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Four Days Left to Nominate a Black Leader in Consumer Tech

Black Leaders In Consumer Tech

Just like the abundance of different products that make up our industry, consumer tech is full of diverse people, and it’s time we recognize them.

CT Lab Global Media’s first annual Black Leaders in Consumer Tech Award nominations are now OPEN!

We are looking to recognize the black professionals in tech who have propelled their company and the industry forward, and have served as inspirations and mentors along the way. Tell us about the game-changers, the up-and-comers, the black leaders in our industry who are making history and shaping the future of consumer technology.

To nominate a candidate for the program, be ready to provide us with contact information for the nominee and all the key reasons why you believe they deserve this recognition.

Deadline for submissions is May 14, 2021.

The winners will be featured in the June issue of Dealerscope, on our website, and in a special newsletter to coincide with the anniversary of Juneteenth.

Nationwide Resumes Its Official In-Person Group Gatherings

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

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

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

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

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

Five Twitter Updates You Need to Know

Changes at Twitter 2021
Credit: iStock

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

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

Super Followers

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

Communities

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

Spaces

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

Revue

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

Goodbye, Periscope

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

Despite Chip Shortages, Global PC Sales Trend Upward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY:

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

Introducing the Dealerscope Audience Awards

Dealerscope Audience Award

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

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

If you think you have what it takes to earn our readers’ vote, we invite you to submit your product now.

Be prepared. Your product will be judged on its design, value, ease of use, performance, and features. Once submissions close on June 4, we will open up voting to our entire readership, and you can begin to “campaign” for your product. If you are selected as a winner, you will be featured in our magazine, on our website, in a special newsletter and digital magazine, and on our social media channels. You will also be presented with a physical award to display in your office or showroom and a digital award to add to your website or product listing to further establish your product’s positioning in the market.

We are also offering an early bird special for a limited time. Enter your product before May 7 to save over $100 on the price of submission.

Best of luck to all of our entrants!

The 2021 Samsung The Frame TV Gets a Soundbar to Match

Samsung The Frame Next Level Acoustics

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

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

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

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

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

Metra Adds to Jeep Accessories Line

Metra Jeep Accessories

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

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

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

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

Green Lights in Corporate Sustainability

Corporate Sustainability
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

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

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

Trading Out and In 

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

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

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

Corporate Collaboration 

Corporate Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplier Side Sustainability 

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

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

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

Independent Thinkers 

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

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

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

Phasing Out of Upgrade Mania 

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

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

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

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

A Cleaner Way to Clean Clothes 

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

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

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

Something Old, Something New 

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

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

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

Going Green from the Ground Up 

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

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

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

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

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

Azione Unlimited Spring 2021 Conference Loaded With Innovative Programming

Azione Unlimited Spring 2021 Conference

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

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

Head to Connected Design to read the full story.

Petra Partners with Smart Baby Care Brand, Owlet

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

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

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

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

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

Vaccinated Americans All Clear to Attend IFA 2021

Vaccinated Americans IFA 2021
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

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

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

CES to Make its Las Vegas Return in 2022

CES 2022 Las Vegas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jabra PanaCast

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

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

PanaCast 50

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

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

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

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

PanaCast 20

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

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

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

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

Nationwide Marketing Group to Host Service Leaders Network Conference

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

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

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

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

Sessions include:

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

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

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

Smoothing the Path to Purchase

Financial Services Consumer Electronics
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TECH UP TALKS Address Need for Diversity in AI

TECH UP TALKS AI
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TECH UP TALKS AI

Meeting the Sustainability Challenge in CE Packaging

Sustainability Austere
The sustainable encasing for Austere's Powerbox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nationwide Names Mark Pollitz as New Director of Service

Mark Pollitz Nationwide Marketing Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple’s Spring Loaded Event was Loaded with Announcements

Apple Spring Loaded iMacs

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

Colorful iMacs and iPhones

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

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

Powerful iPads

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

Next-Gen Apple TV 4K

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

AirTags

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

Apple Podcasts and Family Cards

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

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

True Wireless In-Ear Headphones Now Available

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

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

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

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

For complete info on features, visit Connected Design.

