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Published: 23 Oct 2018

AI Takes Bias Out of Workplace Harassment Reporting


Spot - a sexual harassment reporting app - uses artificial intelligence (AI) as a neutral mediator, collecting evidence from victims via time-stamped logs that can be shared with HR teams anonymously. "The point of AI in this instance is to help the person to feel more human," said Julia Shaw, co-founder of Spot, at Wired Smarter 2018.

The app is the first to use the cognitive interview technique - traditionally used by the police - to help stimulate event recall, and diminish misinterpretation and ambiguity by using non-leading questions.

After about 10 minutes of questioning, Spot turns the user's responses into a PDF report with a cover sheet, which can be sent anonymously to anyone the user wishes to lodge the report with. All details are deleted from the app's server 30 days after the report is collated to maintain the user's privacy. The technology aims to address the 67% of people who do not report workplace harassment (ComRes, 2017).

Spot was founded on the idea that answering sensitive questions may be easier when they are posed by a chatbot rather than a human, who could unintentionally lead questions in the emotionally charged context. Stylus has previously highlighted that consumers feel more comfortable talking to an artificial character, rather than someone who might be biased.

"We don't want to create a chatbot that feels human - quite the opposite," Shaw told an audience at Wired Smarter. "We want the consumer to feel human and take away the awkwardness from talking to humans." Taking place one day before the first anniversary of the #MeToo movement, Shaw's talk served as a timely reminder of the importance of enabling clear workplace harassment reporting procedures.

Businesses would be wise to adopt services that protect and support their employees in the workplace. For more on navigating sensitive subjects, see our Tackling Taboos report.

Published: 17 Oct 2018

Retail Storytelling: Ntwrk App Taps Episodic Live Content


Retailers are transforming into media entities and turning to broadcasting to reach those four out of five millennials who consider video content when researching a purchase decision (SMT, 2017). Ntwrk – dubbed “QVC meets Comic-Con” – is a new player that wants to redefine commerce’s modus operandi by melding TV, retail and the gloriously nerdy enthusiasm of convention culture.

The app-based concept was launched by US streetwear visionary Aaron Levant, founder of street culture convention ComplexCon and streetwear trade show turned marketing festival Agenda (for more, see our blog). Ntwrk sells goods via bite-sized video broadcasts, celebrity-packed episodic content (think game shows featuring prime-time chefs and hardcore rappers), and shoppable, physical pop-up theme parks.

Setting Ntwrk apart from its traditional counterparts (including QVC), shopping will be frictionless, with users able to save their credit card details and make purchases without leaving the entertainment environment. Categories include gaming, music, streetwear and art, and everything sold is a Ntwrk exclusive, with prices ranging from $45-$300. However, limited editions or collectable items exceed this in some cases.

Broadcasts come in two formats that are both relatively short but focused, appealing to Gen Z and Y’s desire for high-quality content in short bursts. Supermarket is a celebrity-hosted 15-minute themed show (Monday is about selling games, Wednesday about fashion etc), which currently runs three days a week but aims to increase to seven in 2019. The Meltdown is a weekly late-night Q&A show hosted by US comedian Eric Andre.

Ntwrk benefits from heavyweight funding from investors including Warner Bros’ digital content division Digital Networks, US basketball icon LeBron James, and Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ntwrk plans to open ticketed 30-day-long theme parks in 2019. “They’ll be like Instagram factories and shoppable via e-commerce,” says Levant.

See also Live Commerce is Impacting Retail.

Published: 16 Oct 2018

Smart Caption Glasses: Theatre for the Hearing Impaired


As of October, London's National Theatre will offer Smart Caption Glasses for hard-of-hearing audience members. The glasses provide live subtitles, enabling theatregoers to enjoy performances as they unfold in real time.

Developed by tech company Epson, the software follows live production dialogue and stage directions, such as audio and lighting cues, to provide instant subtitling. This accommodates changes in pacing that might occur during performances. It also ensures that hard-of-hearing audience members reach significant points in the production - such as jokes - at the same time as the rest of the viewers.

