the consumer technology and appliance industries? And do you expect the shift to sustain, even after buyers are able to shop for their tech products in person?

Orlando Zayas, CEO, KatapultThe pandemic forced financial service providers to shift focus from brick-and-mortar experiences to improving or creating a customer-centric ecommerce experience; it is not enough to just be online. The ecommerce experience and decision process is completely different from that of an in-store experience, it requires specific expertise and a strong understanding of the consumer. I anticipate that this trend will continue and ecommerce will continue to be an important segment to cater to. 

Martin Kuhn, President, Tempoe/SmartPayConsumer buying behavior has moved aggressively toward ecommerce through the pandemic. In order for retailers make the most of each buying experience, offering a simple, integrated payment solution that reaches the widest potential customer base is critical. While we do expect a move back to more in-person shopping experiences, there is no doubt that a large portion of ecommerce buying behavior is now cemented into long-term consumer demands. 

Chad Lyon, Head of Electronics & Appliances, Wells Fargo Distribution Finance: The shift to an ecommerce shopping experience is one we’ve been following for some time. We expect this trend to continue, and feel the independent consumer technology and appliance retailers are well positioned for this movement. Seeing our retailers effectively add online capabilities to meet customer needs in a short period of time has been exciting to observe. They quickly invested in providing an omnichannel customer experience, one that is fully transactional with features aligning with evolving consumer behavior.  

What major trends that have arisen recently are you keeping track of, with regard to leveraging them to tailor the particular products and services you offer to retailers to serve their consumer technology and appliance customers?   

Kuhn: With the trend toward the BNPL (Buy Now Pay Later) products, consumers must be careful not to overextend themselves with these short-term payment solutions.  At Tempoe/SmartPay, our product is similar in the fact that customers can obtain ownership in as little as 90 days, but we offer the opportunity to pay over extended terms so that customers are not forced into high short-term payments.   

Lyon: One thing we’re watching is if consumer behavior continues to trend towards same-day and next-day delivery of ecommerce purchases. We’ve seen this evolution in other consumer markets where retailers changed their distribution model to deliver online orders the next day, and I think it’s quickly becoming a preference among consumers. Of course, if you could have your product delivered the next day, why wouldn’t you want that? However, the implications of this trend likely require retailers to stock more inventory to meet consumer demand, which our financing programs are designed to support.  

How are your methods of training retail sales associates being handled these days to ensure that retailers are properly and effectively presenting your services to customers?   

Kuhn: Virtual trainings have been essential for education of store associates. Videos, webinars and conference calls have replaced a portion of the “in-store trainings” once commonplace in our retail relationships. Partnering with retailers to get our solutions implemented into their in-house LMS (Learning Management System) has also been essential to keeping associates well informed on our products. 

What are the biggest challenges your industry faces in the consumer technology and appliance spaces, and how are you addressing them?  And what are the biggest benefits retailers can realize, when working with you to address consumer needs? 

Lyon: Our industry has a good challenge right now — high demand. Due to a few factors from COVID, including more time spent at home, increased utilization of appliances, and the booming housing market, we’ve seen a huge spike in demand for appliances. This increased demand has challenged the core values of the industry, which is accustomed to meeting consumer expectations on product availability. We felt the impacts of this challenge as well, as our financing programs play a key role in our retailers’ ability to acquire inventory. We continue to support our customers through flexibility on our programs, process changes, and consistent communication. All great opportunities come with challenges, and we feel confident this market will meet these challenges.  

Zayas: Educating retailers is crucial to ensuring that the nonprime customer, which represents one-third of Americans, has access to purchase the items they need when they need them. By implementing lease-purchase options, you can bring these nonprime consumers the same buying power as a prime consumer and capture a new customer base. Our retail partners see increased transactions, higher average order value, reduced cart abandonment and an increase in customer satisfaction.  

Kuhn: With the shift to more online shopping, there has been a significant increase in fraudulent behavior, which significantly puts payment providers at risk. Introducing advanced underwriting solutions to combat this fraud is essential to maintain a strong program.  At Tempoe/Smart Pay, we have built the proprietary underwriting solutions and fraud prevention tools to maximize our customers’ sales, while reducing this negative impact of fraudulent behavior – and without negatively impacting the consumer experience. 

What is the outlook for your business for the rest of 2021? And what kind of above-and-beyond assistance can retailers count on you for, moving into the end of this year and into next year?  

Lyon: We have a favorable outlook for 2021. We see retail and replacement sales remaining above trend as consumers are staying home and increasing usage of their appliances. Discretionary sales will benefit as high savings rates in the U.S. find their way into home investments. Additionally, new home construction is expanding, creating more demand for product. Retailers can continue to count on our programs to deliver an uninterrupted flow of goods from OEMs to retailers, ensuring they have the products they need to meet consumer demand.  

Kuhn: We are bullish on the rest of 2021 and beyond, with the expectation that more consumers will be back into the market. A hyperactive real estate market creates need for new consumer products and the continued support from the stimulus programs will keep sales moving in the right direction. Additionally, we see more and more companies shift their operations to full ecommerce channels with less dependence on brick-and-mortar locations, which keeps the pressure on payment providers to drive innovation and the evolution of retail payments with technology solutions. We feel we are ahead of most when it comes to how we adapted.  

Zayas: I am excited about the year ahead; 2021 will be another year of growth and innovation for Katapult as we stay focused on providing retailers the payment solutions they need to serve their customers. Katapult works very closely with our retail partners to provide support and strategies and we will continue to do so. We are the leading e-commerce fintech platform focused on the subprime customer, because of the hands-on support we provide.  

TECH UP TALKS Address Need for Diversity in AI

TECH UP TALKS AI
Credit: iStock

In partnership with IFA Berlin, Tech Up For Women kicked off its first International TECH UP TALKS Webinar Series around the hot topic of Artificial Intelligence. Host, Faye Holland, Founder and Director of Cofinitive, welcomed Khadija Mustafa, Sr. Director, Head of Global Partnerships for Autonomous Systems, AI & Research Division of Microsoft, who spoke about how AI is changing the workforce and why diversity in this industry is so important.

“AI fundamentally impacts the way we live our lives,” says Mustafa, adding that we are using some form of AI every day, whether we realize it or not. Its most basic use cases are within voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Netflix suggestions, but AI also extends into countless other areas of life like music and art, and even, she says, to make the “perfect Cheeto.”

“AI is becoming pervasive,” Mustafa admits, “and it is only going to keep growing.”

This notion has given rise to the concept of singularity and fear that jobs will suddenly be lost to AI, but Mustafa explains that this concept is nothing new. Jobs have been progressing and transforming since the beginning of time, and this is just another example of that. AI may appear to displace some jobs, but in turn will create greater opportunities within data roles that are both in high demand and high paying.

“Reskilling and retooling workers in the past used to take years. That is no longer true,” says Mustafa who says there are plenty of resources available for those willing to pursue this type of career path including remote learning opportunities and certification programs that are often free.

Right now, there is a global shortage of data scientists, an even greater need for more diversity in the field. In order for AI to work at its best, it requires different insights and people behind this technology from all walks of life – from lawyers to linguists to teachers and more. The businesses that have already started this process are seeing some of the biggest gains.

Mustafa reveals that over 80 percent of businesses say that AI is a top priority, but only about 10-15 percent are implementing it into their strategy. She stresses that businesses need to grab this opportunity now in order to be on the competitive edge, but in some cases, to ensure their survival.

Luckily, it doesn’t take becoming an expert in AI in order to reap its benefits. Hiring the right team of AI experts and data scientists can help businesses target high value areas and see the biggest ROI. The senior ranks making these decisions should also take a close look at the diversity of the AI team. Mustafa admits that certain pieces of AI can become biased, and we all have a responsibility to address that.

TECH UP TALKS AI

Meeting the Sustainability Challenge in CE Packaging

Sustainability Austere
The sustainable encasing for Austere's Powerbox

One word: plastics. No question this virtually indestructible material changed the world over the last century or so. Today, humans produce more than 380 million tons annually, and some studies say up to half for single-use. In the consumer electronics industry, single-use, unfortunately, means plastic disposable packaging – a problematic issue for an industry that prides itself on goals of innovation and forward-thinking.

Today CE manufacturers have added a new and just as important goal, sustainability. And to help achieve that, many companies like Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft are switching to some form of sustainable or recycled packaging. Technological strides in smart and environmentally-friendly packaging are being driven by some of the top minds in CE product design, and for an industry dedicated to positive change, the future does indeed look green!

It’s also encouraging that consumers are increasingly aware of the need for eco-friendly packaging, and several studies have shown that they’re willing to do their part and even pay extra for it.  A recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group reported that nearly three-fourths of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.* And of those, nearly one-fourth are willing to pay an increase of 10% or more.

Reducing e-waste and promoting sustainability must be at the forefront of planning in every aspect of our business. When I founded Austere in 2019, I made sure we were deliberate when developing our home theater accessories packaging, using recycled material and boxes that are designed to inspire consumers to reuse them. The boxes are made of non-plastic, eco-friendly materials emblazoned with sleek and sophisticated design, making them ideal for gift boxes, storage containers for desk supplies, and even a place to store chocolates and other foods.

To help achieve the goal of sustainability, we follow these key steps at Austere:

  • First, identify areas in your business that can improve in sustainability. Packaging is, of course, a necessary ingredient for success, as well as an integral in-store promotional tool. But by examining closely ways in which sustainability can be achieved, a company could decide to use recycled packaging material and intentionally designed the packaging for reuse.
  • Next, e-waste from unrecycled components is a separate but equally challenging issue that should be addressed. Work closely with factories to find ways to take back older products and re-use or recycle parts is a great starting point.
  • It’s also recommended that companies create a detailed sustainability plan with clear, reachable goals and actual steps on how to get there.
  • Finally, engage your company – make it a point to remind everyone that sustainability has become a core value to the company from product and packaging design to everyday common office waste, including dedicated use of recycling bins, reuse paper as scrap, and discouraging plastic water bottles and other single-use items in the office. A great way to start is volunteering as a business to participate in local environmental community projects can also help instill a sense of the importance of sustainability.

Undoubtedly, switching to a sustainable waste-reduction mindset is a major challenge for the consumer electronics industry. But by demonstrating our collective willingness to lead the way and change for the better, we can not only help save the planet, but solidify our loyalty among our sustainability focused customers.

Nationwide Names Mark Pollitz as New Director of Service

Mark Pollitz Nationwide Marketing Group

Nationwide Marketing Group has tapped industry veteran, Mark Pollitz, to serve as the organization’s new director of service.

Pollitz’s career spans three decades across major names in the appliance sector including Maytag, LG, Electrolux, GE and Samsung. He has served in various roles as a technician, account manager, business consultant and product trainer. He’s also no stranger to small business being a former owner of a small appliance sales and service company himself, but he also knows what it takes to lead at the highest level. Some of his previous leadership roles include director of service operations, director of field operations and general manager.

“As a kid, I was always taking things apart,” Pollitz recalls. “But it wasn’t until I was hired as a greenhorn technician in 1981 that I was able to learn how to put them back together and make them work. And that’s when I realized what a wonderful industry appliance service is.”

His first job ignited his passion, leading him to launch his own independent service company in 1988.

“Owning my own service company – and then adding on sales, as well, and basically servicing the products of my competitors – was a wonderful opportunity,” Pollitz says. “I learned all the successes of being an independent business owner and also the challenges of what it’s like to sink your heart and soul into a business and have a 70- or 80-hour work week, every week. It wasn’t always easy, but as hard as it was, it was an amazing experience and one that I am eternally grateful for.”