Making the Right Call

External Communications Telemarketing
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

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

Rules of Engagement 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more here.

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

Beko Earth Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealerscope Opens 40 Under 40 Award Nominations

Dealerscope 40 Under 40
Credit: iStock

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

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

The deadline for nominations is May 28, 2021.

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

Check out the 40 Under 40 honorees from 2020 here.

House of Marley Drops Get Together Duo Mindfully-Sourced Speakers

House of Marley Get Together Duo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile Phone Trade-Ins
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Intake

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

Step 2: Repair and Refurbishing 

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

Step 3: Testing and Quality Control

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

Step 4: Recycling 

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

Step 5: Fulfillment

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

International Perspectives: Continental Climate Concerns

Currys PC World and Carphone Warehouse Edinburgh Kinnaird

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

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

Designing for Sustainability 

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

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

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

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

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

Consumer Demand as Corporate Motivator 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accountability through Transparency 

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

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

2021 and Beyond: A Global Effort Required 

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

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

IFA 2021 Returns to Berlin in Full Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• IFA+ Summit – with megatrends of digital future technologies

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

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

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

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

What’s the history of Howard’s? 

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

John Riddle, CEO, Howard’s

What distinguishes Howard’s from the competition? 

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

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

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

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

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

How many stores do you have? 

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

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

What about online? 

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

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

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

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

What are your goals this year? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite corner of the store? 

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

How does Dealerscope help you in your everyday business? 

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

Noritsu Koki Acquires JLab in $370M Deal

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

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

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

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

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

JLAB Noritsu Koki

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

AI in the Smart Home
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

1. AI will train users. 

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

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

2. Smart home devices will promote savings through sustainability. 

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

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

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

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

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

4. Rising device density will require more networking expertise. 

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

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

5. Homeowners will invest in privacy and security.

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

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

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

ENERGY STAR Recognizes Beko for Sustainability Commitment

Beko receives ENERGY STAR Parter Award for Sustainability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing to Meet the Rising Tide of Early Adopters

Technology Early Adopters
Credit: iStock

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

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

Tech Purchases Helped Fuel the E-Commerce Boom 

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

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

Pandemic Purchases Set Off a Long-Term Trend 

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

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

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

Support Services are Critical for Early Adopters 

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

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

Remote Support for Remote Consumers 

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

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

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

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

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

SXSW AR, VR, XR in Retail
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The early adopter gets the worm. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was also talk of the far future of retail.  

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

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

Trading in car stereo
Credit: iStock

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

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

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

Giving Electronics Another Act

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

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

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

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

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

Partnering with Retailers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born-Again OEM

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

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

ZEISS’s Triple Play for Retail Success

ZEISS Vision Care

Sponsored by ZEISS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s more, ZEISS Vision Care has devised a business model that amounts to a “triple play” for dealers – namely, high profitability; opportunity for sales expansion, repeat sales and recurring revenue; and the ability to easily attach an accessory to the purchase of a device with a lens or screen that will keep it clean and safe.

This is a chance for consumer electronics retailers who partner with us to reap enormous benefits, because ZEISS is as vested in your success as you are.

These few facts shared here with you about ZEISS Vision Care and its offerings are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more to know about our Retail Partner Program, and we’re confident that retailers who get in touch with us to explore the details will see how easy it is to be successful with what we firmly believe is exactly the right product mix for exactly the right time in our business.

To learn more about the ZEISS line of cleaning products, please visit www.zeiss.com/cleaning.

Dealers interested in knowing about how to participate in this opportunity as a Retail Partner can contact Valerie Motis at the following email address: Valerie.motis.ext@zeiss.com.