The Smart Caption Glasses can be linked to a touchpad that allows users to alter the subtitling font size, colour, placement and the background display to suit individual needs. The technology could also potentially be used to offer foreign-language subtitles to non-English-speaking audiences, similar to US health-tech company Starkey's recently released translating hearing aids.

The glasses will be available for the National's 2019 season, including at some performances of a touring production of Macbeth. The glasses can be reserved through the National Theatre's online ticketing interface, with booking launching at the end of October for members, and November for the general public.

In the UK, there are 11 million people with hearing loss, making initiatives such as these a wise investment (Action on Hearing Loss, 2017). Time and again companies are proving the commercial benefits of appealing to traditionally under-represented consumers.

For our take on some of the recent designs accommodating a wide spectrum of abilities, see our Design for Disability report, as well as blogs on inclusive clothing for children and adults, and on new technology for the visually impaired.

Published: 12 Oct 2018

Open-Ended Toys Teach Code Through Magical Interactions


Children’s toys are being reframed as life-training tools, embracing simplified tech as a catalyst for computer-based dexterity (see also Gen Alpha: Childhood Rebooted). UK tech company Kano takes this a step further with its Harry Potter-branded coding kit, which explores how toys can help develop children’s skills, while fostering a sustainable relationship between child and product.

The wand coding kit comes in four pieces, which children assemble by following a step-by-step instructional guide. The wand pairs with an accompanying app, which allows users to programme spells to be triggered in response to a range of movie-inspired hand gestures. Children code by moving around brightly coloured blocks, with a split screen presenting the JavaScript version of their actions.

The app features a series of games – from levitating feathers to taming fire – that children play using their wand as controller. These actions physicalise the game and offer users an immersive experience, recreating the magic of the popular film series – for more on gesture-based interaction design, see our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Burst.

Kano’s open-ended design allows this sense of magic to be extended outside of the game, with the motherboard able to interact with other electronic devices. “You can use the wand to turn the lights on in your house,” says Kano’s director Aaron Hinchion. “This is something you can do whatever you want with.”

Modular design is key to Kano’s mission, tackling the throwaway culture in electronics. Incorporating no glue or screws, the plastic components can be recycled, with users then able to use the motherboard in different projects – or even craft their own wand out of wood.

Allowing hardware and software to run independently helps products respond to changes in age and interest, as well as future-proofing toys so that they can be enjoyed beyond childhood.

Published: 12 Oct 2018

Facebook Launches Its First Video Chat Device: Portal


Facebook is aiming to make video chat a more natural, seamless experience with the release of its first hardware device, Portal.

Facebook's Portal combines a video screen with an artificial intelligence-powered camera that tracks users' movements, keeping them in the frame throughout the chat. The device also features four integrated microphones that pick up speech, regardless of where the user is in the room. These features mean that, unlike smartphone and computer video-chat apps, Portal allows the user to move and speak freely, as if their conversation were happening face to face.

With Portal, Facebook is tapping into a global trend of dynamic, borderless living, facilitating a realistic communication experience through technology (for more on this, see our report Being Borderless). Facebook also appears to be targeting family relationships: Portal's Story Time, an augmented reality application, allows users to read stories to loved ones using a teleprompter while smart visuals and audio illustrate the story. For more on how technology is supporting new family dynamics, see Crafting Modern Connections, part of our latest Macro Trend The Kinship Economy.

Facebook is wise to capitalise on the popularity of video chat: in 2017, it hosted 17 billion video chats on its Messenger platform (Facebook, 2017). However, reaction to Portal has been mixed; reviewers have found the camera tracking effective, but are concerned about privacy in light of Facebook's recent data breaches and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook describes Portal as "private by design", fitting it with features such as a camera cover and a button to completely disable the visual and audio recording functions, with the aim of increasing the product's privacy credentials. For more on how to preserve consumer privacy, see our Safeguarding Security report.

