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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
The Quest Group announces promotions

In keeping with its “ongoing state of evolution,” The Quest Group, parent company of AudioQuest and GoldenEar Technology, 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 began. Whether the pandemic accelerated any closures or added new ones is unclear, but by February 2021, the company was on track to close 12 more Sears locations, including its last store in Hawaii, and one Kmart location.
Another big-name retailer with a long history, Macy’s, reported sales drops in the third quarter of 2020: Its net sales were down from $5.17 to $3.99 billion year-over-year and same-store sales down 20 percent. A comparatively modest 27-percent rise in digital sales was not enough to balance the books of the 162-year-old company.

While JC Penney and Macy’s sell some electronics and small appliances, the bulk of their inventory is in apparel, accessories, cosmetics, housewares, and home furnishings. As such, neither chain was able to qualify as an essential business and remain open during the pandemic’s early days or during periods of deeper quarantine. Not that spooked shoppers would have felt comfortable stepping foot into those stores in person anyway. Meanwhile, retailers large and small that sold appliances and electronics—along with most big box stores that also carried groceries or hardware–were fortunate to be deemed essential businesses, which let them continue to operate, albeit with strict social distancing rules in place. Doing business under those conditions was hard even for the essential businesses, but it nevertheless offered an opportunity for the smarter organizations, which accelerated and doubled down on existing omnichannel strategies and infrastructure. Many of these retailers have emerged ready for retail’s new post-pandemic rules.

Pandemic Pivots

While Best Buy has eliminated 5,000 full-time positions, shuttered five stores, and plans to close more locations in 2021, it has nevertheless found a new strategy that is helping it ride a wave of pandemic-related growth. The consumer electronics and appliances retail chain experienced not only a 12-percent rise in same-store sales at its brick-and-mortar locations in the fourth quarter of last year, but also a whopping 90 percent from its online sales, year-over-year. Its online sales nearly doubled from 25.4 percent in 2019 to 43.2 percent last year, and the store expects that number to stay consistent at around 40 percent for 2021.

“Our stores played a pivotal role in the fulfillment of these sales,” said Best Buy CEO Corrie Barry while announcing the company’s fourth-quarter 2020 results. “Almost two-thirds of our online revenue was either picked up in-store or curbside, shipped from a store, or delivered by a store employee.” As a result of the COVID-era changes in shopper behavior, Best Buy will convert most of the shelves and shelves of products and showroom spaces into warehouse spaces for hyper-local fulfillment centers, making it easy for customers to order online or via smartphone app first, then swing by for curbside pickup or wait for delivery, a bit like Ikea but with many more locations. It’s not a bad idea to stay competitive against, say, Amazon, which as of yet can’t deliver its merchandise immediately on purchase. Yes, the Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth can do same-day deliveries, but only in locations that are near enough to fulfillment centers for quick processing. Best Buy still has locations in the city centers, suburbs, and small and medium-sized cities where massive fulfillment centers would not fit.

Target curbside pickup on Monday, Oct 19 in Los Angeles. (Jordan Strauss/AP Images for Target)

Other big-box retailers deemed essential also saw growth and are evolving with the times. Target had its best holiday sales season in 11 years. Its Q4 2020 website and mobile app sales for the Minneapolis-based retailer rose to 18 percent from 8 percent in 2019, with a total of $28.34 billion in revenue. In addition to innovating on its curbside pickup process, going so far as to let consumers choose where in their cars they want their purchases placed, the store is also playing with layouts and sizes of its brick-and-mortar locations, and has ramped up its rollout of mid-sized Target stores in cities and near colleges and universities. Similar omnichannel growth gains were experienced by Walmart, which saw a 69-percent rise in online sales and an 8.6-percent rise in same-store sales for Q4 2021. Unlike Best Buy, these multi-category big box stores benefited additionally from grocery, pharmacy, and other essential, in-demand categories during the pandemic. These stores will likely continue to see benefits due to ongoing demand for basics, while specialty stores and especially department stores, which saw an 18-percent decline in sales last year, according to a new report from UBS, will still have to work hard to flourish, or even survive.

A Buyer’s Market

Regardless, the stores that are flourishing have the means to capitalize on the lower rents at mall and city center locations vacated by faltering retailers, signing shorter leases in some cases. And while empty storefronts due to high rents on upscale shopping streets from New York to Los Angeles were a scourge pre-pandemic, many of those same spaces now cost a lot less, or are available for shorter periods, which offers new opportunities to local and independent retailers that can provide distinctive and personal customer experiences. Indeed, independent retailers that specialize in niche or high-end products remain busy, as the long line outside of Amoeba Music in Los Angeles earlier this week demonstrates. The legendary independent record store, which carries everything from vinyl and cassette tapes to turntables and headphones, just reopened on April 1st at a new location a few blocks away after closing its previous store in March 2020. And while GameStop’s future viability is still a matter of debate no matter how high its stock soars, independent video game stores are doing just fine.

Between a post-pandemic craving for personalized service and omnichannel-driven growth, is it any wonder that there are more store openings (3,199) than closings (2,548) slated for 2021, per Coresight Research? Of course, the bulk of these openings are in apparel and cosmetics, but even Toys R Us, now owned by WHP Global, and discount chain Five Below, have plans for new stores between now and the end of the year. But 2,548 is still a lot of store closures. UBS, in that same report this week, estimates that 80,000 stores in the U.S. could close over the next five years, with clothing and consumer electronics among the most vulnerable and home improvement and groceries the most secure. In the case of Best Buy, however, those closures seem to be part of the plan as it leans into a post-store, digital-first future. UBS also estimates that overall e-commerce sales will rise to 27 percent by 2026, up from 18 percent in 2020.

With all the doom and gloom that the world has endured over the past year, it may still seem surprising that the pandemic has nevertheless fueled growth and innovation for many. In addition to receiving three rounds of stimulus checks, U.S. consumers who were fortunate enough to have jobs that could be conducted remotely have built up a windfall of savings from being stuck at home and not traveling or going to restaurants, movies, and shopping malls. And they will continue to spend that windfall at the retailers big and small that have doubled down on their digital and omnichannel efforts over the past 12 months. Even the less fortunate, who have spent the past 12 months scraping by, may factor into the future consumer equation as the economy recovers and some return to work at restaurants, hotels, theme parks, bars, theaters, film productions, gyms, and more.

With the COVID vaccine eligibility to become available to all adults in the U.S. by April 19th, and even COVID-cautious states such as California aiming to fully reopen all businesses by July 15th, life may soon return to something resembling normal for both consumers and retailers alike, as anyone who has seen the “help wanted” signs starting to pop up at soon-to-reopen restaurants, coffee shops, and stores can attest. When we look back on this pandemic, the past 12 months may not seem like that long of a time after all, but wow, what a difference a month can make.

Harnessing the Power of Clubhouse for Your Business

Clubhouse for business
Credit: iStock

Everybody who’s anybody is talking about Clubhouse right now, and for good reason. The audio-only, invite-only iPhone app is unlike any other social media platform we’ve seen because it is built solely on human connection. 

Aside from a profile picture, no other photos or videos exist within the app; there are no blue check marks to verify accounts; you can’t even DM someone! You also won’t find any brand accounts or in-app advertising on Clubhouse. 

So how’s a business supposed to leverage this popular new platform? By branding the faces of its business and getting creative with advertising. 

While Tesla doesn’t have its own account, its leader, Elon Musk, certainly does. His first-ever live session on the app exceeded the 5,000-person limit for a room, and he hardly talked much business. He was asked a series of laid-back questions about whether he believes in aliens and what he thinks we should be teaching children in school. 

Other business owners can do the same thing. 

Humanizing your company builds trust with your consumers and, in turn, helps you connect with them in a meaningful way. You don’t always need to be actively pushing your product in order to see success. 

Clubhouse also allows you the chance to become a thought leader in your industry. Give advice, take advice, discuss the latest innovations or politics impacting your company — whatever it is, opening this dialogue with like-minded individuals in your business sphere is not only going to put you in the know, but it could also help you build your network and open the door to future partnerships. 

As far as advertising on Clubhouse goes, it has to be done a bit unconventionally at the moment, but with 10 million weekly active users, the potential reach is outstanding. 

Many people have referred to Clubhouse as an interactive podcast, and the advertising follows a similar format and often relies heavily on influencers. Brands can sponsor clubs or partner with hosts, who then read a short script in the middle of an event, just as they would a mid-roll ad. Hosts can also simply name-drop their product. 

Because the app is still so new, it is not yet saturated with an abundance of ads, sponsorships, and influencers, but that time could be coming soon. Get in early, establish yourself and your brand, and you might just see some significant results. 

Sharp Discusses Multifunctionality at Home

Sharp Appliances Multifunctionality

When our homes became multifunctional last year, the need for our appliances to follow suit became more apparent than ever. On Wednesday’s episode of Insider Talk, Sharp’s President, Jim Sanduski, and Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Peter Weedfald will discuss the need for appliances that are capable of performing a variety of functions to meet consumers’ changing needs.

During the live discussion hosted by Dealerscope’s Publisher, Tony Monteleone, and Contributing Editor, Nancy Klosek, the Sharp team will detail the clever engineering behind its Full Kitchen Suite that make these products flexible and well-suited for aging in place.

Sanduski and Weedfald will also discuss the future of the brand and how retailers can best pitch these products to their customers.

Tune in to this episode of Insider Talk on Dealerscope’s Facebook page on Wednesday, April 7 at 3 p.m. EST to ask questions and join in this meaningful discussion.

LG to Shut Down Mobile Phone Business Worldwide

LG Phone Business Shutdown
Credit: Pexels

LG is shutting down its mobile phone business unit for good. After a unanimous vote, the board of directors approved the final decision today after several months of reviewing the direction of LG’s smartphone business. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, “LG has been in the red for 23 straight quarters, with the accumulated losses exceeding $4.4 billion.”

In a press release, LG said that this decision will enable the company to focus more heavily on its growth sectors including electronic vehicles, smart homes, artificial intelligence, connected devices, robotics, and business-to-business solutions.

Current LG inventory will remain for sale and the full wind down is expected to be complete by July 31, though some inventory may remain available after that. Support and software updates for existing customers will continue for “a period of time” and will vary by region.

LG had some exciting, albeit unconventional, ideas in the works for its smartphone business, like the rollable phone we saw a prototype for at CES 2021. Moving forward, LG says, it will “continue to leverage its mobile expertise and develop mobility-related technologies.” While we don’t know exactly what that will look like, LG specifically mentioned 6G.

Over the next few months, there will probably be a lot of reassigning of roles going on for employees, and some potential layoffs. Details of these changes will be made at the local level, LG says.

Optoma Partners with Vizetto to Improve Remote Meetings

Optoma Vizetto Partnership

Vizetto, Inc’s Reactiv SUITE solutions are coming to Optoma’s Creative Touch 5-Series Interactive Flat Panels (IFPs) as the result of a new partnership between Optoma and Vizetto. Vizetto has been coined “the company that is changing the way the world communicates,” and by partnering with Optoma, the world-leading provider of remote and hybrid display solutions, they are delivering on that promise.

“Our Creative Touch 5-Series Interactive Flat Panels are built with intuitive features to provide flexible solutions for the corporate and education market segments. By partnering with Vizetto and incorporating the Reactiv SUITE software, we are able to offer an elevated engagement solution that drives significant value to our customers,” says Simon Jonas, commercial category manager at Optoma Europe.  

The Windows-based Reactiv Suite is a diverse collection of software products, tailored for remote meetings and presentations. Features like the “Digital Table” offer speakers the chance to present a variety of content including documents, decks, photos, videos, and websites. The presenter can also have non-linear interactions with remote participants, mark up their documents as they speak, and engage in discussions with the audience. These intuitive features create a more interactive experience overall.

“The Optoma team is as dedicated as we are in providing solutions to increase engagement with customers, internal team members and suppliers using innovative new technologies like Reactiv SUITE,” stated Av Utukuri, CEO and founder of Vizetto. “The combination of Optoma’s innovative hardware coupled with Reactiv SUITE will deliver a completely integrated solution that dramatically reduces Zoom fatigue to customers worldwide.”  

The Reactive SUIte is part of Optoma’s Creative Touch 5-Series Interactive Flat Panels which feature 4K UHD resolution, anti-glare glass, and fingerprint resistance all within 178 degrees of wide-angle view. The Creative Touch IFPs also come with precise dual-tip pens for creating stokes that that mimic a whiteboard for easy annotation. 

Optoma’s Creative Touch 5-Series Interactive Flat Panels are available for $2,199, $3,299 and $4,999 for 65”, 75” and 86” formats respectively.

SXSW 2021: Audio Is Hot Again

SXSW Virtual 2021

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference took place March 16-20, this time virtually, instead of as a massive in-person confab in Austin, Texas.  

In addition to the traditional music and film segments of 2021’s virtual SXSW, which offered everything from a keynote address by Willie Nelson to creatively rendered musical performances and a headline-grabbing documentary about singer Demi Lovato, there is also a technology conference. Given SXSW’s roots as a music festival, it’s no surprise that audio figures largely in panel topics.  

In “Audio: The Killer Platform Nobody Is Talking About,” panelists looked at a dynamic familiar to many in the consumer tech industry: While most technologies have improved considerably over the last 20 or so years, audio has not. The panel was moderated by journalist David Bloom and included Dan Mackta of Qobuz, Ken Randall of Hed Technologies, Jacqueline Bosnjak of Q Department and Mach1, and Ty Roberts of Ty Roberts Innovation.  

Randall’s company, Hed Technologies, is focusing on hardware to deal with better-quality technology. Mackta’s Qobuz is a high-resolution streaming and download subscription service and store.  Bosnjk is the founder of Q Department, a sound production company, and its spinoff, Mach 1, which concentrates on spatial technology. And the music industry veteran Roberts, who called himself “the virtual Swiss Army knife of music,” is mostly an advisor of audio-related startups, and recently started a company for streaming concerts. 

Sound is all around.

The panel was not only about audio quality, but also about what companies are doing with audio media in general, from podcasts and streaming music to new apps such as Clubhouse and Calm. Clubhouse, an audio app for live discussion and even live music, has been valued at over $1 billion, while Calm, an app used for meditation, is available on Sonos products and was valued at over $2 billion as of its last funding round in December.  

“Audio is hot,” Bloom, the moderator, said, going on to call it a “Cambrian moment” for the sector.  

“Audio has been, I think, a little disrespected, in the past, because it’s been a little too focused on compressing the heck out of it to jam it out on the crappiest headphones possible, and the most limited distribution pipelines available.” He noted that Neil Young, among others, has been sounding the alarm about low-quality audio for years. The rock legend introduced Pono, a high-resolution audio player and music ecosystem, at CES in 2015, but it was discontinued just over two years later.  

Mobile users need great sound, too.

“For the audiophile purists who still run the vacuum tube, with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment, they have no problems,” Randall said. “In the mobile space, and the digital world… it’s really about how do we take advantage of all the hi-res, uncompressed audio, and all this spatial [content that’s] coming online, all these new technologies.”  

Hed Technologies, according to Randall, is at the exact right moment to meet these challenges. Costs are optimized, and computing power is massive.  

“We started from the ground up with a new type of headphone,” Randall said. “And we decided we’d build based on mobile computing…. We’re just going to blow up the idea of what a headphone is and start from scratch.” The goal is to bring hi-res audio to both an audience that already knows about it, and also a brand-new audience.  

Hed will be announcing new products “soon,” Randall said.  

“It’s kind of a brave new world, in which the bandwidth, and the hardware, and the content, are all available and here today,” Mackta said. “It’s not an esoteric, unobtainable ideal like it may have been a few years ago.”  

From the promise of new products to musicians recording in higher-quality audio, the panelists were unanimous in their excitement about where sound is growing.  

“We’ve had pretty crummy audio for a very long time, but now people are [saying] ‘Oh, this sound thing could be pretty big,’” Bloom said.  

Electric car audio

Cutting-edge electric cars will also see cutting-edge audio, the presentation called  “Revolutionizing the Future of Car Audio with Lucid x Dolby”  revealed. 

EV manufacturer Lucid announced that Dolby Atmos will come to a car for the first time, through a deal to bring Atmos to the Lucid Air’s 21-speaker Surreal Sound system.  

“As the first car to integrate Dolby Atmos, Lucid Air delivers an elevated, multi-dimensional sound experience on par with the other innovations at Lucid,” Derek Jenkins, senior VP of design, Lucid Motors, said in the announcement. “The post-luxury experience is not just about beautiful design and next-generation technology; it also speaks to an unmatched in-car experience that engages all the senses.” 

In addition to the Dolby Atmos capability, The Lucid Air will also offer Alexa voice commands.  

MetraAV Partners with Evolution for Canadian Distribution

Evolution and MetraAV Canada

MetraAV has entered into a new partnership with Evolution Home Entertainment Corporation to serve as the company’s master distributor in Canada. Now, MetraAV and its entire family of brands will be available to more than 500 of Evolution’s dealers and retailers throughout Canada.

“We have been waiting for the right opportunity to attack the wire and accessory business for a long time now,” Brad Middleton, National Sales Manager of Evolution, said in a press release. “We have had many opportunities in the past but wanted a full solution partner like MetraAV to bring our dealers compelling products in virtually every category of wire and accessories,” he added.

Jessy Crabb, General Manager of MetraAV, remarks that “this partnership will provide Canadian retailers and integrators with the support and distribution needed to utilize our innovative HDMI cables and electronics, bulk wire, and numerous installation accessories in their residential and commercial AV projects. We are celebrating more than 75 years of innovation. Metra’s reputation as the leading manufacturer of audio products and installation accessories expanded when we formed our home theater and AV division in 2001. Now, we’re excited to grow our network of dealers and retailers in Canada even more with our master distributor, Evolution.”

Alongside the introduction of MetraAV products, Evolution has prepared an aggressive promotional program with low prepaid freight levels, a free iPad promotion based on total sales, and according to Middleton, “Some of the best solutions and prices available to Canadian dealers.”

Canadian dealers can contact Evolution at 416-603-9090 to order or reach out to their local Evolution sales representative for their territory.

BrandSource Summit: Age of Connection

BrandSource Summit 21

Who would have guessed that during a time when we have been told to stay apart that the fundamental action of building connections would determine our success? When sharing space was impossible, retailers innovated to reach customers in novel ways (for some). Garnering many a surprise, sales increased, defying odds. 

At this year’s BrandSource virtual Summit 2021, titled “Double Down,” Jim Ristow, CEO, AVB/BrandSource, explained: “A year ago, we were afraid, and still may be; but rather than let fear grip you, you took action.” At a time when predictions suggested 20- to 30-percent declines for independent retailers, Ristow said BrandSource dealers showed “courage, resilience and adaptability to help drive significant market share gains.” 

Successful retailers took advantage of AVB’s digital marketing and e-commerce platform. “Highly engaged members who embraced it enjoyed a nearly 30 percent increase in business last year and outpaced appliance and furniture industry growth by 15 percent,” Ristow noted. 

Omni-commerce trends that were predicted to gain popularity in 2030 are 10 years ahead of their time, pointed out VP of Merchandising Chad Evans. Certain elements are needed to survive this climate. These include: 

  • Implementing a true omni-commerce shopping experience 
  • Selling an experience, not just product 
  • Focusing on reverse logistics and customer service 
  • Providing instant gratification (with in-stock inventory)
  • Supporting local communities 

AVB’s advanced marketing technology, or MarTech, integrates and manages the online and in-store experience and has assisted members in creating this retail atmosphere much earlier than expected. The rapid shift of focus and energy has paid off. Evans reported that the independent channel has increased  market share fivefold, more than any other point in time. Additionally, BrandSource retail has been outpacing the industry in both appliances and home furnishings. In fact, for first time, big boxes, like Lowes and Home Depot, have fallen below one point of share gain. 

The success brick-and-mortar locations have experienced is not lost on e-commerce giants like Amazon, who are setting up physical locations to further serve their customers, Evans pointed out. Things are not “going back to normal,” he added. “We can survive AND dominate.”  

Continue learning, be a teacher. 

The best way to ‘dominate’ is to continue learning and teaching — a mantra emphasized throughout the Summit. Retailers need to become a “culture of listeners and teachers,” advised Marcus Sheridan, best-selling author of They Ask. You Answer, and founder of River Pools & Spas. “Studies have shown that buyers are 80 percent through the sales process before they actually talk to a salesperson,” he said. 

By addressing customers’ worries and fears head on, you become trusted, he added. For example, dealers need to talk about pain points. According to Sheridan, there are five main subjects that affect every buying decision: 

  • Cost: Explain what drives cost. Don’t be afraid to mention competitors. 
  • Problems: Discussing problems with products results in more business and builds trust. 
  • Comparisons: Speak honestly about product differentiations and let the customer make the decision. 
  • Reviews: Review both pros and cons. 
  • What’s the ‘best’?: Lean in, and give the customer exactly what they want. 

“If you lean into what the customer wants today, you don’t hide from questions, you go at them,” said Sheridan. 

This means getting the “buy-in” from your team; making sure your sales team works closely with the marketing team; and beefing up your digital real estate by hiring someone to manage video production/posting. 

Getting this buy-in can catapult your business. Ryan Avery, best-selling author and keynote speaker, suggested that dealers shift from being “a” leader to “the” leader. 

JL Audio Expands its Clarion Brand Globally

JL Audio Clarion Marine

 JL Audio, Inc. has expanded its exclusive license of the Clarion brand for marine products. The expansion eliminates regional restrictions, and expands marketing, sales and support to encompass powersports and recreational vehicles (RVs). JL Audio exclusively licenses the Clarion Marine brand from France-based Faurecia, a global automotive supplier that recently acquired Clarion Co., Ltd.

“We’ve made some strategic moves with the Clarion Marine brand to help our team reach its sales goals, and despite the many hurdles presented in 2020, we’re on track for record-breaking sales,” JL Audio President, Andy Oxenhorn said in a press release. “We’ve successfully returned Clarion Marine to a leadership position with products that are relevant, well-priced and able to deliver a great customer experience. Now, with an expanded licensing deal, we’re on track to unleashing the brand’s true sales potential globally.”

JL Audio has invested heavily in assembling a team to lead Clarion Marine’s catapult back into the marine audio market. Two new products Clarion’s comeback debuted in summer of 2020 and even more products are set to be released throughout 2021. Clarion also made its comeback in the marine retail channel which has helped establish the brand even further. Going forward, the entire Clarion line will be available to a global network of OEM customers, resellers, and retailers.

“We are proud to expand our strategic licensing agreement with JL Audio,” adds Talal Kakish, president of Faurecia Clarion Electronics North America. “This relationship not only adds value to both companies but enables the end-consumer to benefit from our dynamic, innovative audio technologies.”

Clarion Marine have begun shipping to to authorized retailers in the United States and Europe.

Petra Adds Children’s Educational Robot, ROYBI

Petra Industries adds ROYBI , children's learning robot, to line-up.

Wholesale electronics distributor, Petra Industries, has partnered with ROYBI, developers of the ROYBI Robot—a bilingual educational companion for children and families. The learning robot offers a wide variety features, offering more than 500 lessons in both English and Mandarin. 

According to the company, ROYBI’s mission is to offer children of all ages a personalized, intuitive learning experience. The toy robot assists in creating a “firm educational foundation for children based on their unique learning behaviors.”

ROYBI was named as one of The Best Inventions of 2019 by TIME Magazine. It also has won several tech competitions, including Tech for Good, Indiegogo Pitch CES, and Chamber of Commerce.

Tate Morgan, President of Petra, touts the ROYBI Robot, noting that it “promotes fun, intuitive, and active learning for children.” 

Morgan added: “Our customers looking to offer unique education options for parents and educators will find great success with this smart educational companion.”

Children can learn independently with ROYBI; the product has been drop-tested and is portable.

Visit Petra for ordering info.

Pangea Audio Celebrates 20 Years with Limited Edition Record Doctor VI

Pangea Audio Record Doctor VI
Pangea Audio's Record Doctor VI in high gloss white.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first Record Doctor, Pangea Audio has released a limited edition Record Doctor VI in a high gloss white finish. The audio accessories developer and manufacturer says the refreshed Record Doctor VI will be available beginning in April for $299.95.

“Since its introduction less than two years ago, Record Doctor VI continues to be one of our most successful products,” says Steve Niemi, Director of Global Sales for Pangea Audio, LLC. “Occasionally, our customers ask for finish alternatives, especially white, so we’re offering a limited number of pieces to satisfy these requests.”

The white Record Doctor VI will feature the same high-performance vacuum motor and cleaning strip as before that rivals the most expensive machines on the market. The device remains hand-operated for stability and control for an advanced audiophile-grade record cleaning system.

Some notable changes from the first Record Doctor its most recent rendition are the device’s quiet, cool motor, stain-resistant aluminum top, larger turning knob, and deep-cleaning Clean Sweep fluid applicator brush. Despite these upgrades over the years, the Record Doctor VI kept much of its original design, with a precision roller and a storage tank to remove cleaning fluids.

“The success of the Record Doctor VI is indicative of how music lovers are willing to commit to their love of listening to well-recorded music pressed on vinyl,” added Mr. Niemi. “We’re happy to reward their commitment with a new aesthetic alternative that remains the most efficient and cost-effective way for music lovers to show some love for their favorite vinyl and the gear they use to enjoy it.”

In addition to the new high gloss white finish, the Record Doctor VI will remain available in carbon fiber vinyl and high gloss black.

Profits Surge After OnQ, Fred Meyer Redesign Home Electronics Retail

OnQ has updated the home electronics departments in 11 more Fred Meyer stores across the Pacific Northwest, with plans to update another six locations by the end of 2021.

OnQ, engineer and manufacturer of custom retail displays, and supermarket chain, Fred Meyer, have expanded their partnership to improve customer experiences throughout Fred Meyer’s network of retail stores across the western United States. The companies first worked together on what they describe as a “successful pilot deployment” at Fred Meyer’s “Store of the Future” in Happy Valley, OR. OnQ has updated the home electronics departments in 11 more Fred Meyer stores across the Pacific Northwest, with plans to update another six locations by the end of 2021.

Catherine Mosich, Director of Electronics at Kroger, said in a statement that OnQ has helped store management reimagine the consumer electronics department. She added: “We’ve noticed significant sales lift in these redesigned stores and we’re eager to deploy this new format in additional locations to replicate the shopping experience more broadly throughout the family of Fred Meyer stores.”

It is reported that Fred Meyer is experiencing roughly 92 percent sales lift in the home electronics departments compared to stores that haven’t yet converted to the new store design.

OnQ took a holistic approach to redesigning the entire home electronics department to unify the atmosphere of the entire department. Strong attention was given to applying a consistent design aesthetic throughout, as well as incorporating flexibility to adjust and to reconfigure displays easily as needed. This approach ensures a uniform look, while still allowing for the ability to update with minimal disruption.

The newly redesigned home electronics department blends freestanding tables, in-line displays and end caps that are “inviting” and easy for customers to navigate while comparing products side-by-side. In fact, OnQ actively manages quarterly product refreshes for all the involved brands.

To achieve the desired outcome, OnQ collaborated closely with Fred Meyer as well as consumer electronics manufacturers to ensure proper brand representation throughout. It ensured brands had “creative autonomy” while also keeping the consistency of design.

“Beautiful fixtures, impactful signage and pleasant LED lighting combine to create the balance and design consistency typically only found in high-end specialty retailers,” OnQ described in a statement.

Paul Chapuis, CEO of OnQ, said that the company is grateful Fred Meyer entrusted their home electronics redesign to OnQ. He added: “Together we aligned on a vision for the home electronics department, and our partners at Fred Meyer committed to that vision wholeheartedly and empowered us to create what we believe is the new standard for store-in-store shopping experiences.”

Naim Audio Releases Mu-so 2nd Generation in New Wood Finish

Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation

UK-based audio brand known for combining luxury and performance, Naim Audio, has just released a new Wood Edition of its award-winning Mu-so 2nd Generation wireless speaker system. The speaker’s Ligh Oak finish is comprised of expertly treated Ayous hardwood, lacquered to achieve a timeless aesthetic. The front grille also received a refreshed woven look with a new anodized aluminum tint on the Mu-so heatsink.

“Blending class-leading performance and timeless design with a luxurious new finish, Mu-so Wood Edition is the perfect premium audio companion for homes with classic or contemporary interiors,” said Stuart Brown, Naim Product Manager.

Mu-so Wood Edition is compatible with popular music services like Spotfiy, Connect, TIDAL and Qobuz, and is easily controlled through the Naim app. The speaker’s built-in Chromecast functionality enables further listening options like Deezer, Google Play Music, and more, and provides access to Google Assistant functionalities. Additionally, AirPlay 2 support tacks on Apple Music streaming and Apple Home integration and includes Siri voice control. Mu-so Wood Edition also functions as a standard Bluetooth speaker.

Boosting TV sound is as simple as connecting via HDMI ARC. The Mu-so Wood Edition can be positioned under a TV or virtually anywhere in the home. The speaker’s multiroom capability allows users to stream the same song in perfect sync or play different music in different rooms. Naim’s latest speaker can be paired with its other players and systems either through AirPlay 2 or Chromecast.

The Mu-so Wood Edition in Light Oak is available now for $2,290 on Naim Audio’s website. In addition, the Mu-so 2nd Generation, Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation and Mu-so for Bentley Special Edition models remain available for purchase.

Next Level CEO to Discuss Growth and Changes on Insider Talk

Dealerscope Insider Talk Next Level Distribution

This Wednesday, March 31 at 1 p.m. EST, Dealerscope will welcome Jonathan Elster, CEO of Next Level Distribution, for an episode of Insider Talk hosted lived on Dealerscope’s Facebook page. The trio will discuss the recent changes and exciting new developments happening now at Next Level Distribution.

The company, founded in 1993, is a preferred distributor of Consumer Electronics and 12V products. Next Level Distribution offers custom-tailored supply chain management services suited to meet the priorities and distribution requirements of the e-commerce, Business-to-Business and Business-to-Consumer markets.

Next Level Distribution represents more than 100 leading brands and connects thousands of top name-brand products with thousands of retail partners. They assist with kit packing, pick/pack/ship, order processing, reverse logistics and more, and are backed by 50 years of experience.

