How Rebecca Minkoff uses tech to make her fashion stores stand out
Nike and Adidas aren’t the only lifestyle brands designing their retail spaces with technology in mind. Others such as Rebecca Minkoff, a fashion label based out of New York City, are taking similar steps by implementing things like smart mirrors and, most recently, self-checkout at its boutiques. Although the latter feature is far less advanced than what Amazon’s Go grocery stores will offer, it’s yet another example of how the brick-and-mortar landscape is changing across different industries.
Rebecca Minkoff CEO, Uri Minkoff, says it’s not only about making the experience feel more futuristic for shoppers, but also removing some of the human interaction that commonly takes place at physical locations. The latter, he says, stems from the idea of “the Pretty Woman moment,” where some customers would prefer not to be judged for their purchases. To see this in practice, I took a tour of Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, which also happens to be home to Nike’s new massive tech-infused space and Google’s NYC pop-up shop. In other words, this is the place to be if you’re looking to spend a lot of cash.
Aside from chic women’s clothing and accessories, the first thing I noticed when I visited the Rebecca Minkoff store was a large (5 x 12 feet) digital wall that lets you order a drink or request help from an employee. Personally, I don’t find it that hard to look around the store for assistance, but the touchscreen does let you enter your information and get a text message when someone’s on their way to you. I can see how that might be more appealing than wandering aimlessly, or having to deal with an associate asking how they can help every time you make even accidental eye contact.
Rebecca and Uri Minkoff.
Back when the store opened in 2014, Rebecca Minkoff partnered with eBay to install connected mirrors in fitting rooms. Customers can use these interactive displays to browse and order different styles or sizes. Plus, you can use it get a staff member bring you a different size if the one you picked out is too big — quite handy when you’re semi-naked in the dressing room. I didn’t get the full effect, since Rebecca isn’t a menswear designer, but I can imagine it would be useful to have something similar at stores I do shop at. It would save me both energy and time, and no one can say no to that.
By far, the feature that intrigued me the most was self-checkout, though I would later find out it wasn’t what I expected. The system, developed in part by a startup named QueueHop, uses Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) chips and iPads to give shoppers a different way to pay for items in store. But, rather than offering a “Just Walk Out Shopping” experience like Amazon Go, Rebecca Minkoff’s version of self-checkout is more akin to what you see at conventional grocery and big-box stores.
That said, you do need to interact with an employee if you want to get a shopping bag or receipt, otherwise you can get through it all on on your own in less than five minutes. If you’re wondering why you can’t just grab a bag yourself, apparently Minkoff thinks it’s more aesthetically pleasing this way.
Rebecca Minkoff’s self-checkout system.
Based on my demo, it’s obvious that the system is a work in progress. Once you’ve placed the items on an RFID-powered table, it sends product details to the iPad used to check out, you enter info such as your email address and swipe your credit card to pay. It’s seamless up until that point. The problem is, before you can walk away from the self-checkout station, you have have to manually take the alarms off of the stuff you’ve purchased, be it a purse, dress or pair of sunglasses. Yes, I’m talking about those annoying plastic tags that are there to make sure you don’t steal anything.
After inserting each alarm piece into a small machine, it took the store associate who gave me the demo a few tries before she was able to fully remove them. And she’s a trained professional. A representative for the brand says this was done for security purposes, as it didn’t want to take the chance of someone walking out with a $500 handbag or any other item. If someone does try to do that, the RFID tags will set off a sound alerting associates as soon as you attempt to step out the door. It’ll be interesting to see if Rebecca Minkoff could find a way to fix that tedious step and, at the same time, keep its security measures in place.
Right now self-checkout is only available at Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship location in NYC, but the service is expected to rollout to Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco in the near future. I have a feeling customers who try it won’t be too impressed, at least not if they walk in thinking it’s going to be another Amazon Go. Honestly, I was expecting something more in line with what the online retail giant teased a couple of weeks ago, especially because both firms made their respective announcement on the same day. Unfortunately that’s not the case.
Amazon’s vision requires zero interaction with other humans, relying heavily on sensors and deep machine learning to create a true self-checkout experience for shoppers. Basically, all you need is an app, your grocery bags and the Go store does the rest (i.e. make sure you paid for everything you took). If you want to imagine what the future of retail will look like, this is a solid example. That’s not to say Rebecca Minkoff’s system isn’t convenient, it’s just not as smart as what Amazon created. “They [Amazon] probably had a much bigger budget than we did,” says Minkoff half-joking.
The digital wall and smart mirrors, on the other hand, are a little gimmicky but not to the point where you completely question their purpose. It helps that they’re not obtrusive and, with the latter, it is helpful to be able to browse a lookbook and remotely order clothes from inside the fitting room. According to Minkoff, customers love these features, although he wasn’t clear on whether they lead to increased sales or more foot traffic.