Published: 11 Oct 2018

Debenhams Launches New Omnichannel Beauty Initiatives

Debenhams Beauty Club

British department store chain Debenhams has launched a beauty initiative designed to improve its appeal among Gen Z and millennial consumers. Taking an omnichannel approach, it fuses online and offline channels via a loyalty-based digital social platform and two new discovery-led store concepts.

The new store departments, called Beauty Halls of the Future, are designed to provide consumers with an interactive, Instagrammable space. Located within the newly renovated Meadowhall store in Sheffield and Debenhams’ flagship store in Watford (just outside London), they take over a large proportion of the stores’ overall footprint (15% at Watford).

Tapping into consumers’ appetites for softer retail (for more, see Soft Sell: The New Retail), the new departments feature a Beauty Club House, which hosts demonstrations, workshops and events. Situated around the Beauty Club House are themed zones, such as the Skincare and Colour Lab, where new innovations in skincare, hair and make-up are presented.

An area called the Mini Bar takes advantage of the still-booming customisation trend, allowing shoppers to mix and match travel-sized products across all categories. A host of beauty services are available at the Beauty Bar, which is powered by London blow dry brand Blow Ltd and offers manicures and blow dries. The concept spaces were designed by British creative studio Checkland Kindleysides. For more on Instagram-led beauty stores, see our blog post on New York brand Winky Lux’s experiential retail space.

Debenhams has also unveiled its new loyalty programme Beauty Club Community. This digital social platform enables users to give and receive real-time peer-to-peer beauty advice and discuss beauty trends with Debenhams’ 6,000-strong beauty adviser network. Users can earn loyalty points and badges in return for their engagement with and contribution to the forum. For more on this topic, see Supercharged Loyalty Schemes.

To learn more about millennials’ beauty spending habits, see Millennials Beauty Buying: In Numbers.

Published: 10 Oct 2018

Femtech Fave Releases First Silent Wearable Breast Pump

London-based femtech company Elvie has just launched the world's first silent wearable breast pump. The device is free from the tubes and distinctive noises of a traditional pump, allowing discreet and hands-free milk expressing.

The Elvie Pump sits in the wearer's bra, allowing the user to continue with daily tasks while expressing milk. Like Elvie's Kegel training device (see our blog), the pump comes with an app that records data on factors such as milk production and pumping history. More importantly, the app allows the device to be controlled remotely, meaning the user doesn't need to fiddle with the pump while it's in their bra. The device has the potential to revolutionise breastfeeding for all mothers, especially those who return to work while still pumping. A single pump costs £229 ($300), with the double unit retailing for £429 ($560).

Traditional pumps are noisy and require the use of bulky machinery, often forcing users to find a private place in which to express. In the UK, although mothers have no legal right to breastfeeding breaks in the workplace, employers must meet obligations under health and safety, flexible working and discrimination laws (NCT, 2017). The NHS advises that the toilet, often one of the only private spaces available in a workplace, is not a suitable place in which to express milk (NHS, 2018).

The Elvie Pump is designed to be unnoticeable and allows women to express discreetly, as highlighted in its promotional video. Brands stand to benefit by following Elvie's example and providing tech that supports breastfeeding mothers. The hashtag #NormalizeBreastfeeding has over 740,000 mentions on Instagram, illustrating the growing movement towards destigmatising this natural act.

Our report Motherhood highlights further ways in which consumers can be supported in this chapter of their lives.

Published: 8 Oct 2018

Chef-Curated Made-for-Instagram Meal Kits

La Famiglia Rana

As food continues to dominate Instagram feeds, consumers expect restaurants and food brands to help them curate their own Insta-worthy images via beautifully presented dishes, backdrops and props. Looking to meet this need from an at-home perspective, London-based chef Skye Gyngell has partnered with Italian pasta brand La Famiglia Rana on a meal kit specifically designed to be Instagram-ready.

