News

Lowe’s continues building toward visual future

BY Dan Berthiaume

Trying to picture how home improvements will look in your mind’s eye can be tough, and Lowe’s is using emerging technology to expand the view.

Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, recently told Chain Store Age how retailer’s proprietary technology development center is developing an app for the new Project Tango virtual reality (VR) mobile platform. Jointly created by Google and computer technology company Lenovo, Project Tango provides mobile devices with spatial capabilities.

“We’re eager to bring new solutions like Tango that can help solve common problems facing our customers,” said Nel. “For example, it can be challenging to visualize how products will fit or appear in a space, but with this technology customers can see how an appliance virtually fits in their kitchen.”

Using a mobile device’s camera, Project Tango can perform tasks such as measuring physical spaces, detecting objects in physical space, and creating realistic 3-D models of physical environments from scratch.

“These capabilities present interesting opportunities for the home improvement space,” commented Nel.

Lowe’s Innovation Labs uses a modified version of a development process known as “Science Fiction Prototyping,” which provides science fiction writers with market research and data and asks them to create narratives of how technology might impact people’s lives. The narratives are turned into comic books used as strategic resources. The Project Tango app fits squarely into this development model.

“Everything we do is grounded in narrative, and Project Tango gets us even closer to the original comic book we created to explain our view for how emerging visualization technologies will be a part of our customers’ and employees’ futures,” said Nel.

Project Tango is not Lowe’s first foray into consumer-facing VR tools. In October, Lowe’s released an upgraded version of its Holoroom VR design and visualization tool. The latest iteration of Holoroom leverages Oculus Rift optic technology in stores and Google Cardboard viewers that consumers can take home. Lowe’s Innovation Labs and Google collaborated to create a shareable Holoroom experience that combines YouTube’s 360-degree video capabilities with Google Cardboard to enable customers to view and share their design ideas at will.

“The Holoroom is an evolving concept for design and visualization tools made possible by emerging technologies, and Project Tango helps us advance that vision,” said Nel. “We have seen that across various augmented and virtual reality technologies, the overall benefit is helping our customers to visualize their home improvement plans and act on them with confidence.”

Nel concluded by saying Lowe’s is exploring a number of possibilities for Tango and will evolve its Tango offering based on how consumers and employees respond to it.

“Project Tango lends itself to exciting possibilities for the future in helping our customers use augmented and virtual reality to customize their homes and translate their visions into reality,” Nel stated.

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MOBILITY

Fresh delivery market gets new player

BY Dan Berthiaume

Move over, Amazon, Target and Google – the fresh delivery space is getting a little more crowded.

FreshDirect, the New York-based online provider of custom and prepared grocery items and meals, is launching a mobile one-hour fresh item delivery service.

FreshDirect’s new FoodKick mobile app will offer one-hour delivery of meals, fresh produce, meat, seafood and specialty items. FoodKick will also feature a selection of new and limited-time offerings from specialty partners, and an in-house culinary team will prepare made-to-order sushi, meat and seafood.

"Great fresh food has always been the core of our business," said Jason Ackerman, FreshDirect's co-founder and CEO. "FoodKick extends that passion to a growing consumer base, serving up exciting food solutions and tailored ideas every time a customer opens the app."

FoodKick will initially serve customers in Brooklyn neighborhoods as well as Long Island City.

FreshDirect is entering a vertical that holds promise, but contains some stiff competition. Amazon has been steadily expanding Amazon Fresh in select markets, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Google is said to be experimenting with providing fresh products sourced by retailers as part of its Google Express service. And Target is testing the market in Minneapolis in partnership with Instacart. Consumer interest for on-demand fresh product delivery is there, but it remains to be seen how many providers are needed to meet it.

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News

NRF slashes holiday sales forecast

BY CSA STAFF

The National Retail Federation confirmed what many retailers already knew and made a downward revision to a holiday forecast that initially called for 3.7% growth.

Citing what it called “unforeseen events,” the National Retail Federation (NRF) said sales during November and December increased 3% to $626 billion, down from an earlier forecast which envisioned growth of 3.7%.

“Make no mistake about it, this was a tough holiday season for the industry,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. "Weather, inventory challenges, advances in consumer technology and the deep discounts that started earlier in the season and that have carried into January presented stiff headwinds as retailers competed with one another and their own bottom line. Despite these factors, the industry rallied, consumers responded and sales still grew at a healthy rate, which is a huge testament to the resilience, knowledge and expertise of our retail leadership.”

December retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, decreased 0.2% seasonally adjusted from November and increased 3.1% unadjusted on a year-over-year basis, according to NRF.

“A double whammy of deflation and December weather constricted holiday sales growth as well as consumer spending,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “The results of December’s retail sales remind us just how significant of an impact unusual weather can have on retail and overall economic activity. While the timing is uncertain there are positive prospects for improvement, including recent job gains that will help lift income and earnings, and a healthy housing market that should provide some support for spending in various retail sectors.”

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