We welcome you to tune in to this discussion and ask Jonathan any questions about the business, his role, or the consumer electronics industry in general.

Age Tech: Reshaping Channel Opportunities

Age Tech Seniors
Credit: iStock

The 65+ mature market and the aging-in-place phenomenon are two of the timeliest intertwined trends that offer opportunities across the healthtech and wellness landscape — for brands, innovators, investors and ultimately, the retail channels.

COVID-19 forced seniors to start looking for technology-based solutions more than ever before – as a consequence of being stuck in their homes with the sudden evaporation of direct access to family and/or in-person medical appointments. Loneliness and isolation are forcing them to use devices – and is accelerating the adoption of devices quicker than might have otherwise occurred. Seniors are acquiring digital skills and are more connected to the Internet than ever.

Connected and digital health capabilities are also enabling them to be in 24/7 contact with their caretakers and health providers. Consumer-based solutions and devices are figuratively, and in actuality, ‘lifelines,’ enabling older adults to connect with their communities, friends, and families – while maintaining their quality of life and wellbeing while they live independently and safely.

Boomers Setting the Pace

Even pre-pandemic, Boomers and seniors were increasing their uptake of smartphones, Internet connectivity and digital health devices. The push towards wanting to age in place and have in-home healthcare, if needed, was starting to gain traction, and the momentum increased over the course of 2020 with COVID-19.

Given the massive numbers of the Boomer demographic, this group has always been a force for change. They have always lived their lives ‘their way’ – starting from their more youthful, restless days in the ’60s and ’70s through the Beatles and the ‘Age of Aquarius’ era, and onward. That brings us to 2021, and the desire for most of this group to continue to live full, healthy and autonomous lives in their homes of choice. In addition, their increased life expectancy translates into a larger pool of older consumers, and a larger potential market for products and services aimed at this demographic. This is a huge upside opportunity for the retail channel.

By the Numbers

The 65+ population was the fastest-growing age group in the country over the past decade, swelling by more than a third, according to the U.S. Census. AARP is reporting that 87% of those aged 65+ want to stay in their current homes and community, as they age. Americans over the age of 50 account for $7.6 trillion in direct spending and related economic activity, according to Oxford Economics/AARP. Older adults in the U.S. dominate 119 out of 123 consumer packaged-goods categories, according to Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. And by 2030, more people worldwide will be over 60 than under 10, according to the Milken Institute. Between 2015 and 2030, the 60+ population will generate over half of all urban consumption growth in developed countries.

In addition, rising healthcare costs and health policy in the U.S. is driving care into the home. One such example is Medicare’s 2020 changes in reimbursement for telehealth technology, which has been expanded for 2021. Some Medicare Advantage plans now cover at least one pair of hearing aids – and other categories are coming into sharper focus.

The need for home health aides has never been higher, as more people and their families decided that it was best to keep senior family members at home. The demand far exceeds the supply. Complementing this trend, hospitals placed a greater priority on quickly discharging patients to their homes – rather than making them stay longer or moving them to transitional care or rehab. This is requiring more and different types of monitoring. Technology is seen as the answer to aging in place, and the solution to other stresses on the healthcare system that were exacerbated during the height of the pandemic.

Technology to the Rescue

Technology is liberating boomers, seniors, families and caretakers by connecting care to the home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 29% of U.S. seniors ages 65 and older have used video conferencing services, 27% have used telehealth/remote consultation services, 22% have used a grocery store delivery or pickup service, and 55% have an online video service subscription, according to recent research by Parks Associates.

Unlike in the past, when digital services and devices were viewed as only for the 24/7 connected, convenience-seeking Millennials, they are now a lifeline to many homes and individuals of all ages. COVID-19 has spotlighted the role that our homes play in our health and well-being – and together with a variety of technologies, it has transformed ‘home sweet home’ into platforms by which we access services, experiences, and connect with each other.

Recently, AARP launched the AARP Virtual Community Center – a new online destination where older Americans can find a wide array of free online classes and events – including from N.Y.-based OATS – Older Adults Technology Services. “Their [OATS’s] expertise and high-quality programming are lifelines for older people as they explore new ways to live, cope and thrive in a changing world,” said Scott Frisch, AARP executive VP and CEO. “The role of technology in reducing social isolation and providing a platform for engagement has never been clearer,” commented OATS Executive Director Tom Kamber.

Categories and Products

At CES 2021, AARP Innovation Labs showcased products and apps that help people actively and independently age in place in their homes and communities. Here are a few such companies and products.

Zibrio SmartScale – This is a scale that uses a highly sensitive algorithm to measure one’s postural stability and risk of falling, in a 60-second standing test, with eyes open. Users can test their balance on a Zibrio scale to establish a baseline, encourage appropriate intervention like a balance exercise program, and keep tracking balance to see how well the intervention is working, since it comes with the Zibrio Balance Coach app. Zibrio’s patented BioCore balance measurement technology is based on 15 years of research on astronauts, athletes and older adults.

Nobi Monitoring – Nobi looks like an ordinary ceiling-mounted lamp, but it’s packed full of motion and RGB sensors, AI and other tech to help seniors live independently and more safely. It’s a “smart” lamp that will literally watch over an aging family member, and monitors when a person is sitting, laying down or standing – and even illuminates dark rooms when a parent wakes up at an odd hour to go to the bathroom.

While the lamp can detect falls, ask you if everything is okay and if not, send alerts to quickly get help to a caretaker or trusted contact, it’s also meant to prevent falls with activity monitoring and helpful reminders like hydration, reporting fire, or detecting intrusion. It doesn’t require a telephone – and if necessary, Nobi will even open the front door. Nobi debuted at CES 2021 and is expected to be ready for European countries soon.

Caregiver Smart Solution/Aging in Place – This is a smart caregiver solution or wellness monitor that provides insight into a senior’s activity at home or in assisted living communities. The Core Kit includes a downloadable app, a smart hub and small, non-intrusive sensors that are placed discreetly around a home. The collected data is fed into the AI and machine-learning-based app for early detection of potential health issues – and it’s available to the caregiver or family members. This wellness monitor seeks to understand and track normal daily routines, such as if a person is eating, sleeping normally and moving around – and can detect behavioral symptoms of physical changes. Its fall detection and emergency buttons can instantaneously alert the caregiver for immediate help. In addition, the app maintains the history of alerts sent to the caregiver – which can also help answer questions from the doctor.

Samsung/Sight & Hearing Impairment – We all know of Samsung’s reputation for its diverse line of technologically advanced products – but did you know that many of its products also include accessibility features? Declining sight and/or hearing often comes with age or with other conditions. At CES 2021, Samsung introduced its SeeColors Application and Sign Language Zoom Feature across its 2021 range of Neo QLED, Micro LED, and Lifestyle TVs. The SeeColors application helps those with sight challenges better view billions of colors. The app is designed to help those with Color Vision Deficiency to adjust the color settings on their Samsung QLED TVs to meet their individual needs. Samsung also showed off the ability to invert colors on a menu. It leaves the video as it is, but makes it easier for people who are low-vision to see the menu options. In partnership with scientists at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Samsung has adopted the Colorlite Test, or C-test, within the SeeColors app to recognize a user’s CVD levels and then automatically optimize their viewing experience.

Similarly, while declining hearing often comes with aging, there are also those with other types of hearing and accessibility challenges. Accordingly, Samsung also introduced its Sign Language Zoom and Caption Moving features across its 2021 Neo QLED, Micro LED, and lifestyle TVs. Its Sign Language Zoom automatically recognizes and magnifies the sign language area for the hearing-impaired by up to 200%. Users can specify a sign language area and adjust the magnification by zooming in on the area, as well as move the captions to avoid blocking the subtitle text.

These latest apps and features join existing accessibility functionality on Samsung devices like its Galaxy S21. This smartphone supports a wide range of offerings for visual impairment, hearing impairment, and dexterity and mobility issues.

Condition Management: Spotlight on Hearing

Hearing loss is a silent ‘epidemic’ that has been spreading during the last few decades – and it’s not limited to Grandpa. It currently affects more than 1.2 billion people worldwide, disabling 480 million. Hearing loss is related to quality of life, learning abilities, work productivity, and some health conditions – and lately there might be indirect links between hearing loss and COVID-19.

Until recently, the solution for hearing loss was expensive hearing aids, only available through ‘prescription.’ Over the past three years or so, however, this has changed, thanks to a new set of chips and technologies that are enabling the emergence of less expensive personal sound amplification devices (PSADs), distributed through mainstream retail channels – and they represent an ever-growing new revenue opportunity.

Advancing technology inspired by smartphones, even these less-expensive hearing aids ensure that the sound going into one’s ear is clearer, not just louder. They offer sound and speech processing, digital noise and wind noise reduction, plus improved management of those annoying high-pitched feedback screeches, squeals and whistles. They include AI and machine learning to analyze a wearer’s environment and their level of hearing loss, and to automatically make adjustments. They also include varied, non-obtrusive and discreet smaller sizes, and rechargeable batteries as well as Bluetooth streaming capability from a smartphone, computer or TV. Some include fall detection, or act as a fitness tracker when used with a smartphone.

These devices in a variety of form factors are coming from companies like Wehear Hearing Solutions, HeardThat from Singular Hearing, Absolute Audio Labs, Wear&Hear from Alango Technologies, Rexton, Lucid Audio, Soundwear and others. Olive Union blends hearing aids with wireless earbuds.

Companies like Alango Technologies, with its Wear&Hear line, even offer in-store kiosks for express hearing checks that provide results on the spot. Currently, the kiosk is available in seven languages including English, Hebrew, Russian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Arabic and Dutch.

Related to hearing aids are also other devices that amplify sound, such as an amplified ringer or the visual flasher from Krown, or the portable telephone handset amplifier from Clarity.

These assisted-hearing devices represent major new revenue streams in the senior marketplace given the rising Boomer demographic and sheer size of this aging population – and insurance reimbursement is increasing for a number of these devices.

Starting several years ago – pre-pandemic – tech companies began to see the advantages of designing devices particularly aimed at seniors. Getting these connected and digital health products, services and technologies into the homes of Boomers and older adults is under way, and they offer vast market opportunities for industry players and channels – particularly for those companies and channels already with a footprint in the home.

The trend is clear. While the pandemic has wrought great tragedy, anguish and destruction, one of the ‘positive’ trends to emerge from this devastation is that it has accelerated the adoption of consumer-based digital health-related devices, gadgets, systems and services particularly for aging populations.

Now is the time for retail channels to explore and deliver products relevant to now – and to create and accelerate the strategic framework and initiatives for an ongoing future. Look around your communities. Digital health opportunities for an aging population abound – whether at retail, via e-commerce or big-box stores, for in-home convenience and functionality, or for integrators who can create healthier smart homes – or on a B2B basis selling to Visiting Angels or to local assisted-living facilities.

People are aging in the comfort of their homes and are looking for consumer-based technology solutions that deliver better health outcomes at reduced costs – while also improving connectivity between themselves and others. Delivering smart digital health solutions that make their lives more comfortable, safe, and enjoyable with the added benefits of instantaneous responsiveness gives their caretakers a peace of mind – and this offers you new business development opportunities and revenue streams. This makes age tech a win–win for everyone!

To continue the dialogue, reach out to susan@c4trends.com

Geo-Conquesting: Mobile Marketing on Your Competitor’s Turf

Geo-conquesting mobile marketing
Credit: iStock

The best place to find new customers is to target individuals already shopping with your competition. Geo-fencing your competitor’s actual retail location allows you to send mobile ads to qualified people in the market for products and services like yours.

Geo-fencing lets brands bring true, real-time location-targeting to omnichannel marketing. With it, you can target mobile device users in specific locations with ads that speak directly to where they are and what they’re doing. And it’s an especially powerful tactic when you put that fence around competing retail locations.

Today, we’re looking closely at a particular tactic, geo-conquesting, and how it can let you reach people in your competitors’ spaces.

When Geo-Fencing Becomes Geo-Conquesting

Geo-fencing uses the location data of mobile phones to target people based on where they are or the places they’ve been to recently. When you overlay this with demographic data, it lets you access a lot of powerful marketing techniques. For example, simply adding geo-location to quick-service restaurant ads can double their effectiveness.

But geo-conquesting goes beyond location and demographics to add an element of behavioral targeting to your campaign. You can get very local with geo-fencing, down to about a store or room footprint, which allows you to target the area around specific retail locations. And you can absolutely use that to target places where you know people are interacting with your competitors.

We’ve found this to be a very successful tactic for businesses like quick-service restaurants (coffee shops, pizza parlors, etc.), supermarkets, clothing stores and fitness studios. Any location-based business where you’re competing for local consumers is a great opportunity for this kind of mobile behavioral targeting.

That’s why we call it “geo-conquesting:” It’s a chance to win highly contested consumer segments away from your competition.

This is where demographics comes back into the equation, because you wouldn’t want to waste budget targeting these ads at people who still aren’t a good fit for your business. For example, you probably don’t want to send them to the employees there.

By layering demographic data and modeling on top of geo-fencing, we can screen out location employees, people who are out of your target audience, and others who you don’t want to hit with paid ads.

Altogether, this is a powerful new way to, essentially, poach customers from the competition. Here are a couple of ways brands are using it in the field.

Dunkin’ Donuts Makes Breakfast a Battleground

We mentioned that geo-conquesting is a great tool for coffee shops, and Dunkin’ Donuts put that to the test. Rather than target existing customers, the international coffee chain wanted to aim for consumers who were either loyal to other coffee shops or vacillated between different breakfast shops.

The key to the Dunkin’ strategy was to get on those consumers’ smartphones. They knew once they had an app download or mobile phone numbers, then it would be much easier to convince those consumers to come to Dunkin’ over the competition, moving forward.

The campaign was designed to target breakfast consumers who had visited a competing location in the past 30 days. That audience saw banner ads in mobile apps and websites visited on their phones that offered $1 and $2 cups of coffee. Once clicked, they got a code to redeem for the coffee and directions to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.

About a third of the customers who clicked through took further actions, and 3.6 percent redeemed the coupons.

Whole Foods Gives Shoppers Reason to Go Out of Their Way

Whole Foods Market is a relatively new national supermarket with stores all over the U.S. (and internationally, as well). But in many places in the U.S., it does not have the same level of store coverage as other supermarket chains. Therefore, the limiting factor keeping people from shopping at Whole Foods is often traveling the extra distance to get to their stores. So, their goal was to approach customers of other supermarkets and entice them to go the extra mile to a Whole Foods store.

Whole Foods already had a geo-fencing campaign around its own stores, but then it also put geo-fences around competing supermarkets in the same regions as those stores. They then targeted customers in those locations with mobile ads that incentivized them with steep discounts to go the extra distance to get to the Whole Foods store. And they did! The campaign saw a 4.69 percent post-click conversion rate compared to the national average of 1.43 percent.

Mobile Marketing That Wins Market Share

These are just a few of the ways brands are using geo-conquesting to target competitors’ customers at the local, personal level, but it’s also a glimpse into the future of advertising.

As long as we continue to make personal connected devices a part of our lives, the opportunities for targeted, personalized, omnichannel marketing will continue to multiply. And the brands that use these new tools the best will win over their competitors for customers, market share and ROI.

Kanto Stands Take its Speaker Sound to the Next Level

Kanto Speaker Stands

My mailman had his work cut out for him the day three sets of Kanto speaker stands arrived at my house. Before I was even able to open the box, I could tell these stands were the types of products that last a lifetime, simply judging by how heavy they felt. As I opened each box, I could see that the design of the products would withstand the test of time as well.

SP6HDW 6” Desktop Stands

Kanto offers two desktop stand options to elevate the look (and sound) of their speakers. The 6” set works well with their YU6 and TUK speakers, or really any 4” to 7” speakers while the 9” set goes best with the their YU2, YU4, or other 3” to 4” speakers. Setup was relatively quick and simple thanks to the detailed instructions and included Allen keys. Once assembled, the heavy steel structure kept my YU speakers grounded and they didn’t feel like they were going to topple over easily. The stands do offer 30 degrees of rotation, but you’ll have to unscrew the top plates to achieve a different angle. Foam feet on the bottom of the stands keep them from sliding and ensure no scuff marks are left on your desk when you need to reposition them. The cords are kept cleverly tucked away in the center of each stand for a cleaner look. The most attractive setup, it seems, is to accompany the elevated speakers with a stand for your desktop as well. Although Kanto doesn’t offer a desktop stand (yet, at least), you can get started on boosting your computer audio with a set of these stands for $60 for the 6” or $80 for the 9”.

The SP Series Floor Stands

The higher and highest speaker stands from Kanto are the SP26 and SP32 floor stands. Both sizes are available in black and white options and feature the same, heavy-duty steel as their desktop counterparts. Tall stands like these are definitely more prone to toppling over if they’re bumped into, but Kanto carefully considered this risk in the design process. Interchangeable spiked and rubber dome feet ensure the stands remain securely in place whether you have carpeted or hardwood flooring. My charging toddler bumped into one of the stands and it started to wobble but it stood firm and didn’t fall down. Just like the desktop stands, the SP Series includes two plates to accommodate different-sized speakers, all of which can support 30 lbs. The 26” set runs for $130 while the 32” set comes in at $140 – both relatively affordable price points for stands of this caliber.

Dealerscope’s UNBOXED review of the Kanto YU6 Speakers featuring the SP32 Floor Stands.

Nationwide’s 2nd Virtual PrimeTime Saw Sizable Gains

Nationwide Marketing Group Virtual PrimeTime

Under the theme “Better. Faster. Stronger.,” Nationwide Marketing Group hosted its second Virtual PrimeTime event that was equal parts educational and opportunistic. The three-day event, held March 16-18, tackled topics including appliances, marketing, selling to women, and more, and was all-around well-received with the numbers to prove it.

Over 2,500 attendees logged into the Virtual PrimeTime platform, including more than 1,400 representatives from over 1,100 member companies. Of the 100 free-to-attend Nationwide Learning Academy sessions and keynote presentations, members attended more than 34,000 total sessions, representing an increase of 112 percent over the October Virtual PrimeTime show. On average, attendees viewed 110 minutes of education and attended roughly 12.5 sessions each during the show. For the next month, these numbers will continue to rise as Nationwide offers these sessions on-demand for its members.

“This isn’t the time to go dark,” Nationwide Chief Member Advocate Tom Hickman told members during the State of Nationwide address. “This is the time to make sure your website is the best and most engaging in your market. This is the time to make sure your brand is competing for awareness and a place in the consumer’s conscience. What you invest today isn’t just about driving traffic this weekend. Today’s investment pays off weeks and months down the road – or even a year from now.”

On the vendor side, booth visits rose nearly 20 percent and retailer orders are already on pace to surpass the October Virtual PrimeTime, which saw more than $3 million in Cash Back rewards doled out to dealers. The return of PrimeTime Palooza during Virtual PrimeTime contributed to this increased spend by engaging attendees with show specials and limited-time purchasing opportunities.

Ending the show on a high note, Nationwide split a grand cash prize of $100,000 between 20 of its members. The Bed Store was also presented $10,000 to put toward a cause of their choice.

“Virtual PrimeTime has enabled us to remain connected with our members during the pandemic and offer them the best possible education, networking and buying opportunities while staying socially distanced,” adds Nationwide’s Vice President of Member Experience Melissa Stenson. “That said, while PrimeTime will continue to have some virtual aspect moving forward, we can’t wait to meet with our members again in person and are eagerly looking forward to our next PrimeTime show in Nashville in August.”

New Gaming & Home Entertainment Projectors Unveiled from Optoma

Optoma has released new 4K UHD home entertainment and gaming projectors—UHD35 and UHD38

Optoma, manufacturer of 4K UHD projection technology, has introduced new 4K UHD home entertainment and gaming projectors—the UHD35 and the UHD38, which feature the latest TI DLP® technology and enhanced response times. The new models have been certified through the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®. Features include True 4K UHD, with full 8.3 million on-screen pixels, which is, reportedly, four million more pixels than rivaling 4K Pro UHD projectors, which do not meet the official 4K UHD industry standard. 

For the full story, visit Connected Design.

Driving Real Traffic with Virtual Tours 

Retail Virtual Tours
Credit: iStock

Virtual tours can be a powerful branding tool, but they aren’t something retailers always consider in their marketing efforts. One of the most likely reasons for this is because they want customers to actually come in. After all, that’s why they have a storefront and not just an online business. But virtual tours may end up being beneficial in the long run, especially as many stores remain operating under capacity limits.  

A research study conducted by the International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management in May 2020 found that virtual tours enhanced store equity and promoted store visit intentions. Participants were shown virtual tour stimuli and then asked to complete an online survey. The results showed that sensory and behavioral experiences directly increased intentions to visit the store, whereas intellectual and emotional experiences promoted visit intentions via enhanced brand equity.  

So how do you get started in creating one of these things?  

Setting Up a Virtual Tour 

Well, despite popular belief, making a virtual tour isn’t quite as hard as you’d think and you certainly don’t need a professional film crew to do so (unless of course your budget allows; then go for it). One way to whip up a virtual tour of your store is with a smartphone and a Google Business listing.   

Using the Google Street View app, you can take a series of photos that can be stitched together to form a 360-degree field of view. Google offers some guidance on making the 360 photos look seamless and also lets you keep trying until you get it just right. If you want to take it up a notch, you can purchase a 360 camera relatively cheaply, or even hire a professional who specializes in Google Street photography.  

To further enhance a virtual tour, you can also add image overlays to highlight certain aspects of your store or showroom. A rich, 2D image can call attention to a specific product and list further details like price, availability, etc.  

Google says listings with photos and a virtual tour are twice as likely to generate interest. To add to that, listings with photos and tours motivate customers to make a purchase 29 percent of the time.  

Getting people in the door used to be half the battle when it came to retailing but now, and especially during the pandemic, creating a strong digital presence, establishing trust, and meeting customers where they are has proven to be of equal importance.  

Industry Awards Bestowed Upon Signature Kitchen Suite

Signature Kitchen Suite's 36-in Duel-Fuel Pro Range with Sous Vide and Induction cooktop
The 36-inch dual fuel pro range with sous vide, induction and gas has received accolades from Architectural Digest.

Signature Kitchen Suite recently received two top industry awards in “recognition of innovative product design, including the “must-have innovation the brand is known for: sous vide technology,” the company said in a statement. 

Architectural Digest (AD) honored the Signature Kitchen Suite 36-inch Dual-Fuel Pro Range with Sous Vide, Induction, and Gas with a 2021 AD Great Design Award. 

Along with the accolades from AD, the Signature Kitchen Suite 48-inch Dual-Fuel Pro Rangetop, which also features built-in sous vide, earned “30 Most Innovative Kitchens & Bath” Award from Beautiful Kitchen & Baths magazine. According to the company, “the recognition spotlights editors’ picks for their most impressive new kitchen and bath design products introduced in the past year.”

For the full story, visit Connected Design.

ECOVACS DEEBOT N8 Pro+: Deep Cleaning Without Lifting a Finger

ECOVACS DEEBOT N8 Pro+ Robot Vacuum

Home health experts recommend vacuuming your home at least twice a week, and possibly even more often in high-traffic areas. The same goes for mopping. Some households might be able to swing that but for many, these chores are best saved for the weekend, unless, of course, you have a household companion that could accomplish both of these tasks whenever you needed. 

Enter the ECOVACS DEEBOT N8+ and N8 Pro+, the latest in the company’s N-Series of robot vacuums with OZMO mopping. The N8+, the company says, is best suited as a daily cleaning companion while the N8 Pro+ offers a more aggressive daily deep clean. 

Dealerscope had the opportunity to review the N8 Pro+ that retails for $699. 

Unlike some of ECOVACS’ previous releases, the N8 Pro+ comes equipped with an Auto-Empty Station that can hold several months’ worth of dirt before it needs to be emptied – an add-on that used to cost an additional $250. 

The company also boosted the vacuum’s suction power to 2600 Pa, one of the most powerful suction capabilities at retail. Even with all that might, the noise level was kept to a minimum, and sounded no louder than a standard air conditioning unit. 

Considering the increased suction power and the added convenience of the emptying station, the N8 Pro+ seems to be the most effective and cost-friendly option we’ve seen yet from ECOVACS. 

But it doesn’t stop there. 

The improved TrueMapping technology is powered by a dToF laser sensor commonly found in drones and self-driving cars. That means the N8 Pro+ has better obstacle detection and collision avoidance – a necessity in a house with small children. Even if they leave their shoes lying on the floor or forget to put away their toys, the N8 Pro+ navigates around these obstacles to provide a thorough clean. 

Although you can get away with leaving a few items in the N8 Pro+’s path during a vacuuming session, it is best to pick up all items on the floor when switched to mopping mode or you may just end up with some wet shoes. In most instances, though, you can rest assured that your carpet will stay dry. OZMO’s carpet detection is paired with virtual boundaries that can be created in the ECOVACS app, which allows for greater piece of mind while the N8 Pro+ tackles the floors. 

ECOVACS says the OZMO Mopping System can remove up to 99.26 percent of bacteria from the floor. While the N8 Pro+ is not ideal for caked-on messes — it’s certainly not on the same level as hands-and-knees type of scrubbing — it does leave a nice shine, and the evidence of its abilities is clear from the mopping pad. 

The N8 Pro+ seemed to have no issue handling several different types of floors it was presented with, including laminate, hardwood, throw rugs, and deep pile carpet. There were a few instances when the vacuum struggled to climb a decent sized lip connecting my kitchen and the dining room, but it was able to transition from hardwood to rug easily every time. 

The vacuum was also able to accurately detect which type of floor it was on and adjust accordingly, but the ECOVACS app allows you to take it a step further. To optimize cleaning efficiency, you can assign cleaning modes to different rooms within the app so every part of the home gets the attention it needs. 

This all-in-one floor cleaner has allotted me more time for other daily chores and created a much healthier living environment. I’ll probably always hang onto the old-fashioned methods of dustpans and mops, but with the N8 Pro+, I find that I am reaching for them far less. 

How the New Normal Has Shaped Warranty Sales

Warranty Sales COVID

Dealerscope’s collection of warranty executive comments this month center around each company’s strategies for 2021 in answer to the challenges and changing market dynamics presented by the ongoing pandemic. Respondents addressed the following:

Dealerscope: In what major ways has the pandemic – which has influenced consumer behaviors and purchasing patterns as they relate to consumer technology products – influenced warranty sales at the CE and appliance dealers you do business with in 2021? What are you emphasizing in your offerings to dealers that they can use to effectively make the case for warranty purchases to consumers?

AIG

James Mostofi, Global Head of Business Development, Warranty & Services Div.

The pandemic significantly impacted the way we work and attend school. This migration to working at home and virtual schooling drove increased sales of home computing, home networking, home furnishings, home appliances, and the need to protect them. At the same time, sales of products shifted from in-store to online. AIG’s first emphasis was to ensure that our clients’ online purchase path was well marketed, well displayed, and easy to execute, to ensure customer awareness of warranty products. We also modified our warranty product offerings to include emerging “IoT” needs like maintaining high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity, monitoring cyber intrusions and enhancing the protection of confidential information.


Allstate Protection Plans

Karl Wiley, President and CEO

With the increase of people working and learning from home during the pandemic, there has been a corresponding increase in demand for products like electronics and appliances. Given the added importance of these items to our everyday lives, demand for protection plans has surged. We’ve also seen consumers gravitate towards brands they trust, like Allstate — another reason our purchase frequency has increased.

Over the past year, we’ve focused on the safety and support of our customers, employees and partners. This includes COVID-19 safe repair and replacement options, as well as remote tech support and troubleshooting. Our ability to deliver in-home repairs quickly, typically in one visit, has also been important for our partners — as getting their customers’ appliances and TVs fixed fast has been critical.


Arch Insurance Group

Brian J. Olson, VP of Sales, Arch Warranty and Lender Solutions (AWLS)

I believe the pandemic has caused some in the consumer electronics and appliance space to react the way automotive OEMs and dealers responded coming out of the 2008 financial crisis.  

During that time, just like today, declining consumer confidence and margin erosion were driving forces. To combat this, there was a renewed focus on protection plan and service contract design. This meant more coverage options, more consumer-friendly terms, and the mindset of presenting protection options 100% of the time to 100% of customers.  Protection plans became a true profit center.

We are new to the consumer space, but we have lived this before. As a pure underwriting partner, Arch delivers the resources needed to help our partner clients execute on their protection plan strategies.


Assurant

Jeff Unterreiner, President, US Connected Living

The customer experience has never been more vital than it has been during the pandemic. As social distancing and safety precautions altered the in-store shopping and purchase habits of many consumers it became clear that CE and appliance companies had to leverage digital self-service tools to give customers options, meeting people where they are most comfortable. The ability for customers to easily contact warranty services and get a quick, convenient resolution will be vital to driving warranty sales and ensuring customer loyalty in 2021. It’s also important to offer a friendly, empathetic voice in challenging times. Many customers continue to let us know that they appreciate the compassionate service.


Asurion

Rob DiRocco, Senior VP of Client Services and Sales

The pandemic has made people keenly aware of the important role their home tech and appliances play in keeping them connected and their daily life running smoothly. Now more than ever, customers value the ability to get a fast repair, replacement and support.

We’re helping clients deliver this for their customers. We’ve expanded our network of fast, local repair options through over 600 uBreakiFix locations. We’ve also expanded our same-day, come-to-you device repair and replacement to quickly help customers without them having to leave the safety or convenience of home. Finally, we’ve launched with several clients, Asurion Home+, the industry’s first extended warranty product that not only covers all of the customer’s most important home tech in one program but also provides unlimited support services. 


Centricity

Chris Penn, Vice President, Client Services

As product purchasing has shifted more towards online, we continue to work with our partners on optimizing their protection plan offerings via digital methods.

We are not specifically focusing on different messaging that explains the benefits of a service contract, rather we are focusing on alternate methods that simulate more of a face-to-face interaction so we can help drive similar attachment rates as we’ve traditionally seen in-store. This includes the incorporation of detailed pop-ups offerings, comprehensive product protection landing pages, and videos that educate the consumer on the benefits of the protection plan they are being offered. In addition, the rise in BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) has provided another consumer touchpoint for us to offer protection plans.