Pollitz admits that the joy he found while owning and operating a service company is what led him on the path to Nationwide Marketing Group. The newly created “Director of Service” role provided him an opportunity to take what he had learned as both a servicing dealer and a manufacturing representative and apply it to help other independent servicers improve their operations.

“The service world is so much more complex than just fixing machines or selling a product,” he explains. “There are so many tentacles and channels and avenues that you have to walk through and manage through to make your service business efficient and effective – and, ultimately, profitable. I’m excited to use what I’ve learned throughout my career to help our servicing members – and, really, servicers across the channel – grow and thrive.”

Pollitz also serves as the national co-chairman of the SkillsUSA Residential & Commercial Appliance Technology, National Technical Committee, the world’s largest educational private-industry non-profit organization. The group relies on its 440,000 volunteer members to support skilled trades as a viable educational opportunity in the United States. These skills and emphasis on education and training will translate well in Pollitz’s role with Nationwide.

“Acquiring trained technicians is an epidemic, not just for our members but for all independent servicers,” Pollitz says. “Our Service Leaders Network is helping Nationwide’s 900+ servicing dealers leverage the buying power and strength of their membership, and providing value-added, practical and tangible programs and services to our members, including new educational initiatives.”

Nationwide’s Service Leaders Network will hold the industry’s first virtual conference dedicated exclusively to appliance dealers with a service department, May 13-14. The event is free for all Nationwide Marketing Group Members, and will include sessions for owners and managers geared toward efficiencies and profitability, as well as technician training from key vendor partners, including Bosch, Electrolux, Fred’s Academy, GE, Master Samurai Tech, Samsung, Speed Queen and Whirlpool.

Apple’s Spring Loaded Event was Loaded with Announcements

Apple Spring Loaded iMacs

Apple’s Spring Loaded event wrapped up yesterday with a slew of new (albeit, expected) product announcements. Apple went back to its roots with some colorful iMacs and iPhones, came up with its own tracking accessory, gave its iPads and Apple TV a boost, and is testing out some new features with its Podcasts and Apple Cards.

Colorful iMacs and iPhones

Who could forget that big blue iMac that hit the scene in 1998? It was incredibly clunky but undoubtedly one of Apple’s most iconic products. Now, Apple has introduced a new fleet of colorful iMacs, but unlike the originals, these desktops measure in at just 11.5 millimeters thick. Their 24-inch, 4.5K Retina displays offer an equally vibrant experience with 500 nits of brightness and over a billion colors. They’ve also got the best A/V that’s ever been seen in a Mac with a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, studio-quality mics, and a six-speaker sound system. The power and efficiency of the M1 chip combined with macOS Big Sur launches apps at remarkable speeds, and makes transitioning from one project to another a seamless experience. The new iMacs range in price from $1,299 to $1,499.

Apple also expanded the color palette for the iPhone 12 and 12 mini with the addition of a new purple finish. Apple says the new color “beautifully accentuates the flat aluminum edges of iPhone 12, which are perfectly color-matched to the precision-milled back glass.”

Powerful iPads

The M1 chip was a common thread tying together some of Apple’s latest announcements. Its presence in the new iPad Pros have made them Apple’s most powerful and advanced iPads yet. Along with 5G connectivity, users can enjoy high-quality video streaming, real-time collaboration, and HD FaceTime calls while on the go. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro features a refreshed, Liquid Retina XDR display for more “true-to-life” details. Record-breaking speed is seen in the Thunderbolt and USB 4 support, making the USB-C port on the iPad Pro the fastest and most versatile on an iPad.

Next-Gen Apple TV 4K

Apple announced an upgrade to its 4K TV that was released in 2017. This time around, Apple TV 4K is powered by the infamous A12 Bionic chip, which offers a boost in graphics, performance, video decoding, and audio processing. While the box itself stayed true to its original, squircle-shaped design, the remote received quite a refresh. The Siri Remote has a more intuitive clickpad with five-way navigation, and touch-control for directional swipes.

AirTags

Apple’s Find My network has probably saved year’s worth of time spent looking for misplaced devices. Now, its latest product can help find practically anything. AirTags can be attached to keys, backpacks, suitcases, and more. The AirTags can be named based on the items they are attached to, and can be located within the FindMy app, even when out of Bluetooth range. Apple says the AirTags keep location data private and secure, and the owner of the AirTag is the only one with access to its location.

Apple Podcasts and Family Cards

On the non-physical product side of announcements, Apple announced Podcast Subscriptions and Family Cards. Apple’s Podcast Subscriptions will be available starting in May, and come with a variety of benefits for paying customers like ad-free listening, bonus content, and early access to new episodes. Many platforms are switching to this model for its dual monetary benefits for creators and service providers.

Speaking of finances, Apple has introduced Apple Card Family, a new way for families to share their Apple Card, track purchases, manage spending, and build credit together. Up to five people can be added to an Apple Card account within the Wallet app. Users must be 13 years of age or older and owners must be at least 18. Apple Card Family allows parents and guardians to teach children about money, help them build credit, and provide daily spending allowances that foster good money management skills.

True Wireless In-Ear Headphones Now Available

Bowers & Wilkins releases P17 and P15 in-ear wireless headlphones

Bowers & Wilkins has launched the new PI7 and PI5 in-ear headphones that bring the brand’s True Sound promise of “absolute performance” to the True Wireless In-Ear Headphone category. 

Each PI7 is compact enough to fit comfortably in the ear, each earbud has a specification that replicates an advanced conventional loudspeaker, featuring a 9.2mm bespoke Bowers & Wilkins drive unit; and a high-frequency ‘balanced armature’ driver.

The PI5 supports CD-quality playback; offers seamless access to user-selectable noise-cancelling, plus an ambient pass-through mode; and features twin built-in microphones for high-quality phone calls.

For complete info on features, visit Connected Design.

Making the Right Call

External Communications Telemarketing
Credit: iStock

External communications are one of the most important elements in business operations today. However, many businesses were not prepared to face a global pandemic, and communications can become more complicated in unprecedented times. This has left many companies to wonder the most appropriate ways to engage prospects and customers while maintaining legal compliance. 

An important factor in effective communication is customer empowerment, meaning the customer feels their individual voice is heard, trust is built, and relationships are enriched. It is even more crucial for telemarketers to be knowledgeable about the laws that govern them, which includes the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). When engaging in outbound communications, it’s important to understand the pandemic’s effect on TCPA guidelines. While the TCPA remains intact, there are several restrictions that have been implemented because of the pandemic.  

A telemarketer’s biggest challenge is often ensuring effective communication in an environment where spam calls are prevalent. Robocallers are thriving on the large number of people working from home. Many can impersonate the IRS and health-insurance companies and collect funds. This leaves consumers feeling wary of telemarketers, and many often refrain from answering the phone entirely, especially when calls reflect no caller identification. This can have a drastic effect on a business and its sales if the business is reliant on telemarketing as a sales mechanism.  

A best practice for effective telemarketers is to monitor practices to ensure they comply with any calling prohibitions outlined in the TCPA. 

Rules of Engagement 

The TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) and the TSR (Telemarketing Sales Rule) have specific requirements for sales call practices. One of these sales practices includes the prohibition of call abandonment. This means that when telemarketers dial in a “predictive manner,” a call is answered by a consumer but no agent is available to talk on the other end of the line. This happens when a predictive dialer  places multiple calls at once and “predicts” that only one consumer will answer, but more than one actually answers. If companies are calling predictively, a message must be played to the consumer to indicate who was calling and why, as well as an automated opt-out mechanism. If the company does not have an automated message that is played, they are not within the compliance requirements of the TCPA and the TSR. Abandoning more than 3% of phone calls (per campaign per 30 days) is prohibited.  

Companies must also be cognizant of calling times. Outbound calls can only be completed during the hours of 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., based on the consumer’s location.  Further, telemarketers must also be aware of the customer’s time zone. In an instance where an address and phone number hail from alternate time zones, telemarketers would be best advised to use the time zone in which the address is placed. Addresses are more likely to be updated and changed over time.  

It is crucial that telemarketers deliver a disclosure to the consumer stating the company’s name, reason for the call, and whether the call is being recorded. This allows for the avoidance of any illegal recordings, even if they were unintentionally illegal, that can lead to complaints and lawsuits. 

Calling individuals against their will could lead to legal enforcement and will certainly reflect poorly on the business. The TCPA recommends keeping do-not-call requests for five years, so record-keeping is crucial when navigating calling lists.  

Auto-dialing, originally deemed the dialing of random phone numbers, now includes predictive dialer calls. If a device has the capacity to dial phones without human-intervention, it is likely an auto-dialer. To send marketing messages/calls with an auto-dialer, prior written consent is needed. Of course, do-not-call lists still apply in these cases and should be observed.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, answer rates have been increasing. Despite changing restrictions due to state of emergency declarations, only New York and Louisiana have made restrictions on telemarketing. Calls about debt collection have additional restrictions in Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. As per state of emergency guidelines, all states must allow emergency calls, which includes robocalls. Emergency calls or text messages containing information affecting the health and safety of the consumer are allowed. 

In the current pandemic, if a call or text is in relation to the virus, it is only deemed an emergency if it is from a hospital, healthcare provider, or state health official, or details an imminent safety risk. The national state of emergency is not a time to avoid call-restrictions and claim there is coronavirus relation. To ensure that dialing and texting records are maintained, company executives should listen in on calls. If an agent seems to have a lesser volume, organizations would be wise to investigate whether they are dialing on a personal line without record.  

Home offices are now an extension of the office environment. Collecting information should be done through a different mechanism, for example, a transfer to a supervisor or putting the call through an interactive voice response.  

Companies should be sure to educate employees on ongoing TCPA laws. They should further review third-party and client contractual requirements to ensure that security responsibilities are defined and addressed. Overall, this challenging time presents many changes, but staying compliant and communicative ensures a productive and cohesive work environment. 

Learn more here.

The Best Earth Day Ever: Solutions for Personal and Planetary Health

Beko Earth Day

Home appliances have the opportunity to be a part of the global sustainability solution like never before – and I’ve never been more optimistic about my industry’s contributions to a greener, healthier future than I am on this Earth Day.

I’ve also never been more excited to communicate this reality with dealers. One of the reasons I made the move to Beko last year was because of the brand’s unapologetic, company-wide commitment to sustainability. Actually, Beko is guided by a dual-commitment to personal and planetary health – and is backed by the people, products and proprietary technologies in the U.S. and globally to make it happen.

This dual-focus is crucial, I believe, and exactly what consumers are looking for, even in the U.S., which has been slower to embrace sustainability as part of a daily routine. While Americans genuinely want to be part of a larger green story, their bigger need is a lifestyle that embraces health and wellness, a phenomenon that has intensified since the pandemic.  Now, more than ever, health is the new wealth.

And this trend is entirely compatible with Earth Day, assuming manufacturers are committed to products with tangible features that encourage healthy living as well as energy savings and sustainability, and dealers are willing to communicate this dual-focus to buyers.

One example is EverFresh+®, a proprietary Beko refrigerator technology that uses revolutionary new crispers made with breathable smart materials to maximize humidity and minimize moisture loss, thus prolonging the life of fresh fruits and vegetables for up to 30 days. We pair this with Active Fresh Blue Light, which recreates photosynthesis conditions to preserve vitamin C and fruit and vegetable taste, and Neo Frost Dual Cooling, which eliminates air transfer between fresh and frozen compartments to prevent unpleasant odors and tastes – like ice cubes that taste like fish! – associated with many refrigerator-freezers on the market.