Each tortellini meal kit includes a plate, 'restaurant-quality' plating instructions and a wooden spoon in addition to the filled pasta, assisting consumers in creating pictures to be posted online. The kits are available in six different varieties, including spinach and ricotta tortellini with datterini, mint, and olives; chicken and smoked pancetta tortellini with radicchio and Parmigiano Reggiano; and prosciutto cotto and mozzarella tortellini with girolles and marjoram.

Gyngell says: "The world's obsession with photographing our food has fuelled a rise in all sorts of odd-but-edible inventions, turned humble vegetables into mega-trends, transformed restaurant diners into paparazzi and inspired home chefs to spread their wings. Anything that inspires people to be adventurous and creative – and proud of what they've prepared – is a wonderful thing."

It is an undeniable fact that over the past couple of years, Instagram has had a huge impact on how we consume our food. According to UK-based Italian restaurant chain Zizzi,18- to 25-year-olds spend an average of five days per year browsing food images on social media platforms.

For more on how other food brands and restaurants are exploring this trend, see Restaurant Provides Instagram Kits and The Food Content Boom.

Published: 8 Oct 2018

BBC Two Gets a Playful Visual Makeover

BBC Two has reinvented its brand identity for the first time in 20 years. The TV channel’s fresh look includes 16 idents created by British and international artists, featuring captivating colourful animations and unique soundscapes to create a more engaging viewing experience for modern audiences.

The rebrand is an exciting move for BBC Two – the third largest channel in the UK, after BBC One and ITV. Working with leading creatives and sound designers to revive television content is a progressive direction for the BBC. Recognising this, BBC Two plans to add to these animations over time.

BBC Creative, the broadcaster’s in-house agency, oversaw the brand refresh along with British creative agency Superunion. They collaborated with various creatives and pioneers in digital animation and motion graphic design, such as UK-based Mainframe, New York-based David McLeod and Berlin-based Helmut Breineder.

British composer Alex Baranowski scored the sound, adding a rich sensorial quality to the enticing visuals. His aim was “to build unique soundscapes for each film that blurred the line between what could be ‘music’ or ‘sound’”. He did this by performing musical instruments in unusual ways and enhancing sounds using a combination of analogue and digital techniques.  

Each piece of content features a curved ‘2’ outline in the centre. The different designs reflect specific moods and are intended to convey the channel’s varied content and commitment to creativity.  

Our Spotlight Trend The Sensory Opportunity highlights innovative engagement strategies that seek to capture consumers’ attention via entertainment and media channels. Check out Sensory Product for inspiring visual digital seduction techniques. 

See also The Future of Television.

BBC Two idents 2018
BBC Two idents 2018
BBC Two idents 2018
BBC Two idents 2018
Published: 5 Oct 2018

KLM’s Robot Assistant Helps Passengers through the Airport


Adding a more advanced dimension to the airport tech revolution and taking a step further from helpdesk robotics, Dutch airline KLM has launched a robot that acts as a personal assistant to help passengers through the airport.

Care-E is a self-driving trolley able to carry up to 85lbs of luggage and drive at walking pace alongside the traveller. To use the robot, passengers scan their boarding card, and it will take them to the right area. The bot also has real-time access to flight information, so it will know where to go if the gate changes or the plane is delayed.

Care-E uses a variety of non-verbal sounds to interact with users, meaning that passengers won't have to speak Dutch to operate the robot. It's currently being tested at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, with plans to debut at New York's JFK and San Francisco International by the end of 2018.

Airports are becoming ever more tech-savvy to offer an easy, seamless experience for consumers, and this development by KLM is a smart move from the brand. For more on airports using robotics in increasingly clever ways, see New-Wave Airports, Dubai Airport's Aquarium-Themed Security and Agile Airlines Reshape Travel.