Clyde

Brandon Gell, CEO & Co-Founder

The migration from in-person to online sales was universally expected, but 2020 accelerated that process. eCommerce sales just experienced its largest year-over-year increase of all-time, and at Clyde we’ve observed a noticeable increase in consumer electronics spending as well as an uptick in kitchen appliances sales. As impressive as eCommerce sales figures have been, warranty attachment rates through our platform have even outpaced that rapid growth. We tracked a doubling of warranty attachment rates for appliances and a 60% increase for consumer electronics. To encourage sustained growth, we’ve emphasized clear, customizable calls-to-action and a fast, easy claims experience and work with all of our partners to maximize the effectiveness of their checkout process.


Extend

Woodrow H. Levin, CEO

As a result of the pandemic, eCommerce sales grew to over 16% of all retail sales in the past 10 months. Merchants were forced to devote even more resources to providing customers with the options they wanted to see when shopping online. Adding product protection during the checkout process is a growing trend which follows the success of the Buy Now Pay Later plug-in.

Offering customers product protection drives incremental revenue, and gives customers greater peace of mind, which results in higher product purchase conversion rates sitewide. In the last year, we saw the integration of our extended warranty platform prioritized by merchants because Extend’s API-first solution is easy to integrate, and costs merchants nothing to implement. Similarly, we also saw a significant uptick in our protection plan attach rates – more customers are buying extended warranties due to the increased uncertainty in the world around us. 


Fortegra

Leigh Mascherin, VP of Warranty Sales & Account Management

We saw an overall increase in the sale of electronics and appliances as a result of the pandemic. This was to be expected with stimulus checks and people spending more time at home. What we didn’t expect was the increase in attachment rates. The pandemic, political unrest and economic uncertainty caused elevated anxiety levels for consumers. Extended service contracts are one way shoppers can reduce the uncertainty or risk related to a major purchase. The other important lesson we learned about warranty solutions going into 2021 is that in times of crisis people seek simplicity, especially when making purchasing decisions. In 2021, we are recommending simplified pricing structures and straightforward terms.


Mack Worldwide Warranty

Jennifer Monasterio, President

We now live in a world that has forgone dramatic changes for everyone. Due to these changes, our lives will never be the same. The retail market is no different. Of these changes, the biggest struggle that our retailers are facing is shipment delays and lack of inventory from manufacturers. Now, as we look into 2021, it is presumed that these shortages and interruptions will continue throughout the first half of the year. Therefore, the ability to enable our retail partners to optimize every sales opportunity is more essential than ever. Further, the overall success of our warranty program relies on customer satisfaction. As a result, we have decided to focus on discovering new ways to support all the product lines that our dealers carry in an effort to support their success during these trying times.


OnPoint Warranty Solutions LLC

Chris Smith, CEO

The pandemic has obviously impacted consumers, and our retail dealers as a result. However, the results were not quite as we expected. OnPoint has seen an increase in extended warranty sales through our dealer channels, both in consumer direct sales, and in commercial and educational sales. In this time of uncertainty when consumers have doubt about the future, extended warranties make sense, because they are all about risk avoidance, and protection from unexpected costs. Likewise, we’re seeing a huge jump in OEM contract sales. Consumers nested during the pandemic for obvious reasons, and all of those home projects translated to a spike in appliance, electronics, mobile device and computing sales. We’ve even seen a huge increase in furniture sales. Now we’ve all heard about the delays in shipments across the board. However, our warranty platform enables us to accommodate the shipment time, or shelf life, if you will, so that consumers are protected from the date of receipt.

One additional impact that we were really surprised by was the impact on out-of-warranty repair requests and service delivery. Not all consumers bought new. Those more severely impacted by COVID repaired rather than replaced products. So, OnPoint saw an increase on our on-demand repair services. Conversely, the service network seems to have been greatly impacted. There was simply more volume of repair requests, based on the rise in fix versus replace, but there were also delays in part shipments, which caused backlogs. Additionally, we saw a measurable percentage of technicians that were infected by COVID that negatively impacted service capacity, as well as an increase in consumer delays. Some consumers delayed service appointments because they were unwilling to allow a non-family member into their household.

What a wild ride this last year has been. However, OnPoint and our dealers, service providers and consumers have weathered it better than expected.


Personal Safeguards Group, LLC

Michael Frosch, President

PSG has long advocated for retailers and OEMs to take control of their service contract program from third-party providers. Great options exist to in-source customer care, product development and underwriting profit while outsourcing regulatory items to an existing licensed entity.

The pandemic rapidly advanced the movement to online shopping in the appliance and CE categories, requiring new engagement models, and the swift business shutdown dramatically impacted the customer experience as some third-party providers simply weren’t ready to serve your customers.  

Two important questions for retailers and OEMs:  Are you important to your current provider, and who better to take care of your customer – a third party, or you?


ProtectAll

Michele Gloeckler, Vice President of Sales

In 2020, we went from a normal environment of business as usual to life in lockdown due to the pandemic.  During that time, we saw how quarantine changed businesses and consumer buying behavior forever. Non-essential businesses were forced to close temporarily, store hours and foot traffic were reduced, and manufacturers struggled to fill orders. This new remote life forced all businesses to either adapt or join the thousands that had no choice but to close their doors. 

Luckily, we safely and effectively began working remotely while taking this time to look at our products, our partners, and ourselves. Under the new leadership of Kevin Rupkey, we re-branded as ProtectAll™ and became laser focused on buying behaviors. By investing in consumer panels, we were able to target, critique, and expand our product offerings. 

These efforts were augmented with virtual trainings to teach not only about protection plans, but also, about new, contactless buying habits.  Even though consumers seemed to purchase fewer major products, they were more inclined to protect those purchases which drove sales. While quarantine might have driven this new culture, we chose to embrace it.  In our opinion, this has positioned both us and our partners in the forefront of 2021.

A Store Visit with Leon Temiz, CEO, Electronics Expo

Leon Temiz, CEO of Electronics Expo

How and when did your retail store start? How many stores do you have? You also have an online store. What is the main difference between your online operation and your local showrooms?


Leon Temiz: Electronics Expo began in 2003, about 17 years now. This store we are in, we just built. We have another store in Union, N.J. Our headquarters are close by in Wayne, N.J., as are our distribution center and our offices. We publish our catalogues four quarters every year, and we mail them to our customer list. We have them available in the stores, and also when we do online sales, when we send out the packages, we insert the catalogues as well. We print about 100,000 of these catalogues. And it works for selling, but it also does a couple of other things: we are keeping the connection to our customers that way, when you show them new models and ideas about what is going on with us. In our new one that we are going to print, we include a lot of store pictures; then, customers can come and see the store, where all the items are on display. We have our retail stores, we have our on-site locations, and also we do third-party selling with Amazon, Walmart and other key partners. With Amazon, we have [collected] 180,000 reviews – that is very impressive, and we have 5-star ratings. Customer service is incredibly important to us. We have a very educated salesforce on the fl oor. If customers have an issue with their speaker or receiver, they can call our 800 number and talk to sales. Its not only about selling online; it is also very much about service for the customers. The main difference is, there are still a lot of consumers out there who really want to feel it and touch it, here in the store – especially if you buy high-end speakers, they need to hear the differences. Online, virtually, it would be impossible to hear the difference, and you’d have to order five different speakers, to listen at home to compare – and you cannot do that. The reason why people still come to our retail location is the experience – seeing, touching, feeling, experiencing the differences – and to get the educated opinion of our salesforce.


What makes your retail business unique from others?

Leon Temiz: Number One is our store design. In our stores we literally have created a very, very comfortable atmosphere. The store is designed to not only have listening area and a sound room where you can compare speaker to speaker. We also have a total home theater. We have so many customers coming in, saying, “I want to have exactly this.” And not only do we provide electronics; we provide shading, lighting systems, an indoor/outdoor product experience including lighting – we offer total solutions. So when the customer comes in and says they want everything, we get it done. We also work with contractors, if they need special cabinets, who can build it for them as well as offering ready-to-go furniture, as you see, in the stores.

What are the top three things that you have done that have contributed most to your success?


Leon Temiz: Customer service is very important, and makes for the consistent basis that we have, talking to our customers. In the 17 years that we are in business, we have had a quarter of a million local customers who have shopped with us, in New Jersey. We constantly direct-mail the catalogues that we have – over 50 pages, and of first-class design, and they are very informative. Nothing in the catalogue says, “this is on sale” or “on discount.” This is not a price-driven business that we have. As much as we can, we educate our customers. If there is something new, let’s say 8K TV, if the customer has bought a 2K or 4K TV, immediately, we will send emails asking if he wants to upgrade his system – and we invite him to come in and see the differences. These are a lot of components to customer relationships; each of them helps us, so that our customers come back in to our shops. It is great that you decided to open a new store during the pandemic.

What made you decide to do this?


Leon Temiz: Retail is an important part of our business, and in the longer term, we still believe in retail. It is important to have a store presence, especially with the products that we sell, and the way we merchandise them; it is a niche that we believe is still important to have. A lot of our customers who come to our stores get ideas from them. That is why we [are so successful in promoting the building of] home offices, conference rooms and home cinemas. It gives them the idea, and causes them to think, “Oh, wow; I did not know about this. I want it.” It generates additional business for us.


Is there anything special that makes the new store unique?


Leon Temiz: This is the newer, updated version of our existing store. The color scheme is more down to earth. The other store also has sound rooms, but we took this store to the next level. And we took some of the best ideas and transferred them to the other store.


What are other goals have you set for yourself this year?


Leon Temiz: We did a lot of events prior to the pandemic. We had a lot of manufacturers coming in. What we did is, we introduced all the new lines in our stores. We had wine and cheese, we invited our top-level customers and at the same time we demonstrated new products. That generates a lot of people coming in. Right now, as soon as we are done, we will be having a Grand Opening event. If it is possible, we want to do it in March. Whatever the limit of people allowed to come is, we will follow it. In this large store, 30 to 40 people is probably allowed.

Do you expect to be promoting any new product trends in your stores?


Leon Temiz: Right now, as I think of it, we are going into the summer season, so, outdoors. We find more and more people, since they are not traveling, are looking for outdoor TVs and outdoor lighting as you see in the showroom. That kind of thing is important. And since we got into the indoor and outdoor lighting systems category, we are not only in the electronics business, but we are also in the home interior living business. It’s lifestyle; we offer different kinds of furniture, cabinets, automated shading.

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


Leon Temiz: Our next thing is, we also do security systems and cameras, so we may be getting involved in alarm systems, in subcontracting alarm systems. We are already installing a range of these types of things; you can see the cameras and Nest products. So right now, that is what it is. Everything is connected; the Number One control hub is the phone, from where customers can control everything they
want.

Is there anything in the building of your business that might have not gone the way you liked, and from which you learned?


Leon Temiz: We learned how to live with the business when the retail location was closed. We learned that it was important that we still keep in touch with the customers, with how they were doing, with ways to service them. But hopefully this situation will soon pass through. At the same time our Internet business was open. We found by keeping good will with our customers, we got an incredible amount of appreciation in return.


What is your favorite corner of the store? Can you show me?


Leon Temiz: Each corner is different. There are a few areas. In the home theater there is the seating area, and then we have the shades – if you close down the shades, it is completely dark, and if you open up the shades, it is totally bright. That really shows the customers that even if they have very bright houses, we can still build great home theaters. And then we have indoor/outdoor TVs; that also makes customers feel good. And obviously, when you walk into the home office area, it looks like a home office, a nice office. And also it is important, we believe, to show the home office. When everything is fine and COVID is gone, and everybody’s lifestyle has changed, less people are going back to offices; more people will continue working from home.

How did you overcome the obstacles the pandemic presented in showing a great customer experience?


Leon Temiz: Every store was closed at the beginning. We did only online business then. But we are very established in our online business; we have been dealing with Amazon for 17 years.


What is your source of information about new products?


Leon Temiz: I think Dealerscope can help us in learning what is new with up-and-coming vendors. If you look at what happened during the pandemic, a lot of technology companies and software companies were doing great – online companies like Facebook, Snapchat, etc. Dealerscope can help by doing what it does: keeping track of new companies that do the kinds of things that could be the next big thing; and those are highlights that can also help us. So many companies start up in business and they go out of business. Dealerscope’s coverage of companies can serve as a “technology check,” pointing to this or that brand or technology. It’s great to receive that sort of information in advance.

BrandSource ‘Doubles Down’ for Informative, Interactive Summit 21

BrandSource will begin its virtual Summit 21 tomorrow, March 23, featuring product training, education sessions, unique lunch-and-learn, as well as fun social hours.

BrandSource, the marketing and merchandising group for independent furniture, appliance and consumer tech dealers, opens the virtual doors to its Summit 21 spring meeting and product expo tomorrow, Tuesday, March 23.

This year’s theme is “Double Down,” which drives home BrandSource‘s message to members “to turn up the competitive heat, even higher after last year’s record sales and market share gains,” the organization said in a statement.

The three-day event includes a full lineup of product intros, industry updates, vendor trainings, education sessions and interactive Social Hours, which can be accessed through a user-friendly interface.

Joining the program are BrandSource Canada and chapters of the NECO Alliance. The agenda includes:

  • A state-of-the-union address by AVB/BrandSource CEO Jim Ristow.
  • The Furniture Channel, a special series of furniture keynotes and strategic sessions of home furnishings.
  • Vendor product trainings and education sessions
  • 777 Lunch & Learn: a daily short-form panel discussion with seven different suppliers, each answering seven questions in seven minutes.
  • The virtual expo floor, where attendees can explore the latest product launches

In addition to Ristow’s keynote, Chief Marketing Officer John White and Merchandising VP Chad Evans will deliver marketplace insights.

Attendees will benefit from receiving the latest appliance, home furnishings and consumer tech intros and enjoy contests, while connecting with vendors and members on a mobile-optimized platform that offers instant video chat and in-app messaging.

The fun continues with interactive Social Hours on Wednesday night, featuring standup comedy, a magic act, a cooking demo, a virtual campfire, and happy hours.

President Tom Bennett will close with a Virtual Pool Party & Awards Ceremony on Thursday.

Consumer Spending to Rise, Says Virtual PrimeTime Economist

Virtual PrimeTime - Wells Fargo Pexels Photo - Credit to Mikael-Blomkvist-Online smaller

In a Wells Fargo-sponsored webinar at the mid-March-held Nationwide Virtual PrimeTime, Sarah House, the bank’s senior economist and director, presented group members with figures to back up her contention that things are looking up for the economy. The nation is benefiting from “tailwinds” such as increased vaccine distribution, falling COVID case numbers, and the cumulative effect of the government stimulus packages – the latest checks of which are being mailed across the U.S. as this is written. However, she added, pulling out of the crisis created by COVID will be a “delicate balancing act.”

Sarah House

Research that House shared with viewers of the webinar generally tracked a yearlong timeline from February 2020 to mid-February 2021.  Graphs displayed painted an overall picture of cautious optimism, with consumers now “in a better position to spend.” Visits to retail and recreation locations plummeted from 10 percent early in the pandemic to -47 percent by late March, but were on a recovery trajectory in March 2021, registering at around -13 percent, with more restaurant visits being made and more travel undertaken, House said.

Regarding consumer spending patterns, she commented that “COVID turned everything on its head,” with the hardest hit area being the discretionary services sector (meaning non-essential services such as restaurants and entertainment). Spending on durable goods, however, is up nearly 20 percent from a year ago – and it will likely continue to increase, but with a share shifting back towards services spending as conditions across the country improve.

She noted that the “forced thrift” visited upon consumers due to multiple factors had caused a record jump in savings behavior, because consumers were “at home, not taking vacations.”

House further observed that now, “There’s lots of fire power among consumers to spend, once they feel it’s safe to go out,” adding that increased confidence among buyers would likely build, moving toward 2022.

One of House’s charts showed various retail sectors and how they fared in the pre-pandemic-to-February-2021 stretch. So where are consumers spending? Online commerce, unsurprisingly, was by far the biggest winner, with “non-store” retailers’ sales up 27 percent in that slice of time. Sales of building materials were also up 16 percent, and sales of for-use-at-home sporting goods like trampolines and fitness equipment ticked upward by 15 percent.  Those retail sectors that lost the most momentum included restaurants (down 17 percent) and clothing merchants (down 13 percent).

Electronics retail stores – most of whom also carry appliances – the data show, reported sales that were down just 4 percent.

House added to her observations that the Federal Reserve, having learned from earlier experience, “has been reactive to the crisis to keep the financial system from seizing up, as it did in 2008.” And she offered an optimistic future scenario with regard to employment. Job losses were more modest during this past year for those who have segued to working-from-home status, with losses being more keenly felt in the lowest pay-level sectors. Generally speaking, though, employment projections indicate a “relatively fast recovery by the end of 2022. Worker demand is there and employers are ramping up their hiring.”

(Main photo credit: Mikael Blomkvist/Pexels)

Virtual PrimeTime: Digital Is Here to Stay, Says Nationwide’s Hickman

Nationwide President Tom Hickman Virtual PrimeTime Speech

Nationwide Marketing Group‘s second remote-only Virtual PrimeTime wrapped up earlier this week with sessions on everything from smart luxury appliances to finding opportunity in the challenges caused by COVID, but one thing was clear: Digital prowess is key for retailers not only during the current pandemic, but also well after it subsides.

“Consumers have spent the last 12 months doing literally everything online…and 2020 was their masterclass in how to live in the digital age” said NMG President and Chief Member Advocate Tom Hickman in his kick-off speech, citing encouraging statistics around the ever-increasing number of vaccinated Americans, which is slowly helping brick-and-mortar businesses reopen. “But just because stores, restaurants, schools, and theme parks are becoming safer to visit, it’s unrealistic to expect consumers to suddenly abandon their newfound love and proficiency in the online shopping experience.” This is likely clear to many Nationwide members that achieved record growth last year. According to Hickman, members that worked with Nationwide service partners RWS (Retailer Web Services) and Site on Time experienced 27 percent more sales—an additional $270,000, to be more specific–than retailers on competing platforms, leading to an additional $67,005 in profit.

Hickman also zeroed in on the third round of economic stimulus payments that started going out to consumers this past week, and reminded members of the traffic spikes to their sites when the first stimulus payments went out in April 2020. “I encourage you to get active, if you aren’t already, around that $1,499 price point,” he said, offering examples of packages in the furniture, laundry, sleep, and grilling categories that generally clock in around that price. “The $1,499 price point is one consumers are predisposed to hone in right now. So leverage the speed of digital to merchandise, leaning into it online and look to replicate that in-store.” In other words, just because brick-and-mortar locations may be open, it’s still all about the digital doorways into those locations.

While most members have had no choice but to step up their digital game and have seen much success as a result—sometimes even struggling to fill orders–they have slacked in other important areas: namely, marketing. “Today, consumers are exposed to many thousands of brand messages a day, and those interactions build awareness,” said Hickman. “If we go dark on our marketing efforts, we stop building awareness of our businesses with shoppers who aren’t in the market today….We’re surrendering those shoppers, to those who remain active.”

In other words, and in some cases, to big-box retailers such as Best Buy that have doubled-down on online ad spending since 2020. “In short, this isn’t a time to go dark,” said Hickman. “When it comes to marketing, your brand is either appearing, or it’s disappearing.”

Nationwide Dazzles with Intelligent Luxury at PrimeTime

Samsung Smart Luxury Beauty Appliances at Virtual PrimeTime
Photo/courtesy Samsung

This week, Nationwide Marketing Group hosted its second fully-remote trade show, Virtual PrimeTime. While everyone can agree that there’s great anticipation for the return of live events, the on-demand shows have their perks, evidenced by the favorable attendance rates and the exceptional feedback from attendees. Hank Alexander, director of Home Technology Specialists Nationwide, admitted that even when the social-distanced era is safely tucked in our memories, a portion of the show likely will remain virtual.

The biggest news coming out of the custom integration space for Nationwide was its partnership with CEDIA. Expanding education opportunities for members has long been a goal for Nationwide. When it comes to distinguished certifications, CEDIA was an obvious choice, Alexander explained.

Better education for dealers, Alexander says, is a win-win for everyone. Nationwide members will be able to access the CEDIA learning platform directly from Nationwide’s Exchange site, and they will be given a $200 credit, which gives members a head start to explore high-demand topics such as lighting design, networking, security as well as an up-and-comer: air purification systems. These ever-evolving spaces require ongoing continuing education, Alexander noted, something members will receive through the CEDIA platform.

The retailers who weathered the COVID storm were those with a strong digital presence, Alexander said. Business who quickly pivoted to online showrooms, digital transactions and “Buy Online Pick-Up in Store” or BOPIS tactics, while also taking advantage of Nationwide’s support with personal protective equipment, are seeing their efforts pay off and can capitalize on emerging trends.

Among those trends is the outdoor category, which is “exploding,” according to Alexander. Furion’s outdoor TV line as well as Samsung’s Terrace TV have been “massive” in the market. Coupled with outdoor speakers from leaders like Klipsch, and the ongoing trend of bringing grande experiences to the home will only strengthen.

Luxury Appliance Focus

Welcoming luxurious, yet highly personal, innovations into the home is a mindset that will not soon go by the wayside. Manufacturers, now more than ever, are introducing highly functional, intelligent and connected solutions to the market that not only serve consumers but offer convenience at the highest level. Take the luxury appliance market, for example. According to John O’Halloran, who leads Nationwide’s luxury appliance division, this category accounts for more than $3.7 billion, which is “dominated by the independent dealer.”

Nationwide is partnering with Monogram, with plans to expand to other manufacturers in the future, to help Nationwide members update their web content so consumers receive the same high-touch experience on the web as they would in store, O’Halloran explained. The organization will assist with constructing strategic digital campaigns with the goal of driving more conversion.

At this year’s virtual show Monogram demonstrated, as part of its Statement Collection, the 48″ Dual-Fuel Professional Range with four burners, grill and griddle. According to Alex Ochsner, Monogram’s Training Development Senior Manager, the range was given Architectural Digest’s gold medal for great design, with its edge-to-edge handle design, solid brass knobs and accents, in addition to a full-width window appearance.

Ochsner touted the “power and muscle” of the new range, with its 23,000 BTU multi-ring burner as well as its flexibility to reach high temperatures quickly. Alternatively, it can “back down” to simmering temps for smaller pots and more “delicate” operations, such as melting chocolate.

Incorporating brass is eye-catching as well as functional, considering the thermal properties of the metal and its ability to stand up to corrosion, Ochsner explained. The range comes with cleaning instructions specifically for brass but also includes black burner caps for swapping out.

The range also features an “industry exclusive” True Temp burner, which incorporates the induction Hestan smart pan, which is embedded with temperature sensors and Bluetooth technology. According to Ochsner, it is the first gas burner that allows you to set and maintain a specific pan temperature and control, mimicking an induction cooktop.

Additional features include: built-in WiFI; three-piece grate with reversible wok feature; hot air fry mode; and articulating 7-inch LCD touchscreen.

The mantra at BSH Home Appliances is to “improve the quality of life at home” and “fully delight those who trust us.” Their efforts to “make people smile” are evidenced in company’s Fresh By Design line of refrigerators, which are both smart and convenient. The FarmFresh System incorporates four technologies: VitalPreshPro, FreshProtect, MultiAirFlow and AirFresh filter. The counter-depth design allows it to sit flush with the counters and blend with design.

BSH’s built-in coffee maker also features modern design combined with intuitive features. The all-in-one design does not require additional plumbing or extra water line. The brewing system works in a pressurized chamber for optimal brewing conditions.

All BSH appliances can be controlled by the company’s HomeConnect app. Homeowners can manage tasks; remotely monitor the refrigerator, dishwasher and oven (preheating and gathering new recipes); as well as start brewing coffee from anywhere.

Self-proclaiming itself as the “most human-centric” appliance brand in the world,” Fisher & Paykel, National Training Manager, LaRon Doucet, Jr., says the company “pays attention to how people live and interact with their homes.” As the kitchen continues to be the “heart of the home,” or “social kitchen,” Doucet, Jr. says Fisher and Paykel strives to introduce products and features that enhance these experiences. Under the umbrella dubbed “Beauty of Choice,” there are five facets to the company’s product line: Minimal, Contemporary, Professional, Classic and Outdoor. 

Within those five facets are another five considerations Fisher & Paykel focuses on: 

  • Design to Fit: Products are produced in a way that they blend into any scenario 
  • Beautiful to Use: Quality at all touchpoints; solid stainless steel that “feels good” to the user and interfaces that make sense 
  • Perfect Results: Cooking, food preservation, dish drawers and cleanliness are all tested to ensure quality
  • Built to Last: All products are tested to make sure they live as long as the home
  • Respect for the Planet: ensuring products have low energy and water consumption

Among the innovations Fisher & Paykel displayed was the Series 9 series of Pro Ranges. The ranges feature dual flow burners; pedestal feature so the cooktop does not get as hot, and the ability for the burners to reach high temperatures quickly but go down to 140 degree simmer state.

The new liftable touchscreen provides a wealth of information and showcases new features such as “Cook by Function,” which includes new options such as, Air Fry, Pizza Bake and Slow Cook. Users can also choose to “Cook By Recipe.”

Speaking to the personalization trend, Samsung showcased its BESPOKE line of refrigerators, which come with customizable panels for its 24-inch column-style fridge as well as the 24-inch bottom-freezer design. Homeowners can style by color and finish with eight possibilities. The 4-Door Flex line of fridges comes with an interior water dispenser as well as a AutoFill Water Pitcher. It also cubed and nugget-style ice.

Samsung’s products are also connected through the company’s SmartThings app and Family Hub. The SmartThings app is also compatible with Google Nest products. According to the company’s website: “SmartThings users can also incorporate Nest devices into their current WWST-certified devices to create Scenes and automated experiences, controlling the functions with simple voice commands or through the SmartThings app. Soon, users will be able to stream right from their Nest devices directly to their Samsung TV or Family Hub fridge.”

A sign of the times and the growing concern for increased sanitation and cleanliness is Samsung’s AirDresser. Released as a staple for the home closet, this product refreshes and purifies clothing. It steams wrinkles, removes odors and lifts 99.9 percent of common bacteria from fabrics.

The Samsung AirDresser steams wrinkles, removes odors and lifts 99.9 percent of common bacteria from fabrics.

Design, high-functionality, luxury convenience and intelligence convened at this year’s PrimeTime.

3 Keys to Delivering a Great Customer Experience During the Pandemic

Retail Customer Service During COVID
Credit: iStock

Delivering a great customer experience has never been more vital than during the COVID-19 crisis. Social distancing and safety precautions altered the shopping and purchase habits of many consumers, presenting CE and other retail companies with unique challenges — primarily, how to ensure the safety of their own employees and storefronts without compromising service to customers. 

As we come upon a full year of living with the virus, many lessons have become apparent and offer a blueprint for not only how to meet and exceed customer expectations in a pandemic, but also in a more normalized, post-COVID-19 world.   

Here are three takeaways that may be helpful for your operation. 

1. Focus on Flexibility 

As COVID-19 first began to spread in 2020, my company, Assurant, immediately worked to transition staff to “service from home” while instituting CDC-based protocols for employees who continued to work in product repair and logistics facilities. We relocated roughly 8,000 associates, including scores of customer service representatives, to home within a few weeks.   

What we learned is that a flexible mindset is key to maintaining service and support levels during a time of immense change. With so many moving parts involved in orchestrating the movement of people, equipment and technology, the ability to adapt to the moment is crucial. Standard operating procedures may not be the best solution when dealing with an entire paradigm shift in service operations. 

Moving call center and customer support associates from contact centers to remote work is not a routine occurrence. In addition to the relocation of specialized equipment and installation of software to handle large call volumes, we had to make sure that each associate had the network bandwidth necessary to serve customers as efficiently as from the office. 

Given the many different home technology situations among employees, there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Cross-functional, ad hoc collaboration was key to finding multiple pathways in real time. A purposeful willingness among customer experience employees, IT and management teams is essential to adapting to new procedures and changing situations.  

Also, we’ve found that conducting ongoing readiness drills is effective at maintaining flexibility in a changing environment. It helps to stay prepared to deliver uninterrupted customer support under various potential scenarios. 

These approaches enabled us to maintain service and support performance levels despite the massive transition in operations, and then meet and exceed customer expectations since that time, as evidenced by high net promoter scores. While past thinking was that service associates need to be at an onsite facility to ensure productivity, we now know that having an at-home option for customer representatives will not necessarily have a negative impact on performance, once it is safe to resume office operations.    

2. Offer Options 

Another important takeaway is to leverage digital self-service tools where possible, to give customers choices for how to engage, especially post-purchase. In today’s socially distanced environment, it’s important to provide options to meet people where they are most comfortable. 

Operationally, digital tools make it easier for cross-functional teams to stand up new service solutions to meet changing customer needs. Such capabilities can link IT, call center, product repair and logistics teams to seamlessly handle thousands of customer requests during operational transitions. 

For example, when a client closed many of its retail locations in 2020 due to COVID-19, we leveraged self-service and digital tools to enable customers to submit warranty claims online and get next-day shipping for replacement of their products. We’ve also gone further to offer customers local repair locations and come-to-you service options for convenient same-day service. This is particularly important for mobile electronics. Many customers have told us that being able to stay connected with loved ones in a distanced environment eased their stress considerably. 

Digital capabilities will continue to be an important part of the customer experience once the pandemic subsides. While some customer behaviors will return to a pre-crisis normal, others likely will stay adapted to the new routines of the past year. With consumers more comfortable transacting online, it will be important that post-purchase services such as setup, installation, support, service and warranty assistance are as seamless, accessible and convenient as possible.       

3. Educate and Empathize 

The third takeaway is that exceeding customer expectations doesn’t stop with operations and capabilities. Whatever customer interaction options you put in place, it’s important to educate customers and make the options easy for people to use. 

Some customers have had to learn new tricks, such as using a company’s app for the first time. In our experience, you can smooth that transition by providing guidance and help with one tap from a mobile device. 