But that’s only half the story. All Beko refrigerators also feature a ProSmart inverter that allows for a constant cooling temperature at reduced speed, quieter operation, greater energy savings, fewer temperature fluctuations and maximum food preservation in fresh and freezer compartments. With Neo Frost, our engineers created a unique valve system that generates multiple-compartment evaporation using only a single, energy-saving compressor and made it standard on every Beko refrigerator, regardless of price.

At the end of the day, these advances keep fruits and vegetables fresh for up 30 days, preserve nature’s essential vitamins, minerals and fresh produce tastes, and offer maximum quietness and energy savings.

For the consumer, the potential is dramatically less food waste, healthier eating and a reduced carbon footprint thanks to energy efficiency and less frequent shopping trips. And what’s good for buyers is good for the planet – and good for dealers on the lookout for a truly differentiated product that hits consumers right where they live.

It goes without saying that it’s ultimately up to manufacturers to create the programs and promotions at retail that will help dealers, builders, architects, designers, and others influencing the home and kitchen appliance decision to tell a compelling story to their customers. That’s why Beko will be highlighting EverFresh+® with an aggressive consumer promotion and all-industry educational campaign later this year targeting the growing percentage of Americans passionate about living a healthier, more sustainable life.

And later this year, we’ll introduce the Beko 36” French 3-Door Refrigerator, featuring EverFresh+® with Active Fresh Blue Light technology and a new, environmentally friendly refrigerant that will be extended to Beko’s entire cooling lineup to deliver Zero OPD and Very Low GWP.

Of course, Beko is just one of many examples of this new fusion between health, wellness and sustainability. What excites me most are the countless other instances throughout our industry of manufacturers simultaneously doing what’s right for customers, dealers, the sales channel and the planet we all call home.

House of Marley Drops Get Together Duo Mindfully-Sourced Speakers

House of Marley Get Together Duo

Eco-conscious audio brand, House of Marley, just released a new set of bookshelf speakers made from mindfully-sourced materials ahead of Earth Day 2021. The Get Together Duo Bluetooth speakers are the latest from the company’s Get Together line of home audio products featuring the signature REWIND fabric and solid bamboo materials.

The set offers 20 hours of playtime from the rechargeable right channel speaker and a mains-powered left speaker. While the left channel speaker remains on the shelf, the right channel speaker can move freely to another room or even outdoors.

The Get Together Duo boasts a 20W rating with 3.5″ woofers and 1″ tweets for high-quality bass and audio clarity. Bluetooth 5.0 along with AUX and Phono input connectivity allow for seamless pairing with a phone, laptop, TV or wireless turntable—like House of Marley’s own Stir it Up Wireless turntable. Each speaker measures 7.8″ tall, 5″ wide, and 4″ deep making them an ideal, compact option for desktop use.

“Our conscious construction is unique not only to our materials but how we apply them to the product,” explains House of Marley Director of Product Development, Josh Poulsen. “We use materials for their sustainable properties and their aesthetic quality, but also for their acoustical, mechanical properties as well. The bamboo in the Get Together Duo provides a modern look that’s rooted in a highly renewable natural resource. Produced using a carbon positive process, bamboo has a higher compressive strength than wood and a tensile strength that rivals steel. This allows the speakers to be more durable, while also enhancing the warm, rich sound.”

The Get Together Duo speakers are available now at thehouseofmarley.com for $149.99.

Mobile Phone Trade-Ins: Where Phones Don’t Go to Die

Mobile Phone Trade-Ins
Credit: iStock

Whether your phone is last year’s model with a few scratches or 10 years old and nearly demolished, it has a future — provided it’s traded in for reuse or recycling.  

Once you turn over your old phone, a team of experts and machines will test its viability and determine whether it can be refurbished and resold. If it’s too damaged or obsolete, then it will be sent for recycling, where its valuable parts can be extracted and used in the repair of other phones.   

Either way, making good use of old phones is an integral part of the circular economy and an essential way to ensure that precious metals and resources do not go wasted. It’s important that both last year’s model and the long-obsolete Nokia N95 sitting in a drawer be refurbished or recycled. Here’s why: The ever-growing used cell phone market is expected to hit $67 billion by 2023, which is not only an opportunity for resellers of mobile devices, but also a way to service customers who might not otherwise be able to afford a high-performance smartphone.  

Recycled phones are worth a lot, too — not just in the utility and resale of their  parts, but also the vast amounts of precious metals that can be extracted and reused. These include aluminum, copper, and especially gold. According to 911 Metallurgist’s David Michaud, 18 out of 34 kilograms of mined ore are required to make just one smartphone. That’s a lot of ore, considering that 1.4 billion smartphones were sold worldwide in 2019, making for a whopping 478 kilograms of ore.  

We spoke with Andy Mus, director, External Communications, at risk management provider Assurant, which owns trade-in company Hyla Mobile, and Craig Norton, president of Hobi International, which provides recycling services, about the entire process from start to finish.  

Step 1: Intake

When a device comes in, it is catalogued using a unique identification number so that the technicians can constantly monitor its progress throughout the entire refurbishment process. Once the device is properly documented, it moves to triage, where it undergoes a series of inspections by a team of experts and machines. Various tools are used to determine the root of any issues with the phone’s camera and audio, SIM card, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, battery, and fingerprint reader. After a proper assessment and diagnosis, the team establishes an action plan, and the device enters the next phase of the process. 

Step 2: Repair and Refurbishing 

Devices usually enter the repair system in one of two ways: from trade-in programs or as part of a warranty fulfillment. Most of the time, traded-in devices only need cosmetic refurbishment. In these instances, technicians are able to effectively buff out scratches and dents to make them look like new again. For phones that have experienced more intense damage, repairs may include screen replacement, battery replacement, water damage reversal, wireless connectivity, and button replacement. In addition, phones on the refurbishment track are electronically wiped of any data that may remain on them. If the operating software is out of date, the technicians will install the latest version onto the device. 

Step 3: Testing and Quality Control

After all repairs are made, each phone is subject to 60-plus rounds of tests across all of its operations to determine if it meets manufacturer’s standards. This process is done both manually and mechanically. Automated testing machines run Radio Frequency (RF) tests to determine the wireless functionality of the phone. If all systems are clear, a quality control team ensures full functionality and a like-new appearance of each phone. Depending on the result of these tests, the technicians must make a decision on the fate of each of these phones.

Step 4: Recycling 

For devices that are unsalvageable, fail functionality tests, and/or do not pass quality inspection, the repair and refurbishment process ends here. One exception to this rule is when a device is significantly older than what is currently on the market. In these instances, even if the phone passes all of the tests, it may be worth more in parts than it is refurbished. As such, before a device is recycled, the team will examine, extract, and keep those parts that are in good working order so they can be used in the repair of compatible newer phones.  The rest is sent on for recycling. Certain parts of a device like gold, silver, and copper are especially valuable for use as phone conductors.

Step 5: Fulfillment

Assuming they are successfully repaired, pass all of the tests, and make it through quality control, refurbished devices are repackaged and ready to be sold or sent to new owners. Each device is neatly and safely prepared with all of its accompanying accessories. There are various custom-designed packages to match different providers, so a T-Mobile customer may receive a slightly different package of goods than a MyWit.com customer. Once devices are sent on their way, those awaiting them can access shipping and tracking information and estimated arrival information. 

International Perspectives: Continental Climate Concerns

Currys PC World and Carphone Warehouse Edinburgh Kinnaird

Sustainability, environmentalism, and “going green” have become something of a cultural imperative in the United States in the last decade or two. What used to be the province of underdog environmental groups has, since the turn of the millennium, been embraced largely by corporations and other parts of the business world. This includes the retail industry, the consumer tech industry, and, of course, the places where the two intersect.  

But what about in other parts of the world? From government-mandated responsibilities and UN pledges to corporate initiatives and self-imposed customers, here’s a snapshot of sustainability highlights in Europe. 

Designing for Sustainability 

Back in March 2020, the European Union announced the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, which introduced what was described in official messaging as “initiatives for the entire life cycle of products, from design and manufacturing to consumption, repair, reuse, recycling, and bringing resources back into the economy.” 

On electronics products specifically, the Action Plan consists of a Circular Electronics Initiative that will push for more “closed-loop” product rollouts. This includes a “right to repair” regulation, which would require that, say, laptops be designed to last longer and would be easier to repair and upgrade. The plan will also explore pan-European exchange and recycling programs for mobile devices, tablets, and chargers. 

It doesn’t appear that any major manufacturers or retailers are in compliance with the initiative, but they’re not yet required to be, as it is still very much in the planning stages. 

It’s all part of the European Green Deal, a plan aimed at making Europe climate-neutral by 2050. It’s similar to the Green New Deal that’s been proposed in the U.S., except that the latter proposal has little chance of passage in the near term, while every country in the EU except Poland has signed onto the European Green Deal.  

On a separate front, a new EU-wide energy labeling system for appliances has led to a surge in new product launches. For example,  launches of new laundry machine models in the EU rose to from 18 percent to 20 percent in 2020, according to a recent report by GfK, due in part to new mandated features such as a 40-60° eco-mode. Most of those new models were from European brands, which accounted for 20 percent of new launched product sales in 2020, versus less than 12 percent for Asian brands, per GfK. In other words, appliance manufacturers that hopped onto the new labeling system requirements early saw immediate sales boosts. 

Consumer Demand as Corporate Motivator 

With or without EU-wide regulations, retailers themselves in key European countries are nevertheless interested in sustainable practices, not least because their customers are demanding them. According to a 2019 report from the International Trade Centre (ITC), which looked at retail trends in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, consumer interest in eco-friendly products is on the rise. According to GfK, the percentage of Germans who consider climate change a top priority nearly doubled over the past decade, from 19 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2020. More than 90 percent of retailers surveyed in those countries have seen a rise in the sale of sustainably-sourced products since 2014, with mobile phones and other electronics among the fastest-growing segments.

Even so, it is the fashion and apparel retailers that have been at the forefront of sustainability.  Zalando, the leading fashion retailer in Europe, will require all brands on the platform to commit to sustainability by 2023, using the  Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Brand and Retail Module (Higg BRM) as the barometer. Sustainable practices for these brands will encompass everything from lean packaging and energy-efficient retail stores to eco-friendly product materials and reduced carbon emissions from supply chain infrastructure. 

But retailers that sell electronics and appliances, among other products, are moving right along. British retail groups such as Dixons Carphone (which also owns Currys PC World and the Norwegian CE retailer Elkjøp/Elgiganten) and Sainsbury’s (which also owns the Argos and Habitat stores), for example, have committed to support the United Nations’ sustainability goals. These goals include similar requirements as the Higg BRM. Dixons, in particular, has been recognized by the FTSE4Good UK Index, which gave it a score of 12 for “responsible consumption and production” and a 13 for “climate action.” 

The Dutch retail group Euronics, meanwhile, states that it is committed to “running our operations as sustainably as possible,” while also carrying out e-recycling programs, offering energy-reducing technology, and working with suppliers to reduce packaging.  

In Germany, the trend among electronics retailers is similar. “The goal of our company is to offer the best environmentally-friendly products in consumer electronics, household electronics, and toys,” said an unnamed German consumer electronics retailer in the ITC report. “The demand for these products is seen in increasing sales figures over the past years.” 

These include energy-efficient washers and dryers. The EU, in early March, announced new energy labels for such products. That product database is available to be scanned by QR code for the first time.  

“Retailers have a deep knowledge of consumer behavior and are best placed to influence it to make consumers act more sustainably,” the report said. In other words, with or without regulation, retailers in the EU, as in the U.S., are starting to lead the charge. 

