Retail

We’ve Seen The Future (It’s Mostly Full Of Drones And Crocs)

Though you couldn’t tell on the East Coast this week — following the latest round of blizzard-y weather — spring has officially sprung.

And while Mother Nature offered little to celebrate, Starbucks stepped up to the plate with another themed frappuccino.

Yes, the people who brought you the mermaid, the zombie, the unicorn and the dragon are back — though they’ve apparently exhausted their list of magical creatures. So, the coffee chain embraced another of magic: seeing the future.

The Crystal Ball Frappuccino is here.

Starbucks describes it as such:

A mystical, swirling peach infusion topped with peach-flavored whipped cream, turquoise sprinkles and one of three different candy gems that reveal your fortune (not even your barista knows what your future holds). Order, gaze, then all will be told. And while we can’t predict what your gems will reveal, we can tell you this drink is only here for a few short days.

Upon further investigation, blue gems mean coming adventure, green gems mean coming luck and purple gems mean coming magic.

Unfortunately, the drink has been as well-received as the last East Coast snowstorm. One reporter described the beverage as “tasting like a Bath & Body Works lip balm circa 2001. It tastes as if the milk left behind after you eat a bowl of Lucky Charms was trying waaaay too hard.”

This, of course, made us curious. Could it possibly be that bad, and would drinking it give us the power to see the future?

As avid scientists of what’s next in payments and commerce, the prospect of drinking this magical frappuccino and being rewarded with a sneak peek into the future was too good to pass up.

So, we bought one.

To be honest, it didn’t taste great — yet not nearly as bad as some of the descriptions of the frappuccino led us to believe.

It certainly didn’t taste like a bleak future, as some claimed, though it was a bit on the bland side.

Even if the Crystal Ball Frappuccino didn’t quite live up to its billing as a tasty treat (previous iterations strongly indicate Starbucks designs its specialty drinks based on how they’ll look on Instagram rather than on how they’ll actually taste), by the time we were done drinking it, we were having visions of the future.

Granted, those visions were not through an influx of magic — as the purple sugar crystals that crowned the drink would have suggested.

No, when we looked into the future while drinking our Crystal Ball, we saw drones — lots and lots of drones.

And a surprising number of people wearing Crocs…

 

The Drone Wars, Part 1: Amazon

In the interest of full disclosure, we didn’t receive our visions of the future from our Starbucks beverage; we got them from looking at some patents.

First up, Amazon has just been granted a new patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a delivery drone that can respond to human gestures.

Part of Amazon’s overall plan to normalize the drone — and make it a natural part of the delivery process — is to make it responsive to how human beings react to its presence. A thumbs up or other welcoming gesture will be taken by the drone as an invitation to land/drop/deliver.

A customer screaming and gesturing angrily, on the other hand, will alert the drone that it might want to reconsider — by either dropping its package and quickly leaving or by aborting the delivery entirely.

In addition to the patent application, Amazon reportedly submitted several sketches, including one of a customer gesturing in an “unwelcoming manner” at a drone flying over his backyard. Other illustrations show cartoon people issuing voice commands to drones.

“The human recipient and/or the other humans can communicate with the vehicle using human gestures to aid the vehicle along its path to the delivery location,” Amazon’s patent stated.

The drone will come equipped with a wide array of sensors, so that it’s able to interpret human motion at a distance and in limited light conditions. It’ll also offer a variety of delivery methods, including dropping parcels that are extra-padded and landing to accommodate customers who prefer to interact with the drone and unload their goods.

As of yet, there’s no word on when Amazon’s kinder, gentler drones will be launching — or even if they’ll ever launch. However, Amazon’s stated goal of making deliveries in 30 minutes seems impossible without these drones — which means we should expect smarter robots dropping by our doorsteps sooner rather than later.

But that wasn’t all the big drone news this week:

 

The Drone Wars, Part 2: Walmart

While Amazon is working to perfect delivery drones, Walmart is trying to patent drones designed to help consumers shop.

Filed with a slew of retail tech patents by Walmart relating to how the firm plans to manage inventory in the future, one of the patents is for drones that could assist customers shopping in-store.

According to the filing, this drone can be summoned by a mobile device (either the customer’s or one provided by the store). Once called, the drone can then follow the customer and “provide assistance to the user in the form of price verification or navigation assistance.”

And that’s just one of the various smart techs Walmart is looking to patent for its digital in-store experience. The world’s largest retailer by sales also filed a patent to make its shopping carts “smarter” — able to communicate  directly with a mobile app on the user’s device (presumably to help them locate specific items). Similar patents were filed to help carts communicate with wearables. Walmart’s smart carts can be used to help users navigate Walmart’s brick-and-mortar locations more smoothly, the patent filing stated.

The fact that Walmart’s drone filings followed Amazon’s patent applications is unsurprising given the closely fought war for retail dominance the two firms are currently waging.

Whether any of these new smart tech innovations will actually come to life in the aisles at Walmart remains to be seen, however, since firms routinely file patents that don’t amount to anything more than the application itself.

But if Amazon can make drones into empathetic delivery agents able to understand gestures as well as voice commands?

Well, a drone for a shopping assistant suddenly doesn’t seem all that outlandish.

No, outlandish would be if everyone just stopped buying shoes — which seems to have been the winter 2018 fashion trend.

 

Crocs as Far as the Eye Can See

It’s been a bad late winter/early spring for shoe retailers. Though this is generally the time of year when improving weather conditions convince people to get a pedicure and put on a pair of cute shoes that are not boots, so far this year, Mother Nature is just not playing ball.

The Northeast was decked by four massive snowstorms in three weeks, and all over the U.S., winter has been colder, wetter, windier and longer than it normally is. There was even snow in Rome and the U.K.

These bleak conditions stymied the sales of shoe retailers, whose clientele are currently still stuck in their snow boots.

However, one shoe retailer is not taking the situation lying down. No, they’re getting to their feet, strapping on their shoes and trying to get everyone else to do the same.

For the second year in a row, Crocs is pushing its “Come As You Are” campaign — an annual marketing effort focused on celebrating “uniqueness, individuality and encouraging everyone to be comfortable in their own shoes.”

They even have Drew Barrymore as their spokeswoman — a singing, dancing Drew Barrymore, because this year’s campaign is built around a musical.

No, really. We can’t do it justice; watch it yourself:

“When we were discussing how to make ‘Come As You Are’ bigger and better for 2018, a musical was the first thing that came to my mind,” Barrymore said. “I’m not a singer or a dancer, but for this campaign, to celebrate what is achievable when we are comfortable just being ourselves, I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone. I love how it turned out, and it has proven to me that when you’re comfortable in your own shoes, you can do anything.”

Bonus points to Crocs for including the line, “Who cares what people say!” in reference to using their product.

So, what does the future hold?

Robots watching our every move — though mostly to help us shop.

And, if we don’t like them, we can use any number of angry hand gestures to shoo them away.

Either way, at least we’ll all be comfortable wearing our Crocs.

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