Also, offering a friendly voice and easy, efficient service makes a significant difference in times of stress. Even the simplest transaction can be laden with emotion for customers, so having an empathetic voice on the other end of the line can make all the difference in the world.  

While the pandemic promises to continue providing challenges in the near term, there is light on the horizon. As society makes the turn towards normalcy, continue to focus on flexibility, provide multiple service options and make sure to offer a helpful, empathetic voice to deliver the best experience possible. 

Strategies for Selling to Women Spotlighted at Virtual PrimeTime

Virtual PrimeTime Strategies for Selling to Women

Bridget Brennan, author of ‘Why She Buys: Winning Her Business and Why,’ stated in her presentation to retailers at Nationwide Marketing Group’s Virtual PrimeTime event March 18 that while certain conditions were not within their control – most notably, the pandemic, that they were “100 percent in control of customer experiences.” With that assumption, she proceeded to highlight the motivators that they could best leverage to capture and retain female buyers.

Bridget Brennan

Brennan stressed that forging an emotional bond with women consumers could be powered by four main motivators, all of which can serve as strong influences in both women’s decision-making about choosing a store and in their remaining loyal to that choice moving forward; she then illuminated these with strategies about how to enact them.

One of the four motivators, she said, is to make women customers feel “connected. Look at your merchandising materials. Audit them. Do they use emotionally engaging language to match the way [women] think about their homes?” She said that words and phrases that suggest repurposing home spaces, or that talk up the importance in communicating to customers about wellness maintenance in the home, such as emphasizing allergy-free bedding and using the Sanitize cycle on a washer, were helpful.  On the ecommerce front, she recommended writing “better descriptions – don’t just provide ‘cubic feet’ measurements for refrigerator interiors, but rather, say, ‘This side-by-side freezer can hold 16 frozen pizzas.’ Don’t bury your story in your website.”

The next motivator is to make female buyers feel “inspired. If you’re not inspiring, you’re not selling,” she said. “Your customers can only be as enthusiastic as you are.” She encouraged dealers to ask “discovery” questions beyond “Can I help you?” and to merchandise products “in context,” along with complementary accessories.

Another motivator she cited was to help the customer feel confident about her buying choice, encouraging retailers to emphasize their policies of service after the sale, and making sure to be pro-active about following up on any aspect of the transactional experience.

Finally, Brennan exhorted listeners to make female customers feel appreciated for their business, by using “gracious thank-you language like, ‘You’re welcome!’ instead of “Not a problem!’  Celebrate the purchase, by sending an email or a thank-you card in the mail – it’s a small thing [but will be remembered].” She also advised doing regular follow-ups to keep top of mind with female clients for when their next needs arise.

In the post-webinar Q&A session, Brennan acknowledged that women buyers very much miss shopping in stores “in the way they used to, taking their time and interacting with salespeople. But over the past year, retailers have opened up consumers to new ways of shopping. Within the four walls of a store, you can fully engage the five senses. The opportunity now for brick-and-mortar stores is to rethink how to deliver [similar] experiences that you can’t get online.”

(Featured photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels)

Virtual PrimeTime Talk Focuses on Disruption as Opportunity

Nationwide PrimeTime McQueen Post-Crisis Kickstart

Trends forecaster Michael McQueen, in his Synchrony-sponsored “Post-Crisis Kickstart” presentation to Nationwide Virtual PrimeTime attendees March 17, offered the buying group retail members some powerful advice about turning adversity into opportunity – particularly germane in wake of what has perhaps been the most disruptive year ever for their businesses.

“You need to respond to disruption in a brilliant way,” he told viewers, pointing to behavioral changes forced by COVID leading to the rise in adoption of remote shopping in the last 12 months among three in four consumers. He added that the trend is expected to endure, with seven in 10 consumers likely sticking to that way of making purchases in the post-pandemic period.

How to respond, McQueen said, is to view these changes by looking past their generalized impact and being ready to take note of and relate to segmented groups of consumers by meeting them on their own terms.

As an example, millennials don’t respond to emails as frequently as Baby Boomers, but rather favor social media as a communication method. And Gen-Z shoppers – a demographic McQueen said comprises “your future customers” – need to be related to in a completely different way. He noted that they hold $143 billion in spending clout and also have the power to sway their parents’ buying habits; they listen to social influencers, and they are passionate about issues such as sustainability. The best way to reach them, he added, is “to market through them, not to them.”  

Of all the points McQueen drove home to his audience, perhaps the most salient was when he encouraged Nationwide members to “think revolution, not evolution” – which entails “rethinking your assumptions, and those about your customers…

“These 12 months have been a catalyst for revolution,” he said. “Sticking with the way things have been won’t work. Don’t miss the opportunity to be revolutionary.”

Harnessing the Power of Google for Retail Success

On a special episode of the Independent Thinking Podcast hosted live from Nationwide’s Virtual PrimeTime, Patrick Tam, Strategic Partner Manager at Google, discussed digital trends as they relate to retail and the ways retailers can use Google’s suite of tools to stay ahead of them.

During the discussion led by Rob Stott, Corporate Communications Manager of Nationwide Marketing Group, Tam described how this past year forced retailers to rethink their business models and how they engage with their customers. Tam referenced an Enders Analysis study that showed online retail has been accelerated four years as a result of the pandemic. Businesses were quick to adapt and embrace this innovation, and Google played a big part in it all.

As retailers navigate this new digital landscape, the Google Partners Program offers reliable insights on companies that can help them reach their goals. The whole idea of the program is to offer some “structure” to the marketplace and highlight those companies that are truly delivering the best services.

Nationwide Marketing Group is one of those companies.

They have actually been named a Google Premier Partner, which requires an even higher level of professionalism. In order to be granted a Premier Partner status, a company must be able to reach a large number of small businesses across the U.S. Additionally, this partner must encompass a high level of excellence and expertise. Google has a set of measures in place to gauge performance that all partners in this rank are held accountable to. They also require Premier Partners to undergo specific certifications and trainings to ensure they are well versed in the entire Google Suite.

All of these tools have proven to be of vital importance during the acceleration to e-commerce. Tam feels strongly that the changes we’ve experienced in retail as a result of the pandemic will have a lasting impact. One of those is the importance of a retailer’s online presence.

“Your website is your best employee,” says Tam.

A company’s website has become the entry-point for customers, and a positive experience there will leave a lasting impression and get them to the next stop: visiting your storefront. Once they’re in, utilizing Google Trends or Merchant Reports can provide insight into what products people are looking to buy and the brands that they trust. Leveraging this data can help retailers optimize merchandising and ordering decisions so that their shelves are always stocked with the most popular products and brands at the right quantities.

One thing Tam says he would like to see utilized more on the retail front is augmented reality. This tool provides customers with a wealth of information on a product right at their fingertips. The more information someone can learn about a product from videos, reviews, ratings, etc. will help them to feel more confident in their buying decisions.


As Stott explains, it doesn’t take becoming an expert in the entire Google Suite in order to succeed, but retailers can have faith that, when partnering with a Google Premier Partner like Nationwide, they will be backed by a team of experts who can help them reach their goals.

Nationwide Virtual PrimeTime Examines COVID-19 Effect on Customer Journey

Nationwide Virtual PrimeTime Customer Tablet Search

Rob White, vice president of marketing for Nationwide Marketing Group, took viewers of the Virtual PrimeTime show March 17 on a walkthrough of the changes in consumer purchasing habits in the year since the effects of COVID-19 began to be felt. The overarching message in his talk, “Understanding the Customer Journey & the Impact of COVID-19,” was that retailers must be sure to accommodate and support digital shoppers all along the route to the buy.

Rob White, Nationwide’s VP of Marketing

Putting viewers of the presentation in the shoes of the consumer, he used the example of “Betty,” a fictional but typical buyer in need of a new washing machine. White explained that part of the process in Betty’s shopping journey includes “a phase of consideration and then active evaluation” – and that journey in COVID times now begins online, in-home, and on a computer or other device, rather than in the store.

He told retail members, “If you’re not relevant [to Betty] at this stage, she won’t ever consider purchasing from you.” And he added that what really makes a retailer relevant to this shopper, especially if Betty is buying under duress (i.e., replacing an unrepairable or outdated washer), transcends product features, benefits and value, extending to engendering peace of mind after the transaction.

“The journey doesn’t stop after the sale,” he said; its continuation includes the touchpoints of delivery, installation, service, warranty and beyond. “Loyalty is a powerful word, and if you do all these things right… the next time she’ll skip consideration and evaluation and head right back to your store and your website.”  

While the customer journey is linear on paper, he went on to say, in reality, it’s complicated with considerations on both rational (i.e., models and buying channels) and emotional levels. “Emotional is not easily defined – it is driven by feelings and a path to assurance” – a sense felt by the customer that they are getting unbiased information, and that they can count on help with issues such as navigating confusing new product features.

White told members that Nationwide has dedicated teams at the ready “to help you understand your customer’s journey” by providing strategies that are regularly being “tested, adjusted and automated,” because, he added, today’s customer journey “won’t be the same tomorrow,” as it is changing along with consumer behavior and technology.

He noted that COVID-19 has revved up the need for retailers to improve their digital skills, citing a recent article that said online buying as a method of purchase accelerated in several weeks’ time during COVID to a point that it might have taken multiple years to evolve to, in non-pandemic times.   

Adding to the urgency of getting up to speed in digital, he said, is research showing that even 30 percent of shoppers 65-plus plan to do more online shopping in future.  Moreover, shopping locally is also a growing preference – but to capitalize on it, retailers must recognize and cater to the fact that that, according to a survey he cited, 95 percent of local-shopping consumers will now be very mindful of physical protection and social distancing, and may seek a “no-touch/low-touch” experience when they choose to shop in person.

“Retailers who embrace these trends will quickly render competitors obsolete,” White said. “The preference for local and loyalty go hand in hand. It’s something big box can’t compete with.”

Technology at the Center of Much of Biden Administration’s Priorities

Credit: iStock

Sponsored by New Age Electronics

As the new administration talks about their plans to make change in relation to jobs, trade policies, and diversity and inclusion, technology has a place in it all.

I was recently speaking with Tiffany Moore at the Consumer Technology Association. Tiffany, the SVP for Political and Industry Affairs at CTA told me that while the COVID-19 pandemic has rightly taken precedence over other matters in the White House at the moment, we can expect our new administration to make decisions impacting the tech and retail world in the near future.

Since the pandemic’s onset, some technology has seen a dramatic acceleration of adoption. As work and play shifted to the home, we added offices setups, made home theater upgrades, attended virtual doctor’s appointments and more. Providing for our families, keeping healthy, and even having fun has seen tremendous change in very little time.

Tiffany noted the prominent and positive role that technology is playing in fighting the pandemic by making possible remote work, digital health and virtual education. And technology promises to play a continuing role going forward.

In addition, these shifts are having a profound impact on how consumers shop and interact with brands. We’re seeing a paradigm shift on the consumer side. As people wait in line at the store, they’re on their phones ordering groceries for delivery, checking what they need to do for their appointment tomorrow, ordering tonight’s meal, etc. And this shift will only accelerate with the widespread rollout of 5G.

More access to the spectrum/5G is critical to supporting today’s consumer and their essential devices. The Administration’s support will be a pivotal in building an infrastructure to allow 5G to reach more people and locations. CTA Is advocating for greater access and firmly believes that broadband is essential to daily life.

As Tiffany says, “Technology is no longer ‘nice to have.’ It’s an imperative.”

As much as COVID-19 changed retail as we once knew it, a heightened awareness of the need for diversity and inclusion has transformed the industry. She pointed out that nearly every CEO who gave keynote presentations during the all-digital CES 2021 offered insight into how they plan to ensure their workforce better reflects the talents that the nation has to offer. Manufacturers also are making it a priority to work with more small and minority-owned businesses going forward.

As for consumer demand, I’m expecting the pent-up demand for things like PCs, smart TVs and other entertainment to continue in 2021. The Biden Administration’s approach to trade policy will hopefully provide some clarity for retailers left wondering when and how trade will open up.

Tiffany and I are both optimistic. Despite the hardships the CE retail industry faced in 2020, there were a lot of lessons learned across the board. And as consumer demands continue to change, we can expect even greater innovation.

In the next 3-5 years we will see the technology that we’ve only dreamt about.

Plum President Talks Fine-Wine Serving and Preservation on Insider Talk

Plum Wine Preservation System

On a special episode of Insider Talk in partnership with Connected Design, Tony Monteleone hosts Plum Global President, Andreas Hansen. The pair will discuss the company’s integrated and countertop wine preservation systems that blend effortlessly into the home.

Plum’s wine system is the first appliance to automatically preserve, chill, and serve any standard bottle of wine by the glass. It can house two full bottles of wine in their own individual cooling chambers for up to 90 days of preservation. A 7″ touchscreen allows users to select the flavor, temperature, and ounces they want in their next glass.

Hansen will detail the best way to utilize the Plum system so that wine drinkers can enjoy their glass the way winemakers intended.

Today’s episode of Connected Design Insider Talk airs at 1 p.m. EST on Connected Design’s Facebook Page.

Nationwide’s Wrede Projects ‘Continued Momentum’ in 2021 Appliance Sales

Nationwide Virtual PrimeTime_Appliances_FeaturedImage

Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, consumers have spent a record amount of time cloistered in their homes. But it has not only taxed their health and their stamina. COVID took a heavy toll, too, on their appliances, setting the stage for breakage, replacement and even upgrades – and providing the independent member dealers of Nationwide Marketing Group the chance to position themselves as solutions providers who, in the words of Nationwide VP Home Appliances Doug Wrede, remained resilient, took creative approaches, and whose performance was, he said, “nothing short of inspirational.” And he projected “continued momentum” in appliance sales through 2021.

Doug Wrede

Wrede gave this assessment during one of the opening speeches of Nationwide’s Virtual PrimeTime, which launched Tuesday online for the buying group’s membership via a streamlined platform that will offer presentations and buying sessions through March 18 (with replays of the presentations continuing past that date).

“You rose to face each challenge,” Wrede said. “You were there.”

And so were consumers, ready and willing to buy, and making the appliances sector a winner in terms of units sold.  “The kitchen is the centerpiece of the home,” he said, and “the continued focus on the home is why I’m so bullish on the year ahead.”

He cited home equity figures clocking at a $194,000 average per household, which is expected to drive continued strong home improvement spending.

“Despite the many headwinds of last year, including factory closures, price increases, production adjustments and backlog in demand accumulating into the hundreds of thousands of units, the tailwinds in opportunities ahead are beginning to shape up brighter and stronger in our industry,” Wrede said.  He noted that home appliance usage is three to six times higher in homes than earlier, and that accelerates the replacement cycle, with more discretionary spending aimed at the kitchen rather than outward at travel and tourism activities.

Wrede added that while inventory recovery is somewhat tempered by “sustained high demand,” he cited “stronger” Q1 shipments due to higher factory yields, fewer promotional models’ availability and less discounting carried over from 2020.

All signs, he said, point to a continuation of the upward sales swing for appliances. He further noted that Nationwide’s performance as a group in terms of unit shipments of appliances – up 17 percent closing out 2020 – far exceeded the 6.4 percent industrywide uptick in shipments.

Wrede also talked opportunities that are presenting themselves to dealer members for 2021. They include diversification into different brands to fill need gaps, or into other categories, such as outdoor goods. He also cited luxury appliances as a lucrative sector to enter for dealers who are not already there, and said John O’Halloran had joined the Nationwide team to help members build out into that space as an aspirational category.

Stay tuned to Dealerscope for more show coverage in the next days.

Nationwide Leads by Example with Digital Emphasis at Virtual PrimeTime

Nationwide Marketing Group Virtual PrimeTime

Nationwide Marketing Group opened the virtual doors today to its second-ever Virtual PrimeTime show. Running March 16-18, Nationwide will once again host a variety of educational sessions, business and networking opportunities, and exciting giveaways for free to its network of independent retailers and home appliance, consumer electronics, outdoor, furniture, bedding and business services vendors.

As Nationwide points out, home improvements and renovations have seen tremendous growth in the past year, and for the first time in more than a decade, single-family housing starts are expected to surpass 1.1 million. In addition to the tax returns that always motivate spending this time of year, we’re also expecting another round of stimulus checks to further shake up the retail industry. In order to help retailers capitalize on this potential, Nationwide is offering a variety of educational sessions offering tools and resources for digital success.

“Nationwide members who embraced digital before or early in the pandemic saw unprecedented growth in 2020,” explains Nationwide President and Chief Member Advocate Tom Hickman. “And members who partnered with Retailer Web Services (RWS) and Site on Time saw, on average, 27% higher sales than retailers on other platforms. That’s simple, transparent data. We’ve invested heavily in digital over the past few years, and it’s inarguable that, for those who are taking advantage, it’s paying off.”

Attendees can gain insight from Google leaders who will offer insights on current digital shopping trends and how they will correlate to Nationwide members. Additionally, Site on Time and RWS will lead a session on a number of different digital tactics, while Nationwide’s own PriMetrix tools will be on full display.

“Retailers must have an e-commerce-enabled website that delivers,” adds Jennifer Danko, vice president of technology for Nationwide Marketing Group’s Site on Time. “E-commerce sales are expected to grow to over $834 billion in 2021. With more shoppers looking to buy large-ticket items for their homes online, ensuring that a dealer’s website can provide a streamlined and pleasant shopping experience is crucial to winning their share of this growing revenue stream.”

Virtual PrimeTime will also include over 100 hours of educational content highlighting various business practices including social media, business services, leadership, training and education, marketing, emerging opportunities and more – all of which would be almost impossible to absorb in just three days, which is why Nationwide is offering nearly all of these sessions on demand for up to a month after the show.

PrimeTime Palooza will be making a comeback in a new app-based and nearly 1,400 representatives from across the vendor partner community will be on hand to provide buying support to dealers during expo hours. Some other can’t-miss sessions include Nationwide ‘s Post-Palooza Party with special celebrity guest Dana Carvey on Tuesday and a St. Patrick’s Day Social Hour on Wednesday.

The grand finale of Virtual PrimeTime will be Nationwide’s $100,000 giveaway, which will be shared by 20 lucky members.

To learn more or view the full agenda, visit www.nationwideprimetime.com.

Focal’s Clear Mg Headphones are the Epitome of Audio Luxury

Focal Clear Mg

French audio brand, Focal, is back with a brand-new pair of open-back headphones built with the same level of sophistication as its earlier models but with even sharper sound. The Clear Mg headphones represent that latest in the Focal lineup, coming to us after four years in the making.

Focal made sure to preserve the most-loved features of its Clear headphones in the creation of the Clear Mg – like its neutral sound signature and $1490 price point. But the latest rendition takes it a step further with a sound reproduction that is precise and impactful for unbelievably realistic sound. With an impedance of 55 Ohms, Clear Mg can be used with a portable audio player for the same premium listening experience.

The company’s team of engineers paid close attention to the design and materials used in the development of Clear Mg. A Magnesium dome in the shape of an ‘M’ provides lightness and dampening, and is housed in a solid aluminum yoke that molds the listener’s face. The headband is wrapped in genuine leather and microfiber that maintains its constant curve, even as the listener moves their head. Chestnut and Mixed-Metals finishes complement the honeycomb design on the outside of the headphones.

Although Focal says these headphones are more for at-home listening in a quiet environment, they do come with an equally luxurious case with a blend of the same colors to accompany Clear Mg.

The Focal Clear Mg will be available in the US this month.

AirPop Active+ Smart Face Mask Tracks Breathing

AirPop Active+ Face Mask
Available today, the smart AirPop Active+ Face Mask syncs up with a mobile app to track breathing, filter replacement, and real-time air quality.

Even before the pandemic, face masks were increasingly an option for anyone trying to avoid allergens, particulate matter, and other air impurities. The pandemic ushered increased innovation into the space, as joggers, cyclists, travelers, and essential workers sought comfortable mask-wearing solutions in active or all-day situations. Inevitably, like the watches, shoes, clothing, eyeglasses, and other wearables before them, masks got the “smart” treatment.

Though AirPop has been developing and releasing high-performance filtration masks since 2015, it kicked things up a notch earlier this year when it unveiled the AirPop Active + Face Mask, which has a built-in “Halo” sensor that tracks breathing. It then syncs via Bluetooth to a mobile app phone that mixes that data up with real-time, location-based air quality information to deliver insights such as breathing frequency and blocked pollutants. The company today announced that the mask is now available for immediate shipment, with arrivals between three and six days.

Sensor aside, the mask has some distinct design and material elements that distinguish it from the usual cloth and disposable masks. The outer shell, for example, is a 3D-engineered, single piece of specialized microfiber fabric that’s fully washable, light, and optimized for easy breathing with strong filtration. Its dome-like design not only makes it easier to breathe when worn, but also fits a second replaceable nanofiber filter made of the same materials as N95 and KN95 masks, with the addition of a rubberized, soft-membrane seal that is designed to fit snugly but comfortably over a wide variety of face shapes.

In addition to delivering stats on breathing patterns and air quality, the companion app for Android and iOS has a filter monitor that notifies you when the filter’s 40-hour-life span is up and needs to be replaced (just scan a QR code and the clock will start and continue any time you wear the mask). It also lets you change the color of the sensor’s light, which flashes subtly along with your breathing. The iOS version of the app integrates with Apple Health, so you can add breathing stats to your other iPhone body metrics. The Android version of the app will be available at the end of this month.

According to AirPop, the mask achieves 99-percent bacterial and particle filtration—allergens, dander, dust, pollution, and even viral droplets—but it’s not certified by the FDA as a medical mask, so if you’re traveling on a plane or need a mask for extended wear inside around strangers, you may still want to consider bringing along a KN95 or N95 mask as well, since they remain the more proven and standardized options for protection against viruses. For now, the sweet spot of the AirPop Active + remains allergens and pollution in everyday and fitness contexts, all of which will be around long after COVID-19 subsides.

As of today, the AirPop Active + Face Mask is available in a black/green color combination directly from AirPop and also on Amazon. Two additional color pairings—white/green and yellow/grey—will be available in April.

AirPop Active+ Face Mask with Halo Sensor
The secondary nanofiber filter is replaceable and snaps into the mask’s one-piece outer shell’s “air dome.”.

How Casual and Emerging Gamers Are Mainstreaming eSports

Matt Schmidt CEO AlphaTech and GamerzArena
Matt Schmidt, CEO of AlphaTech, which recently acquired the esports platform and community, GamerzArena.


Time was that esports was only the purview of pro gamers with gifted strategy and keyboard skills, but competitive gaming has exploded in popularity among a broader audience in the past 12 months. This is in no small part due to everyone cooped up at home in front of their phones and computers, as well as the absence of in-person professional tournaments until the pandemic subsides. As a result, companies such as Roblox and Skillz, which enable just about anybody to compete for cash and prizes in popular and easy-to-play puzzle, word, and trivia games, are exploding in popularity and valuation.

In the latest Dealerscope podcast, chief digital editor Jessica Guyon speaks with Matt Schmitt, the CEO of AlphaTech which recently acquired the online esports platform and community GamerzArena. Schmidt, whose background is in film, shares his thoughts on gaming as entertainment and Amazon’s recent entry into the space, as well as why esports are on the rise and what the “casual and emerging gamer” has to do with it.

Airthings View Plus Gives Whole-Home Air Breakdown

Airthings View Plus

Creating a healthier home starts with understanding what’s going on in the atmosphere; otherwise, you’ll just end up throwing money at products you may not need – or worse – ignoring problems you didn’t even know you had. That’s where Airthings comes in. Airthings’ award-winning products help homeowners and businesses make sense of their indoor air quality, arming them with the knowledge they need to take action in changing it.

The latest in the Airthings product lineup, View Plus, delivers on that promise by providing a detailed analysis of its surroundings. View Plus is battery-operated and WiFi-enabled and can be used in both residential and commercial settings. Users get a detailed report of a room’s PM, radon, CO2, humidity, airborne chemicals (VOC), temperature, air pressure, and outdoor air quality. View Plus for Business also includes a light and noise sensor, occupancy data, and the Virus Risk Indicator. The View Plus displays this comprehensive list in a way that is easy to understand and customizable to a user’s preferences.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen the levels of awareness about air quality increase dramatically,” says Oyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings. “We decided to develop View Plus to help people everywhere understand that they have more control over their air quality than they might think. Our mission at Airthings has always been to educate people and foster constructive conversation about how air quality can impact their health and daily lives. With View Plus, we can empower people and businesses to learn about the air quality in their homes, schools, offices, or even their favorite restaurants, in a way that is constructive and easy to understand.”

View Plus blends seamlessly into any home or business both in terms of its sleek, minimalist design and its ability to connect with a variety of smart home systems using IFTTT, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. View Plus also has a built-in Hub functionality to bring the device and other Airthings products online. Users can log into the Airthings Dashboard to access in-depth information on what’s in the air or open the Airthings app for a similar experience. A more simplified air-check can also be done by simply waving a hand in front of the device to see a quick green, yellow, or red score. A yellow or red color should urge users to take a look a closer look as to what is going on in the air by logging into the Airthings dashboard or app.

The Airthings View Plus is available for pre-order now for 10% off of its standard $299 pricing. Products will begin shipping out in June.

Cassette Tape Inventor Helped Usher in Portable Music Era

Lou Ottens with cassette player
The late Lou Ottens, who invented the cassette tape, looks at an old player in Zack Taylor's 2016 film, 'Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape'

The inventor of the cassette tape, Lou Ottens, died this past week (on March 6) at his home in Duizel, the Netherlands. He was 94. The Dutch engineer spent 34 years at Philips, which is where, as the director of product development in the early 1960s at the company’s Hasselt, Belgium factory, he stumbled upon the idea for the enclosed-cartridge format after experiencing one unraveling-of-reel-to-reel tapes too many.

First introduced at IFA Berlin in 1963 as “smaller than a pack of cigarettes,” according to the original tagline, cassettes soon took off, beating out a similar but derivative technology from Japan. This was thanks in no small part to Ottens’s insistence that the format be license-free—an early visionary lesson on the benefits of giving away your technology to drive mass adoption and grab market share. Ottens’s team had already been working on a carry-friendly reel-to-reel tape recorder, but the simplicity and compact, all-in-one design of the enclosed cassette tape was a game-changer that made recording and portable audio a mainstream phenomenon.

As with vinyl, a decade or so of relative obscurity for cassettes in the aughts has over the past few years flipped back in the other direction, with sales of cassettes since 2017 continually on the rise. Many independent record stores like Amoeba Music and Jackknife Records and even chains like Urban Outfitters and Walmart carry new, used, and even blank cassettes, while some bands and labels are once again releasing in the format. Demand has been strong enough that a 2019 shortage in blank cassettes led the National Audio Company to start manufacturing them again.

From home audiophile components such as the Nakamichi Dragon to after-market Blaupunkt tape decks for the car to the portable Sony Walkman, cassette tape recorders and players were the main companion to vinyl throughout the ’70s and early ’80s. Even after the CD supplanted vinyl in the late ’80s, cassettes remained the only way to easily record music for portable consumption until rewritable CDS and MP3s emerged around the turn of the millennium.

Will cassettes hit the big time once more? Probably not; between their background hiss and a tendency to wear down, cassette tapes have never been a preferred medium for sound quality. But their inventor, who went on help develop the compact disc and the would-be VHS-replacement Video 2000 in the 1980s, never thought of his invention as a forever thing. “People prefer a worse quality of sound out of nostalgia,” Ottens said in the 2016 film Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape. “When your time has gone, it’s time to disappear. Is there a better product than cassettes? Well, then you stop. I don’t believe in eternity.” Available to stream for free online, filmmaker Zach Taylor’s documentary on cassette tapes features several interviews not only with Ottens, but also music producers, DJs, and musicians such as Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, and Thurston Moore.

While the popularity of cassettes may wane once more, their late inventor’s legacy of popularizing consumer-friendly recording and portable music transcends formats and is likely to endure.

Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape is available to stream for free on IMDb TV, Peacock, Pluto TV, and Tubi.

TDK cassette tapes

Platin Audio Introduces Milan 5.1 Surround System

Platin Milan 5.1 with WiSA SoundSend

Following a successful launch of its Monaco 5.1 system (which Dealerscope had the pleasure of reviewing), Platin Audio just debuted its latest home cinema offering: the Platin Milan 5.1 Smart Surround Sound System.

“We are excited to see this great system become available and deliver immersive audio performances at a great price point,” WiSA President, Tony Ostrom, said in a press release. “A key goal at WiSA is to promote amazing home cinema experiences and help facilitate their availability across large spectrums of styles, prices, and performance levels, thus enabling adoption and enjoyment by a massive number of enthusiasts.”

WiSA’s SoundSend app

The Platin Milan 5.1 utilizes WiSA’s award-winning SoundSend audio transmitter to deliver 24-bit uncompressed sound without the hassle of wires. With its five powerful speakers and a subwoofer, the Platin Milan system fills the entire room in a totally immersive, 360-degree sound experience, controlled at your fingertips through the SoundSend app.

“With three awards so far this year, the WiSA SoundSend audio transmitter, right along with WiSA Ready TVs and other WiSA Certified speakers and components, continues to raise the bar for simplified set-up and control of high performance home cinema systems,” added Ostrom.

The Platin Milan also allows for greater connectivity than the company’s Monaco system. Now, anyone that has a smart TV with an HDMI arc or eAr port can enjoy premium sound that is affordable at $899 for the entire system. As usual with WiSA-certified speakers, setup can be completed within minutes – not hours – and everything comes neatly packaged in a single box.

Platin Milan is available to purchase now on Amazon and will make its way to Platinaudio.us next month.

Dealerscope’s UNBOXED review of the Platin Monaco 5.1 Wireless Surround System

Screen Wipes and Lens Cleaners Are Making ZEISS a Household Name

Zeiss_AntiFOG_Wipe_Contents_F

Screen- and lens-cleaning solutions beyond the usual microfiber cloth and shirt sleeve have taken on a particular significance in the past pandemic-saturated 12 months. They’re a no-brainer accessory for anyone who buys or already owns smart and standard eyeglasses, goggles, VR headsets, smartphones, tablets, IoT devices, and computers. It’s an ever-growing list of products that require clean, clear, and COVID-free screens. And as anyone who wears face masks and eyeglasses can attest, lenses frequently fog up. This week saw not only some new products and increased availability in the lens and surface cleaning sector, but also a Dealerscope Insider Talk devoted to the topic.