Published: 4 Oct 2018

FabFitFun: Branded Live Broadcast

FabFitFun, FFF Live

The fine lines between selling, guidance and entertainment are being blurred, with brands now behaving like media entities to stand out and provide a more engaging route to consumption. Tapping into this trend, US beauty, wellness and athleisure subscription box FabFitFun (FFF) has launched a shoppable live show on Facebook to generate more digital interaction.

Running for two weeks until October 5, FFF Live airs daily between 11am and 1pm and is available to all active Facebook users. Marrying commerce, entertainment and content (see Contextual Commerce for more), the schedule ranges from expert-led advice and educational sessions, to QVC-style product showcases and entertainment.

Industry experts explain how to use beauty products, while hosts demo items from the current Fall Edit box, with viewers able to interact with them in real time via the comment section. Viewers can also win prizes via a game show titled The Fab Challenge – such as Win in 60, where a caller has 60 seconds to match the right price to a corresponding product. If they match all five, they win all the prizes on display.

The launch ties closely with the brand's ongoing content creation strategy. This already includes a series of Founder Chats with partner brands, hosted by FFF co-founder and editor-in-chief Katie Rosen Kitchens; and an exclusive members TV channel (updated monthly) on FFF's website, where subscribers get on-demand access to fitness tutorials from LA's top trainers. See also Subscription E-Tail Gets Experiential.

The show will return in Q4 with the release of the winter subscription box and an updated schedule, which will be altered according to consumer feedback gathered from the beta launch. See also Retail's Brand Broadcasters, Interactive & Shoppable: Live Video Shopping Platform and Monetising Social Media '18: Five Trends.

Published: 2 Oct 2018

Amazon Uses Consumer Data as a Selling Point in Latest Store

Amazon Four Star

An insatiable, social-media-fuelled appetite for everything new is driving the value of store concepts that resemble micro exhibitions of hyper-curated edits. Along these lines, Amazon is re-entering the physical retail space with a 370 sq m Manhattan store that makes high online ratings a key selling point – keeping consumers ‘in the know’.

Using its vast database on what’s trending and what shoppers are buying (and liking) recently, Amazon 4-star only sells merchandise that’s rated four stars or more, is a top seller, or has been added to its e-commerce site in the past three months.  

Arranged as a sort of expo store showcasing the trendiest things on Amazon (see also Beta Blends), the 2,000-piece product range includes books, games, household goods and toys, as well as its own range of Echo speakers and Kindle e-readers. A dedicated section titled Trending showcases a rotating mix of products, while a table of Most Wished-For items aims to offer inspiration for the upcoming Christmas season.

A digital price tag in front of the items displays consumers’ online reviews, with prices mirroring those on the website (Amazon operates a fluid pricing model, so prices change constantly). The tags also often include both a listed price and a cheaper one for Amazon Prime users – an incentive to sign up for membership on-site.

Amazon has been experimenting a lot with physical retail lately, with storefronts allowing the e-tail giant to get a bit more hands-on with consumers. Concepts include its Amazon Book stores, its innovative automated self-checkout concept Amazon Go, and click-and-collect centres on university campuses. The heavyweight also bought Whole Foods in 2017, and now operates 460 Whole Foods supermarkets, in which it has also added Amazon Fresh grocery pick-up stations. See also Last Mile: Retail Delivery Focus.

For more on how brands are helping consumers find the right products for them, see Solving the Search Conundrums.

Published: 1 Oct 2018

US Start-Up Launches Vending Machine for Meat Lovers

Appleston Meat Co.

Answering the ever-rising call for convenient groceries, US start-up Applestone Meat Co. has opened a 24-hour butcher's shop: a vending machine for all your meaty needs.

The brand has installed a row of vending machines in two locations in New York that are organised by meat type: beef, lamb, pork, sausages and ground meat. They're restocked multiple times a day with fresh, ethically sourced meats sold at an affordable price point. Between 11am and 6pm, customers can also purchase meat from a service window, offering the option to interact with a member of staff.