Accountability through Transparency 

With more than 1,000 stores across the continent, the MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group, which owns the MediaMarkt and Saturn retail chains, is the largest consumer electronics retail company in Europe. It also places a premium on sustainability. As its website firmly states: “Being Europe’s leading consumer electronics retail company, we’re also a role model in our industry, and we firmly intend to shape and influence responsible, sustainable business.” Indeed, in 2018, MediaMarktSaturn became the first consumer electronics retailer in the EU to sign onto the United Nations Global Compact (UNCG), which means the retailer has committed to reporting every year on its progress in sustainability areas that include not only environmental concerns, but in areas of human rights, anti-corruption, and diversity. 

On the environmental front, the company will be transparent about its progress in areas around supply chain emissions reduction, energy-efficient upgrades such as LED lighting at its office and retail locations, cooperation on sustainability with its third-party suppliers, and consumer education around labeling. At the very top of MediaMarktSaturn’s website, for example, is an article about new European Union-mandated energy labels that are starting to hit stores now, and how shoppers can best make sense of it. It also actively promotes new eco-friendly product lines such as eScooters and old-phone-for-gift-card exchange kiosks in its stores. Similarly, in 2018, Danish waste management provider Bramidan illustrated how MediaMarkt stores in the Netherlands improved the sustainability and cut the costs of their trash collection by 40 percent with upgrades to their sorting and compacting machinery infrastructure.  

2021 and Beyond: A Global Effort Required 

The last year of the pandemic has made it clear that retailers not only have to think about what was environmentally friendly, but also about what was safe under unprecedented conditions.  

As full-on reopening becomes closer and closer, perhaps retailers in North America and other parts of the world can find a way to learn from one another. It’s not often that the whole world agrees on something, but at least in this respect, consumers, retailers, and manufacturers everywhere seem to be moving in the same direction. 

IFA 2021 Returns to Berlin in Full Force

IFA Berlin, the world’s leading event for consumer electronics and appliances, has announced its plan to return to its standard event format as a full-scale, real-life event on the fairgrounds of Messe Berlin from September 3-7, 2021.

“It’s been a tough year for everybody, but our industry has innovated and worked really hard to help people cope and be resilient – to make it possible to stay connected with friends and families, to work from home, to stay healthy and even entertain ourselves at a time of lockdowns and other restrictions. Now we are ready to showcase our innovation for the future beyond,” says Kai Hillebrandt, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH.

Last year, IFA reconfigured its annual show to adhere to COVID-19 precautions and social distancing guidelines, and as a result, saw significantly lower participation. Despite the overall success of IFA 2020, Jens Heithecker, IFA Executive Director and Executive Vice President of Messe Berlin, noted at the close of the event that “our industry – the world of technology – needs IFA Berlin.” And he was right.

By the last day of IFA Special Edition 2020, 60 percent of exhibit space had already been reserved. Now, that number is well past 80 percent, and the interest is continuing to grow – especially as vaccines are becoming more readily available and travel restrictions are easing.

“IFA Berlin is the world’s most inspiring tech event, and completely unique in its depth and breadth of showcasing the global technology industry – from start-ups to the biggest consumer electronics brands in the world,” says Martin Ecknig, CEO of Messe Berlin. “The message we hear from our industry is loud and clear: ‘Tech is Back in Berlin’ and ready to meet with retailers, media and consumers – safely, but in real life.”

One thing that has not changed from last year’s event is the priority of everyone’s health and safety. IFA organizers are in close contact with public health authorities and are already developing plans to make IFA 2021 both an enriching and safe experience for all.

“As always, keeping our visitors and exhibitors safe is our top priority. The global vaccination effort is gaining huge momentum, while tough lockdowns are finally beginning to pay off – which gives us confidence that we can invite the world to come to Berlin in September for IFA 2021,” Heithecker remarks. “Of course, with all our precautions to ensure everybody’s good health, we don’t expect IFA Berlin 2021 to set new records. However, the trend is clear: IFA Berlin is set for a full-scale comeback, to lead our industry once more.”

IFA has already announced an incredible lineup of events taking place over the five days including:

• The IFA Berlin exhibition spread across the full space of Messe Berlin, including industry keynotes

• IFA NEXT, the edge of tomorrow – bringing together IT market leaders, innovators, start-ups, researchers, developers and entrepreneurs

• SHIFT Mobility – a convention on the future of urban mobility

• IFA+ Summit – with megatrends of digital future technologies

Tech Up for Women – a highly innovative conference, designed by women for women, to learn from and with top female executives, researchers and experts and to establish global networks

Berlin Photo Week – a creative and spectacular reinforcement of IFA’s product portfolio on the subject of imaging on the exhibition grounds in parallel with Berlin Photo Week events throughout the city

A Store Visit with John Riddle, CEO, Howard’s

Howard's Appliances
The entrance to the Howard's experience center store at Marina Pacifica in Long Beach.

What’s the history of Howard’s? 

This year marks our 75th anniversary. Our first store was in San Gabriel [Calif.], which our founder, Howard Roach, opened in 1946. We are, I believe, one of the five oldest employee-owned corporations in America. The Howard’s ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) was formed in 1976 and that means there is no major shareholder; the company is entirely owned by employees.  

John Riddle, CEO, Howard’s

What distinguishes Howard’s from the competition? 

The experience center model, which we launched here in Long Beach last September, is distinct. The store is full of different vignettes, or stations, with fully working versions of different appliances. You can come in here and experience any product or see a demonstration. Sort of like Tesla in the automotive space, the idea behind this model is to offer a cool, unique experience that will simplify and enable people to feel comfortable with appliance shopping.  

As for the competition, the vast majority of the core products for all these appliance brands are primarily sold through big box retailers. You’re usually in a warehouse club and can’t find someone to help you, and if you do find someone, they’re not going to know very much, or, as at the car dealership, the pitch is on the warranty and there’s a game played on pricing.  

And then the other part of the appliance retail business is premium and luxury, and in those stores, you’re made to feel stupid if you don’t have your designer or architect with you to spend two days looking at showerheads. What these stores don’t get is that customers, especially after nesting at home for the past 12 months of a pandemic, are increasingly educated about IoT and pricing and that they really just need to help facilitate the process or get some hands-on with products. So it’s a hassle. 

It’s just the opposite of what we’re trying to provide at Howard’s. What we’re doing with this concept of the experience center is having a sales staff that’s not compensated to sell you a particular brand or model but instead has heavy inside-Howard’s training and technology and product education. And then we want the consumer to get comfortable turning stuff on and playing with the technology we have in the store. If you want to try out a gas burner, you can turn on the gas burner. Or you can do your laundry in our new LG WashTower station. It’s kind of like a playground experience, and it’s working—this approach drove a 44 percent comp store increase last year from our business.  

We also see a lot of potential, once the pandemic subsides, to do a lot of event marketing related to teaching and education. All of these vignettes are set up with cameras and TV screens, so we can showcase cooking events and that sort of thing.

How many stores do you have? 

We have 12 stores throughout Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Orange counties, which is where our headquarters are located in La Habra. We are also opening up a brand-new store at 900 North La Brea Boulevard in September, which is our first foray into that part of Los Angeles. It’s located in a hip little area with coffee bars, restaurants, and mixed-use developments. It’s right on a corner, so we’ll be able to have a vertical sign that’ll be more visible from either direction on the street. There’s a Tartine around the corner, a Sprouts across the street, and a Best Buy about a block away in West Hollywood that’s either the second or third largest in volume in the United States, so we’ll be targeting them. The store is about half the size of our Long Beach store, which is 22,000 square feet, but it’ll also have the same experience center setup. We’ll be incorporating this model into our Huntington Beach location, also in September, as well as in Irvine.  

We also have an outlet store, where we sell Class B product, that’s connected to our 172,000-square-foot distribution center in Pico Rivera. Having our distribution center in that location, which is kind of central to all the people living in Southern California, is a huge advantage strategically.  Unlike most of our competitors, which have distribution centers in Fontana, Riverside, or other parts of the Inland Empire, we don’t have trucks sitting on the road in traffic for two or three hours. We have the capability to get to someone’s home at a regular hour of the day, rather than knocking on their door at 8 or 9 at night with a delivery. 

What about online? 

The goal with our dot-com, or website, has always been to have a place where customers can go to experience product and not just to see the pricing of product. That means to see a product working and to be able to compare it to other products, as well as give them options for shopping in-store. So our dot-com is meant to be a support system to give the customer enough information to drive them into the store, but if they want to transact on the website, they can do that. We offer both delivery and curbside pickup. Bringing the customer into the store is important, but ultimately they need to shop the way that they want to shop, so we launched a virtual shopping feature where a customer can set up a one-on-one appointment to have someone with an iPad take them around the store and show them different products. If you want to come into the store, the same offering is available: You can also set up a personalized one-on-one appointment to meet with an expert in-store and get all your questions answered.  

Simplifying the process has always been what we’re about. We want to get down to this combination of our website and our brick-and-mortar feeding each other. We work to help facilitate the experiential side of both the website and our brick and mortar. 

What are the top three things that the management team at Howard’s has implemented that you attribute to the success of the store? 

First off, redefining the experience of the consumer, serving them in a more proactive way and making it easier and more fun for them to try out and discover appliances in our stores. Second, we redirected the key performance indicators of the employees and changed their compensation to focus on the customer’s needs, instead of commissions, or spiffs, around sales. We’ve also changed the metrics around how an employee is evaluated around here — so putting, say, Vinson, on a pedestal for having the most five-star reviews versus for selling $500,000 worth of high-margin items. And I think third is that we’ve launched three different websites in two years. We modernized our web experience to suit Howard’s and leaned into the digital implications that come with that.  

What are your goals this year? 

From a metrics standpoint, the goals would be to increase from a 3.96 rating on our Yelp and Google reviews to a 4.25 this year. So that’s number one. We also want to try and develop an understanding of a couple of other large markets in California for expansion. San Diego would be on the front end so far, but Northern California offers a lot of positives for us because it’s had more closures of retailers than we have had down here, and also partly because Fry’s was based up there and Pacific Sales closed all their stores up there. So that certainly has a portal, but San Diego is the eighth largest market in the United States and there are no other large regional players down there.  

Are you looking to expand in any other ways or sell other categories? 

Yes, we’re on our way to expanding into small appliances, including premium small appliances. We want to do more around this idea of urban kitchen design, with built-in coffee makers and the like, but also things that might go on a counter. So, for example, we’re going to work with GE on its Café brand, which has a new line of small appliances — a coffee maker and a toaster — that are colorful and chic, with a unique kind of design that I think is really cool. But we’ll also work with KitchenAid and other brands on juicers, mixers, and those kinds of products. 

Is there anything in the building of your business that did not go with the way you expected, and that you learned from? 

Well, just trying to get permits to build this store, for example. This is Long Beach, but over the past 12 months it’s been tough in any city to get permits, set up inspections, or all the other stuff you need to do with electrical and other building codes — particularly with this experience center, which used to be a Sports Authority. Besides all the working appliances, we’re doing live displays, all of which are interactive. This led and continues to lead to huge delays. The redesign of our Huntington Beach store was supposed to be done by now, but we’ve pushed it back to September.  

The pandemic slowed other things as well. We’re moving $8 million to $11 million a month out of our distribution center. When you have that kind of volume, it’s important to have a workforce that can stay healthy and safe. There are probably 270 to 280 people — both employees and contractors — who work every day around Howard’s, but last year, we had only four cases of COVID. We all wear masks. Our drivers are going into people’s homes, so if we get feedback that they took off their mask, or their gloves or whatever, then they go into a three-day off period with a tutorial training.  