Even pre-pandemic, the 170-year-old German optics and optoelectronics pioneer ZEISS experienced double-digit growth year-over-year in sales of its cleaning accessories, which are practical, disposable, and the very antithesis of the company’s high-performance optical innovation and products in the imaging, vision, and medical arenas. Its line of mobile screen wipes and lens cleaning kits are available everywhere from Walmart and Walgreen’s to Sam’s Club and Amazon, making ZEISS a household name in the U.S., even to those who have never owned a pair of premium binoculars or a DSLR camera.

WHOOSH! Screen Shine
WHOOSH! Screen Shine is among the screen-cleaning products that Petra now offers resellers.

This week, the company launched its new ZEISS AntiFOG Wipes, which are individually wrapped, single-use versions of its microfiber-cloth and bottled-liquid Zeiss FOG Defender System. Inside each wrapper is a disposable and biodegradable micro-fine tissue dipped in an anti-fog solution that keeps lenses mist-free for up to 24 hours. They’re perfect accessories not only standard glasses and ski goggles, but also for any Bluetooth-enabled audio and AR eyewear that’s worn outdoors or in public.

Screen wipes and lens cleaners are clearly mass-market. This may be one of the reasons why, in related news, wholesale consumer electronics distributor Petra Industries this week announced a partnership with WHOOSH!, which makes a popular and sleekly-packaged line of gadget screen cleaning kits and products. Interested resellers can go to Petra’s site for Pocket Screen Shine, Screen Shine Duo, and other WHOOSH! products

For more discussion on why cleaning products are the new must-carry retail accessory for consumer electronics resellers, watch our latest Insider Talk, available to stream on Dealerscope‘s Facebook page, featuring guests Pamela Andrews and Ruben Tellez of ZEISS Vision Care.

Nationwide Partners With CEDIA To Broaden Learning Platforms

Nationwide Marketing Group, industry buying group, which provides marketing and business support for retailers, and CEDIA, which serves the residential integration industry with support and training, are joining together. This partnership will provide Home Technology Specialists Nationwide (HTSN) dealers access to a well-rounded education platform.

According to the two organizations, through the partnership HTSN dealers will receive complimentary membership with CEDIA, paid by Nationwide, and CEDIA member pricing toward CEDIA Academy courses and other training opportunities. CEDIA and Nationwide are also collaborating to offer CEDIA Outreach Instructor Train the Trainer courses at future Nationwide PrimeTime shows and HTSN Summit events.

Training courses will be integrated into the Nationwide eXchange platform. Therefore, through one portal, HTSN dealers will be able to explore CEDIA’s training opportunities and shop for product for their businesses.

For complete details, visit Connected Design.

Nikon’s Z9 Mirrorless Camera Is in the Works

Nikon Z9 Mirrorless Camera

On Tuesday, Nikon announced that they’ve been working on the first flagship Z series mirrorless camera, the Nikon Z9, that will be dropping later this year. Details are sparse at the moment but there is reason to be excited nonetheless.

What we do know at this point is that the Z9 will support 8K video recording and some key features include a new image-processing engine and a newly developed FX-format stacked CMOS sensor. The press release also vaguely mentioned that there will be “various other video specifications that fulfill diverse needs and workflows.” As The Verge pointed out, the Z9 looks like a combination of the mirrorless Z7 and the D6 full-frame DSLR but with a grip-style body. And that’s about it.

As usual, Nikon Rumors posted some of their predictions for the Z9 if you’re hungry for more details, whether they’re true or not. Whatever is to come from the Z9, Nikon is making a bold claim that it will deliver “the best still and video performance in Nikon’s history.”

Reviewing the UK’s #1 Impact Protection Case Brand

Gear 4 smartphone case review

A protective case is a must-have accessory for smartphones today, and Gear4 makes some of the best. The cases we reviewed feature D30, the thinnest, most advanced impact protection material in the world that offers 13-ft. of drop protection. Even with that kind of durability, the cases are actually pretty slim and lightweight. They’re also made up of recycled plastic and RepelFlex making them a sustainable and clean solution.

Check out Gear4’s iPhone12 Pro cases in action below.

Kwikset Introduces Entry-Level Smart Lock, the Home Connect 620

kwikset home connect 620
Credit: iStock

Residential security leader, Kwikset, has just debuted its latest Z-Wave connected smart lock: the Home Connect 620 retailing for $150.

The first in the Home Connect line, the Home Connect 620 offers: one-touch locking; a 10-button keypad; and 250 unique user codes all powered by the latest Z-Wave 700 chip technology. The new chip tacks on several enhancements including extended wireless range and wireless security features to reduce a network’s vulnerability during enrollment. It also boosts the battery life as well.

The Home Connect 620 pairs effortlessly a variety of smart home systems providing homeowners access to their front door at all times. When paired with a supported home platform, the smart lock can be locked or unlocked remotely – a convenient feature for when you’re in bed and can’t remember if you locked the door. The all-metal encasing comes in five finishes and pairs neatly with any front door or home style while maintaining its toughness.

The Home Connect 620 can receive notifications from anywhere there is an internet connection through a home automation system – great for when homeowners want to send a temporary access codes to family and guests. The lock’s Mastercode protects against lock tampering and can be managed wirelessly for additional security.

Kwikset’s SmartKey Security protects against even the most advanced break-in methods like torque attacks and lock bumping, but also passes some of the old-fashioned methods like lock-picking. With SmartKey Security, homeowners can reset their security by re-keying their locks quickly and easily, making any lost, loaned or unreturned keys useless.

“The new Home Connect 620 represents a great way for homeowners to get started in the electronic lock arena,” says Matt Zimmer, Vice-President Marketing – Spectrum Brands HHI Security Hardware. “With this exceptional value in smart locks, homeowners can experience the comfort, convenience and safety of electronic security and remote access control.”

Curacao to Pay $10.5 Million to Settle Customer Defrauding Lawsuit

Retailer Curacao to Pay $15 Million Settlement
Los Angeles-based retailer Curacao operates nine stores in Southern California.

Los Angeles-based retail chain Curacao, which operates stores in Arizona, California, and Nevada, will pay $10.5 million as a partial settlement of allegations that it defrauded its mostly Spanish-speaking Latino customers in California. The lawsuit filed by the California attorney general’s office alleged that the retailer, which runs nine stores in the Golden State, repeatedly marketed discount prices and affordable financing options and then refused to honor them unless shoppers agreed to add-on purchases of accessories, warranties, and installation packages. In some instances, the lawsuit alleged, these extra items were added without customers’ knowledge.

“Curacao claimed to be part of Southern California’s Latino community. It then proceeded to defraud low-income individuals, Spanish speakers, and immigrants with little or no experience entering into long-term financing contracts,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “This company fleeced its own loyal customers who simply walked into its department store looking for a decent deal.”

The settlement against Curacao parent company Adir International and its owner Ron Azarkman also includes $10 million in debt relief and debt forgiveness for any victims of the retailer’s predatory credit practices, which went so far as to take customers to small claims court and garnish wages on unpaid bills. According to allegations, Curacao didn’t disclose important terms in financing contracts and sometimes only provided contracts in English to primarily Spanish-speaking customers.

As part of the settlement, Curacao has agreed to numerous terms, including posting a consumers’ bill or rights in its stores, selling items as advertised, disclosing contract terms before signings, and providing contracts in customers’ own languages. Curacao will also clear the credit records and stop debt collection efforts for recipients of unlawful default judgements, among other agreed-upon terms.

The settlement addresses only part of California’s lawsuit, which will separately try claims around Curacao’s payment protection plans and insurance policies at Los Angeles Supreme Court.

Sonos Debuts Roam, its Smallest, Most Versatile Speaker Yet

Sonos Roam Speaker

During a press event yesterday, Sonos introduced us to its latest (and smallest) smart speaker we’ve seen yet. The Sonos Roam was designed to ease the transition from listening at home to on-the-go both in terms of the speaker’s size and pairing abilities.

Weighing in at just under a pound, Sonos Roam is ultra-lightweight and portable – but it is certainly not fragile. With an IP67 rating, Roam is drop proof, dust proof, and waterproof for up to 30 minutes under 3-ft. of water. With tactile, slightly-embossed buttons, Sonos ensured that if a drop does happen, you won’t accidentally hit a button that skips the song or blasts the volume.

Users can choose to position Roam vertically to maximize space or lay it down horizontally and enjoy the same great sound from either option. With Trueplay, Roam optimizes its sound based on where you are and what you’re listening to. As you come and go, Roam will automatically switch from your WiFi network to your phone and vice-versa without interrupting your music. Upon arriving home you decide you want to switch your sound from Roam to another Sonos speaker, Sound Swap makes it easy to send the music to the neatest speaker just by holding Roam’s play/pause button.

Roam is compatible with over 100 streaming systems for music, audiobooks, podcasts, and more. You’ll also get access to Sonos Radio where you can find more than 60,000 live broadcast radio stations around the world as well as original content from Sonos. Control the sound with your voice through Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, the Sonos app, or with the buttons on the device.

This powerful, on-the-go speaker also has a battery life to match. Roam offers 10 hours of continuous playback on a single charge and conserves its power for up to 10 days by falling asleep when not in use. To power up, simply place Roam on its custom-designed magnetic charger or any Qi wireless charger.

The Sonos Roam will be available on April 20, 2021 for $169.

Today on Insider Talk: Cleaning Products for Tech Retailers

ZEISS Vision Care Insider Talk
Tune in to today’s Insider Talk with ZEISS Vision Care at 4 p.m. EST on Dealerscope’s Facebook page.

Tune in to this evening’s episode of Dealerscope Insider Talk where Pamela Andrews and Ruben Tellez of ZEISS Vision Care will discuss why cleaning products are a necessary companion to tech products at retail. Most of us know we should be wiping down our cell phones and gadgets on a regular basis, but we don’t do it as often as we should and sometimes we’re not sure of the best products to use. As the pair will describe, there is actually a science behind the moisture level of their wipes and products are thoroughly tested to ensure that absolutely no damage is done.

Dealerscope Insider Talk will go live on Facebook today at 4 p.m. EST. Head over to our Facebook page to set a reminder.

Galanz, Konka, and Whirlpool Among Exhibitors at CE China 2021

CE China 2021 returns to show floor format
Last year, CE China's CE Summit featured speakers and on-stage demos to an audience of socially-distanced, mask-wearing attendees.

After modifying its usual format last year to address pandemic-related health risks, CE China will resume a more typical format complete with company booths and a show floor when it takes place from September 16-18, 2021 at the Guangzhou Poly World Trade Center Expo in Guangzhou, China. Aimed at consumer electronics and home appliance brands looking to break into retail markets in Asia, the IFA Global event offers a business-friendly platform for manufacturers from across the globe to showcase their products to organizations such as Suning and Tmall/Alibaba, two of China’s biggest retailers (as well as official CE China 2021 partners).

Already companies such as Changhong, Cuori, Galanz, Konka, Vatti, and Whirlpool have signed on to have booths and stands on the show floor, with more to follow. Taking place on the heels of IFA Berlin (September 3-7, 2021), CE China will have many of the new gadgets and appliances launched earlier that month.

Launched in Shenzhen in 2016, CE China moved to Guangzhou for its 2019 edition, which was attended by 10,815 visitors from 45 countries. In 2020, the show took place in a more subdued format as the CE Summit, which featured a mix of workshops and industry speakers (IFA Retail University), as well as exhibitors demo-ing new products, on a stage before an audience of mask-wearing, socially-distanced attendees.

Any companies interested in exhibiting may take advantage of the early-bird discount, which ends on April 30, 2021.

CE China is operated by IFA Berlin, which is a subsidiary of Messe-Berlin, the same company that owns Dealerscope publisher CT Lab Global Media.

Ferran Reverter Bids Farewell to Media-Saturn; Heads to FC Barcelona

Ferran Reverter

As the end of his contract nears, Ferran Reverter has decided not to continue as Media-Saturn-Holding‘s (MSH) CEO. Instead, he will pursue a new role as CEO of FC Barcelona as the club’s President, Joan Laporta, looks to strengthen his front office.

“The Supervisory Board would like to thank Ferran Reverter very much for his great achievements and his passionate commitment to MediaMarktSaturn in almost twenty years,” said Thomas Dannenfeldt, Chairman of Ceconomy AG, parent company of MediaMarkt and Saturn. “For the past two and a half years he has done an extraordinary job as CEO of MediaMarktSaturn under difficult conditions. He leaves behind a well-positioned and resilient company with many growth opportunities. We wish him all the best in his new role in his hometown of Barcelona.”

The 48-year old has been with the European consumer electronics company since 2002. Over the course of his career, Reverter has held numerous management positions within various parts of the company. In 2011 Reverter became COO of MediaMarkt Iberia, heading the company’s entire business in Spain. Two years later, he was promoted to CEO of the Iberian business, and another two years after that, he became COO of MSH. In October 2018, Reverter was appointed CEO of MSH.

“Ferran Reverter has made a significant contribution to the transformation of the company,” Ceconomy CEO Dr. Bernhard Düttmann remarks. “In the last two years, Reverter has also built up a strong new management team at MediaMarktSaturn with a focus on operational excellence, which will continue to ensure the successful management of the countries. I regret but respect his decision, because the new task represents the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for him.”

Reflecting back on his 20-year run with the company, Reverter says, “MediaMarktSaturn is not just any company. It has been my professional home for more than 18 years. This decision was extremely difficult for me. At the same time, I can take this step with the clear conviction that MediaMarktSaturn has a great future ahead of me. Now I’m looking forward to a new chapter in my life. To have the chance to play a decisive role in shaping the future of what is perhaps the largest and most famous club in the world, and that in my hometown, where my family lives – this opportunity only exists once in a lifetime.”

Thumb-Size Insta360 GO 2 Is the “World’s Smallest Action Camera”

Insta360 GO 2 action cam with mobile app
The Insta360 action cam's mobile app lets you preview footage on the go.

From the modular ONE R to the ONE X2, Insta360 keeps coming out with unique and cleverly-designed action cams that make those made by GoPro and its ilk look positively pedestrian. Available today, the pill-shaped Insta360 Go 2 action cam, a follow-up to 2019’s first generation GO camera, does not disappoint on the nifty, surprising, and delightful front.

Like its predecessor, the oval pendant-like device is literally–at 2.08 by 0.93 by 0.81 inches–the size of a mini-hotdog and weighs just under an ounce. Insta360 is calling it the “world’s smallest action camera,” and it is indeed a fraction of the size of boxy action cams. As such, it’s more versatile in terms of placement, with a built-in magnet that is used to instantly and easily attach to included accessories such as the Magnet Pendant, which clips onto a shirt or pocket, or the Easy Clip, which can be fastened onto a headband or hat for instant POV views.

Taking a design cue from totally wireless earbuds, the GO 2 comes with an oval charge case that not only adds 120 minutes to the GO 2’s 30-minute standalone battery life (and charges up to 80 percent in just 23 minutes), but also functions as a remote control and tripod.

The multi-function charging case is just one way that the GO 2 improves upon its predecessor. Other upgrades include several new field of view options, the ability to create longer clips (up to 30 minutes FPV and 15 minutes with basic stabilization), and an IPX8 waterproof rating down to 13 feet depth. The ½.3-inch image sensor enables detailed and clear pictures, including wide-angle, in any kind of light, as well as a higher exported video resolution of 1440p.

As with other Insta360 action cameras, the GO 2 has the company’s FlowState video stabilization capability built in, as well as a companion mobile app, which lets you easily edit clips and even preview shots (via WiFi direct) so you can modify settings before shooting. The included Flash 2.0 AI-powered editing software uses computer vision to automatically scan clips for highlights and then edits them into a reel, complete with soundtrack music.

Available now directly from Insta360.com and a few retailers, the Insta360 GO 2 ($300) comes with the Charge Case, Magnet Pendant, Easy Clip, Pivot Stand, and Lens Guard (see them in action in both the gallery and video below). Consumers can customize skins for the camera on the Insta360 site. This summer, the GO 2 will be available in a limited “Minions Edition” in yellow and blue that looks just like the eponymous oval-shaped animated characters.

Insta360 GO 2 Charge Case
The Insta360 GO 2’s charge case can juice the battery up to 80 percent capacity in just 23 minutes.
Insta360 charge case as tripod
The GO 2’s Charge Case can be used as a tripod.
Insta360 GO 2 Easy Clip
The GO 2’s Easy Clip attaches to headbands and hats.
Insta360 GO 2 Pivot Stand
The GO 2’s Pivot Stand accessory.
Insta360 GO 2 Pivot Stand on a car window
The Pivot Stand helps position the GO 2 from many angles.
Insta360 GO 2 PIvot Stand on a dog
Dog POV videos are a cinch with the Pivot Stand.
Insta360 GO 2 camera on a ski helmet
The GO 2’s IPX8 waterproof rating protects in action scenarios from swimming to skiing.
Insta360 GO 2 Magnet Pendant
The Magnet Pendant lets you attach the Insta360 Go 2 to your shirt.
Insta360 GO 2 Minions Edition
The GO 2 Minions Edition will be available this summer.

Insta360’s YouTube launch video below gives a thorough overview of the GO 2 camera’s functionality and features in various action and lifestyle scenarios.

Hampton Products Names Greg Gluchowski President and CEO

Greg Gluchowski Hampton Products

Leading provider of security and hardware solutions, Hampton Products International, has appointed Gregory J. Gluchowski, Jr. as President and CEO of the company. The firm has previously been under the leadership of Kim Kelley since 1990. Kelley will transition to the role of executive chairman of the board of directors and remain a full-time employee.

Hampton Products

“Our search for a strong and innovative leader to take Hampton Products to the next level led us to Greg, who is committed to meaningful product innovation, operational excellence, and unparalleled customer service and value,” Kelley remarked. “Greg is a proven leader and we are confident he can build on our strong cultural and business foundation to drive meaningful business and organizational growth.”

Gluchowski brings 20 years worth of industry experience to the role that consists of serving customers and driving profitable growth. In his most recent position, Gluchowski held the title of President and CEO of The Hillman Group, Inc. from 2015 through 2019. During that time, Gluchowski was credited with growing the hardware solutions provider into a $1.2B company. He also led the company through four acquisitions and transformed its core business structure. Further down his resume, Gluchowski acted as president of the Hardware & Home Improvement Group (HHI) of Spectrum Brands Holdings Inc. from 2010-2015. During that time, HHI’s Kwikset, Baldwin, Weiser and Stanley-National Hardware were among the top-selling brands in their respective categories, and Pfister was a top-five U.S. faucet brand. He also oversaw the development and debut of Kwikset Kevo smart locks as well as other innovations.

Gluchowski earned his MBA from Indiana University and completed his undergraduate studies at Purdue University. Since 2015, he has served as an independent director with American Outdoors Brands and UniKey Technologies since 2019. He previously served on the board of directors of Milacron Holdings Corp and of several regional non-profits.

“I’m excited to lead a company with a diverse collection of products, substantial long term relationships and an inventive mindset that can drive meaningful product innovation for our customers,” Gluchowski remarked. “I look forward to working with the strong leadership team and talented staff to build on the extensive foundation in place and to grow the company with meaningful new solutions to serve our customers, and their customers, throughout North America.”

Don’t Rule Out the Shiny Disc

Cambridge Audio

I’ve had my hands on many great products from British hi-fi giant Cambridge Audio. In addition to their combination of high value and high performance, they are effortless to use. Here are a few of their more recent products that address current trends in personal and home audio. 

First, wireless earbuds. While this isn’t bleeding-edge technology anymore, getting great sound from a $150 pair of buds is. In addition to game-changing sound for the price, the Melomania  Touch buds offer intuitive functionality. These are the easiest-to-use wireless devices you’ll ever interact with. Once the Melomania app is installed on your Android or iOS device, it automatically pairs your earbuds, giving you access to “the hub.” This features an equalizer with five different soundscape profiles (including one customized by you), access to left/right balance, volume, a transparency mode, and charge remaining. The transparency mode adjusts just how much noise canceling the Melomanias provide, so you can dial your environment in and out to your taste. They afford complete privacy, if you and a sleepover buddy are both snuggling in bed, watching your own movies on your own pads, and more access to the outside world, when you’re listening for the doorbell to ring. 

The best part of the app isn’t the multiple sound controls – it’s the Find My Earphones screen. For every one of you that’s lost a pair of earbuds somewhere, this is fantastic. On an Uber-like map, the Hub will show you where you last used your buds. This takes user friendliness to another level, making them the best buds ever. 

Great sound quality from Cambridge is a given, but the Melomania Touch raises the bar for the price point. Running through a long playlist of everything from opera to Oasis, these buds create a large, almost trippy sound field inside of your head, with incredibly natural tonality. Finally, the fit quality is excellent, which goes a long way to help you forget you have things plugged in your ears! The Cambridge Audio Melomania earbuds are a success on every level and are available in white or black. 

Though everyone is talking about vinyl these days, the Compact Disc is also making a quiet comeback. Strong as streaming is, there are still selections you just can’t get via Tidal, Roon, Spotify, or others. With all the hardware, firmware, and iOS updates, there are also times that it all doesn’t talk together as you’d like when you’d like. The minute the music stops, the party’s over, so on one level, the CD is still an excellent source of last resort. 

Turntable setup is still work, and as digital playback has improved so much in the last 10 years, a sub-$1,000 CD player can be a legitimate audiophile choice. With the CXC CD transport ($599), 851C player/DAC/preamplifier ($1,500), and the entry-level AXC35CD player ($350), Cambridge offers something for everyone. If you’re satisfied with your current DAC but don’t want to abandon your shiny disc collection, the CXC is a perfect choice. Building a high-performance budget system? The AXC35CD player fits the bill – and the companion AXA35 integrated amplifier is a perfect complement (and it offers a built-in phono section, so you can spin whatever type of physical media you enjoy). 

Gregg Chopper, director of The Americas at Cambridge Audio, feels that “many of our listeners still have extensive CD collections, and there’s a definite demand for equipment that will play their collections back at their best.” He goes on to mention that there is a robust demand worldwide, beyond the U.K. and U.S. markets, and “the CXC is a component many customers purchase as they transfer to streaming, but don’t want to fully abandon physical playback.” 

Because so many manufacturers have abandoned the affordable transport space, the CXC makes a perfect addition to an existing DAC or even a pair of powered speakers with built-in digital decoding. Running an AudioQuest optical cable to our Totem Kin Play powered speakers made playing a pile of recently acquired CDs fun and easy. Should your amplifier or powered speakers not feature an onboard DAC, the AXC35 CD player fills the bill, featuring everything you need to play your CD collection.  

Where some of us of a certain age are re-discovering our parents’ (or grandparents’) vinyl collection, others are finding CD collections lurking about. There’s still something relaxing about just pushing the play button and hearing the tracks sequenced as the artist intended. For now, Cambridge has chosen to stay out of the SACD category, no doubt because of the smaller demographic. Still, Chopper says that they “continue to evaluate the demands for these products.” 

Music-lovers wanting to stream their libraries can opt for the flagship EDGE NQ ($5,000) preamplifier/network player or the AZUR 851N network player ($1,500). Both feature wired and wireless network access, so connectivity is assured, regardless of your way to stream content. The usual USB and TOSLINK connections are available for those using a laptop as a source component. And, their streamers are ROON ready. When asked if this was a tough design choice, Chopper says, “Easy. Roon is an essential feature if you want to be taken seriously as a streaming hardware expert.” 

This dovetails perfectly with the recent ROON 1.8 release. If you haven’t tried ROON yet, this is a great time to jump on board with ROON’s infrastructure, making it easier than ever to experience your favorite music. Whether you are streaming music from a NAS, attached hard drive, or your favorite streaming service, ROON integrates it all effortlessly. Connecting to your network is only a few clicks away. 

Finally, the look and feel of the Cambridge gear is decidedly upscale. Performance purists may not be as concerned about this aspect of Cambridge products, but their willingness to put black and silver up on the shelf in favor of a new grey is smashing. Chopper expands, saying they call it Lunar Grey. “All of our product design decisions are made by an extremely talented team of industrial designers at our London HQ. The finish, along with other signature design features like the wedge foot at the front of our CX and AX components, gives our entire range a coherent brand identity that says discreet elegance rather than ‘look at me.’” 

A fantastic lineup, to be sure, regardless of how you’d like to access your digital music library.  

OnePlus, Hasselblad Team Up for Smartphone Camera Tech

Walter Schirra Hasselblad
Astronaut Walter Schirra introduced Hasselblad cameras to NASA in 1962. [Courtesy of Hasselblad.]

Hasselblad is best-known for its medium format cameras, several of which have been used on NASA space missions, but it has also collaborated with several smartphone manufacturers such as Lenovo/Motorola, BlackBerry, and Vertu. Those collaborations were short-lived and underwhelming, which may be one of the reasons why the Swedish camera manufacturer is jumping into something deeper and more long-term. Today, Hasselblad and mobile device manufacturer OnePlus announced a new three-year partnership to develop cutting-edge camera capabilities for the latter’s upcoming generations of high-performance (but bang-for-the-buck) Android devices. The first fruits of the collaboration will find their way into the new OnePlus 9 Series smartphone, which will launch at a streaming event on March 23rd at 10am, along with a few other announcements teased with space-themed imagery on the mobile manufacturer’s website.

Even before the partnership was announced, the two companies were working together on the Hasselblad Camera for Mobile technology that will make its first appearance on the soon-to-launch OnePlus Series phone. Besides several months of development on more realistic and natural colors via the Natural Color Calibration with Hasselblad technology, the two companies are also focusing on individual controls for more seasoned photographers. In addition to enabling the use of 12-bit RAW format images, the new Hasselblad Pro Mode lets photographers adjust ISO, focus, exposure times, and white balance via an interface that was adapted from the camera manufacturer’s existing image processing software.

OnePlus also announced that it is investing $150 million over the next three years on advancing its camera technologies, most of it developed at the company’s four imaging and research labs across the globe. New areas of development include a 140-degree-field-of-view panoramic mode, ultra-fast focus capability (T-lens), and a freeform lens to reduce edge distortion on wide-angle images.

Full details on the upcoming OnePlus 9 Series smartphones won’t be released until March 23rd, but the company has revealed that the new devices will include a Sony IMX789 sensor, the largest so far on any OnePlus phone, with the resulting 12-bit RAW capability offering more data for greater editing capability. Hasselblad’s software will also deliver upgraded HDR video recording that can capture 4K 120FPS and 8K 30FPS video.

While close collaborations between Huawei and Leica and Sony and Zeiss have delivered impressive imaging innovation, it’s still not clear how deep and integrated the Hasselblad and OnePlus partnership will be, since mobile imaging is as much software and processor advances as it is about mechanics and lenses. Even so, the big push into camera technology is a smart move for OnePlus. Its cameras are one area that could use improvement when compared with other “flagship” phones from Apple and Samsung.

Available directly from OnePlus.com, T-Mobile, Verizon, online retailers such as Amazon, and brick-and-mortar stores such as Best Buy and B&H Photo Video that sell carrier or unlocked devices, the company has developed a loyal fan base and reputation for state-of-the-art and sleekly-designed smartphones with hip packaging and branding at more affordable prices than similar top-of-the-line models from Apple and Samsung. Aside from flagship models, the company’s entry-level Nord phone is a surprise hit at Metro by T-Mobile, according to Wave7 Research. By shoring up its imaging technology, OnePlus could prove to be an even more serious competitor to the established players.

Dana Carvey to Make Virtual PrimeTime Appearance

Dana Carvey coming to Virtual PrimeTime
SNL funnyman Dana Carvey will interview Nationwide's Tom HIckman after the PrimeTime Palooza event.

After a few weeks of teasing the appearance of a “special celebrity guest” at the upcoming Virtual PrimeTime, Nationwide Marketing Group (NMG) has revealed that boldface name to be none other than funnyman and impressionist extraordinaire Dana Carvey. No stranger to being interviewed, the SNL vet will reverse the tables this time and interview National Marketing Group President and Chief Member Advocate Tom Hickman. The sit-down will take place right after the limited-time-and-quantity buying blitz known as PrimeTime Palooza, which this year has the added benefit of a dedicated mobile app to optimize the virtual experience.

Carvey is no stranger to trade shows such as CES and the like, and he is sure to bring the funny to the second edition of Virtual PrimeTime, which featured more than 1,300 member companies and was attended by more than 3,200 people in its inaugural edition in October.

The celebrity guest may have been identified, but some mystery remains around the identities of some of Carvey’s classic characters. Based on the soupy mélange faces and voices that Carvey exhibits in the video below, it could be Church Lady, Hans, Ross Perot, Garth, or who knows “comin’ at ya.”

Carvey’s post-Palooza party appearance and interview takes place at 6pm Central Time on March 6, 2021, and is open to all attendees of Virtual PrimeTime. Register here for Virtual PrimeTime, then feel free to send any questions for Carvey to ask Hickman at share@nationwidegroup.org.

Swidget Receives NAHB Global Innovation Award

Modular smart device manufacturer, Swidget, earns award from the National Association of Home Builders

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently announced its 2020 Global Innovation Awards. Among the winners is Swidget, a manufacturer of modular smart devices. Swidget serves the technology, HVAC, and home building industries, providing solutions for health and wellness; energy savings and conservation; and safety and security, it said in a statement. 

Full story can be found on Connected Design.

Metra Home Theater Rebrands as MetraAV

Metra Home Theater Group announced a brand revamp this week that includes a change to their name and slogan. They have gone from Metra Home Theater Group: The Installer’s Choice to MetraAV: The Integrator’s Choice. These subtle changes were made to reflect the company’s evolution into the commercial integration space. More changes are set to come as the month progresses including a new logo and a website redesign.

Read the full story on Connected Design.

5 Retail Trends to Watch in 2021

Retail Trends 2021

As we enter the spring of 2021, there are positive signs that we may be approaching the light at the end of the tunnel with the coronavirus pandemic.  