Nationwide Marketing Group Joins the Las Vegas Market Live Experience

Nationwide Marketing Group Las Vegas Live
Credit: iStock

One silver lining that has come out of the pandemic is our newfound ability to be in two places (or more) at once. Virtual events have opened the door to a wider audience and allowed for more flexibility on the attendee side. There’s no more running to grab a seat for a panel or worrying you might miss a session while networking.

Nationwide Marketing Group already has a few successful virtual events under their belt and they are keeping that momentum going with the first-ever Las Vegas Market Live virtual experience for the independent retail channel. This time around, Nationwide will be an “exhibitor” itself at the Las Vegas Market, which runs April 11-15. Throughout the event, the Nationwide Furniture and Bedding and PrimeMedia teams will be on hand hosting a series of conversations, presenting new products, offering trainings, and more.

“Las Vegas Market Live offers independent dealers across the country an opportunity to see the latest innovations and introductions from the show, even if they weren’t able to come to the show in-person,” says Nationwide Vice President of Furniture and Bedding Mike Derro.

Las Vegas Market Live will complement some of Nationwide’s other virtual events from this past year, and offer dealers who can’t make the trip to Las Vegas an enriching experience. Many aspects of Las Vegas Market Live can be expected to appear at other industry shows, especially while we remain COVID cautious.

“Las Vegas Market Live is a powerful tool for dealers who are attending the show in person,” explains Jeff Rose, senior director of merchandising for furniture and bedding. “There’s so much to see and do at World Market Center that it can be a challenge to visit every partner you’d like. Everything we capture for Las Vegas Market Live will remain available after the show, so it’s a great place to check in for the showrooms you weren’t able to visit in person.”

As with most virtual events, Las Vegas Market Live video content will be available in real time on the event’s website and on demand after the show. Nationwide Marketing Group will also have a dedicated playlist for these sessions on YouTube.

Dealers interested in participating in the Las Vegas Market Live experience can subscribe to receive text or email alerts to be notified when new content drops. They will be able to easily connect with key contacts from participating manufacturers and the experts on hand from the Nationwide furniture and bedding team.

Some of Nationwide’s vendors that are already committed to the Las Vegas Market Live experience include Ace Casual, Bedgear, Best Home, Capel Rugs, Coaster, CordaRoy’s, Corsicana, DreamFit, Eastman House, Elk Home, Ergomotion, Hiend Accents, Human Touch, I Love Pillow, Klaussner, Leather Italia USA, Legends, Leggett & Platt, Malouf, Mohawk Home, Osaki Chairs, Porter Designs, Powell, Purecare, Resident Home, Serta Simmons Bedding, Tempur+Sealy International, W. Silver, and more.

“The PrimeMedia team is excited to work with so many great partners at Market, and not only will we be bringing their showroom experiences to dealers as part of Las Vegas Market Live, we’ll also be capturing training on their latest product introductions and innovations,” says Nationwide PrimeMedia’s Mike Whitaker. “Those training programs will debut in the coming weeks, exclusively for Nationwide Members, in the Nationwide Learning Academy online. We’re excited about this robust expansion of new furniture and bedding content, as it will continue to assist the teams of our Member companies in remaining the most knowledgeable and helpful in their markets.

Home Security Leader Ring Releases Floodlight Outdoor Camera

Ring releases new Floodlight Pro Wired Camera

Ring has released its “most advanced outdoor security camera,” equipped with 3D Motion Detection with radar and Bird’s Eye View—the new Ring Floodlight Cam Wired Pro. The new product builds upon the features of the Ring Floodlight Cam to monitor outdoor spaces with motion-activated LED lights and HD video.

For full story and list of features, visit Connected Design.

When Tactile Interfaces are Better Than Touchscreens

Tactile Interfaces versus touchscreens
Credit: iStock

Steve Jobs hated buttons. This aversion informed everything from his wardrobe (no buttons on a turtleneck) to Apple’s product design – and therefore, user interface design for the past 13 years. The clean, near-buttonless beauty of the iPhone and iPad became the dominant form factor not just for directly competitive tablets and smartphones, but also for A/V control system interfaces, remote controls, and even car dashboards.  