Is there something unique about what you offer or how you do retail? 

Besides the experience center model, we focus on customer service.  We have a full-time customer service staff. They operate the same hours as the stores, which are open seven days a week. They’re there to do whatever is necessary, including something we started in the spring of 2019 when I came here.  

My family had an appliance store when I was growing up. One thing I remember is that whenever a customer called and their refrigerator was out, or something happened with their washer, I’d go with my Dad to the store and we would pull a product out of inventory. Then we’d put it on a truck and deliver it to that customer so that they had something to use until we got a technician out to their house. And so now at Howard’s, we have a loaner program, which is free of charge, for those scenarios. As long as you’ve bought something from us, or you’re in a current purchasing mode, you’re eligible for the program. 

What’s your favorite corner of the store? 

I particularly like the Jenn Air experience center. It’s designed with an element of art to showcase product, because product is king for the consumer.  I also believe that retail should be interactive, so you should be able to use technology to look for different things that you want to showcase that maybe aren’t here.  So there are interactive screens all around. Getting people to think outside the box around product that also combines technology: I like that sort of mix.

How does Dealerscope help you in your everyday business? 

The usual stuff  – staying up to speed with news about vendors and other retailers. A friend of mine who ran a company in Utah was away on a three-year missionary trip with his wife in Sacramento. He just recently came back as CEO of the business and I didn’t even know that until I saw it in Dealerscope. So, you know, those sorts of updates and news you would get from a newspaper, magazine, or website.   

Noritsu Koki Acquires JLab in $370M Deal

JLab Noritsu
JLab CEO Win Cramer has lead the growth of JLab for almost a decade.

Leading personal audio company, JLab, announced that it has been acquired by a new equity owner, Tokyo-based Noritsu Koki, in a deal totaling $370 million. Noritsu Koki acquired JLab from the company’s previous private equity owner. The transaction is on pace to close in the second quarter of 2021.

Noritsu Koki will provide JLab with additional resources, including product innovation and worldwide retail expansion, while keeping its core operations intact. JLab will continue operating as an independent company under the JLab name, with its sales, marketing, product development, finance, support and operations teams remaining at the San Diego, California headquarters. Win Cramer will continue to act as CEO for JLab alongside the current management team.

“We’re incredibly excited to have found a partner such as Noritsu Koki,” Cramer remarked. “They have a proven track record of being one of the best equity partners for growing brands. If you look at their previous investments, it’s easy to see how their approach has helped brands continue to see success by providing the extra capital needed for expansion while at the same time allowing the brands to focus on the core competencies that brought them success in the first place.”

Founded in 2005, JLab has grown to become the No. 1 accessible True Wireless brand in America. The company has received worldwide attention for its product innovations, affordability, and new product announcements at CES.

JLAB Noritsu Koki

Beyond the Basics: 5 Ways AI is Advancing the Smart Home

AI in the Smart Home
Credit: iStock

Homes are getting smarter every day. Throughout the pandemic, consumer adoption of “smart” devices – those with connectivity and remote monitoring and management features – has risen steadily. By the end of 2020, 40 percent of U.S. broadband households had at least one smart device. The right push could accelerate the category’s steady growth of the past few years into a period of rapid adoption and proliferation. Smart consumer electronics are already powerful and capable; the push they need is increased convenience.

Convenience is a powerful motivator. Once consumers have found an easier way of doing something, they won’t willingly go back to doing it the hard way. The litany of recent announcements from the makers of leading AI assistants are compelling not only because they’re cool, but also because they dramatically increase the convenience of smart devices. For example, the Ring Doorbell’s quick replies can screen visitors, accept packages, and thank delivery people without the homeowner even needing to tap on the app.  The Echo Show 10’s mechanized screen robotically follows the user around a room. Given that recipes are a top use case for the device, this convenient feature saves home chefs from having to wash their hands in order to turn the screen towards them as they move from the cutting board to the stove.  

Features like these can compel consumers to adopt a device, but the same logic could be extended to inspire homeowners to adopt an ecosystem. In 2021, look for the following convenience-led AI trends to spur and capitalize on growth in the integrated smart home market: 

1. AI will train users. 

Smart device capabilities are always growing, but users can’t be expected to proactively seek out and try them. As a result, AI-powered virtual assistants will increasingly present innovative new features to users without their even having to ask. For example, the “smart hunches” feature from Amazon learns users’ habits – turning off lights at night, setting an alarm when leaving the house, adjusting the thermostat in the afternoon – and then converts those actions into automated routines. While obviously helpful and convenient, this type of automation subtly trains users to believe that smart devices are easier to own than “dumb” ones. The more users believe that their devices are easier to deal with when connected, the more connected devices they will adopt. 

Paradoxically, as users interact with virtual assistants less, they rely on them more. When users have to repeat their instructions, or verbally confirm instructions once given, it erodes their confidence in the ecosystem. On the flip side, when AI silently and correctly responds to commands, or performs them without having to be asked, it has the opposite effect: Users begin to take the assistants’ help for granted, which resets their baseline for the level of convenience they expect within their homes. The Orro system exemplifies this concept: Through a combination of motion sensing, sound detection, and AI, it learns users’ habits and controls their lights automatically. As the user trains the system through their behavior, they are also being trained to rely on the system to manage their environment and energy usage. 

2. Smart home devices will promote savings through sustainability. 

Today, energy efficiency that reduces bills is a growing consideration for consumers when they purchase electronics and appliances. Money is often a more effective motivator than virtue, though – over half of consumers aren’t willing to pay more for a more efficient device, according to a recent Morning Consult survey. Virtual assistants with automated energy monitoring and management features could change that equation. By tracking energy consumption, proactively designing and suggesting routines to reduce power usage, and organizing the resulting data for users in a visual dashboard, AI assistants can clarify the return on investment of energy-efficient devices. If a more expensive smart device has a demonstrably lower cost of ownership than its unmanaged counterparts, its appeal to consumers grows.  

3. Virtual assistants will look for long-term relationships. 

Siri, Alexa, Josh, Bixby, and Google Assistant don’t just want to be the friend consumers occasionally ask for a favor; they want to be one of the most important relationships in their lives. This year will bring increasing efforts from virtual assistant developers to make their AIs an essential embedded feature of systems users will keep for decades. Google’s recently announced co-branded thermostat with Goodman exemplifies this trend. Homeowners may replace a smart speaker, or even a thermostat, in a couple of years – but they won’t replace the AI that makes their HVAC system easier to use and manage.  

Other companies are looking to embed their AI into the structure of the home itself. Lennar’s Connected Homes are built from the ground up as Alexa environments, preloaded with Echo devices, Ring doorbells and security systems, and eero Wi-Fi extenders throughout the home. The Josh Nano from Josh.ai leverages no-compromises interior design to embed itself fully throughout a building. By blending invisibly into the walls or ceiling of each room, Josh’s coin-sized smart mics truly become part of the home. 

Notably, all of these long-term relationships involve professional integration services. As smart homes rise in popularity and complexity, professional services will be essential to preserving convenience. 

4. Rising device density will require more networking expertise. 

The previous trends will drive more connected devices into peoples’ homes. Thus far, Wi-Fi has been a convenient and reliable network connectivity strategy for many smart technology adopters. As the number of devices per household proliferates, however, or as consumers increasingly wish to extend smart home capabilities to outdoor entertainment spaces, its weaknesses are revealed. If the Wi-Fi signal band is crowded with interference from dozens of devices, all the Wi-Fi repeaters on earth won’t solve the resulting connectivity problems. Consumers will need to get smarter about how they set up their home networks – or hire someone with the expertise to manage these complexities on their behalf. 

Professional integrators can educate consumers about their options. For example: Many of the “long-term commitment” devices that anchor the AI assistant ecosystem are essentially static. HVAC systems and even televisions don’t really move once they’ve been installed – why should such devices be on Wi-Fi when they could instead get better reliability and bandwidth from a wired connection? Consumers may also be unaware that they have other wireless network options for controlling home automation devices, some of which, like Z Wave, operate outside of the crowded Wi-Fi band. 

5. Homeowners will invest in privacy and security.

The rising number of devices on the network also means a significant expansion of network vulnerabilities. Because of the number of people working and learning from home, those vulnerabilities now represent a higher risk. Home networks now carry not just the homeowners’ personal data, but their children’s, companies’, and clients’ information as well. In a recent presentation at the TecHome Builder Online Summit, Parks Associates shared data showing that more than three quarters of U.S. broadband households are concerned about security and privacy. Given the value of the assets being protected, there is no reason to approach home network security any differently from enterprise network security – except that most homeowners lack the time and the knowledge to do so. Fortunately, there is an emerging class of AI-powered tools that can bridge this gap. For example, Guarddog’s cloud-based and on-premises hardware tools work together to assess the vulnerability of connected devices, manage security updates and monitor for attacks in real time. Providing such network security tools and monitoring could be a key ongoing revenue opportunity for custom technology integrators.   

On top of security breaches by hackers or bots, homeowners are concerned about losing privacy to the smart devices they are inviting in. There is an opportunity here for privacy-first home automation designs. Josh.ai is leading the way on this trend. The Josh Core performs natural language processing for voice commands on the local network instead of sending information to the cloud. For added reassurance, each Josh Nano mic has a physical privacy switch. Features like this allow consumers to gain the convenience of a smart home without sacrificing privacy. 

The baseline of consumer expectations is moving towards more connectivity. This isn’t happening by accident – virtual assistant developers are consciously adding features that encourage the adoption of more smart devices and reward deeper integration among them. Whole-home integration is starting to look convenient, indeed – and the convenient quickly becomes the essential. These desirable conveniences have hidden complexities, however, especially with respect to networking, security, and privacy. Integrators can realize opportunity from this environment by meeting the expectation for privacy and convenience with an elevated experience that makes consumers feel at ease in their smart homes. 

ENERGY STAR Recognizes Beko for Sustainability Commitment

Beko receives ENERGY STAR Parter Award for Sustainability

Beko U.S., Inc. has been honored with the 2021 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year Sustained Excellence Award. According to ENERGY STAR, the Partner of the Year Sustained Excellence Award is the “highest honor among ENERGY STAR Awards. EPA presents the Sustained Excellence Award to partners that have already received ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year recognition for a minimum of two consecutive years and have gone above and beyond the criteria needed to qualify for recognition.”

The company released a statement reporting that the award was earned for “its innovative home appliances that prioritize efficiency, wellness, and sustainability.” This is the fifth year in a row that Beko has received the top ENERGY STAR award, reportedly making it the industry’s only brand to be acknowledged every year since it entered the U.S. market.

Zach Elkin, Beko U.S. president, stated that the company “remains laser-focused on sustainability and empowering Americans to live healthy lives on a healthy planet. When combined with various other product accolades we’ve received, this continual recognition by ENERGY STAR proves that homeowners don’t have to sacrifice energy efficiency and the pursuit of health and wellness to get the industry’s most advanced appliances featuring the latest cooling and cleaning technology.”    

Beko’s product categories that have been honored with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Emerging Technology Award include heat-pump dryers, dishwashers and washing machines to bottom-mount freezer refrigerators and upright freezers. The company works with a growing network of dealers throughout the U.S. to offer 29 kitchen and laundry products offering wellness while achieving EPA Most Efficient certification.

Beko is “committed to exceeding ENERGY STAR, EPA and [Department of Energy] requirements and setting new standards for carbon-neutral manufacturing, training, energy communications, and sustainability at its 22 global production facilities and all other company operations.”