But even if we see something approximating normalcy by this summer, the effects on customer behavior that have been learned over the course of the last year are unlikely to be unlearned overnight – and some changes that went into effect during the pandemic period may not go away at all.  

Some trends that we can expect to continue for the rest of 2021:  

1. E-commerce is Here to Stay  

The pandemic, of course, accelerated previous trends towards e-commerce’s growth. According to U.S. Department of Commerce data, e-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2020 reached $199.44 billion, a 37.1 percent surge over the same quarter the year before. The growth in the second quarter, of 44.4 percent, had been even higher.  

“Consumers have embraced online shopping with vigor, and retailers have responded with the speedy rollout of new technologies, new apps and new ways of meeting shoppers’ needs,” the National Retail Federation’s vice president of education strategy, Susan Reda, said in a blog post in December.  “The words ‘contactless’ and ‘frictionless’ have quickly become part of the vernacular, and companies that have managed to break the mold and adapt are winning.” 

IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index estimated that the pandemic has accelerated the move towards e-commerce by a matter of years. So even as stores have reopened, and will reopen further as 2021 goes on, customers aren’t going to go back to normal right away.  

2. A Big Step Towards Drone Delivery 

Drone delivery has been on the public radar for many years, ever since Amazon’s Jeff Bezos revealed the existence of a plan to deliver it in a 60 Minutes interview back in 2013.  

But in 2020, that technology took a big step forward. UPS, along with CVS, last spring launched a pilot program to use drones to deliver medicine to senior citizens in Florida. The test was limited, going only a half mile and delivering to a pickup location, with a truck taking them the last mile. But it showed a glimpse of the day when drones could take product deliveries directly to the customer’s front door. And in December, the FAA announced new rules for how drones will work for such applications as deliveries, which could affect companies from UPS to Walmart to Amazon.  

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in the December announcement. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.” 

Regular drone delivery is unlikely to be a ubiquitous feature of e-commerce in 2021. But get ready to see more pilot programs and further steps toward the day when it is.  

3. Faster-Than-Ever Shipping 

The rise of Amazon Prime in recent years has made customers expect not only free shipping, but in some cases, same-day delivery. In 2020, Amazon announced that it was expanding its Same-Day Delivery program, offering “click to doorstep in just a few hours” for customers in four U.S. cities.  

Walmart, too, is offering Express Delivery, promising, “We’ll deliver what you need in two hours or less.” If the giants are offered such delivery perks, customers are going to begin to expect such things from retail in general.  

Deliveries are also being done by non-traditional means. DoorDash even debuted a fleet of food delivery robots, which can deliver up to 22 pounds of food.  

4. Retail Casualties of the Pandemic  

Several major American retailers, including Modell’s Sporting Goods, Century 21, Lord & Taylor, and Stein Mart, were liquidated in the year of the pandemic, while many others (Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, J.C. Penney and the parent company of Men’s Wearhouse) have declared bankruptcy but are expected to eventually emerge, with a smaller store footprint. And while much less heralded, the pandemic led to the deaths of thousands of smaller businesses.  

This carnage will have several effects on surviving retailers. It represents the elimination of competition, as well as the opening up of a huge amount of commercial space. The closings likely also have made many experienced retail employees available and looking for work.  

The Wall Street Journal reported last August that Amazon was in talks with mall operator Simon Property Group about locating Amazon fulfillment centers in some former Sears and J.C. Penney stores, but it doesn’t appear those talks resulted in a deal. How the real estate picture shakes out, as the pandemic recedes, is a story worth watching in 2021.  

5. The Continuing Rise of Augmented Reality 

Retailers have been playing with the potential of augmented reality (AR) for close to a decade. But AR was one of the technologies that accelerated in a huge way due to the pandemic.  

As laid out in a report late last year by the Harvard Business Review, numerous retailers from Louis Vuitton to IKEA tried out online “try-before-you-buy” online experiences during the time when their stores were closed. And as stores have reopened, some stores still taking precautions have continued to offer such tools to demonstrate their products more safely.  

Shopify said last September that “interactions with products having 3D/AR content showed a 94% higher conversion rate than for products without AR/3D.”  

These represent just some of the more prominent retail trends that have surfaced along with the progression of COVID-19. Whether they will stick or vanish, post-pandemic, remains to be seen. Stay tuned! 

Sound Meets Sanitation in iHome’s POWERUVC Pro

iHome UVBT1 UV-C Sanitizer and Bluetooth Alarm Clock Speaker

The past 12 months have brought devices that use UV-C light to sanitize smartphones, credit cards, keys, remote controls and more into the mainstream. With the iUVBT1 POWERUVC Pro, which combines an ultraviolet light sanitizer with a Bluetooth-enabled clock radio, iHome has found a way to make an otherwise utilitarian medical device something that not only looks good on a table, desk, or nightstand, but sounds good, too. For a closer look, watch the latest Unboxed video review below.

Nikon Offers Free All-in-One Editing Tool

Nikon NX Studio

Nikon has just released a new all-in-one software for viewing, processing, and editing still images and videos, and the best part is: it’s free. The software is available to download today. The only catch is that the images and videos must be captured with a Nikon digital camera.

The new NX STUDIO computer software combines elements of Nikon’s ViewNX-i image viewing software and Capture NX-D processing and editing software to create a more intuitive, single solution. Users can enjoy all of the basic editing features like white balance and exposure settings for RAW data and other picture controls. The NX STUDIO also allows creators to hone in on all of the beautiful details of their photos with tools that adjust only specific colors or areas of the image.

Users will be happy to know that the NX STUDIO offers the same user-friendly interface as previous Nikon applications with an upgrade to the menu design and overall organization. Functions like processing, editing, browsing, exporting, and sharing are all easy to access and faster than ever.

Once photos and videos are done, users can transfer their finished products to NIKON IMAGE SPACE, Nikon’s image sharing and storing service, or upload their videos to YouTube.

Key Features of NX STUDIO Include:

  • Vewing, processing, and editing are all done in one place. Accepted file types include: JPG, TIFF and .NEF (RAW) files.
  • Intuitive menu structure categorized by workflow
  • Terminology and menu items mirror that of Nikon cameras providing clarity for users
  • Features detailed editing functions from Capture NX-D, including color adjustment for specified areas
  • Works with other software such as Nikon Transfer 2 and Camera Control Pro 2 for a smooth post-shooting workflow
  • And more!

NX STUDIO will be updated as future camera models roll out, ensuring the longevity of the software for the end user.

HIFIMAN’s New Planar Magnetic Headphones Set to Ship

HIFIMAN HE400se

High fidelity personal audio company, HIFIMAN, is set to ship what they’re calling a “powerful” new planar magnetic headphone at an aggressive price point.

The HE400se are a pair of open-back planar magnetic headphones that employ single-ended drivers creating a wide soundstage with accurate spatial imaging. Thanks to increased efficiency to 91dB, the HE400se works seamlessly with smartphones and tablets, delivering the same quality as they do with a full-size amplifier.

“HIFIMAN is famous for developing planar magnetic headphones that bring real-world full-range sonics to personal audio,” says HIFIMAN Electronics President and CEO, Dr. Fang Bian. “The HE400se is the result of our tapping our deep background in planar magnetic design to create a headphone with a wide soundstage and detailed imaging at a price that is within reach of nearly every music lover with a smart portable device, no matter if the source is a high-res. audio player or a common smartphone.”

The HE400se headphones are also fairly lightweight coming in about 30 percent lighter than comparable magnetic headphones on the market. Weighing in at a mere 13 ¾ oz, these comfortable headphones allow for extended listening sessions. To add to that, a a newly-designed headband and beveled hybrid earpads make for a comfortable, easy-to-wear pair of headphones. HIFIMAN says the thickness of the padding feels “almost as if it is custom-tailored to each listener’s head.”

The HE400se headphones will be available next month, retailing for $149. Purchase options include HIFIMAN’s online store and Amazon.

Electric Avenue: The Future of Electric Vehicles

General Motors Connected Car
General Motors reveals its all-new modular platform and battery system, Ultium, Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at the Design Dome on the GM Tech Center campus in Warren, Michigan. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)

It can be said that Tesla was the manufacturer that made electric vehicles ‘cool’ – as vehicles with real technological horsepower. But going back just 10 short years ago, electric vehicles were not ready for primetime. Back then, what we all wanted (and still want) was the ability to help reduce carbon emissions, but lithium-ion technology was in its infancy, and quite costly. Additionally, charging stations were not just few and far between… they were virtually nonexistent. Now, we are getting used to the sight of charging stations, even if they are not as prominent as the Mobil, Texaco and Shell stations that dot our nation. As the Tesla vehicle lineup grows (along with the company’s stock price), legacy automakers and startups are introducing their own electric vehicles. Some of them have technologies that would make even Mr. Musk do a double-take. Moreover, we will be seeing even greater proliferation of charging stations, so the possibilities of an all-electric road trip are becoming a reality.

GM plans to become carbon neutral in its global products and operations by 2040 and has committed to setting science-based targets to achieve carbon neutrality. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)

GM is locking horns with Tesla to capture some of the electric vehicle market. At CES, the General was bullish on electrification. “General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe, working to establish a safer, greener and better world,” said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.” Right after the show, the company announced work being done with the Environmental Defense Fund. The goal is to have all of GM’s light-duty (meaning passenger) vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035. Fifteen years does not seem that far away for the phasing out of the internal combustion engine in cars. But it is a lofty goal that seems attainable with halo vehicles such as the GMC Hummer EV ‘Supertruck.’  Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp is working with GM to make all-electric happen: “With this extraordinary step forward, GM is making it crystal clear that taking action to eliminate pollution from all new light-duty vehicles by 2035 is an essential element of any automaker’s business plan. EDF and GM have had some important differences in the past, but this is a new day in America — one where serious collaboration to achieve transportation electrification, science-based climate progress and equitably shared economic opportunity can move our nation forward.”  

The Hummer Supertruck 

The 2022 GMC HUMMER EV is designed to be an off-road beast, with all-new features developed to conquer virtually any obstacle or terrain.

We were able to speak with Tom Namovich, the product manager for Hummer EV. “When we started out with the blank page for Hummer EV, our goal was the build the fastest, most capable and most premium truck. Ever. By doing so, we created the world’s first Supertruck,” according to him. Size-wise, the GMC Hummer EV is about the size of an extended cab pickup truck but with incredible capabilities. Namovich continues, “The heart of our product is innovative technology – this vehicle is leading GM’s charge into electric vehicles with our Ultium battery technology.” The technology is a modular battery system that allows the cells to be stacked horizontally or vertically within the pack, allowing for better packaging depending on the vehicle type and shape. Additionally, GM’s joint venture with LG Chem will drive battery cell costs below $100/kWh. The cells use a proprietary low cobalt chemistry, and ongoing technological and manufacturing breakthroughs that will drive costs even lower. In the Hummer, the battery pack is estimated for 350 miles of range coupled with a fast recharge time of nearly 100 miles in ten minutes when an 800-V, 350kW DC fast charger is available. Namovich notes, “The vehicle itself is quiet because of the electric drivetrain. When you take off the removeable Infinity Roof it allows you to reconnect with the environment. It’s an experience that puts you in the middle of every movement, moving in near silence with nothing between you and the world. Moreover, it is an off-road beast. It can take you virtually anywhere.” This is further enhanced with the Infinity Roof. Four removable roof panels are easily taken off and can be stored in the ‘frunk’ (front trunk) of the Hummer.

When GM comes out with something called a Supertruck, the technology is going to have to be beyond what we have seen in previous GM vehicles. “We have very purposeful technologies built into the vehicle,” Namovich notes. “They are really there not just to do technology for technology’s sake, but to really make it so we have real enhancements to the experience. One of the technologies is our Extract mode. It gives the vehicle an additional four inches of suspension lift to overcome boulders or sand traps. Then there is our Crabwalk, which is accomplished by the four-wheel steering on the vehicle.” Not only can it help you avoid obstacles on the open trail, but it is also very useful for low-speed maneuvers in town. It makes the turning radius similar to a small SUV. “We also have Ultravision, which is our 18-view camera system. It even has front and rear underbody cameras with lens protectors and even a wash to clean the camera system.” The importance of clean camera lenses and keeping sensors clean is going to become even more important as we transition to autonomous vehicles that need to be driven in all weather conditions. Although not fully autonomous, the Hummer will be GMC’s first vehicle to feature Super Cruise: GM’s semi-autonomous cruise control system. This updated Super Cruise hands-free driving system features a new automatic lane-changing feature.        

Finally, the Hummer H2 mode that has enthusiasts excited is called Watts to Freedom, or WTF mode. “Our maximum acceleration mode WTF allows for 1000 horsepower and 11,000 lb-ft of torque which delivers a 0-60 time of three seconds,” he says. It was really designed for a track or closed-course operation, but we are sure enthusiasts will use the feature – hopefully in an appropriate, safe environment.       

Waking Up Lucid 

Lucid is an all-electric startup that has been getting a lot of buzz from the automotive press with the announcement of the Lucid Air. The vehicle is called the Air because of the way Lucid designed the powertrain to maximize space for passengers. However, it is the top model’s dash in the quarter-mile acceleration run of less than 10 seconds that has everyone taking note. Peter Rawlinson, CEO of Lucid, states: “Lucid Motors is driven to make the electric car better, and by doing so, help move the entire industry forward towards accelerated adoption of sustainable mobility. The goal of this relentless approach to developing the world’s most advanced electric vehicle is to benefit all mankind with sustainable, zero emission transportation, and to also attract new customers to the world of EVs. With the Lucid Air, we have created a halo car for the entire industry, one which shows the advancements that are possible by pushing the boundaries of EV technology and performance to new levels.” 

In addition to the speed of the Lucid, the battery pack is also touted to deliver more than 500 miles of range in top trim. We are also interested to see how the ADAS components of the Lucid Air pan out. Rawlinson notes, “The Lucid Air’s advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS), Lucid DreamDrive, is a first-of-its-kind platform combining the most comprehensive sensor suite on the market with a cutting-edge Driver Monitoring System, all standard on the Lucid Air Dream Edition. It is the first system of its kind to offer 32 sensors, covering vision, radar and ultrasonics, plus the world’s first standard high-resolution LIDAR in an EV, all working alongside the standard DMS and geo-fenced HD mapping to provide the safest possible approach to Level 2 and Level 3 driver assistance technologies.” According to Lucid, customer deliveries of the Air, which will be produced at Lucid’s new factory in Casa Grande, Ariz., will begin in Spring of 2021. 

Jaguar: Leveraging What’s Learned at the Racetrack to our Driveways 

James Barclay is the director of the Jaguar Formula E Team. The company has taken what is has learned at the racetrack and applied it to its all-electric I-Pace that has been very successful. Coincidentally, one of those circuits is Red Hook, Brooklyn, N.Y., where a Formula E race is held. The I-Pace was named the 2020 World Car of the Year by automotive journalists. Barclay notes, “Formula E ranks as the third most popular motorsports property globally. It is also the fastest growing. Its fandom places the series ahead of many other longstanding motorsports series and events. It is the first sport with certified net zero carbon footprint since inception – not just motor sports. We returned to racing from Formula 1 to Formula E in 2016. We were the first premium manufacturer to join Formula E. We chose Formula E because we wanted to return to racing, as racing is part of Jaguar’s DNA. Racing has always been about proving technology on the racetrack and bringing it to our consumers.” 

In the Formula E racing rulebook, there are some items that teams are allowed to modify and develop, and some items that must be left unchanged. The aerodynamics are similar among the cars, but the teams can bring the electrification technology to the next level. Barclay notes, “We can develop the powertrain: the electric motor, the inverter, gearbox and all of the software and controls – the brains that drive that powertrain to gain maximum performance. From last season to this season, we have refined over 1,000 components. It is essentially a new racecar every year, and we bring what we learn to our consumer vehicles. For example, we took the knowledge we learned last year from pushing the envelope on the racetrack and applied it to the I-Pace. This correlated to a 20-kilometer improvement in range on the consumer vehicle.” It also works as a two-way street. Sometimes the road car technology makes its way into the racecar. For example, the Traffic Sign Recognition technology that displays the speed limit in most Jaguar instrument clusters is also used in the racecar. Barclay notes, “We actually use that technology to give us a cloud-based modeling system during a race. It can look at the other racecars ahead, and that allows us live during a race to analyze our competitors and their state of charge to give us an advantage.” Right now, Jaguar just has the fully electric I-Pace road car, but with the big investment in racing we know there will be upcoming all-electric Jaguar and Land Rover models. We are especially excited to see what Land Rover will come out with – rumors abound of the all-electric Range Rover to be released in 2021. It will feature modular architecture that will accommodate for internal combustion, hybrid or all-electric powerplants.  

As trucks and SUVs dominate American driveways, all-electric choices such as a new Range Rover or the Hummer EV will seem less radical to people unfamiliar with EV technology. As is the case for any new technology, as more consumers purchase EVs, the technology will continue to improve. The end game will be beneficial for the environment – and for our daily commute.   

Enclave Audio’s Add-on Wireless CineHome Subwoofers Pump Up the Bass

Enclave Audio 8” CineHome II Add-on Subwoofer (EA-200-SUB-US)
The Enclave 8-inch CineHome II add-on subwoofer can be easily added on to an existing wireless CineHome system in minutes.

Over the past few years, Enclave Audio’s wireless CineHome audio systems have eliminated the most tedious and unsightly aspect of home theater systems—namely, wires—making the appeal of immersive, multi-speaker surround sound more accessible to the clutter- and DIY-averse. Both the CineHome II and the THX Certified CineHome PRO wireless home theater systems can be set up in minutes with a smartphone app, which syncs up with the systems’ built-in WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) technology that communicates between a base station and each audio component.

Both systems were already available in 5.1 configurations, including one subwoofer, but today the company unveiled add-on wireless subwoofers, up to three of which can be added onto either system to enable a 5.4 configuration. A total of four subwoofers can be placed strategically near different seats in a room, enabling a more immersive and bass-thumping experience no matter where viewers are sitting. Set-up is as simple as plugging the subwoofers in, opening up the Enclave CineHub Remote App, and following a few prompts to reset the system.

The two new subwoofers are available in two sizes–the $549 10-inch CineHome PRO Subwoofer (EA-1000-THXSUB-US) and the $399 8-inch CineHome II Subwoofer (EA-200-SUB_US)–and are optimized to work the CineHome PRO and CineHome II systems, respectively.

BrandSource Summit 21 Gets Social From a Distance

BrandSource Summit 21
Credit: iStock

BrandSource is putting a spin on Summit 21, the marketing and merchandising organization’s annual meeting and product expo running March 23-25. Building on its digital debut last summer, BrandSource is adding even more interactive social events throughout the duration of Summit 21 because as the group puts it, “all work and no play can make any convention a dull trade show.”

In a three-day span, BrandSource will host several ‘Social Hours’ with everything from standup comedy to a magic show. The hope is that these 60-minute sessions will add elements of a physical event, even from a distance.

BrandSource will also be offering incentives for early registrants. For the Ladies’ Night Cooking Demonstration, the first 50 attendees to sign up will receive an advance list of ingredients and an e-gift card to purchase them with; the first 40 registrants for Around the Campfire, a music, trivia and ghost-story session will be gifted a s’mores kit; and on Bingo Night, the first 50 to sign up with receive a physical bingo board to use.

Summit is also hosting a slew of other virtual events to cater to several different interests:

  • Comedy Night: Pat McGann will take the virtual stage for a comedy performance hosted by Samsung for BrandSource’s Young Professionals group.
  • Happy Hour with Electrolux: Prizes will be given to Frigidaire Trivia winners.
  • Virtual Magic Show: A magician will show off an assortment of card tricks in an interactive performance sponsored by New Leaf.
  • Margs & Ritas: GE Appliances execs Rick Hasselbeck and Mary Putman will be in attendance with pre-show gifts and exclusive giveaways

Serta, Tempur Sealy, Whirlpool, and LG will also be hosting their own invitation-only Social Hours throughout the show.

Other noteworthy events include a state-of-the-union update from AVB/BrandSource CEO Jim Ristow; a special series of furniture keynotes by the category’s leading lights; vendor trainings, educational workshops and 777 Lunch & Learn, a daily short-form panel discussion with seven top manufacturers, each answering seven questions in seven minutes.

Registration is open from now through March 12 for BrandSource members, exhibitors, buying group affiliates, and media.

The Household Companion of the Future

Neato Robotics Thomas Nedder

When you hear Thomas Nedder talk about Neato Robotics’ intelligent robotic vacuums, it is difficult to imagine them as artificial. He frequently refers to them as household companions, present to help you with the most mundane of tasks. Their intuitiveness emulates an endearing quality. Perhaps this is what drew a highly successful consumer electronics executive, like himself, to Neato, after spending most of his career in the high-tech world of semiconductors, electrical components, memory chips, sensors, and the like.  

Thomas Nedder, CEO, Neato Robotics

As CEO of Neato since September 2019, Nedder is focused on leveraging the company’s innovation and forward-thinking principles to further drive its leadership in the market. 

It was Nedder’s experience with Japanese companies like Sharp and NEC that primed him for his position at Neato. And it was his tenure at Sony, where he was able to turn around an under-performing division in Germany within five years, that readied him to steer the Neato brand. But, more than anything, it is the shared desired to help people that has made the relationship with Neato a perfect fit. 

“I wanted to create products that make people’s lives better,” Nedder notes. “I always worked with high-end products, but for me it was important to have the chance with Neato because it had so much of innovation. It was a great opportunity to bring my consumer electronics experience over and give Neato a clear, premium goal for the brand.  

“Everything we do here is centered around our customers and the vision of making everyday lives easier. That is our goal.” 

Growth Accelerates for the Robotics Market 

The consumer robotics market is defined by GMI Research as “a branch of technology that deals with robots that can work in coordination with humans and can assist them with their daily routine tasks. These robots use sensors, actuators, and other interfaces to communicate with the physical surroundings. They are programmable machines and are available in autonomous or semi-autonomous forms.” 

Research dictates that this market will grow more than 30 percent from now until 2027—a fact that is not lost on Neato’s CEO. 

“In 2020, the market size was two billion and in 2025 it will be 6.5 billion,” reports Nedder. “The number of units is increasing as well as the average sales price. As consumers gain more trust in the product, and people see the performance, they are willing to pay more. That is something we are centered on. 

“We want to create products based on a need, but we want to fulfill more than that,” he explains. “We are a company that has been first to the market with a lot of features.” 

The features of the Neato robotic vacuums — eight generations have been released in its “D” series since 2010 — include conforming to its namesake’s “D” shape, unlike most competitors. This allows it to leave no corner untouched (unless, of course, the owner instructs it to). It has a Spiral Combo Brush that’s up to 70 percent bigger than round robots. It also includes a dirt bin that is 0.7 liters.  

Nedder reports that Neato was the first to come to the market with LiDAR laser technology, to rival photo mapping of rooms. Using a laser technology eliminates the need to take actual photos of your home to be “saved” in the cloud. The laser also allows the vacuum to perform in total darkness. 

But the standout feature of the company’s flagship product, the D10, is its HEPA filter, which captures 99.97 percent of allergens and dust particles — anything larger than .3 microns. With a run time of 250 minutes, the D10 is “far beyond others on the market,” Nedder notes. 

With the MyNeato app, homeowners can name their robot; remote start; schedule cleanings (the first of which is the “mapping” stage); and also set “no-go” zones to avoid while cleaning. The vacuums also can be connected to Google Home, Siri and Amazon Alexa. 

International Recognition 

The performance of the D7 was highlighted by Germany’s consumer organization Stiftung Warentest, which strictly investigates goods and services. The company measures products based on usefulness, functionality and environmental impact as well as consumer education. The organization recognized Neato’s D7 robot in its listing of best of products. 

Nedder says he is honored to have had the product acknowledged by such a prestigious organization and believes the D7 made this list because of its superior cleaning ability as well as its unique design. 

“Neato has a smart algorithm,” Nedder explains. “It allows us to clean rooms efficiently with an accurate percentage of coverage in a shorter period of time.” 

These features led to yet another distinction. The aforementioned D10 was listed in the Top Ten Technik 2020, released this past September. This organization spotlights the “hottest technology highlights of the year” as decided upon by the Bundesverband Technik des Einzelhandels (BVT), along with “trading entrepreneurs from the consumer electronics, mobile/telecommunications, information technology, PC/multimedia, photo/imaging, electrical household appliances, kitchens and lighting industries.”  

In its evaluation, Top Ten Technik published about the D10: “The intelligent robot vacuum cleaners from Neato Robotics make the household [run] easier. Neato robot vacuum cleaners feature state-of-the-art technologies, are easy to configure and are particularly durable — making them the ultimate partner for the household.” 

Dedication to the ‘Customer Journey’ 

Nedder is deeply entrenched in what he calls “the customer journey.”  

“We have been studying customers and their pain points and have developed a clear strategy for what the product should be like when you see it for the first time, typically on social media; when you buy it, whether it is online or store; and when you unbox it and connect it to your home.” 

From researching, purchasing, unboxing, to setup and use, the foundation is ease of use. And far beyond that, the customer service is 24/7 with a Neato hotline for users. 

“The human-robot interface is key for the future,” Nedder noted. “It was important for us to establish trust in this emerging technology. We have come a long way.” 

The market is growing, but household penetration of robotics is still relatively low, at below 10 percent, Nedder explains. He is confident this will rise in the coming years, as research predicts. And the retail chain will become increasingly important. 

“It is important for us to support our retail partners because products like ours with price tags over $500 are not spontaneous purchases. These are products that people [research], and want to get a final touch and recommendation.  

“For us, the aesthetics of products also has become a very important factor. A Neato product enriches your home and should fit into your lifestyle. It is more of a piece of art that can perform an excellent task.” 

Leica and Punk Rock to Share Arena at Berlin Photo Week

Photographer Herlinde Koelbl's Feine Leute book and series (1986)
Photographs from Herlinde Koelbl's 1986 work, 'Feine Leute' (Fancy People: High Society), are among those in the Leica-curated exhibition at Berlin Photo Week.

Leica cameras have always been a favorite of photographers and photojournalists, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ilse Bing, William Klein, and David Douglas Duncan. Across the globe, the legendary German camera and lens manufacturer operates 88 retail stores, 22 of which feature in-store galleries that regularly exhibit work by award-winning photographers. The iconic brand is therefore a fitting choice to help sponsor and curate a special exhibition at the third edition of Berlin Photo Week (BPW), which runs from August 26 to September 3, 2021, at the German capital city’s Arena Berlin and other nearby venues.

Curated by Leica Galleries International art director and general representative Karin Rehn-Kaufmann, the exhibit focuses on the work of three German photographers, all of whom use Leica cameras, from different generations: Herlinde Koelbl, Donata Wenders, and Xiomara Bender.

Since the 1980s, Herlinde Koelbl, now in herself in her 80s, has been famous for her deep dive photographic explorations of social milieus and other themes. She often shoots with a Leica SL mirrorless full-format camera.

Born in 1965, Donata Wenders’s work includes curiously constrasted black-and-white portraits, set photography, and books co-authored with filmmaker husband Wim Wenders. Both Wenders are know to use a variety of Leica cameras, including the company’s first digital rangefinder M8 model.

Xiomara Bender's 2015 photo 'Woman on a bus at a Bus  stop at Kim Il Sung Square
Woman on a bus at a Bustop at Kim Il Sung Square 2015 / Pyongyang North Korea by photographer Xiomara Bender.

On the youngest side, thirtysomething Xiomara Bender’s stunning and epic color images of North Korea, elephants in Botswana, and Bedouins and camels in Morocco, among other locations, were shot on a Leica SL2 full format camera, among other models. In addition to scheduled talks with the artists, the exhibit will also feature text and video explanations among the photos.

The special exhibition will also include a section curated from the P.C. Neumann Collection in Switzerland about the world of punk rock and its accompanying aesthetics, personalities, and fashions. Among the photographers and photos: Johnny Rosza, the New York-based celebrity and fashion photographer, who considers his vibrant 1983 portrait of performance artist Leigh Bowery and partner Trojan to be among his favorites. The punk exhibition will also include a walk-in installation with original music by Lutz Fahrenkrog-Petersen, who has produced tracks for Justin Timberlake, Nena, and Peaches, among others

Berlin Photo Week (BPW) is an independent project produced in partnership with IMH Imaging Media House GmbH & Co. KG and Messe Berlin GmbH, which also runs IFA and is the parent company of Dealerscope publisher CT Lab Global Media.

NATM Elects Scott Hymas as President

NATM-Scott-Hymas

NATM, the national buying group representing 12 of America’s largest independent regional retailers, has elected Scott Hymas, CEO of Salt Lake City-based RC Willey, to what will be his second term as president of NATM Buying Corp., effective immediately. He succeeds Gregg Richard, president and CEO of PC Richard and Son, who had held the post since June 2017.

In June 2017, during his first term as NATM president, Hymas announced that he and his wife would take a three-year sabbatical to lead and preside over a group of missionaries in Sacramento, Calif. Last summer, upon completion of that commitment, he returned to his post as CEO of RC Willey, the 88-year-old home furnishings, appliances, and electronics retailer which is Berkshire Hathaway-owned, and which operates stores in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and California.

Richard will remain on NATM’s executive board, resuming his prior role as vice president. NATM’s executive director, Jerry Satoren, said in the announcement statement: “I can’t recognize Gregg enough for his service to the NATM membership and for all he has done to help strengthen each and every member’s business.” Richard heads up the 66-store Long Island, N.Y.-based PC Richard & Son, which has been in the New York Metropolitan area for 111 years. “I’m also looking forward to serving under Scott Hymas’ leadership once again. We accomplished a lot during his first term and know this group is in good hands,” Satoren added in his statement.

The balance of NATM’s executive board remains unchanged. Marty Hartunian, president and CEO of ABC Warehouse, and Mike Abt, co-president of Abt Electronics & Appliances, will continue in their roles as vice presidents. Eddie Maloney, president of Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City, will continue in his role as secretary, rounding out NATM’s executive board.