Featureless sheets of touch-capacitive glass have become synonymous with modern, flexible design and universal control. Appliances like stoves and washing machines have not only replaced buttons and dials with touchscreens, but also tout iPhone- and Android app-based control as a product differentiator.  

My own company, PTZOptics, supports control of all our network-connected cameras through such an app. In February, however, we also released a new camera control device, the SuperJoy, that is absolutely bristling with buttons. We created this product in part because, in talking with our customers, we affirmed something neuroscientists and designers have been grumbling for the past 10 years: sometimes, buttons are better than screens. 

Supporting Task Mastery  

Buttons give our brains more information than a touchscreen. When we tap on a touchscreen, we’re reliant on visual cues: we have to see something on the screen change state in order to know we tapped the right area, and our input was received.  When we feel a button depress or a dial click, we instantly know that signal has been sent.  Recent studies have shed light on the benefits of this kind of multisensory input for learning. When we engage multiple senses – not just the sight of an icon, but the feel of a button, and maybe the audible click heard as it is pressed – our brains more easily encode the cause-and-effect sequence of events.  

Touch has also emerged as particularly powerful. A recent article in Neuroscience News describes the way tactile sensations light up the whole brain like a Christmas tree. When a person is learning a new or complex skill – for instance, controlling multiple robotic cameras for a live video production – having physical buttons can significantly increase speed to mastery. 

A physical button can also give users confidence because what it does is so clear. A button labelled “Off” turns a device off. A button labelled “Lecture Capture” turns on the appropriate cameras and microphones and initiates recording. Over the past year, I’ve spoken with several higher-education technology managers who have replaced complex touchscreen interfaces in some classrooms with a simple set of three or four clearly labeled physical buttons. Instructors who might otherwise feel intimidated by the complex systems required to deliver in-person classes as remote or hybrid experiences feel perfectly comfortable with a simple button-press.  

Faster Decisions & Fewer Mistakes 

Logitech G502 Lightspeed Gaming Mouse
Logitech G502 Lightspeed Gaming Mouse

Physical buttons have benefits even for skilled operators. A touchscreen cannot be operated by feel; we must look at it to know not just where to press, but what set of controls are currently present. Physical buttons allow “blind navigation” – the ability to make changes without having to look at the controller.  Blind navigation allows operators not just to respond faster, but to make better decisions. Because no visual processing is involved in pushing the button, additional brain cells are freed up to help with judgement. This is especially important in applications where the user’s eyes need to be focused elsewhere for fast decision-making, such as video production, driving, or gaming. For example, Logitech’s wireless gaming mouse, the G502, may not have the sleek minimalism of Apple’s buttonless Magic Mouse, but its 11 customizable buttons have made it a category leader. 

Particularly in high-stakes environments like live production or mission critical applications, buttons have another advantage over screens: fewer failed inputs and false positives. Capacitive screens have to be very sensitive in order to work, which means they sometimes sense the wrong thing. Also, depending on the size of the touchscreen, the “hit box” for input may be very small. When controlling a device from a smartphone, it can be very easy to miss a digital button or hit the wrong button altogether. If the user needs to wear gloves, all bets are off: many fabrics insulate fingers too well for touchscreen operation. 

The Digital Becomes Physical 

A pair of announcements from the automotive industry at CES 2021 demonstrate both the power of buttons and the drawbacks of screens. Mercedes-Benz bet big on touchscreens by debuting the MBUX Hyperscreen, a 56-inch display that covers an entire sedan dashboard. The marketing for this component touts the 12 built-in actuators for haptic feedback, the special coating that reduces reflections and glare, the single navigation layer, with no nested menus. Guess what else provides haptic feedback, low glare, and a single navigation layer? Physical buttons. On the other hand, automotive systems supplier GHSP showed off control knobs intended to add a layer of tactile interaction to sleek glass dashboards like Mercedes-Benz’s. These dual stacked wheels are designed to integrate with touchscreen systems to allow drivers to control driving, safety, audio, or climate systems without taking their eyes off the road – returning the blind navigation capabilities lost with a touchscreen interface. 