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, added: “ENERGY STAR® award-winning partners are showing the world that delivering real climate solutions makes good business sense and promotes job growth.” 

11 Trading Company Becomes Exclusive US Distributor of Teac and Esoteric Audio

11 Trading Company Becomes Exclusive US Distributor of Teac and Esoteric Audio Brands

11 Trading Company (11 TC), a subsidiary of Premium Audio Company, has just announced that it will become the exclusive distribution partner of the Teac and Esoteric brands in the United States beginning April 15, 2021. High-end Esoteric and Teac audio products represent state-of-the-art audio solutions within the 11 Trading Company portfolio.

11 TC also has exclusive distribution rights in the Americas to Onkyo, Pioneer, Pioneer Elite, Integra Electronics, Magnat and Heco.

“We are thrilled to represent these timeless, high performance brands,” Rob Standley, VP and GM of 11TC, said in a press release. “Teac’s combination of excellent audio quality with the latest digital audio technology and a nod to their heritage with vintage styling will undoubtedly connect with our business partners and consumers. In addition, Esoteric sets a standard in their pursuit of the ‘Original Master Sound’ as products are meticulously crafted by hand and tuned to perfection.”

Industry veteran, Keith Haas, will lead sales efforts on behalf of these leading brands as National Sales Manager for Teac and Esoteric. Haas also brings with him direct experience working with Teac and Esoteric from his previous role with Onkyo USA.

“Keith Haas has done an excellent job in representing Esoteric in the United States and will immediately be able to leverage his expertise with the full weight and support of 11TC and the Premium Audio Company.” says Joe Petrillo, VP of Sales for 11 Trading Company.

Preparing to Meet the Rising Tide of Early Adopters

Technology Early Adopters
Credit: iStock

Social distancing requirements relating to COVID-19 have lasted far longer than anyone originally projected. Stay-at-home measures that we hoped would be over after a month or two have now been in place for almost a year. Psychologists estimate that it takes an average of 66 days to form an automatic habit.  After a year, the behaviors people have adopted in response to the pandemic have become fully ingrained.   

For retailers, the shopping behaviors of 2020 are no longer an anomalous emergency response, but are a harbinger of the future. The past year created new habits in how people shop and what they buy. Retailers and customer support BPOs (business processing outsourcers) need to build capacity and new capabilities now to handle sustained demand and new challenges in readiness for the post-COVID consumer. 

Tech Purchases Helped Fuel the E-Commerce Boom 

E-commerce grew 44% in 2020, dwarfing any previous years’ growth. Across age demographics, shoppers grew more comfortable shopping online, even for perishable items like groceries, and long-term investments like furniture. Social-distancing may have started this transformation, but the sheer convenience of e-commerce allowed it to continue, especially as home-based workers no longer need to worry about losing packages to porch pirates, or missing work to receive valuable or large deliveries.  

Although there were certainly short-term surges for items like disinfectant and paper products at the beginning of the pandemic, some interesting long-term patterns emerged over the course of the year. Specifically, people have been buying tech. Best Buy jumped from the tenth largest online retailer in 2019 to the fifth largest in 2020; in fact, three of the top five largest e-commerce sellers – Apple, Dell, and Best Buy – are tech-focused. 

Pandemic Purchases Set Off a Long-Term Trend 

Clearly, many of these purchases were driven by consumers working and attending school from home over the past year. These tech purchases could be seen as yet another emergency supply, like hand sanitizer or toilet paper, if they weren’t accompanied by a telling change in sentiment. In 2016, a Pew survey found that 28% of Americans identified as strong early adopters of technology – people who must have the newest tech before other people have it, and enjoy talking about their new tech experiences. One of the findings of this study was that openness to new experiences was correlated with early tech adoption. Could it be that, as so many other types of new experiences became unavailable in the pandemic, people have formed a new habit of early technology adoption? 

A study commissioned in 2020 by Mojo indicates that this is likely. In Mojo’s survey, 43% of respondents fell into the “first adopter” category, a significant jump from the 28% who fell into the similar “early adopter” category in Pew’s 2016 survey. Regardless of whether respondents identified as first adopters, they reported purchasing more new technology and feeling more dependent on it than before the pandemic. A large majority of first adopters are likely to continue their increased rate of technology purchases once the pandemic subsides; interestingly, 41% of “Later Adopters” agree. The study projects that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause a significant cultural shift towards early tech adoption. 

In combination, the trends of increased e-commerce and earlier tech adoption imply that consumers will buy more cutting-edge technology without even first seeing or trying it in a store. This is undoubtedly an exciting prospect for tech retailers, until they consider what happens after the product arrives on the customer’s doorstep. These brand new, high-tech devices are going to require a lot of customer support. 

Support Services are Critical for Early Adopters 

As the leader of a company providing customer and technical support services, I look at these trends in terms of how the customer support industry needs to evolve. Recent research from Parks Associates highlights the extent and importance of the customer support required for tech consumers. In their “Supporting Connected Consumers” whitepaper, Parks reveals that 13% of consumer electronics owners have never attempted to set up a device themselves, and that 22% of those who do attempt DIY setup encounter problems. In the smart home category, the numbers are even starker, at 37% and 31%, respectively. Customer support of smart home devices is incredibly complex, because the expert must be able to troubleshoot not just the devices, but the network and other integrated devices connected to it. 

The problems consumers encounter in setting up and troubleshooting these devices can have a major impact on brands. After all, the “late majority” is largely waiting on “first adopter” feedback before making purchasing decisions. In order to appropriately support the rising tide of early adopters, retailers, OEMs, and emerging tech companies need customer and technical support experts who are deeply knowledgeable and experienced with the products and the ecosystems in which they reside. This is a tall order when the products are by nature brand new, and support personnel are increasingly working remotely across the globe. 

Remote Support for Remote Consumers 

The pandemic has decentralized customer support services, pushing jobs that were once primarily performed at brick-and-mortar call centers towards home-based models. For early-adopter tech support, that could be a very good thing. The IT-savvy, networking background, device fluency, and mental agility required for high-quality tech support of emerging devices – particularly IoT devices – means that these roles should be occupied by skilled knowledge workers. Overwhelmingly, knowledge workers prefer to work at home. Even before the pandemic, 74% of knowledge workers surveyed by Zapier said they would quit their current job for an opportunity to work from home. Since COVID-19, further studies have found that such workers are both reluctant to return to physical offices and more productive when working from home. The shift toward home-based technical support means BPOs with a homesourced “expert anywhere” model – that is, an employment model organized around an entirely home-based workforce – have a distinct advantages with respect to recruiting, training, managing, and supporting staff to ensure excellent customer experiences.    

BPOs with an expert anywhere model can hire technical support experts from anywhere in the world – wherever these experts want to live.  Moreover, since they don’t have to commute, these homesourced workers have access to flexible scheduling options, such as part-time, split shift, or flexible schedules. A homesourcing organization therefore has access to deep pools of talent: parents who have left the workforce in the U.S. due to childcare responsibilities; college-educated call center workers in the Philippines who no longer wish to spend four hours per day commuting; the untapped female workforce in India, where women rarely work outside the home; disabled military veterans with deep technological expertise who find navigating office facilities challenging. The people who can provide the expert support are out there. They just need the systems and practices in place to support them. Homesourced experts need online learning that allows them to quickly get up to speed on new technologies. They also need tools that will help them resolve complex problems in context. For example, Support.com leverages live training sessions, asynchronous training that allows experts to practice on their own, and a proprietary Guided PathsTM system that uses dynamic decision points to help experts quickly identify the root cause of a problem. Our systems were designed specifically to allow home-based experts to master new technology quickly, and intelligently support them as they assist customers. 

Even the most sophisticated BPOs will need to evolve to meet the needs of tomorrow’s early adopters. Just as 3D graphics and AR rendering have made e-commerce more like brick-and-mortar retail, the development of virtual product labs will simulate hands-on product training for home-based customer support experts. Remote experts should have the opportunity to examine and operate products in a realistic digital environment so they can assist customers from a position of authority. With virtual product labs, teams will be able to more quickly get up to speed on new product releases or updates, and practice complex situations such as the product’s interaction or integration with other devices.   

More than learning from home or even working from home, shopping from home may be the most indelible new habit of the pandemic. Combined with increased enthusiasm for technology, customer support services need to innovate quickly to keep these new early adopters happy. It’s a virtuous cycle: to benefit from the explosive growth in technology e-commerce, the industry needs to do a little early adoption of its own. 

Pandemic Ushers In a New Era of Immersive AR/VR Retail

SXSW AR, VR, XR in Retail
Credit: iStock

As has been the case with most creatively-minded technology and film festivals over the past half-decade, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and cross-reality (XR) were the subject of several panels at this year’s virtual SXSW. Topics included XR in the sports fan experience, how various reality apps might be used by soldiers, and the best ways to make your own VR apps.  

XR is a kind of mix of AR and VR — a mostly- or fully-rendered virtual world that’s tied to the environment around it. As this was a virtual conference, one panel — “XR at a Crossroads: Maintaining Empathy” — took place in the XR environment itself, with avatars of the panelists inviting one another to their environments. Meanwhile, a press preview before the event featured a virtual tour of Austin’s Red River Cultural District. 

Beyond those fully immersive gee-whiz events, plenty of standard Zoom-style panels and keynotes looked at a wide variety of topics dealing with the intersection of technology and just about everything, including business and specifically, retail. Here are the highlights. 

‘In-store’ takes on new meaning after COVID-19. 

On the conference’s first day, a panel was held on “Immersive Retail: Connected Shopping in a New Era.” Moderated by Kevin O’Malley of TechTalk Studio, the panel included Tony Parisi, the AR/VR Ad Innovation head of Unity Technologies, and Silke Meixner, digital strategy partner with IBM Global Business Services.  

The panelists shared their thoughts on what the retail sector can learn from the experience of the pandemic, and how it can move forward.  

Parisi is considered a leading figure in the development of virtual reality, and his company, which is best known for its video game development software, has spent the last few years looking at using 3D technology to drive sales online, often by incorporating augmented and virtual reality (VR) technologies. In terms of that being applied to retail, he said, what was seen by many as a luxury until recently was made into more of a necessity after stores were suddenly forced to close due to the pandemic. 

“So now imagine 3D digital twins of physical items — everything from a complex item like a car, which would be a very considered purchase if you did it online, to something simple like a piece of consumer electronics or a home appliance,” Parisi said.  

Rendering of companies’ products virtually, in a way that can be included in advertising and also social sharing, is a big component of what Unity is doing with retail.  

“Imagine all those things having a 3D equivalent, not just an image, and a consumer being able to interact with and learn more about those products, and possibly share those with their friends,” he said. “All of the technologies are now being looked at, with a lot of scrutiny, to see if they can help sell products. And early returns are looking pretty good.”  

The company’s eponymous gaming engine has already been used by retailers such as Shopify, Ikea, Houzz, and others to build “interactive try-ons of products.”  

The early adopter gets the worm. 

Fellow panelist Meixner shared what her retail clients at IBM’s business and technology consulting division have been telling her, agreeing that robust virtual 3D shopping experiences have begun to move from “something nice to have” to something more essential.  

Those immersive ideas, in the pandemic, have become “almost overnight, top of the agenda” for marketers she works with.  

“The question [is]: Will this be temporary, or will this change ultimately how we interact as brands with our consumers?” Meixner said. “The answer that we give to our clients, across different sectors, is that it’s here to stay.” 

Meixner went on to say that the retail environment has been a “pioneer” for such technologies, especially with furniture, as the technology allows customers to visualize the items in their home through AR apps that make use of their smartphone camera viewfinders. But there are many other potential applications.  

