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Coming soon: The Etsy of African and ethnic apparel

BY Mike Troy

Shoppers frustrated by an inability to find trendy ethnic clothing will soon been able to access all manner of African inspired apparel via a new platform designed to connect buyers and sellers.

Scheduled to launch April 11, Boutique Africaine will serve as an online marketplace for ethnic clothing, accessories, and home and living items – and serve as yet another reminder of how the Internet enables the creation of new retail business models to serve the perceived unmet needs of niche consumer segments.

In the case of Boutique Africaine, the platform is Etsy-like in that it is intended to connect designers and sellers from around the world with buyers who love eclectic African and diaspora-inspired fashion items and are looking for original products. Diaspora is a term that refers to the “dispersion of a people, language, or culture that was formerly concentrated in one place, to scatter, to displace, to live in separated communities,” according to DePaul University’s Center for Black Diaspora.

Patrons of ethnic fashion often find it very difficult to buy ethnic clothes and accessories in North America and outside of Africa, in general, according to Boutique Africaine founder Franck Hounsokou.

“The marketplace was born out of frustration. I simply wasn’t able to find trendy ethnic clothing to buy in North America. I thought there had to be an easier way than flying to Africa to have access to colorful and beautiful clothing,” Hounsokou said. “I love the styles, colors and patterns of Africa. These days, you can see superstars, such as Rihanna or Beyoncé wearing ethnic prints, and it’s time these products are made available to the general public at an affordable price.”

Because the site is intended to serve as a one-of-kind marketplace, Boutique Africaine has imposed listing rules for sellers that products must use visible ethnic patterns, designs and/or shapes that are vibrant and belonging to a non-western culture.

“You are free to use popular or traditional styles and designs as long as you keep an ethnic flavor that makes your pieces unique and original,” according to guidance offered to sellers on the site. “You may not sell an item that you did not design, manufacture or produce in some way. If you were not involved in the creation process of an item and bought it from a supplier, we strongly suggest that you connect with us to see if it is an acceptable piece that can be sold on the platform.”

Boutique Africaine charges a 15% commission on sales and designers and sellers who want to upload an unlimited number of items also pay a $23 monthly subscription fee. An optional service designed to manage products inventory, customer transactions, and product shipment on behalf of sellers located in remote areas is also available.

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Macy’s and Etsy open a millennial magnet in Manhattan

BY Gina Acosta

Macy's has partnered with one of the hottest online retailers to open a pop-up shop of handmade wares at its legendary store in Manhattan.

A team of buyers from Macy's hand-selected more than 50 products from eight designers for the new Etsy Shop at Macy's in Herald Square. The assortment features stationery, jewelry and homewares, and also includes five unique items designed exclusively for Macy’s from Sol del Sur, Meera Lee Patel, and Modern Mud.

The Etsy Shop will be refreshed with new products every six to eight weeks, focusing on a different theme during each selling cycle. This partnership offers the opportunity for these Etsy sellers to share their designs with the tens of thousands of customers from around the world that visit Macy’s Herald Square each day. The Etsy Shop at Macy’s is located on one below, the newly renovated lower level of Macy’s Herald Square.

"We applaud Macy’s for their support of independent designers on Etsy Wholesale by showcasing their unique creations to Macy’s customers. Macy’s team of buyers hand-selected more than 50 products for the launch of the new Etsy Shop," said a statement on one of Etsy's blogs. "The assortment, which features stationery, jewelry and homewares, also includes five unique items designed exclusively for Macy’s from Etsy shops Sol del Sur, Meera Lee Patel, and Modern Mud. The Etsy Shop will be refreshed with new products every six to eight weeks, focusing on a different theme during each selling cycle.”

Macy’s Herald Square is one of the most visited tourist destinations in New York City with 20 million visitors annually. The Etsy Shop at Macy’s will bring to life the connections made between designers and buyers in search of unique goods. Shoppers will be able to learn more about the person behind the products through displays that tell the story of the designer and offer a sneak peek into their making process.

“Macy’s Herald Square is one of the most dynamic shopping destinations and retail experiences in New York City,” said Marc Mastronardi, executive VP/general merchandise manager of Accessories/Center Core for Macy’s. “For designers to showcase their products to a locally and globally diverse customer base in the exciting, selling environment of Herald Square, is an incredible opportunity for both wholesalers and customers. The new Etsy Shop at Macy’s Herald Square is a unique collaboration that enhances the in-store shopping experience for our customers.”

Read more about the Macy's-Etsy venture here.

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Tech Bytes: Three Factors that Doomed Google Glass with Consumers

BY Dan Berthiaume

Google is finally shutting down efforts to promote Google Glass as a consumer device.

Back in April 2015, Google said it would partner with Luxottica Group to create a more user-friendly version of the connected eyewear. This announcement followed Google’s decision to essentially putting Google Glass on hiatus in January 2015. However, consumers never took to Google Glass, and after releasing an initial flurry of apps, retailers never really did, either.

Here are three factors that contributed to retailers having one less form factor to consider when designing strategies for wearable devices.

The Creep Factor
With its built-in video camera and a display screen only visible to the user’s eye, Google Glass wound up creeping out a sizable percentage of the population. Many businesses banned Google Glass users from entering for fear of surreptitious video recording. Gyms were especially wary of illicit recordings being made inside locker rooms, and of course any retailer with changing rooms or public restroom facilities had potential Google Glass issues as well.

In addition, let’s just politely say the idea that a Google Glass user could be viewing any type of content in any place at any time made some consumers uncomfortable. This lent a slightly seedy reputation to Google Glass as a consumer device (it still may find acceptance in an industrial setting), which scared off many potential users.

The Dork Factor
There is no delicate way to put it. Wearing Google Glass made you look like kind of a dork. Google pretty much admitted this by saying it was partnering with Luxottica Group to improve aesthetics, among other reasons.

The form factor was clumsy and led to a potential level of visual distraction unmatched by other mobile and wearable connected devices, inviting the stereotype of the uncoordinated computer nerd.

As a result of its inherent dorkiness, Google Glass soon became the butt of jokes from late night comedians. Arnold Schwarzenegger made having built-in visual computing capabilities look cool in the Terminator movies, but he’s also Arnold Schwarzenegger. Your customers are not.

The Inconvenience Factor
At first glance (pun intended), Google Glass seems like a highly convenient means of connecting to cyberspace. The browser is right in front of your eyes, can generate highly realistic digital images and landscapes, and leaves your hands free.

However, in practice, Google Glass was a pretty inconvenient way to bridge the digital and physical worlds. As mentioned above, it did not lend itself to smoothly transitioning between virtual and real environments.

And although navigation of smartphones and tablets often leaves something to be desired, controlling the Google Glass experience was just plain awkward. Users had the choice of natural language voice controls, meaning they needed to constantly talk to themselves, or else manipulate a tiny touchpad mounted next to their ear. Sound enticing?

The spirit of Google Glass as a consumer device will live on in highly specialized visual retail apps such as Lowe’s Holoroom. The beauty of these apps is that consumers use them for a specific purpose and then put them away. Walking around all day with the Internet on your glasses simply didn’t factor into most consumers’ omnichannel experiences.

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