Rebecca Minkoff’s approach to technology isn’t revolutionary, but its willingness to explore it is notable when you consider how slow the fashion world has been to embrace it. Things are changing fast though, leading designers and brands to look to tech to make their products more innovative. While not perfect, maybe the ideas from Rebecca Minkoff will inspire others to use them as a building block to change the retail landscape as we know it.
‘Star Citizen’ switches to Amazon’s game engine
Star Citizen is still far from being ready, but it now has a more solid underpinning. Cloud Imperium has revealed that it has switched both Star Citizen and Squadron 42 from Crytek’s CryEngine to Amazon’s Lumberyard engine as of Star Citizen’s just-launched Alpha 2.6 release. It was an “easy and smooth transition” due to Lumberyard’s CryEngine roots, but both secures the “long term future” of the games and promises some distinct advantages. It taps directly into the cloud through Amazon Web Services, for instance, and makes Twitch streaming easy.
The studio has already been collaborating with Amazon for “over a year,” so this isn’t a panicked response to Crytek’s financial woes. The timing is more than a little convenient, mind you. It gives Cloud Imperium more of a safety net if Crytek ever has to stop its own development — it won’t have to switch engines while it’s in panic mode. It’s easy to imagine frustration from backers at the thought that the Amazon switch might delay Star Citizen even longer, but that might be better than risking the entire project.
As it stands, Alpha 2.6 is a big step forward: it’s the first release with Star Marine, the game’s first-person shooter component. You now have two competitive multiplayer modes (everyone-for-themselves and a Battlefield-style capture-and-hold mode) for those times when you just want to fight friends instead of exploring the cosmos. Numerous other parts of Star Citizen have received some polish, too, such as first-person animations and third-person cameras. Although this is still no substitute for a finished game, it at least shows that Cloud Imperium is getting a handle on some of the many, many features it has been promising over the years.
Source: Roberts Space Industries (1), (2)
Amazon’s cargo jets cut shipping costs by carrying the light loads
If you got a speedy delivery on a last-minute gift at the height of holiday season, you might have Amazon’s fleet of cargo planes to thank for pulling off a minor miracle. Although Amazon says the fleet is only meant to supplement Fedex and UPS at the moment, its own air cargo business will eventually play an important part in letting Amazon handle end-to-end logistics. According to a new report from Reuters, Jeff Bezos and company have already figured out how to leverage their private fleet to minimize overhead while getting the most out of their shipping partners at the same time.
As Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman told Reuters, the company doesn’t intend to do away with UPS and Fedex — at least not yet, anyway. “Our own delivery efforts are needed to supplement that capacity rather than replace it,” Cheeseman said.
But that doesn’t mean Amazon can’t squeeze out another dollar in the process. The major shipping carriers have recently started charging by volume rather than weight, which Reuters attributes to more people buying things like toilet paper and diapers online rather than in stores. To counter the rising shipping prices, Amazon has started shipping large boxes of lightweight items itself and passing off the heavier and more dense packages to its legacy shipping partners. According to Reuters, Amazon’s planes have been flying at nearly full capacity, but at less than half their capacity by weight — meaning they’re likely saving on fuel costs as well.
At the moment, Amazon only flies to about 10 different airports near its warehouses across the US, but it uses smaller hubs and avoids stopovers that could lead to delays. Those less-trafficked airfields also allow Amazon’s flights to leave later each night — another advantage when most online shoppers have a tendency to finally hit the checkout button in the evenings when they’re home from work.
If you ask Alexa, Tim Curry will read you ‘A Christmas Carol’
The Amazon Echo might be sold out everywhere this holiday season, but those who’ve picked one of the smart speakers up prior have a treat in store. From now through January 3rd, saying “Alexa, read A Christmas Carol from Audible” will do exactly as the command suggests — for free. And not only that, the Dickens classic is read by none other than Tim Curry — the dastardly hotel manager from Home Alone 2 and voice of Ebeneezer Scrooge in the animated version of the story, from 1997. Pair this with the Eye of Sauron yule log, a glass of (boozy) egg nog and you’ll be all ready for the big day.
From now until Jan. 3, 2017, Alexa customers can listen to a holiday classic for free. #JustAsk “Alexa, read A Christmas Carol from Audible” pic.twitter.com/fSIu6V1Xsv
— Amazon Echo (@amazonecho) December 23, 2016
Source: Amazon Echo (Twitter)
ICYMI: Snap’s Spectacles are being used to broadcast surgery
Today on In Case You Missed It: A surgeon who goes by the name virtualsurgeon on Snapchat used Spectacles to broadcast a hernia surgery. Meanwhile the Office of Naval Research demoed its prototype autonomous swarm watercraft, that no joke travel in packs and investigate other boats.