Embracing buttons doesn’t mean rejecting high-tech systems in favor of analog devices. The PTZOptics SuperJoy, the Logitech G502 mouse, and GHSP’s control knob are all intended to be flexible and programmable, like a touchscreen, but with all of the satisfaction and advantages of a tactile interface. They allow both fully customizable control – on the part of the carmaker for GHSP, or the end user for the G502 or the SuperJoy – and blind navigation. These are physical interfaces that support both learning and mastery for complex operations.  Buttons like this aren’t retro: they’re the future. 

The Quest Group Announces Promotions, Continues ‘Evolution’

Golden Ear Triton Reference Speakers
GoldTriton Reference

In keeping with its “ongoing state of evolution,” The Quest Group, parent company of AudioQuest and GoldenEar , has announced key promotions from within its ranks.

The Quest Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Bill Low, noted that with these advancements, he feels “absolutely confident that we’ll successfully and gracefully navigate any shifts the evolving market presents while significantly advancing our collective sales, marketing, and educational efforts.”

For the full story, visit Connected Design.

For the Retail Apocalypse, March Came in Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

Open Sign Signals No Retail Apocalypse for Some Stores

It’s been a little over a year since COVID-19 forced much of life as we knew it, along with a big chunk of retailers, to shut down. At first, and for many months, a retail apocalypse seemed inevitable, and for many legacy stores that were already challenged, it was indeed the end of days. But the pandemic has been a paradox. Just as layoffs and store closures continue apace for some once-cherished retail institutions, other stores big and small have seen record growth over the past 12 months, albeit mostly on the digital side of things. As with the population at large, the burden of COVID’s onslaught has not been even. Even so, the ever-increasing vaccination rates and loosening of restrictions across the country over the past four weeks indicate that while March may have come in like a lion, it left like a lamb.

Corporate Inequality

First, a recap of the bad news. The corporate COVID casualties include some of the most revered names in the business, though many have been on a death watch for years. JC Penney, which had been under strain after eight straight years of losses and failed turnaround efforts that involved attempts at going upmarket and selling appliances and electronics, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy early on in the pandemic, after just two months of forced closures and consumer reluctancy. Part of the deal included shuttering 29 percent of its stores—242 out of 846—though later, in June of last year, JC Penney walked that number back to 200 or fewer. After closing 156 of its stores, JC Penney was acquired in December by Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management, which helped get the retailer out of bankruptcy. Even so, JC Penney recently revealed that the 15 stores it was supposed to close in March, along with three new ones, will now close on May 16th, which will bring the pandemic-era closure tally to 172.

Fry's Electronics Burbank Retro Space Entrance
The retro-space-themed entrance to Fry’s Burbank, Calif. store.

The other big casualty, at least symbolically, was Fry’s Electronics. Though not entirely unexpected, the beloved West Coast electronics retailer announced that it would be closing all 31 of its stores across nine states and shut down its business after 36 years. The news marked the end of an era of a certain kind of electronics superstore where, in its ‘80s-and-‘90s-era heyday, you could walk in and find everything from the latest big-ticket televisions to every last variety of computer mouse.

While Silicon Valley-based company cited “changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the biggest culprit was not keeping up a competitive digital and omnichannel presence, along with increased forays into stocking random knick-knacks, cosmetics, and candy on its increasingly bare store shelves (largely due to a consignment system that only paid manufacturers and suppliers after items were sold).

Though it doesn’t provide lists of closures or make any sweeping announcements around the topic, Sears and Kmart parent company Transformco Properties was already executing a strategy to shut down stores in 2020 even before the pandemic 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