“A lot of the retail industry is looking into the omnichannel experience to be as seamless as possible, so you might in your pre-shopping experience look and research, but immediately you might then want to see what it looks like in the virtual environment,” she added.  

Parisi also spoke of the success of retailers who innovated on the digital front early.  Many of these early adopters were able to better weather the pandemic than those who did not. After all, a long list of retailers ended up in bankruptcy during the pandemic, while others —  including Fry’s Electronics, Modell’s Sporting Goods,  and Lord & Taylor — went out of business altogether.  

“Folks who were already planning on a certain amount of digital transformation have managed to find ways to reach their customers during this terrible period. Those that did not, maybe the writing was on the wall for a lot of these retailers anyway.”  

The panelists also discussed the ways that gaming technology has influenced retail technology — and how the sales experience has migrated to video games, where in-game purchases and upgrades are integral to the business model of massively popular online “free-to-play” games such as Fortnite and Roblox.  

There was also talk of the far future of retail.  

“I don’t think stores are gonna go away,” Parisi said. “Especially right now. I think we all realize what we are missing, being able to go into a physical venue to the extent that we would like…. that said, I think they are going to transform.” Such a transformation could take many forms — including AR and VR — but will at the very least involve applying the lessons learned during the pandemic to a future when stores are open.

Trading In the Old Car Stereo: It’s Easier Than You Think

Trading in car stereo
Credit: iStock

If you ever inspected a car door jamb on a factory-fresh new car, you were likely greeted by a sticker stating that the OEM electronics equipment — say, the infotainment system or the HID headlights — must be recycled when the vehicle is finally put out to pasture. Not many people think about junking a vehicle at the time of its purchase, but give it 20 years, along with the effects of Mother Nature, and most vehicles are ready for the crusher.  

Unfortunately, the same thing happens with car audio components – especially head units, where feature sets get dated quickly. From 10 short years ago, “iPod compatibility” just doesn’t cut the mustard when the standard is Apple CarPlay and iOS for the car today. Even traditional USB-connected Apple CarPlay might not make it much further when wireless CarPlay is increasingly an option for those who want to leave their phones in their pocket.  

Is the same true of aftermarket electronics? Not necessarily, but we do know the hurdles involved in selling used car audio components on eBay. It is a hassle most customers are not looking to go through. An amplifier is not an iPad – without a test bench, there is no way of knowing if it is working or not. There is too much room for an unscrupulous buyer to complain: “This button does not work,” they might say, or “You didn’t include one of many specific wiring harnesses and now the unit is junk. I am complaining to eBay, getting my money back, and leaving you bad feedback.” Most customers are not looking to go through that — they just want to recover some funds from their last purchase to easily put towards the next one.  

Giving Electronics Another Act

Enter 2nd Life – a company that facilitates the repurposing, reusing, or recycling of legacy electronics for a wide variety of institutions, consumers, and companies, including aftermarket car audio retailers and installers. Daily shipments of used electronics arrive at 2nd Life’s Richmond, Va., headquarters, where they get sorted and tested, then either repaired, cleaned, and refurbished for resale, or responsibly processed for recycling.

A 2nd Life technician repairing a car audio head unit to make it ready for resale.

With nearly four decades in the consumer electronics space, 2nd Life CEO and Founder Michael Feibelman is no stranger to legacy audio going as far back as original Jensen and Audiovox equipment. “I have experience in the audio/video markets and most facets of the technology business, but my car audio roots go back 38 years,” says Feibelman, who got his professional start in 1983 working for a car audio installer. While many electronics refurbishment companies focus on the low-hanging fruit of pre-owned mobile phones, laptops, and other portable or off-the-shelf electronics, 2nd Life’s car audio offering is more of a rarity in the space.  

“The driving force in the global secondary markets over the past 20 years has been computer and mobile technology,” Feibelman admits. “But car audio is a large part of our business.” There is indeed a market for it — just ask anyone who’s ever purchased or restored a car made before the late ’90s, when both factory-installed and aftermarket audio was easier to replace.  

One of the biggest hurdles faced when taking in used car audio and other legacy technology is having experts deem what is valuable and what is ripe for recycling. The staff at 2nd Life each have their own expertise. “I am grateful to have a fantastic staff working for the company,” says Feibelman. “Our 12 Volt Project Manager Donald Stotts has expertise in both home and car audio, for example. Our professional team of 20 employees provides amazing support in finding products that can be repurposed.” 

Partnering with Retailers

On the car audio front, two of the largest retailers working with 2nd Life are Crutchfield and Abt Electronics. Both are mail-order juggernauts with brick-and-mortar footprints. Coincidentally, both retailers are family-owned and have been, throughout their long histories, which may explain why recycling is an important component of their respective business plans. Crutchfield and Abt field used products from their customers both in-person and via their websites, then send them to 2nd Life, which buys anything that is refurbishable and recycles anything that isn’t.

As a result, both Crutchfield and Abt are able to offer gift cards or store credit to customers, which can then be applied to new purchases. In addition, 2nd Life operates 14 white-label consumer trade-in sites on the websites of retail outlets. According to Feibelman, 2nd Life’s presence on retailer websites delivers hundreds of pre-owned car audio pieces a year back to Virginia.  

“We receive OEM and aftermarket car audio items, which include head units, amplifiers, and speakers,” he says.  “We have developed a trade-in program that includes incentives for retailers, and welcome any stores or chains who would be interested in participating.” 2nd Life also has a pure recycling program available to clients that have become partner retailers and have already worked with their trade-in program. “The trade-in programs can be adapted to just about any business, of any size, not strictly car audio retailers,” he adds. 

With the wide scope of brands in the 12-volt aftermarket, especially from boutique manufacturers making equipment for specific vehicles, the task of reselling items can be daunting. 2nd Life does it through its extensive database of legacy products. After a thorough testing process, the items are prepared for resale. “We are exhaustive in our inspections,” says Feibelman of 2nd Life’s proprietary testing process. “That way, the customer is happy, and our return rate stays low.” 

Anyone looking to trade-in aftermarket audio equipment should take note of the following: a lot of 12-volt equipment becomes severely price-diminished because it is missing adaptors that are often simply left in the vehicle. This is not due to nefarious theft, but rather the lazy removal of products. Though the adaptors, or wiring harnesses, are usually proprietary, they are often easy to replace. “Typically, wiring harnesses are handled by the customer, since they would be specific to the vehicle or unit,” Feibelman says. “However, our partnerships with retailers help to supply whatever items are necessary for the next installation.” If a replacement isn’t found, you’re out of luck, since a product just won’t work if you don’t have the proprietary adaptor or harness.  

Still, it’s not for lack of trying by 2nd Life. “Our ultimate goal is to repurpose or reuse any product we get in our warehouse and utilize all segments of the secondary market,” he says. “Car audio products that are deemed to have no value are recycled in bins with ‘like’ items including amps and speakers.” The worthless pile gets broken down further with other electronics such as old desktops and laptops. It is then shipped to an R2-certified recycler for downstream recycling. The R2 certification means the electronics get broken down responsibly and won’t wind up in any old landfill.   

Born-Again OEM

2nd Life is also interested in OEM car audio devices that are removed and replaced with aftermarket equipment. Typically, these devices would usually be packed in the box the aftermarket component came in and then sent home with the customer, who would, in turn, find a damp place in the basement for the OEM unit to collect dust and become worthless. But 2nd Life offers a better solution that delivers a few dollars toward a customer’s new system. 2nd Life gets more than 500 OEM devices traded in every year. Even though it currently doesn’t have any partnerships with OEM manufacturers, “we are always open to new partnerships,” says Feibelman.  

In part due to theft or vandalism, the prices of refurbished OEM head units — especially those of 10-year-old Lexus and Mercedes vehicles — continue to rise, so it’s not a bad corner of the refurbishment business to be in, while also providing a much-needed solution to car owners.   The reasons for the rising demand are myriad. For example, as dashboard shapes become more complex for traditional installations, an OEM solution can save a lot of time for an installer, especially with older cars. After all, some non-audiophile customers are only interested in AM radio, while the owner of a 2011 Lexus with a damaged or stolen Lexus head unit just wants their car back to normal. It’s just the kind of circular, closed-loop swap that a slightly used OEM marketplace was made for, and a boon to any retailer looking to offer product solutions to their customers. 

ZEISS’s Triple Play for Retail Success

ZEISS Vision Care

Sponsored by ZEISS

Challenges and opportunities often go hand in hand for consumer electronics retailing businesses, and never has that been truer than during the past year. Consumer shopping behaviors in that time have been radically altered by circumstances beyond any retailer’s control – but these changes have also spurred dealers to approach their businesses creatively and to look for ways to answer new needs in new ways.

Meeting dealers’ objectives in creative and compelling ways is nothing new for ZEISS – a company with a long and distinguished legacy of developing and providing solutions in optical care; it’s in our DNA. Over the last 175 years, ZEISS, an internationally leading optics and optoelectronics enterprise, has built upon a history which includes R&D in camera and mobile phone lens development and manufacture that now goes even beyond those distinctions – to the care and cleaning of lenses.

Your customers have never been more aware than they are today of the importance of keeping their lenses and mobile and digital devices hygienically pristine. So now, ZEISS has come full circle, meeting these new needs with even more ingenious solutions. Our mandate, realized with the ZEISS Vision Care line, is to provide customers with ways to do just that – without risk of damage to either lenses or screens. 

Various levels of testing that our care solutions undergo confirm that lenses and screens they’re used on will be cleaned thoroughly yet safely. We track the amount of debris that is effectively removed from device surfaces. Our Lens Wipes are tested for abrasion and scratching by using a machine that will clean a lens surface 4,000 times while measuring for surface damage and ensuring that none occurs, and we perform a “soak test” that shows our formulas do no harm.  

The ZEISS Vision Care portfolio, which speaks to consumer care needs with a set of products that are problem-solving solutions to address every aspect of lens and mobile device cleaning and maintenance, includes the following products:

Lens Wipes – individually wrapped, disposable wipes for glasses and camera lens cleaning that are gentle enough to use on glasses that are treated with high-quality antireflective coatings;

Mobile Screen Wipes – for benign, effective cleaning of dirt, oils, smudges, and fingerprints from smartphones and tablet screens;

Anti-Fog Wipes – non-abrasive wipes that are especially effective at keeping lenses fog-free when wearing a mask outdoors; and the

Fog Defender System – A lens treatment regimen including both a spray and a cleaning cloth that work together to keep cleaned eyeglasses from fogging for up to 72 hours.

These products are all high-margin add-on sales that offer CE retailers an opportunity to build incremental business – and that harmoniously complement the hardware products they already carry and sell.

What’s more, ZEISS Vision Care has devised a business model that amounts to a “triple play” for dealers – namely, high profitability; opportunity for sales expansion, repeat sales and recurring revenue; and the ability to easily attach an accessory to the purchase of a device with a lens or screen that will keep it clean and safe.

This is a chance for consumer electronics retailers who partner with us to reap enormous benefits, because ZEISS is as vested in your success as you are.

These few facts shared here with you about ZEISS Vision Care and its offerings are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more to know about our Retail Partner Program, and we’re confident that retailers who get in touch with us to explore the details will see how easy it is to be successful with what we firmly believe is exactly the right product mix for exactly the right time in our business.

To learn more about the ZEISS line of cleaning products, please visit www.zeiss.com/cleaning.

Dealers interested in knowing about how to participate in this opportunity as a Retail Partner can contact Valerie Motis at the following email address: Valerie.motis.ext@zeiss.com.