There was so much big news this week but we recommend reading up on how scientists are duplicating climate change data before a Trump presidency. As always, please share any interesting tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.
Amazon’s new look for Fire TV is rolling out now
When Amazon started shipping its latest Fire TV Stick with Alexa voice controls built in, the company also mentioned that a refreshed look was on the way for its streaming devices. Well, Amazon tells TechCrunch that update is starting to roll out today. If you have a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, you’ll soon notice that “cinematic experience” the company promised which includes more trailers and screenshots from movies and shows.
The biggest change is that the menu has been relocated from the left side of the screen and situated across the top. Another key tweak is that Amazon will show you a lot more options than just its own content, providing recommendations from other streaming services like HBO and Netflix. Of course, the online retailer will still push its original shows and movies up top. Speaking of Netflix, navigating through the library of apps and content on the Fire TV works similar to that streaming repository. You can browse what’s available by scrolling horizontally through the menus.
In addition to the new layout, Amazon is adding the ability for you to assign a PIN to access certain apps alongside parental controls. There are also accesibility improvements for users with hearing and visually impaired.
The best digital photo frames
By Amadou Diallo
This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.
After 18 hours of research and testing, we think the 10-inch Nixplay Seed is the best digital photo frame for most people who want to display pictures uploaded wirelessly from their smartphones, hard drives, or social media and cloud storage accounts. Its superior display and simple setup lift it above the competition, and because you can send photos to the frame via Nixplay’s cloud services, email, or a shared Dropbox folder, if you give one as a gift you can share photos directly to your loved ones’ frames, even if they’re halfway across the world.
How we picked and tested
We brought in eight frames for several days of use in a home environment. Photo: Amadou Diallo
We cut through the clutter of the 1,600 digital photo frames listed on Amazon by limiting contenders according to some key criteria. In a poll of more than 200 Wirecutter readers, two-thirds of respondents said they were interested in frames sized between 8 and 11 inches. On top of that, with even budget compact cameras delivering 20-megapixel images, using a low-resolution frame makes no sense, so we looked for screens with a resolution of at least 1024×768 pixels. And because smartphones (and several stand-alone cameras) capture images in a 4:3 aspect ratio, we ignored frames with 16:9 displays, because they force you to crop those photos or to present them with large black borders on two sides.
Using these criteria we had only 10 frames to consider, eight of which we brought in for testing. Onto each frame, we loaded identical sets of images shot on cameras ranging from smartphones to DSLRs. We compared image quality, functionality, and ease of use while working with the frames for several days in various rooms of our tester’s home.
The Nixplay Seed delivers great-looking pictures, offers easy setup, and lets you manage your images efficiently. Photo: Amadou Diallo
After 18 hours of research and testing to figure out which features are essential in a digital photo frame, plus hands-on time with eight contenders in a home environment, we think the Nixplay Seed is the best choice for most people. Its 10-inch display produces pleasing color and contrast in a 4:3 aspect ratio that’s perfect for smartphone photos. Setup is quick and foolproof, and built-in Wi-Fi lets you import photos from your social media, email, or cloud accounts. And a clever cord/stand design lets you position the frame in either portrait or landscape orientation.
We tested the 10-inch version of the Seed (7- and 8-inch models are also available) and found that its IPS display produced pleasingly accurate results along with a wide viewing angle, ensuring that images looked great from every corner of the room. The screen’s 4:3 aspect ratio is a perfect match for smartphone (and Micro Four Thirds) camera sensors, which means your images can display across the entire screen. Sensors in DSLRs and many mirrorless cameras have a slightly different 3:2 aspect ratio, so those images will have a black border along two sides. The mismatch is subtle enough, however, that we think some people won’t even notice it. In any case, this display is a better fit than what you’d get on a frame with a 16:9 aspect ratio. For more on the Seed’s features, check out our full guide.
If you don’t need Wi-Fi
The Nixplay Advance has ports for an SD card, a USB stick, and headphones. Nixplay includes an 8 GB USB stick, shown here. Photo: Amadou Diallo
If you can do without the convenience of wirelessly uploading images, Nixplay’s Nix Advance will save you a significant bit of cash and still provide all of the other benefits of our top pick. You get the same great screen, motion sensor, and remote, along with easy setup and operation. We tested the 10-inch model, but the Advance also comes in 8-, 12-, 15-, and 18-inch versions (the last has a 16:9 aspect ratio).
The lack of Wi-Fi means you’ll be loading images via SD card slot or USB port. The Advance has no built-in storage like our top and budget picks, but Nixplay helpfully includes an 8 GB USB stick to get you going. If you’re a Mac owner, note that you should format SD cards in your camera rather than your computer in order for the Advance to read them, and if you use your own USB stick, it should be in the MS-DOS (FAT) format.