Samsung Adds TikTok, iOS, and New Sizes to Its Outdoor and Smart TV Lineups

Samsung Outdoor Smart TVs

Increased ways to seamlessly switch between big screen TVs and handheld smartphones, along with smart TV versions of social video apps such as TikTok, were among the slew of new capabilities that Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd announced at its 2021 Unbox & Discover event on Tuesday. Streamed live on the company’s website, the showcase also included announcements detailing new sizes and features for the South Korean electronics giant’s lineup of TVs, computer monitors, and soundbars.

Among the mobile-optimized television announcements: Previously only compatible with Android devices, the 43-inch Sero TV will soon work with iOS devices. This means that the Sero’s motorized rotating screen will automatically switch between portrait and landscape modes depending on the content being watched on iPhones as well as Android phones.

Launched last year, the Sero’s auto-rotating design is aimed specifically at mobile phone users. In addition to iOS compatibility, the Sero, along with the rest of Samsung’s smart TV lineup, will soon include a dedicated TikTok app. With the looping video app’s user base set to grow to 1.2 billion by the end of 2021, according to AppAnnie, Samsung is implementing new ways to welcome mobile-first audiences into the smart TV fold.

Other enhancements and features for Samsung TVs include a new 76-inch size for the 2021 line of MicroLED TVs, which were unveiled earlier this year at CES 2021 in 88-, 99-, and 110-inch sizes (the latter two of which will be available in stores in April).  In addition, Samsung’s gallery-style The Frame televisions will receive massive internal storage boosts from 500MB to 6GB, which means slideshows cans scroll through up to 1,200 ultra high-res pictures whenever viewers aren’t watching TV.

Ideal for pandemic-era outdoor entertaining—everything from barbeques and pool parties to, say, Olympics group viewing on the deck—a new 75-inch version of Samsung’s water-and-dust-resistant, IP55-rated The Terrace TV will join the already available 55- and 65-inch versions. Besides being weather-proof, the “Full Sun” outdoor TV is viewable in bright conditions, including direct sunlight.

For gamers, Samsung said its Q70A, The Frame, and 4K-and-above-resolution TVs will be the first with AMD FreeSync Premium Pro, which helps render smooth and more realistic high-res graphics, while Samsung’s dedicated 2021 Odyssey gaming monitors will offer similarly graphics-enhancing Quantum Matrix Technology and Quantum MiniLED technology

Samsung also showcased a few more features on its 2021 Q Series soundbars, including the Q905A, which is the world’s first 11.1.4 channel soundbar and offers a one-touch Bass Boost feature, along with Alexa and Bixby compatibility.

WowWee EVP of Sales Art Janis Passes

WowWee Art Janis

Toy manufacturer WowWee has announced the passing of WowWee Executive Vice President of Sales Art Janis, who died on Feb. 25 in New York after a brief illness. He was 71.

Janis was part of WowWee for the past 25 years, having worked closely with the company’s co-founders, Richard and Peter Yanofsky, and with Eric Lau, president and general manager of WowWee’s Hong Kong Div.

“A lot of the successes at WowWee, he had his fingerprints on,” Richard Yanofsky told Dealerscope.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Janis was an ardent sports fan of the New York teams, and loved the city, said Yanofsky. Prior to joining WowWee in the mid-1990s, he worked for the San Antonio-based toy company Play by Play, and before that, according to Yanofsky, was in retail, as a sporting goods buyer.

“He was extremely generous – would give you the shirt off his back. And he had a fantastic sales acumen,” Yanofsky reflected. “He always made everyone feel comfortable, and was the salt of the earth.”

In an open letter issued by WowWee, Yanofsky cited Janis’s impact that he left “both generationally on our family and on everyone within our organization.”

Janis’ survivors include Marina, his wife, and a sister.

Tonal Strikes a Deal with Nordstrom

Tonal Nordstrom Partnership

The smart home fitness sensation, Tonal, has made its way into Nordstrom stores. Starting this month, the wall-mounted workout station will have a designated space in the women’s activewear department of 40 Nordstrom locations across the United States. Visitors will have the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the equipment and even try out a workout for themselves. By the end of 2021, Tonal could be setup in as many as 60 Nordstrom locations nationwide, more than tripling its in-store footprint in less than a year.

“As we looked to expand our retail footprint and strategy, we looked to the retail landscape, and we really feel like Nordstrom says ‘best-in-class’ — the department store is well-suited to succeed in a COVID and post-COVID world,” Christopher Stadler, Tonal’s CMO, explained to TechCrunch.

As Nordstrom strives to become a “top destination for active gear” according to CNBC, this deal could only be described as a match made in heaven. Christopher Stadler, Tonal’s chief marketing officer, remarks that the average Tonal customer looks a lot like a Nordstrom shopper in terms of age, income, and type of employment. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that Nordstrom patrons are about a decade younger than usual for U.S. department stores with the averaged aged shopper coming in at 43. They also seem to do pretty well financially which is a plus for Tonal seeing as their smart home gym costs $2,995.

“We’re often considered the partner of choice in regards to working with brands, physically and digitally,” Lori Marten, a merchandise manager for Nordstrom’s active category tells CNBC. “So it was a pretty seamless opportunity across the board — one that really helps us build our authority and authenticity in a space that we are aggressively growing.”

In the months to come, that “aggressive growth” will bring with it more fitness and outdoor products like ski goggles, snow helmets, jump ropes, and massaging devices. While mall visits have gone done since the onset of the pandemic, the fitness category has seen outstanding growth, so it looks like Nordstrom may have struck a goldmine with this one.

Odyssey’s Sal Irigoyen Leaves A Legacy of Family, Company & Fun

Odyssey_Jonathan NatalieMichaelSteven&Sal_Irigoyen
The Irigoyens, from top left and clockwise: Jonathan, Natalie, Michael, Steven and Sal

There was no in-person Toy Fair in New York City this February – a casualty, like so many other shows over the past year, of COVID. But if there had been one, it would have been strange nonetheless, as it would have lacked the familiar presence at the Odyssey Toys booth of CEO Sal Irigoyen, who passed away at 66 on Jan. 14 in Miami. His passing came after a years-long battle with aggressive illness – but through many recent annual Toy Fairs, seeing and speaking with Sal, you would never have known it.

“He put up a show. He always was the cheery, fun Sal at the toy fairs, because that’s what toys are all about,” recalls his son, Senior VP of Sales Michael Irigoyen.

Sal was born in Havana, Cuba and left there with his parents and family at a young age in the ’60s, migrating with them to Cleveland – selected as their destination because “the ticketing agent told them it was the next flight out,” Michael says. Once there, a church pastor named Farmer and his family took them under his wing, helping his parents find jobs, and the family, a place to live. Sal never forgot that, and kept close ties with the Farmers throughout his life.

He went on to attend and graduate from Ohio State University, receiving a degree in electrical engineering. Then, he moved to Miami, got a job in retail, and “spent the next 40 years in retail in one shape or the other – a buyer, a rep, a manufacturer… he did everything under the sun,” Michael relates. He variously handled South American and Southeastern U.S. sales for the DJ products company Gemini for many years, clocked some time on the distribution side after that, and then focused on Odyssey, which has been in business for the last 20 years.

“He was a born salesperson,” Michael relates, “and was always the center of the room, always able to charm everyone.” Even in the last few months of his life, despite COVID restrictions, “the common thread was always that he was there, and everyone knew it,” Michael says. “Everyone gravitated to him.  He was a people magnet – for fun, for family. He knew all the NATM people, all the Toy Fair people, all the CES people.”

He was also “a musician, through and through – a guitarist and a singer,” Michael tells us. That avocation manifested through his involvement in the ’70s in a Cleveland band called the Doo Wops; the group resurfaced nine years ago and drew a sold-out following of several thousand fans for a concert held in the city’s Cain Park that turned into an annual event. “Despite running a big toy company,” he says, “he always found the time to practice with them.”

Michael continues: “The loves of his life were his wife (Susy, who passed in 2018) and kids (Jonathan, Michael, Natalie and Steven), his love for music, and his love for his company – Odyssey Toys. He started this company and made a place for all four kids in it. And he has left it for his children to continue to grow. He would call it his legacy. It gave him a sense of pride, joy and accomplishment.”

Best Buy Lays Off 5,000 Workers with Plans to Close Stores

Best Buy Lays off Workers 2021
Credit: iStock

Brick and mortar retail has really taken a hit this week. First, all Fry’s Electronics stores ceased operations practically overnight, and now, Best Buy announced that it has laid off 5,000 workers this month with plans to close more stores as the year progresses.

Best Buy has actually experienced exponential growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, but unfortunately for store workers, a large portion of those sales were done online. Looking ahead, Best Buy expects that pattern to continue in 2021 with estimates pointing towards 40 percent of its sales to come from online purchases. That number is up 19 percent from two years ago and has forced Best Buy to take hard look at where and how to adjust their workforce to fit this new demand.

CEO Corrie Barry started with cutting back full-time employees. In fact, most of the 5,000 layoffs were full-time workers. In a call with analysts on Thurday, Barry said the adjustments came as a means of “having too many full-time and not enough part-time employees.” These cuts have now made way for 2,000 new part-time positions in stores.

Best Buy will reportedly be using its newfound in-store space for home delivery orders. The company is in the process of mapping out store layouts that will significantly reduce the size of the sales floors to pave way for shipping orders.

During the latest quarter ending on Jan. 30, Best Buy stores closed out with a 12.6 percent increase in sales over the same time last year. Under normal circumstances, this would be great news for Best Buy who, like most retailers faces growing competition with Amazon. But Best Buy expects demand will slow this year, and they are clearly preparing for when that day comes.

IFA Partners with Tech Up for Women

Tech Up For Women IFA 2021 Berlin

IFA 2021 has already been creating some major buzz in the consumer tech world, even seeing as we’re still seven months out from the show. Today, IFA announced that it will be partnering with Global Training Events Group in September 2021 to host its first International Tech Up For Women Conference.

With the show set to take on a hybrid format this year, the Tech Up For Women conference will be offered in both live and online formats for all attendees. Topics of the discussion will span a wide range of tech categories including cybersecurity, blockchain, fintech, 5G, entrepreneurship, interaction with the latest advancements in VR, AR, AI, robotics, coding, new products, services, collaboration and networking.

“We are excited to bring Tech Up For Women to IFA Berlin and create new opportunities for women to advance across the globe,” says Dawn Pratt, CEO of the Tech Up For Women Platform and Global Training Events Group. “The conference will provide women with the opportunity to learn from each other and build new networks.”

Tech Up For Women hosts an annual conference in New York City that was named One of the Top Five Most Inspiring Conferences by Forbes. After the onset of the pandemic, Tech Up for Women began hosting a bi-monthly webinar series called Tech Up Talks. Dealerscope also had the opportunity to speak with Kathy Murray, Co-Founder and Advisor of Tech Up For Women on InsiderTalk ahead of the 2020 Virtual Tech Up For Women conference held on Nov. 17, 2020.

“Tech Up For Women shines a spotlight on women’s role in technology. We are delighted to join forces with this extremely inspiring and highly innovative female tech community. Tech Up For Women is going to provide our guests and partners with an inspiring day with fascinating speakers, panel discussions, Power Talks and networking opportunities,” says Dirk Koslowski, IFA Director.

IFA 2021 will take place from Sept. 3-7 in Berlin.

DoorBird Driver Certified, Integrated Into Control4 Systems

DoorBird, the IP video door intercoms from Berlin, Germany-based Bird Home Automation Group, and Control4, manufacturer of smart home automation systems, have partnered. Control4 has certified the DoorBird driver, allowing for the company’s IP door stations to be integrated into Control4 systems. 

With this capability, users can use Control4 interfaces to access their IP intercom, eliminating the need for a third-party driver. The new certified driver can communicate over a shared network via hardwired PoE (Power over Ethernet) or Wi-Fi. It can recognize features, such as the motion sensor, video camera and doorbell immediately after installation

Users can access audio and video from the door station via the touch panels or Control4 OS 3 app. The DoorBird camera also will display a live view of the entrance area.

There are various options available, including the ability play a ringtone through the audio system when the call button is rung. Also, electronic door locks and garage doors can be opened via the DoorBird icon or the DoorBird app.

This free driver is available in the Control4 Composer online database. The third-party driver from Cinegration, which had previously enabled the integration of DoorBird into Control4, continues to function.

Alpine Halo9 Multimedia Receiver Ships

Alpine iLX-F409 _F-150_Maestro

Car audio aftermarket electronics supplier Alpine has announced that it is now shipping its latest model in the Alpine Halo Display lineup, the iLX-F409 Alpine Halo9 Multimedia Receiver ($699.95), which is equipped with a 9-inch, customizable touchscreen display.

The Alpine Halo display platform is known for its oversized, “floating” screen and installation flexibility, meaning it can fit into virtually any vehicle. The tapered edges are outlined in a silver trim, and the unit is also endowed with smartphone integration capability; it fits into any dash that can house a single-DIN receiver.

The launch of the iLX-F409 and also the Alpine iLX-F411 signals a new generation of the Alpine Halo models that are a culmination of all the fan-favorite features, says the company, including customizable home screens, media expandability with HDMI connectivity, and iDatalink Maestro Module compatibility.

Features such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and built-in Bluetooth hands-free calling with audio streaming allows access to music, messages, phone calls, and maps on a smartphone via USB. These features are controlled through touch or voice commands with the included external microphone. SiriusXM Radio is available with an optional tuner and paid subscription.

The iLX-F409 is compatible with the iDatalink Maestro Module (sold separately) allowing select OEM features to be retained, and vehicle information displayed on the 9-inch screen.

A reverse RCA camera input is included so the driver can add a separately sold rear-view camera that overlays guidelines onto the screen for ease when moving in reverse. Additional cameras can be added with the separately sold KCX-C2600B Universal Front and Rear Camera Selector

While the iLX-F409 is mech-less (no CD/DVD player), an HDMI input and output is included so the user can connect a CD, DVD player, or a smartphone for an all-digital audio and video connection through a single cable.

The iLX-F409 is available at Alpine authorized retailers and at preferred online stores.

Fry’s Electronics is Going Out of Business

Frys Electronics Goes Out of Business

After 36 years of serving the consumer electronics sector, Fry’s Electronics is shutting its doors for good. Fry’s has a footprint in nine states across the US and operates 31 stores. The news broke late Tuesday evening via Bay Area TV station, KRON-4. The frys.com website currently opens with a message further explaining the company’s decision citing “changes in the retail industry” and “challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Fry’s has ceased regular operations and began “the wind-down process” today.

“It is hoped that undertaking the wind-down through this orderly process will reduce costs, avoid additional liabilities, minimize the impact on our customers, vendors, landlords and associates, and maximize the value of the Company’s assets for its creditors and other stakeholders,” the message on the website reads.

The news didn’t exactly come as a shock, especially for those who have visited a Fry’s store in recent years. Several Twitter users shared their in-store experiences with photos showing alarmingly empty shelves, confirming that this day had been a long time coming. But according to a few rumors, anonymous sources, and Reddit posters, employees were not given the courtesy of a timely notice of their termination. Many said they had been suddenly “fired” and spent their last day of work shipping remaining merchandise back to suppliers.

Fry’s also spent no time removing their digital footprint. The only thing accessible on their website right now is the somber “goodbye” message, and all of their social media accounts have been deleted. Right now, the company seems to be closing up some last minute business before completely vanishing from existence.

“The Company is in the process of reaching out to its customers with repairs and consignment vendors to help them understand what this will mean for them and the proposed next steps,” the message goes on to read. “Please understand if we are a bit slow to respond given the large volume of questions. The Company appreciates your patience and support through this process.”

Wellness Innovations Surge to Meet Consumer Demand

Digital Health and Wellness

This shift in focus on health and wellness can be seen in most every place in the tech industry, from wearables and apps to the smart home. It all points to consumers’ heightened awareness of preventive heath. From wearing health monitors to introducing technology into the home, wellness innovations will only surge in the coming years. Here’s a look at some.

The SleepScore app uses Sonar Sensor Technology to track your breathing and body movement through each sleep stage. This data, combined with the user’s profile and lifestyle information, provides insights into your unique sleep patterns as well as actionable, customized advice that’s delivered through the Sleep Guide. In addition, users can access sleep history and receive sleep solutions in the form of product recommendations based on sleep needs.

Omron’s HeartGuide uses Sonar Sensor Technology to track your breathing and body movement through each sleep stage. This data, combined with the user’s profile and lifestyle information, provides insights into your unique sleep patterns as well as actionable, customized advice that’s delivered through the Sleep Guide. In addition, users can access sleep history and receive sleep solutions in the form of product recommendations based on sleep needs.

TOTO’s Wellness Toilet
is in the works, to be released in the next few years. It uses multiple sensing technologies to support consumers’ wellness by tracking and analyzing their mental and physical status. Each time the individual sits on the Wellness Toilet, it scans their body and its key outputs, then provides recommendations to improve their wellness. Users will see their current wellness status and receive wellness-improvement recommendations on a dashboard in an app on their smartphones.

The Oura Ring delivers personalized sleep and overall health insights daily in its app, which can be linked to Apple Heath or Google Fit. During the day, the Ring monitors activity level, calories, steps, inactive times, and naps. Measured during sleep are: Resting Heart Rate; Heart Rate Variability (HRV); Respiratory Rate; Body Temperature; Light, Deep and REM Sleep; Nighttime Movement; Sleep Timing and Quality. The user also receives scores for Readiness, Sleep and Activity.

The Bosch air-quality sensor is designed for private households. Along with conventional indicators, including temperature, humidity and air purity, this new sensor can also measure the amount of exhaled air and aerosols present in a room. Based on these readings, it can alert users when ventilation is needed, as both can be a risk factor in COVID transmission. The new sensor is being built into two of the company’s existing smart-home products: the Twinguard intelligent smoke detector and the Spexor mobile alarm device.

A Store Visit with Aaron Sholtis, President, HiDEF Lifestyle

HiDEF Lifestyles Aaron Sholtis

How and when did your retail store start?   How many stores do you have?  You also have an online store. What is the main difference between your online shop and your local showroom? 

Aaron Sholtis: The first store was started in 2004 as an online store. Then we started the retail showroom. The online store has the exact type of client as the showroom client: one who appreciates and has knowledge about audio. In the retail store, we have various clients, and over the years we have cultivated a staff trained to developed and maintain customer relationships and answer their every need.

What makes your retail business unique from others? 

Sholtis: One asset is our showroom size and location. We are two-and-a-half hours from D.C. and three hours from Pittsburgh. We are a relatively short driving distance from the Mid-Atlantic metropolitan cities. And, as you have seen from the size of our showroom, if we were within these cities, there would be no way for us to have 26,000-square-foot building. So we are able to showcase many more brands and technologies vs. some of our competitors. We call it a destination showroom, because we pull from all these metropolitan areas and we are able to attract customers to make the trip and drive to us to see everything in our location.  

One of our biggest benefits has always been our online business. We have been a serious player in the online world for almost 17 years now. We started online vs. most of our competitors, who started in the reverse order. Outside of that, we have developed a social media presence, and we produce content for YouTube. All these things drive traffic due to our website, but also locally in the market as well. 

What are the top three things that you have done that have contributed most to your success? 

Sholtis: We started in a reverse way from most of our competitors; we started online before breaking into customer retailing, and that’s certainly unique. It always made us more integrated than some of our competitors. 

Secondarily, I think the biggest triumph for us has been the relationships that we cultivated over the last 17 years. Relationships and your reputation are the most valuable things a company can have. We treat those with the upmost importance, whether it is a customer or a vendor or even our shipping suppliers. 

And then, one of my favorite sayings is that the minute you stop growing, the minute you start dying. You cannot plan that somebody else is not going to come along and do what you do better than yourself. We never, ever are satisfied with how we go to market, or with what we offer to customers – we are always looking to do what is next. 

What are your goals this year? 

Sholtis: COVID has certainly changed how we are thinking about retail. We are looking to redesign to be more service- and technology-showcasing vs. product showcasing. We are looking to set up a system where our showrooms are event-based, meaning every 30 to 60 days we will have a new event to promote to clients so they can see new technology from one of our vendors or from many of our vendors. We want there to be a reason for recurring traffic to come in. I think this is going to be important for us and for others in the future – to do more education-based selling. On top of that, we have invested in opening our West Coast shipping location, where hopefully a retail showroom will open as well. Getting products quickly, when customers are shopping online – having access quickly – is extremely important. For us, expanding our capabilities this way is extremely important. 

Are you looking to expand in any way or sell other categories? Which categories you are in? 

Sholtis: We are also looking to continue our growth in our Canadian online operations. It has been very healthy and growing for us there. In addition, we are always looking for new categories – you know, all the new healthcare and air quality control systems are very interesting to us, and something we might look into, as well as continuing to explore lighting categories as well.  

Is there anything in building of your business that might have not gone the way you liked, and you learned from? 

Sholtis: We spent 2019 recovering from a theft from a financial controller that I hired and not only was there a theft; there was a total disruption of our financial records. So, you know, every day, you learn lessons in business and life, and that was a huge lesson for us to learn from. So we have been able to get everything back in line, and have checks and balances to better protect ourselves. That, on top of COVID, made 2020 a very challenging year for us. But with that, we have grown as a team and as a company, and our abilities have grown. So we are looking at 2021 to be a very, very big year for us.  

What is your favorite corner of the store?  Can you show me? 

Sholtis: Well, honestly no – look, we sell product categories for cars, to audio, to TVs, to other technology. It is all so much fun, and changing so fast, I think that the rate of change is really what drives me, whether it is in the cars we build out, or the audio we design; constantly reinventing those things is really what our passion is about.  

What have you done to overcome the obstacles of the pandemic in the customer experience? The store is closed, and available by appointment only. 

Sholtis: It has been difficult and challenging, with the showroom being affected. We have all seen over the last year that demand from customers has increased, with everyone staying at home, in home office, work from home, things like networking – new audio products have been extremely hard to keep in stock and to deliver. So while people do not want to go out and spend time in a showroom as much as they did, they do want the technology and they do want the knowledge. It increased the importance of social media and it increased the drive for installation and design services as well. And we are starting to see the showrooms start to turn around as well. We expect that will continue in 2021. 

How does Dealerscope help you in your everyday business?  

Sholtis: Well obviously, we need to stay abreast of what is going on in the industry, and we have lots of great relationships with manufacturers. But there are lots of things that happen that we do not know about, so staying in touch with all that is key, and our relationship with Dealerscope, for many, many years now, has been wonderful, and helps keep our name out there in the industry as well.

Sony Digital Signal Transfer Tech Marks 30-Year Anniversary

sony digital signage transfer system

As the “virtual” CEDIA Expo last Fall illustrated, the custom integration business is extremely strong and resilient enough to even ward off the effects of a global pandemic.  This multi-billion dollar industry has grown to encompass everything from state-of-the-art video and audio entertainment to the latest HVAC, security and home automation technology.

All of which is why it’s hard to believe that its beginnings can be traced back to a series of developments pioneered not by a leading system integrator but a global electronics giant. And their initial work in this area was derived from convincing their divergent product groups about the benefits of achieving a “whole-house” entertainment solution.

The company was Sony, who thanks to a unique collaboration between its U.S. marketing and Tokyo product teams made a bold bet more than 30 years ago on a revolutionary new way to transport video and audio throughout the home.  Thanks to this effort, which pre-dates the founding of CEDIA, the A/V experience has never been the same.

It all began in the mid-1980s during the industry’s initial move to home theater, when Sony was one of the leading manufacturers of receivers, CD players and changers, cassette decks, VCRs and televisions. To enable their various components to “talk” to one another, they created a Serial Infra-Red Control (SIRCs) protocol which offered reliable communication and operation between components, via touch panels or remote control. This early SIRCs controller paved the way for the eventual introduction of “learning” remotes, which worked with not just Sony products but a variety of brands.  

However for Sony, SIRCs was only the beginning.  In 1990, the company also became one of the first manufacturers to join CEDIA.  And they established a technical support division for CEDIA members called the Consumer Integrated Systems (CIS) Group which was headed by the late Brad Kibble (who became a CEDIA Hall of Fame inductee).

Building on this foundation, the Sony Consumer Products Group under then-president John Briesch decided to push forward in developing not just a new product, but an entirely new concept called Sony Digital Signal Transfer (DST) – the first whole house digital audio and video distribution system. 

According to Briesch, “With the creation of the home video recorder and the transition of audio from analog to digital, Sony envisioned the consumer demand for a dynamic new home entertainment experience beyond cable television.  To accomplish this, we needed to simplify the interaction between devices and pave the way for technologies that would lead us into the world of DVD and HDTV. DST was our answer.”

The DST system was conceived from insights that Sony gained as the co-developer (with Philips) of the Compact Disc. The digital world was rapidly expanding and SPDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) was already a standard for the communication and transmission of CD-quality audio. Understanding how to move these signals over multiple devices enabled the Sony engineering team to create a unique algorithm that used 75ohm coaxial cable as the means of distribution.  The system could support 44.1kHz/16-bit uncompressed audio, along with multiple analog audio and video sources, all of which could be transmitted within a 6 MHz bandwidth.  

The use of coaxial cable for this was inspired. Cable TV penetration had already reached more than 50 percent of U.S. households and was growing rapidly and this was driving the new housing market to specify the use of coaxial cable for pre-wiring.  “Wired for Cable TV” became a big feature, which ultimately opened the door for other innovative uses of this new “pipeline.”

In addition to digital audio, the DST system could support two video sources and provide convenient access to all of these via a supplied touch pad and remote control.  Up to 16 rooms, each with independent volume and control, could be networked and DST was the first (if not the only) system at that time to include a digital-to-analog converter and an analog-to-digital converter for encoding analog sources. While this is common today, DST was announced in 1989, when 802.11 Wi-Fi was years away and CAT 3 cable was rarely used.

As one might expect, the launch of DST became an entirely new business for Sony and its dealers. The U.S.team, which included Director of Product Planning Kohei Haneishi and myself as project manager, provided the necessary direction to their engineering team in Japan. But since the concept was unlike anything else available, they also needed to convince their dealers that DST was viable, as well as a potential opportunity for Sony management. 

In order to gauge response to this, Sony worked closely with several retailers, including innovative A/V specialist Bjorn Dybdahl, a member of the Consumer Technology Association Hall of Fame.

“This was the late ’80s and early ’90s and companies like Bjorn’s needed to utilize components from many different suppliers in order to deliver multi-room audio/video to the home,” said Dybdahl. “What Sony did with DST was simplify that process.  We love to introduce the latest technology and working with DST allowed us to reach early adopters. Credit should be given to the Sony management team for acknowledging this and what it meant to those of us in the integration community.”

The ultimate ‘proof of concept’ came when the Sony U.S. marketing team led their engineering counterparts on a tour of a luxury home where one of their dealers had just installed a high-end system.  The installation was a work of art – more than two miles of speaker and control cables connecting 10 rooms and a patio, creating an RF distribution system so complicated and expensive that it would be the envy of any cable multi-system operator.

Based upon that tour, the Sony engineers believed that DST could dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of custom integration, which would benefit both their dealers and consumers.  It could also simplify the sales transaction and installation process, allowing more multi-room systems to be sold or upgraded in the same period of time.

The Sony Digital Signal Transfer System premiered at the first CEDIA Expo, which was held on Amelia Island in October 1990.  As Tom Doherty, the founding president of CEDIA and a leading system integrator stated: “CEDIA had formed only a year earlier, and our message to the industry was that custom installation needed to be taken seriously. Being a fledgling new group, Sony, bringing their DST trade show exhibit to our first CEDIA Expo, along with several of their key executives, contributed significantly to our overall credibility and respect.”

The ability to seamlessly integrate the home theater room with a means to distribute music and movies throughout the house became something that’s synonymous with Sony to this very day.  And despite facing a few technical challenges along the way, the Sony Digital Signal Transfer System created a buzz across the industry when it was introduced

The rest, as they say, is history.

Wellness Care Shifts from Reactive to Proactive

Digital Health and Wellness
Credit: iStock

Blame it on the pandemic if you’d like (it surely has played a role), but a major shift in health and wellness is upon us. Today, the population is repositioning its focus from reactive care to preventive care. Wellness is no longer strictly about diet and fitness. Of course, our TVs are equipped with the latest in voice commands and assistants to call up that workout program; but, across the board, individuals are taking a proactive approach to preventive health through various means. 

Consumers at the Center of Heath 

Consumers want to track information once only obtained from a doctor, playing a more interactive role in their health. This want has been addressed in the Apple Watch and Fitbit smartwatch as well as in a plethora of apps now available. 

“It is about radically interoperable data so that the consumer can own their well-being journey and be better empowered to find systems and solutions,” says Lynne Sterrett, National Consulting Leader for Life Sciences & Health Care Practice-Deloitte LLP 

We are already seeing these technologies in the world of IoT with smart refrigerators and toilets, says Sterrett. “We need consistent, omnipresent, always-on systems that will gather data and lead to consumer action. 

“I feel this period of reflection around COVID-19 has shown huge shifts in innovation that happened rapidly and have accelerated the future of health.” 

For example, some of those innovations can be found in wearables that target blood pressure monitoring. Omron has developed HeartGuide, which is, reportedly, the first, clinically accurate, wearable blood pressure monitor. 

Sleep as the Fifth Vital Sign 

The sleep monitoring portion of wearables is becoming increasingly prevalent. “Sleep affects your immune system,” says Dr. Mehmet Oz, of The Dr. Oz Show. “Lack of sleep means you will have a harder time recovering from illness and will not be able to fight new ones. If you sleep less than six hours a night you are four times more likely to develop a cold. Sleeping the right amount every night make you less vulnerable to colds once infected. 

“A COVID infection that progresses to a more serious state might be detected earlier if someone could monitor their breathing rate, or breaths per minute,” Oz explained.  

Checking this breathing rate, especially when sleeping, could alert you to negative changes in your wellness. And apps like Sleepscore are placing this knowledge in consumers’ hands.  

“People are working harder and sleeping less,” agrees Michael Chapp, COO of Oura Health, which produces the Ring. The product has seven sensors as well as a battery embedded inside that monitor heart rate, motion and continuous skin temperature. It delivers personalized sleep and overall health insights through its app. 