With plans to launch the concept in cities across the US in 2019, founder Joshua Applestone hopes the venture will tackle the country's issue of food deserts by offering everyone the opportunity to buy fresh meat 24/7. "We're not in the 1950s anymore, where everyone works nine to five and eats at the same time every night," he said. "Life is chaotic. At best."

This is a great example of how the meat industry is finding ways to adapt to contemporary society, where convenience is key. Read Dairy 3.0 to see how the dairy industry is responding to shifts in consumer attitudes. Meanwhile, New Food Covetables explores how high-quality meat is becoming more of a luxury commodity.

Published: 28 Sep 2018

Is a Subscription the Answer to Sustainable Toy Retail?


Many millennials expect sustainable practices from brands – arguably even more so when purchasing goods for their kids. Targeting an eco-conscious generation of parents, a soon-to-be launched on-demand toy library leverages the power of sharing through an easy-to-use website.

Set to beta launch in November 2018, UK subscription-based toy library Whirli aims to make children’s playtime more sustainable. Based on a sharing model, Whirli wants to lessen the waste generated by a sector well known for its heavy use of plastic.

In the US, around $3.1bn is spent every year on toys specifically for infants and pre-schoolers. In the UK, the toy market is worth around £3.5bn ($4.6bn) annually.

As Lego looks to phase out plastic (see blog), could the toy sector be about to become sustainable? Whirli works like this: for a fixed monthly price, parents can curate a toybox from an online collection, with the box then delivered to their home. The current beta launch experiments with three different subscription tiers that will be altered according to customer feedback. A full launch is planned for February 2019.

Kids can keep the toys as long as they like, but when they get bored, parents can return the items to Whirli to exchange for another product in the catalogue. Returned toys will then be sanitised and made available for other children.

Usage that extends beyond nine months results in children getting to keep the toy for free. Although covering most toy brands, Whirli doesn’t offer toys from brands such as Lego because of the problem of missing pieces and the logistical implausibility of refunding entire sets. After an initial three-month introductory period, users can cancel or change their membership tiers anytime.

See also Kids-Centric Commerce and Retail’s Nurturing New Parents, as well as Pause & Pulsate for more on the impact of the sharing economy on industries ranging from automotive to fashion.

Published: 28 Sep 2018

Contour 8000’s Printer Device Simplifies Make-Up Application

Contour 8000

As beauty tech continues to be a lucrative opportunity for brands (the global beauty devices market is projected to be worth over $94bn by 2023 – P&S Market Research, 2017), products that hack everyday routines are resonating with consumers. A new British beauty device aims to tackle the time-consuming process of applying a flawless full face of make-up. 

Two UK-based entrepreneurs, Catherine Gardner and Orson Mack, are launching Contour 8000 – a precision-engineered printer device that can apply a base of make-up in 30 seconds.

The pair have developed an artificial intelligence-powered smartphone app that pairs with the device. Once users have selected their desired look on the app, it analyses the their features and cleverly aligns the biometric data so that the products can be applied accurately. This personalised technology ensures different make-up looks fit the user’s unique features.

Each make-up look is pre-packaged into a cartridge that contains powder-based products – including foundation, contour, highlighter, eyeshadow and brow powder. For the make-up to be applied, the user connects the smartphone app to the printer via wi-fi and then positions their face over the device, which sits on a surface and sprays upwards.

In Rethinking Beauty: Digital Worlds, we highlighted Mink, an at-home 3D make-up printer concept that never came to fruition. This was followed by Swedish beauty device brand Foreo’s Moda digital make-up artist, which also never materialised. Is Contour 8000 the closest the beauty industry has got to delivering workable digital make-up application?

To read more about beauty tool innovations and personalisation, see 10 Tech Trends to Watch in 2018, Beauty Tools 2018 and  E-Beauty: Digital Device Boom