(Potentially) free alternatives
The 16:9 aspect ratio of the Amazon Fire is a major mismatch with most photos. Photo: Amadou Diallo
If you own an iOS or Android tablet that isn’t getting much use, you already have a capable digital photo frame if you’re willing to spend some time sorting through slideshow apps and finding an appropriate stand. We set up a new Amazon Fire tablet—one of the least expensive brand-name tablets you can buy—to see how easy it would be to use as a photo frame.
The 16:9 aspect ratio of the Amazon Fire tablet means that none of your photos will fill the frame without significant cropping, instead showing thick black borders on two sides. The Fire also lacks a built-in slideshow function, and Amazon’s app store is much more limited than those of Google and Apple. We tried the Amazon app store’s two most popular slideshow apps, and after an hour—much of it spent spent trying unsuccessfully to connect either of them to Amazon’s Prime Photos cloud storage service—we used a Flickr account and were able to create a basic slideshow. But if you have an old tablet stuffed in a drawer, it’s hard to beat free. And if you want to use a digital photo frame only occasionally, like for family gatherings around the holidays, the Amazon Fire can be an inexpensive way to pull that off.
This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.
ICYMI: Amazon made its first drone-powered delivery
Today on In Case You Missed It: Amazon has been testing drone deliveries for three years now, even having to move to the UK to keep it going once the FAA changed its UAV guidelines. The company released a video of its first fully autonomous drone delivery, which happened on December 7. Meanwhile a team of researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory dug into what would happen if a sizable meteorite hit the ocean and the modeling shows a substantial amount of water vapor would get thrown into the stratosphere, which would not do great things for climate change.
Finally, the Danish Neighborhood Watch came out with a robbery-preventing Christmas light and app combination to deter robbers– and provide laughs for the rest of us. If you’re looking for the dash cam video of an Uber car going through a red light, that’s here. As always, please share any interesting tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.
The Engadget Podcast Ep 18: We Both Go Down Together
Managing Editor Dana Wollman and Senior Editor Devindra Hardawar join host Terrence O’Brien to talk about the biggest tech stories of the week. First Dana and Devindra debate the value of Amazon’s delivery drones and Google’s… I mean Alphabet’s new self-driving car company, Waymo. Plus they discuss the privacy freakout surrounding Evernote. Then all three will dig into the never ending security failures of Yahoo. Now that the company has admitted that over 1.5 billion user accounts were compromised — and didn’t say a word about it for over 2 years — will Verizon still go through with its planned buy out? The panel certainly hopes not.
- Google spins out its self-driving car division
- Evernote’s new privacy rules may let its employees read your notes
- Amazon completes its first drone-powered delivery
- Yahoo confirms new security breach affecting over one billion accounts
- Yahoo confirms over 500 million users affected in 2014 breach
You can check out every episode on The Engadget Podcast page in audio, video and text form for the hearing impaired.
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Plex will stop supporting Amazon Cloud Drive after December 31st
You won’t be able to stream movies or songs on Plex straight from Amazon Cloud Drive the moment the year changes. Plex Cloud, the company’s service that gives you a way to play media saved in the cloud, will no longer support Amazon after December 31st. When the media player’s developers first announced the feature, which is still in beta, they named the e-commerce giant’s product as the first storage option it supports. Unfortunately, the Plex team started having issues integrating Amazon into the offering shortly after that introduction. “[T]he challenges with Amazon Drive have proven insurmountable at this time,” they wrote in their announcement.
You can still cancel Amazon Cloud if you’re within its 90-day free trial period and don’t need it for anything else. And if you’d still like to keep using Plex Cloud despite this development, you can always move your files to the other services it supports, including Google Drive, OneDrive and DropBox.
Here’s a copy of the email the company sent out to its users:
“A few weeks ago we shared with you that we’ve had challenges integrating Amazon Drive as a storage option for Plex Cloud. The team has worked tirelessly to address these issues, improve the scalability and performance of our infrastructure, and to expand storage options by introducing support for Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive, all of which are working great. Unfortunately, the challenges with Amazon Drive have proven insurmountable at this time, so we have decided to remove Amazon Drive as a storage option for Plex Cloud for the foreseeable future.
Current beta users with a linked Amazon Drive account will no longer be able to use Amazon with Plex Cloud after December 31st.
If you signed up for an Amazon Drive account specifically to use with Plex Cloud on or after our original announcement, you should still have time to cancel while you are in their 90-day free trial. We realize some of you have uploaded lots of media to Amazon Drive to work with Plex Cloud and the transition to another Cloud storage provider is easier said than done. This was a tough call for us to make, but a necessary one made with our users’ best interests in mind. If you already have content on Amazon Drive, there’s info on options for migrating data to a supported provider in our forum. We look forward to coming out of the beta with multiple popular storage options that provide a simple, seamless, and beautiful Plex experience.”