Because the pulse signal in the finger is 100 times stronger than the wrist, where most wearables are, Chapp says, the Ring can create a clear image of pulse. From that, it can more accurately calculate resting heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV) and respiratory rate.  

With cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia so prevalent in our society, “the future is being able to identify when these diseases occur” before a catastrophic event. 

CHIPing Away at the Fragmented Smart Home Market

Smart Home Market

There’s an interesting oxymoron unfolding in the “smart” home arena, and it is underscored by, simply put, dumb devices.  

The market for smart devices is saturated. Everything from toasters to toilets can earn its badge and be marketed as ‘the device of the future.’ However, the same venture into the smart space feels much like the odd trend of adding “I” in front of every device, allowing manufacturers to reproduce a consumer’s emotional response to Apple-branded products. Tuned to the same key, adding “smart” to a device only further fragments an industry currently navigating through its own identity crisis.  

So that begs the question: How should we define the smart home? If you were to ask technology giants Google, Apple, Amazon and Zigbee, they would tell you the future is CHIP, or “Connected Home over IP.” 

In my opinion, three main attributes should qualify a device as smart – interoperability, functionality, and privacy. Essentially it’s about asking, can the device play well with others, can the device solve an actual issue, and can the device keep your data private.  

But before we dive into those concerns, let’s start from the humble beginnings of a smart home that anchor around the birth of the digital assistant. 

Work Smarter, Not Harder 

In 2011, Apple launched its first iteration of Siri alongside the iPhone 4s. Although you can point to other companies launching virtual assistants (RIP Clippy), Siri ushered in a new paradigm of human-to-computer interaction. Unbeknownst to the packed house of journalists at the unveiling, this was the first glimpse of a smarter future. 

The digital assistant arms-race exploded over the next few years, with Amazon and Google quickly pushing their product to the market. Today, it is nearly impossible to find a device that won’t wake up to the noise of, “Hey, Alexa.” And while it may be fun to keep score of who is winning between the big three, the most prominent issue has shifted from “Who is the best?” to “What have you done for me lately?” 

For just a moment, reflect on your personal use of smart assistants. What was the last task you asked it to perform? Where were you? What was the result? A 2018 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers indicates that “of the 90 percent who [are aware of voice technology], the majority have used a voice assistant (72 percent),” but the most common task was to search for an answer that they would normally type out, followed by asking a question, checking the weather, and playing music.  

The least common? Controlling other smart devices. 

To be fair, that was the future spelled out at the 2011 Cupertino keynote. Siri was slated as a digital notetaker and method of information relay, to speed up a consumer’s life. But that mission has left the smart home space stagnant with products being badged smart and not bringing any innovation to the table. 

However, CHIP has set the foundation to change that misnomer.  

A CHIP on the Smart Home Shoulder 

Project CHIP is one of the most complex projects in the smart home industry. Google, Amazon, Apple, and Zigbee want to tackle how devices work with each other and elevate the smart home offering for all consumers. 

Launched in late 2019, the connectedhomeip.com website states that “the goal of the Connected Home over IP project is to simplify development for manufacturers and increase compatibility for consumers.” It slates the project as a “shared belief that smart home devices should be secure, reliable, and seamless to use.” 

What makes this straightforward message complicated is the burden of getting everyone to use their standard. It certainly helps this effort with high-profile companies finally agreeing to the same standards, but historically, these companies have had no interest in working with each other. From hardware to software, quickly sending information can feel like trying to navigate yourself through a foreign country if you aren’t familiar with the walled gardens they have produced.  

Eight months after the December 2019 launch of Project CHIP, the Zigbee Alliance dropped a glimmer of hope that the project was still on track and growing “by an order of magnitude, from a few dozen participating companies to more than 145 active member companies.” Additionally, the list of growing use cases now covers “lighting and electrical (e.g., light bulbs, luminaires, controls, plugs, outlets), HVAC controls (e.g., thermostats, AC units), access control (e.g., door locks, garage doors), safety and security (e.g., sensors, detectors, security systems), window coverings/shades, TVs, access points, bridges” and “other consumer electronics products.” 

The expansive list is exciting. We are finally sifting through the noise to produce a full image of what the smart home should be. The picture being painted of window shades opening in the morning, lights turning off at night, and front doors locking behind you finally have a fully capable artist palette. 

However, Project CHIP still has a long way to go to undo its own mistakes. Suppose you use the recently concluded virtually held Consumer Electronics Show as a benchmark to the future. In that case, the average consumer is still looking at smart locks and speakers as the future, as noted in the show producers’ “Emerging Tech That Is Shaping the Industry” information release. 

Taking a step back, the view starts to come together on what a smart home should be, and just how we got to this position. Interoperability, functionality, and privacy still sit as the critical components for what should drive my vision of the smart home market – with project CHIP only solving one piece of that puzzle. If they spend all their time building a highway for devices to talk to each other but still lack genuine capabilities to create innovation, it may feel like one step forward and two steps backward. 

COVID-19: The Great Equalizer in U.S., European Shopping Behaviors

Europe e-commerce retail

A year ago, we told you about the arrival of the survey that showed just how different consumer retail behavior was between North America and Europe. A report late in 2019 by the retail management solutions firm iVend Retail by CitiXsys found that a gap had formed between North American and European shoppers when it came to whether they preferred shopping online or in person.  

The 2019 survey revealed that 71 percent of North American consumers found online shopping more convenient than shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, while only 50 percent of those in Europe felt the same way.  

Also in that survey, 72 percent of European responders said they did all or most of their shopping in physical stores, while only 57 percent of North Americans said the same thing. And North American shoppers were more likely to say they had researched a product online before going to a store, with 73 percent of American shoppers engaging in that practice, while just 68 percent of European shoppers said the same thing. There were many reasons for the changes, including North America being more geographically dispersed, and that European countries are more densely populated.  

But, like everything else in the last year, those trends have been changed by the pandemic.  

What a Difference a Year Makes  

A study from McKinsey, released in August, found a massive flight to online purchases among U.S. customers after the start of the coronavirus pandemic.  

“A few months into COVID-19, consumer shopping online has increased significantly across many categories,” that report, which covered the U.S. market, said. “Consumer intent to shop online continues to increase, especially in essentials and home entertainment categories. More interestingly, these habits seem like they’re going to stick, as U.S. consumers report an intent to shop online even after the COVID-19 crisis.” 

McKinsey asked U.S consumers about a wide variety of purchasing categories, and whether they were more likely to make such purchases online. In nearly every category, the online purchase intention increased by double digits, with customers 44 percent more likely to purchase OTC medicine, 41 percent more likely to buy groceries online, and 30 percent more likely to acquire furnishings and appliances that way.  

For consumer electronics, American consumers were only 10 percent more likely to buy online, although 66 percent of those surveyed were buying online prior to the pandemic.  

As for Europe, a report by InternetRetailing.net, released shortly after the start of the pandemic last spring, found that coronavirus “will speed up the shift from physical retail to e-commerce, which is now happening at a faster pace than previous forecasts.”  

Behaviors that Promise to Persist, Post-Pandemic 

That report found that the share of consumers doing more than half of their business online “has increased dramatically on all three of Europe’s biggest e-commerce markets. Six out of 10 consumers say that they will continue to buy as much online as they do today after the pandemic has passed.” 

That report cited data from Kantar and Detail Online, of Europe’s three largest markets for e-commerce, France, Germany and the U.K., which found that “the share of consumers that do more than half of their total purchases online has increased with between 25 and 80 percent since the outbreak of COVID-19.”  

Detail Online Founder Joakim Gavelin said in that report: “During lockdown, focus is on the main essentials, but this report indicates that all the major e-commerce categories will bounce back to even higher levels when the epidemic has passed. And when they do it’s essential that brand owners have the bare essentials in place to meet the demand. ‘Are my products visible when consumers search for them at online retailers?’ is a question all brands should ask themselves right now.”  

Another report, from mid-2020, by Ecommerce News, predicted that e-commerce on the continent would be worth 717 billion euros by the end of 2020 – a 12.7 percent increase over the year before. That report also said that while Western Europe is the most developed e-commerce market in Europe, Romania and Bulgaria have shown strength of late.  

The Lithuanian tech company Searchnode, meanwhile, released a survey in January of nearly 100 eCommerce decision-makers from Europe and North America, which found that over 90 percent of e-commerce businesses saw an increase of revenues over the course of the spring lockdown period.  

What Can We Expect for Retail in the New Year?  

In the U.S., according to a forecast issued last fall by eMarketer and Insider Intelligence, retail sales will rise 2.3 percent in 2021 to a total of $5.630 trillion.  

Following a pandemic-driven increase of 32.4 percent growth in e-commerce sales in 2020, that sales category is seen growing by just 6.1 percent, while brick-and-mortar sales are forecast to rise 1.6 percent, after falling 3.2 percent in 2020. That report added that important trends in brick-and-mortar retail will include “click and collect,  cashierless checkout, contactless payment, and digital signage.”  

As for Europe, an early-December report from Moody’s Investor Service predicted a “stable” European retail sector for 2021. The report also said that in Europe, “digitalization trends will accelerate changes across the retail sector. The rising share of online sales is cannibalizing in-store sales, eroding margins for bricks-and-mortar-focused retailers.  

“Our outlook for the retail sector across Europe for next year aligns with our expectations for continued sector sales volume and profit recovery, although they will still stay below 2019 levels,” Francesco Bozzano, vice president – senior analyst, at Moody’s Investors Service, said in that report’s release. “That said, recovery will be much slower for retailers exposed to sectors like tourism and travel.” 

Digital Imaging at CES 2021

Digital Imaging CES 2021

This year’s CES event lacked the reach-out-and-touch-it-ness of years prior; having everything at your disposal from a web browser made it easier to navigate. Perhaps next year, if we return to an in-person visit to Vegas, a hybrid model of booths and this extensive online presence would be a nice touch.  

A Nikon NIKKOR lens for its Z cameras
A Nikon NIKKOR lens for its Z cameras 

Most of the major imaging exhibitors were absent. Nikon, Canon, and Panasonic/Lumix had plenty to offer, but Hasselblad, Leica, and third-party lens manufacturers like Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina were absent. Though there weren’t a lot of new product announcements in the imaging arena, the four majors – Sony, Panasonic, Nikon, and Canon – had robust overviews of their current offerings, along with some exciting video content. 

If anything, the main theme here was the convergence of video and still camera hardware, with a solid emphasis on the video capabilities of current cameras. 

Nikon builds on their Z series mirrorless cameras with the slightly dated Z50 and a pair of kit DX zoom lenses offering a stunning range of capture from 16-50mm to 50-250mm for just under $1,300, with the body only coming in at $860. The smaller, 20MP DX format sensor body is still compatible with the remainder of the Nikkor-Z range of lenses, as well as the legacy F series Nikkors. There was plenty of info on hand about the recently updated II versions of the Z6 and Z7, which offer higher maximum frame rates than the original models, thanks to dual EXPEED 6  processors.  


Nikon was making more of a push on new lenses, concentrating on their new 50mm f/1.2 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lenses for the Z cameras. Again, following a trend of more fast glass, suited to low light video production, though still photographers will definitely benefit from the cool factor of these new lenses optimized for wide open aperture performance.


Canon did not have any new hardware to show, but their virtual room was featuring an extremely cool video from Nasa astronauts Marsha Ivins and Terry Virts. They go into great depth on the wide range of Canon cameras used on Space Shuttle missions along with some incredible footage.  Both astronauts shared their early love for photography and offered some great tips and tricks to getting stable shots in a zero-gravity environment.

Sony was concentrating more on integrating creative platforms, and mention of their latest Xperia 5II phone, released in fall of 2020, featuring Zeiss optics with a maximum aperture of f1.7. As of this time, Verizon is hinting that you can get one on their network, but this Android-based phone is more popular in the rest of the world (which makes me want one all the more).

Perhaps the most exciting imaging product at the show was the new Panasonic Lumix BGH1 “cinema box camera,” aimed at video content creators. It features a 10 MP sensor and an architecture designed from the ground up to be a video camera first and a still camera as an afterthought. Thanks to the Lumix Tether App, multiple BGH1s can be connected and controlled via an Ethernet network, putting major production values at your fingertips for a fraction of what it used to cost. Using the micro 4/3rds lens system puts a plethora of new and legacy glass at your disposal for a wide range of cinematic effects. And, at an affordable price of $1,999.99.

With all this capturing going on, you’ll need a way to get it all to your workstation, and Kingston’s new Workflow Station offers four bays that can be customized to the memory cards of your choice. These removable adaptors all plug into the Workflow Station, and attach to your computer via a single USB-C cable. Thanks to using the current USB 3.2 spec, Kingston claims that you can download from four readers in the dock simultaneously, providing a tremendous boost to what is usually a workflow bottleneck. The Workflow Station by itself is $135.20 and the card reader modules are $36.40 each.

Konftel 800 Conference Phone Certified for Atos Unify Platforms

Konftel C50800 Hybrid sit_020 Featured Image

The Konftel 800 hybrid conference phone, it was announced, has been certified to work across key Atos Unify communication platforms – broadening its utility in the conference and boardroom market sector. The flagship device has been tested to be compatible with the latest Atos Unify OpenScape 4000 V10 hybrid UC platform, Atos Unify OpenScape Voice V10 and Atos Unify OpenScape Business V3 solutions, according to the announcement statement.

The Konftel 800 communication and collaboration device boasts flexibility among its attributes, and connects via SIP, USA and Bluetooth, functioning in the cloud, on premises or in hybrid environments. It connects via SIP, USB and Bluetooth, and was highlighted in a Frost & Sullivan Product Leadership award for delivering outstanding sound in video solutions for medium to very large meeting rooms.

“Meeting room communications technologies like the Konftel 800 will become essential to bringing together hybrid workforces that have built up over the course of the early 2020s,” said Mark Smith, head of marketing and communications, Atos Unify, in the announcement statement. “The Konftel 800 is an ideal solution to support the Atos range of digital workplace collaboration and communications technologies in meeting rooms.”

More details about the device are available at: https://www.konftel.com/en/compatibility/atos-unify

(Konftel 181211 photo: Johan Gunseus)

Sharp Reinforces Commitment to the Kitchen at Virtual KBIS

KBIS - Sharp presentation - Full Kitchen Suite - Featured Image
Sharp's Full KItchen Suite

Sharp attended the virtual KBIS exhibition last week with its bevy of appliance solutions – and armed and ready to talk them up to attendees. While its pre-show news was centered on the introduction of its first-ever smart built-in convection microwave drawer oven, that was just a single element of its dealer and designer conversations at the show, which included discussion of the company’s Full Kitchen Suite, and of the technology behind its air purifiers, especially germane in this time of COVID.

On the topic of air purification, “the reality is that the coronavirus is here, and could become endemic and will mutate, like another version of the flu, so consumers’ appreciation of home air quality will stay with us for a while,” offers Jim Sanduski, president of Sharp Home Electronics Company of America (SHCA). In fact, he says he expects that the working-from-home trend, as it has taken root and not resulted in productivity falloff, will stick, even beyond the pandemic lifespan. “What it means is that we’ve seen a huge spike in demand for kitchen appliances as well. It’s torrid. And it should result in an elevated level of business for quite some time.”

Sanduski (left) and Weedfald

Sanduski says that Sharp happens to be well positioned to leverage this trend – but also for another reason that transcends the pandemic: the fact that Sharp’s appliances are hybrid, multi-functional devices. For example, he points out, the generous 1.4-cubic-foot interior of the aforementioned convection microwave drawer oven will accommodate most dishes, circumventing the need to “fire up the regular oven – plus it has convection-speed cooking.” And it even features the convenience of a warming drawer. Similarly, the Sharp Gen-2 SuperSteam+ oven offers hot-air convection, steam cooking and superheated steam cooking capabilities, and at 1.1 cubic feet, it is roomy enough for most dishes. “It’s a secondary oven that’s being used as a primary oven,” he says.

And, due to a canny engineering design decision incorporated in Sharp appliances from the outset, these Sharp devices are 120V, and require no special wiring – “they’ll fit in kitchen islands with 120V outlets,” Sanduski notes. “Also, with the SuperSteam, you need only droplets of 485-degree steam to cook food – no special plumbing is needed for the 24-ounce water well.”  Its design versatility extends to ADA compliance, making it suitable for an aging-in-place kitchen setup.

Description of cooking modes

“Our form and functionality is evident through unique products that do more than one thing in the kitchen,” adds Peter Weedfald, senior vice president, sales & marketing, Sharp Electronics Marketing Company of America (SEMCA), in encapsulating the design spirit that has driven Sharp’s appliance innovations.  He continues, “the good news is that we have refrigerators, dishwashers and induction cooktops as well” – and the company’s success in telling its across-the-board Full Kitchen Suite story has been reflected in impressive dealer uptake numbers for its built-in packages.   

Sharp, Sanduski says, is looking forward to following up its successful presence at KBIS in the near future at other venues, when it can once again be “back in person,” presenting Sharp innovations to dealers in the flesh.

Plum Elevates Wine Tasting With Integrated Solution

Plum has expanded its offering by creating an integrated solution that allows the product to be “wrapped” into the room’s design.

Whether you are a seasoned oenophile or simply enjoy the occasional sampling on Saturday nights, Plum is ready to take your wine-tasting experience up a notch. Its freestanding countertop unit, which received Best of the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) 2020 preserves, chills and serves wine by the glass. Holding two bottles at once, it chills each as intended for 90 days.

The Plum unit features a 7-inch touchscreen to display detailed history about the bottles inside. The labels are analyzed and will display on the touchscreen information regarding the wine’s origin, including region and winery. It boasts 220 identifiable varieties. An integrated, refillable argon canister preserves up to 150 bottles.

A “virtual sommelier” provides information on the wine’s origin while you pour.
The Plum unit hold two bottles at their intended temps for 90 days.

An app allows you to bring this service anywhere, particularly while you are shopping, to further assist you in selecting the perfect bottle. 

With the rise of at-home entertaining, Plum has expanded its offering by creating an integrated solution that allows the product to be “wrapped” into the room’s design. And this is not confined to the kitchen. 

As Andreas Hansen, Plum’s global president explains, the Plum unit can be a welcome addition to any room, such as the game room, theater and, of course, the home bar. The product fits flush within a 24-inch space and comes in black and stainless steel finishes.

“We are seeing the disintegration of the kitchen,” Hansen notes. “People are creating oases in the home, and Plum adds a category of pleasure to each space.”

The Plum integrated unit can be a welcome addition to any room, such as the game room, theater and, of course, the home bar.

To this end, at KBIS 2021, Plum introduced Plum Integrated-integration options that allow architects and designers to wrap the Plum appliance within any space. These kits will assist with the design process to plan for and accommodate the product so that it blends seamlessly with the room, whether it is within a new build or retrofit project.

Furthermore, the company also launched for architect and design partners the Plum Pro Rewards Program. This incentive program is designed to strengthen the relationship between Plum and these project partners. With this program, they can offer a unique service for their customers, as our “new normal” increasingly features at-home entertaining.

To continue this commitment, the company also introduced the launch of the Plum Wine Heroes Design Council, “a targeted selection of industry experts selected to provide insight and learnings on the changing space of at-home entertainment and how the art of fine wine is becoming a factor in future design spaces.”

The council will welcome design experts who will collaborate with Plum on integrated home design and how Plum products can enhance their projects.

UNBOXED: Reviewing the LG CordZero A9 Kompressor Stick Vacuum with Power Mop

LG CordZero A9 Kompressor Stick Vacuum with Power Mop Review

In these unusual times of home schooling and home office work, household appliances are being tasked to perform above and beyond their normal use cycles to meet changing consumer requirements. Quick cleanups, in between all that needs to be taken care of in these times, is rather impractical with a corded vacuum cleaner. A great solution: A cord-free vacuum to bridge the gap between a portable handheld and traditional tethered vacuums. 

The LG CordZero is an ambitious offering, with its great convenience, usability, and easy maintenance. But let’s have a look at the details. 

Multiple Cleaning Options with Extra Power 

One main advantage of the LG CordZero A9 Kompressor is its versatility through its various accessories, a freestanding charging base and the extra battery. This model covers all the bases as a carpet, hardwood and furniture cleaner.  

The freestanding charging and accessory-storing base makes the LG outstanding. You don`t have to wall-mount it. Not only does it charge the vacuum while it is attached; it also charges the extra battery. This makes available an extra round of vacuuming without interruption for charging, in normal mode, as a stick vacuum – up to 60 minutes each battery. You can see that LG spent time on the charging base design, given all the attention it has paid to details. For example, there are the clamps to better manage the charging cable – it simply looks better.  

Good Suction, Large Dust Bin 

The Universal Nozzle can be used for hardwoods and carpet. With it`s three suction levels (Normal, Power, Turbo) the LG CordZero A9 Kompressor is doing a great job with smaller and finer pieces of dirt. Only for larger pieces I had to lift the vacuum because it doesn`t have a wide opening. The Kompressor in it`s name means, that you can compress the dustbin simply by using the lever, which results in a capacity of 33.8 ounces and makes it easier to empty. 

Easy Maintenance and Maneuverability 

Throughout and including its washable components and filters, the LG CordZero A9 Kompressor is designed for minimal upkeep. It offers more maneuverability than most upright vacuums and more flexibility when used as a handheld. On top of that, the LG CordZero is lightweight and runs easily around tight spaces, corners and furniture. 

Power Mop 

Hard floors get their finishing touch with the Power Mop. Simply fill tap water into the integrated tank in the mop attachment and floors can be mopped with two different humidity settings. No chemicals are needed.  

The Lowdown on Virtual Events

The Shift to Virtual Events
Credit: iStock

The consumer electronics industry just wrapped up one of its biggest shows of the year – CES 2021, but for many, it likely wasn’t the first (or the last) virtual show they’ll attend. As anyone in the event industry will attest, planning these things can take upwards of a year, so the fact that so many companies were able completely reconfigure their shows in just a few months is truly admirable. But like all things in life, there is always room for improvement, and on top of that, there remains the question of what events will look like in the future. 

The Good 

While forming connections digitally vs. in person is certainly a huge concern, digital events have enabled opportunities for connecting with an often larger and more diverse audience because there are little barriers for entry. There is no scheduling a flight, booking a hotel, or re-arranging life at home; it’s as simple as filling out a registration form and clicking a link on the day of the event. For event hosts, that means new leads, better data collection, and more opportunities for content discovery. For attendees, that means more flexibility in when, where, and how they attend the show, which is why it is important for virtual events to be seamless across multiple devices.  

The Bad 

Event hosts need to keep in mind that they are likely going to be competing for attention more than they’re used to. At in-person events, attendees are more engaged because they have to be. You don’t typically see people get up and leave during a press conference or walk away from a booth mid-conversation, but with virtual events, this happens a lot. Creating a sense of urgency and fostering communication between attendees is key. Many virtual events allow users to create a schedule and receive notifications for meetings and sessions. There have also been events that offer rewards for those who engage. Whatever the approach, there needs to be some give and take from the host and attendee sides for a successful show.  

What’s Up Next 

Any companies hosting events in the near future need to consider the population of people who just won’t feel comfortable attending in-person events for a long time. As we move towards a COVID-cautious event format, creating a hybrid experience is important, and it should be marketed in a way that doesn’t make virtual attendees feel as though they are missing out. Virtual attendees already know they’re not going to have that same face-to-face connection or the ability to see products up closely as in-person attendees, so as virtual shows slowly turn into hybrid events, this group may actually end up needing more convincing. 

PerListen Audio Develops THX Certified Dominus Speakers

PerListen Audio debuted THX Certified Dominus technology at CES 2021 with its the flagship tower speaker, the S7t.

PerListen Audio, a new audio company, has announced its intention to develop and bring to market a full line of THX Certified Dominus loudspeakers, bridging the gap between large home theater speakers and those used in movie theaters worldwide. PerListen Audio is the first audio company to include THX Certified Dominus in its product line, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Dominus is the newest and the largest performance class of THX Certification, meant to bridge the gap between large home theater speakers and those used in commercial movie theaters and exhibits. Home theater owners with rooms up to 184 cubic meters of space and up to a 6-meter viewing distance (or up to 6,500 cubic feet and up to 20 feet, respectively) can fill their entertainment space with the superior audio quality they expect from THX Certified products.

Said Peter Vasay, general manager and senior vice president, THX home theater division, “During our rigorous testing process, we pay special attention to distortion levels at high volumes. With Dominus, we push this to the extreme to ensure the best output for hearing content as close as possible to the original creation.”

Specifically, for the THX Dominus testing, these speakers are subjected to 120 dB sound pressure levels where they must keep distortion to a minimum. Dominus speakers must also be sensitive enough to reach the cinematic THX Reference Level with THX Certified Dominus, and certain THX Certified Ultra power amplifiers. The 92 dB sensitivity requirement for THX Certified Dominus loudspeakers is the most sensitive of any THX loudspeaker category.

The D212s subwoofer, which debuted at CES 2021, features THX certified Dominus technology.

PerListen Audio debuted THX Certified Dominus technology in its two CES 2021 introductions— the flagship tower speaker, S7t, and D212s subwoofer, and an additional eight models that will be introduced to the North American market in Q2 ’21.

KBIS in the Kitchen: A Look at GE Profile’s ‘Smart’ Innovations

01_GE Profile - Solution Central Kitchen featured at KBIS Virtual 2021
GE Profile's Solution Central Kitchen, featured at Virtual KBIS 2021

By the reckoning of Jeremy Miller, Smarthome Solutions Commercial Director for GE Appliances, who presented at February’s KBIS virtual show, it is time for a “disruption” in addressing consumers’ changed needs relating to activities centered around the kitchen. And GE is aiming to fulfill those changing needs with new, improved cooking experiences that integrate high-end kitchen design with the cutting edge in appliance technologies.

He, along with Senior Merchandising Specialist Michael Earls, related, in the KBIS Connected Living Pavilion, the GE Profile perspective on what more can be done to be a part of the solution in answering the new demands – and the increased expectations – of these consumers.

GE Profile’s in-oven CookCam at work, viewed through the SmartHQ app

Stats they shared showed that 67 percent of survey respondents reported increased oven usage by the second month of the pandemic, and 47 percent reported increased cooktop usage. And further, 51 percent predicted they would continue to cook more, even in the post-COVID period.

Part of the kitchen ecosystem discussion, Miller added, touches upon the physical space of the kitchen itself, which is evolving along with the appliances in it.

Their observations laid the groundwork for the GE Profile Virtual KBIS experience that Todd Getz, executive brand director of GE and GE Profile, stated in the company’s announcement “offers a sneak peek into how our engineers and food scientists bring our industry-first innovations from an idea to an appliance.”

The company’s products are primed for smart-kitchen-cravers; its product portfolio, which consisted of 450 Wi-Fi models last year, now numbers 600 Wi-Fi-enabled SKUs, Miller said. “Appliance interaction is part of living,” he stated, adding that the company is well armed with a full ecosystem of connected appliances to meet the demand.

Detailed in the presentation were features that represent many innovations within the Profile line – driven these days by customers’ awareness of the importance of nutrition and health planning in their food choices.

Michael Earls talks up the Kitchen Hub

The GE Profile brand’s latest smart appliance models include a 30-inch smart slide-in front-control induction range. Here are some of its features:

• The In-Oven CookCam – a camera within the oven that allows the cook to livestream the contents of the oven to any smart device to remotely monitor the cooking process. The company says that this innovation is a building block for future enhancements that will lead to AI integrations to make ovens even “smarter” over time.

• No-Preheat Air Fry Mode – for precision, healthier, crunchier results.

• Precision Cooktop Sensor – enabling the cook to set a burner to an exact temperature through the LCD control panel via the company’s SmartHQ app – a multi-pronged platform which consolidates control, connection, personalization and management of various GE and GE Profile app-enabled appliances.

• Sous Vide-Enabled Cooktop – Works with a precision cooking probe to make possible in the home kitchen this cooking method popularized within restaurants.

And in the GE Profile line will appear an all-new version of the over-the-range Kitchen Hub, now with an integrated microwave oven, and incorporating an interactive smart screen/ventilation system, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) features. It can display recipes along with their images, and also, can scale recipe ingredient quantities when then number of servings is input, coaching the cook via voice prompts. It also calculates the nutritional value of meals and keeps that info stored in recipe favorites, sharing the data with other connected devices.

Global Brands Eager to Unveil Major Innovations at IFA 2021

IFA Special Edition 2020

IFA, the world’s most significant trade show for consumer tech and home electronics is returning from September 3-7, 2021. As always, that IFA platform will allow global brands to present their latest innovations and inspiring industry insights.

“We are overwhelmed by the extremely strong commitment of our partners,” says IFA Executive Director Jens Heithecker. “This demonstrates the high interest of the industry in presenting their innovations to IFAs global media community live in Berlin. Together with our international retail partners, we want to prepare the recovery and rebound for the time after the lockdown.”

Hear what a few exhibitors have to say about what they’re looking forward to at IFA 2021:

Amica International

Frank Trittel, General Manager:
We are well aware of the social and economic challenges that the Corona pandemic means worldwide, but we still miss the possibility to meet personally with people, exchange opinions and connect. The traditional IFA is the most important fair for us, so the AMICA Group will take part this year if it will be organized.


Beurer

Sebastian Kebbe, Director Marketing & Sales Europe:
We are delighted to be back at IFA 2021! Especially in the current situation, it is particularly important to stay in the exchange. The trade fair is one of our most important platforms for international networking – whether live in Berlin or as a virtual event.


Europe Bissell

Vincent Huinck, Comercial Director:
We are BISSELL, floor cleaning experts since 1876. Meet us at IFA 2021!


BLAUPUNKT/ GIP Development SARL

Andrezej Cebrat, Managing Director:
BLAUPUNKT is delighted to be attending IFA 2021. We are excited to present new innovative products and to see everyone happy and healthy in Berlin.


Bleujour

Jean-Christophe Agobert, CEO:
For us as a manufacturer of mini PCs, the IFA is one of the most important trade fairs. We are proud to be a part of it again with our premium products for business and gaming.