Nationwide Marketing Group Joins the Las Vegas Market Live Experience

Nationwide Marketing Group Las Vegas Live
Credit: iStock

One silver lining that has come out of the pandemic is our newfound ability to be in two places (or more) at once. Virtual events have opened the door to a wider audience and allowed for more flexibility on the attendee side. There’s no more running to grab a seat for a panel or worrying you might miss a session while networking.

Nationwide Marketing Group already has a few successful virtual events under their belt and they are keeping that momentum going with the first-ever Las Vegas Market Live virtual experience for the independent retail channel. This time around, Nationwide will be an “exhibitor” itself at the Las Vegas Market, which runs April 11-15. Throughout the event, the Nationwide Furniture and Bedding and PrimeMedia teams will be on hand hosting a series of conversations, presenting new products, offering trainings, and more.

“Las Vegas Market Live offers independent dealers across the country an opportunity to see the latest innovations and introductions from the show, even if they weren’t able to come to the show in-person,” says Nationwide Vice President of Furniture and Bedding Mike Derro.

Las Vegas Market Live will complement some of Nationwide’s other virtual events from this past year, and offer dealers who can’t make the trip to Las Vegas an enriching experience. Many aspects of Las Vegas Market Live can be expected to appear at other industry shows, especially while we remain COVID cautious.

“Las Vegas Market Live is a powerful tool for dealers who are attending the show in person,” explains Jeff Rose, senior director of merchandising for furniture and bedding. “There’s so much to see and do at World Market Center that it can be a challenge to visit every partner you’d like. Everything we capture for Las Vegas Market Live will remain available after the show, so it’s a great place to check in for the showrooms you weren’t able to visit in person.”

As with most virtual events, Las Vegas Market Live video content will be available in real time on the event’s website and on demand after the show. Nationwide Marketing Group will also have a dedicated playlist for these sessions on YouTube.

Dealers interested in participating in the Las Vegas Market Live experience can subscribe to receive text or email alerts to be notified when new content drops. They will be able to easily connect with key contacts from participating manufacturers and the experts on hand from the Nationwide furniture and bedding team.

Some of Nationwide’s vendors that are already committed to the Las Vegas Market Live experience include Ace Casual, Bedgear, Best Home, Capel Rugs, Coaster, CordaRoy’s, Corsicana, DreamFit, Eastman House, Elk Home, Ergomotion, Hiend Accents, Human Touch, I Love Pillow, Klaussner, Leather Italia USA, Legends, Leggett & Platt, Malouf, Mohawk Home, Osaki Chairs, Porter Designs, Powell, Purecare, Resident Home, Serta Simmons Bedding, Tempur+Sealy International, W. Silver, and more.

“The PrimeMedia team is excited to work with so many great partners at Market, and not only will we be bringing their showroom experiences to dealers as part of Las Vegas Market Live, we’ll also be capturing training on their latest product introductions and innovations,” says Nationwide PrimeMedia’s Mike Whitaker. “Those training programs will debut in the coming weeks, exclusively for Nationwide Members, in the Nationwide Learning Academy online. We’re excited about this robust expansion of new furniture and bedding content, as it will continue to assist the teams of our Member companies in remaining the most knowledgeable and helpful in their markets.

Home Security Leader Ring Releases Floodlight Outdoor Camera

Ring releases new Floodlight Pro Wired Camera

Ring has released its “most advanced outdoor security camera,” equipped with 3D Motion Detection with radar and Bird’s Eye View—the new Ring Floodlight Cam Wired Pro. The new product builds upon the features of the Ring Floodlight Cam to monitor outdoor spaces with motion-activated LED lights and HD video.

For full story and list of features, visit Connected Design.

When Tactile Interfaces are Better Than Touchscreens

Tactile Interfaces versus touchscreens
Credit: iStock

Steve Jobs hated buttons. This aversion informed everything from his wardrobe (no buttons on a turtleneck) to Apple’s product design – and therefore, user interface design for the past 13 years. The clean, near-buttonless beauty of the iPhone and iPad became the dominant form factor not just for directly competitive tablets and smartphones, but also for A/V control system interfaces, remote controls, and even car dashboards.  

Featureless sheets of touch-capacitive glass have become synonymous with modern, flexible design and universal control. Appliances like stoves and washing machines have not only replaced buttons and dials with touchscreens, but also tout iPhone- and Android app-based control as a product differentiator.  

My own company, PTZOptics, supports control of all our network-connected cameras through such an app. In February, however, we also released a new camera control device, the SuperJoy, that is absolutely bristling with buttons. We created this product in part because, in talking with our customers, we affirmed something neuroscientists and designers have been grumbling for the past 10 years: sometimes, buttons are better than screens. 

Supporting Task Mastery  

Buttons give our brains more information than a touchscreen. When we tap on a touchscreen, we’re reliant on visual cues: we have to see something on the screen change state in order to know we tapped the right area, and our input was received.  When we feel a button depress or a dial click, we instantly know that signal has been sent.  Recent studies have shed light on the benefits of this kind of multisensory input for learning. When we engage multiple senses – not just the sight of an icon, but the feel of a button, and maybe the audible click heard as it is pressed – our brains more easily encode the cause-and-effect sequence of events.  

Touch has also emerged as particularly powerful. A recent article in Neuroscience News describes the way tactile sensations light up the whole brain like a Christmas tree. When a person is learning a new or complex skill – for instance, controlling multiple robotic cameras for a live video production – having physical buttons can significantly increase speed to mastery. 

A physical button can also give users confidence because what it does is so clear. A button labelled “Off” turns a device off. A button labelled “Lecture Capture” turns on the appropriate cameras and microphones and initiates recording. Over the past year, I’ve spoken with several higher-education technology managers who have replaced complex touchscreen interfaces in some classrooms with a simple set of three or four clearly labeled physical buttons. Instructors who might otherwise feel intimidated by the complex systems required to deliver in-person classes as remote or hybrid experiences feel perfectly comfortable with a simple button-press.  

Faster Decisions & Fewer Mistakes 

Logitech G502 Lightspeed Gaming Mouse
Logitech G502 Lightspeed Gaming Mouse

Physical buttons have benefits even for skilled operators. A touchscreen cannot be operated by feel; we must look at it to know not just where to press, but what set of controls are currently present. Physical buttons allow “blind navigation” – the ability to make changes without having to look at the controller.  Blind navigation allows operators not just to respond faster, but to make better decisions. Because no visual processing is involved in pushing the button, additional brain cells are freed up to help with judgement. This is especially important in applications where the user’s eyes need to be focused elsewhere for fast decision-making, such as video production, driving, or gaming. For example, Logitech’s wireless gaming mouse, the G502, may not have the sleek minimalism of Apple’s buttonless Magic Mouse, but its 11 customizable buttons have made it a category leader. 

Particularly in high-stakes environments like live production or mission critical applications, buttons have another advantage over screens: fewer failed inputs and false positives. Capacitive screens have to be very sensitive in order to work, which means they sometimes sense the wrong thing. Also, depending on the size of the touchscreen, the “hit box” for input may be very small. When controlling a device from a smartphone, it can be very easy to miss a digital button or hit the wrong button altogether. If the user needs to wear gloves, all bets are off: many fabrics insulate fingers too well for touchscreen operation. 

The Digital Becomes Physical 

A pair of announcements from the automotive industry at CES 2021 demonstrate both the power of buttons and the drawbacks of screens. Mercedes-Benz bet big on touchscreens by debuting the MBUX Hyperscreen, a 56-inch display that covers an entire sedan dashboard. The marketing for this component touts the 12 built-in actuators for haptic feedback, the special coating that reduces reflections and glare, the single navigation layer, with no nested menus. Guess what else provides haptic feedback, low glare, and a single navigation layer? Physical buttons. On the other hand, automotive systems supplier GHSP showed off control knobs intended to add a layer of tactile interaction to sleek glass dashboards like Mercedes-Benz’s. These dual stacked wheels are designed to integrate with touchscreen systems to allow drivers to control driving, safety, audio, or climate systems without taking their eyes off the road – returning the blind navigation capabilities lost with a touchscreen interface. 

Embracing buttons doesn’t mean rejecting high-tech systems in favor of analog devices. The PTZOptics SuperJoy, the Logitech G502 mouse, and GHSP’s control knob are all intended to be flexible and programmable, like a touchscreen, but with all of the satisfaction and advantages of a tactile interface. They allow both fully customizable control – on the part of the carmaker for GHSP, or the end user for the G502 or the SuperJoy – and blind navigation. These are physical interfaces that support both learning and mastery for complex operations.  Buttons like this aren’t retro: they’re the future. 

The Quest Group Announces Promotions, Continues ‘Evolution’

Golden Ear Triton Reference Speakers
GoldTriton Reference

In keeping with its “ongoing state of evolution,” The Quest Group, parent company of AudioQuest and GoldenEar , has announced key promotions from within its ranks.

The Quest Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Bill Low, noted that with these advancements, he feels “absolutely confident that we’ll successfully and gracefully navigate any shifts the evolving market presents while significantly advancing our collective sales, marketing, and educational efforts.”

For the full story, visit Connected Design.

For the Retail Apocalypse, March Came in Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

Open Sign Signals No Retail Apocalypse for Some Stores

It’s been a little over a year since COVID-19 forced much of life as we knew it, along with a big chunk of retailers, to shut down. At first, and for many months, a retail apocalypse seemed inevitable, and for many legacy stores that were already challenged, it was indeed the end of days. But the pandemic has been a paradox. Just as layoffs and store closures continue apace for some once-cherished retail institutions, other stores big and small have seen record growth over the past 12 months, albeit mostly on the digital side of things. As with the population at large, the burden of COVID’s onslaught has not been even. Even so, the ever-increasing vaccination rates and loosening of restrictions across the country over the past four weeks indicate that while March may have come in like a lion, it left like a lamb.

Corporate Inequality

First, a recap of the bad news. The corporate COVID casualties include some of the most revered names in the business, though many have been on a death watch for years. JC Penney, which had been under strain after eight straight years of losses and failed turnaround efforts that involved attempts at going upmarket and selling appliances and electronics, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy early on in the pandemic, after just two months of forced closures and consumer reluctancy. Part of the deal included shuttering 29 percent of its stores—242 out of 846—though later, in June of last year, JC Penney walked that number back to 200 or fewer. After closing 156 of its stores, JC Penney was acquired in December by Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management, which helped get the retailer out of bankruptcy. Even so, JC Penney recently revealed that the 15 stores it was supposed to close in March, along with three new ones, will now close on May 16th, which will bring the pandemic-era closure tally to 172.

Fry's Electronics Burbank Retro Space Entrance
The retro-space-themed entrance to Fry’s Burbank, Calif. store.

The other big casualty, at least symbolically, was Fry’s Electronics. Though not entirely unexpected, the beloved West Coast electronics retailer announced that it would be closing all 31 of its stores across nine states and shut down its business after 36 years. The news marked the end of an era of a certain kind of electronics superstore where, in its ‘80s-and-‘90s-era heyday, you could walk in and find everything from the latest big-ticket televisions to every last variety of computer mouse.

While Silicon Valley-based company cited “changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the biggest culprit was not keeping up a competitive digital and omnichannel presence, along with increased forays into stocking random knick-knacks, cosmetics, and candy on its increasingly bare store shelves (largely due to a consignment system that only paid manufacturers and suppliers after items were sold).

Though it doesn’t provide lists of closures or make any sweeping announcements around the topic, Sears and Kmart parent company Transformco Properties was already executing a strategy to shut down stores in 2020 even before the pandemic bega