Eagle Flight Over Paris

On November 29th, CONTEXT hosted a special VR breakfast in cooperation with Exertis France, AMD, MSI, Oculus, and Ubisoft in the Musée de l’Armée in les Invalides in Paris. Retailers, distributors and vendors gathered for the morning to hear the results of the latest CONTEXT European VR survey.

The VR survey was designed by members of the CONTEXT Virtual Reality Research group which includes companies such as Exertis, AMD, Oculus, John Lewis, Dell, CONTEXT, Retail Week and the University of Reading.  The research highlighted the expectations of European consumers towards VR and the potential barriers to purchase of VR products. It also showed in which channel the consumer were expecting to find VR products and how much they were ready to spend. The survey gave to the various industry players a clear understanding of what concerns they should address and what they should communicate in order to allow the technology to gain greater penetration of the market. A representative of FNAC, Laura Gaztambide, eCommerce Coordinator of Video Gaming, shared FNAC’s own experience on VR products and future plans to develop this market further.

Prior to hearing the results of the VR research, attendees watched a briefing on the European gaming market presented by Jonathan Wagstaff, UK & Ireland country manager at CONTEXT, and a detailed presentation on Ancient Rome made by university professor Matthew Nicholls who has made a full virtual reconstruction of the Eternal City, the outcome of 8 years of work. This helped the attendees to assess the educational potential and usage that VR is opening up.

Guests also had a chance to try Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight VR game flying over a virtual Paris, and were welcomed by a kind note of support for the VR industry from President Francois Hollande who was proceeding to an Army review in the Invalides on the same morning.

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by SA

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Is Black Friday dead? A US perspective

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, CEO of IMS, Inc.

Is Black Friday dead, or just rapidly waning? Data indicates the demise of the premier kickoff to holiday shopping in the US. It’s not just about the economy and consumer confidence, although those are key factors. The retail phenomena unfolding right now is about universal changes in consumer behaviour, regardless of socio-economic status.

Black Friday has declined in US retail … will the same trend happen in Europe?
In the not too distant past, stores were the premier focal point of holiday shopping. Black Friday was an event created by bricks and mortar retailers to entice consumers to come shopping on the Friday after US Thanksgiving, which always falls on the 4th Thursday of November. Since many US customers take off from work on Black Friday, it became the quintessential retailer marketing event to lure shoppers to the stores with “best deals” of the season. The theory was that if shoppers came early to find a deal, they would come back to stores for the rest of their shopping.

Not surprising, the UK and other European retailers adopted Black Friday as a promotional event to kick off the holiday selling season and draw traffic to stores. CONTEXT’s analysis of distribution trends in 2015 was very predictive for UK retail sales spiking for Black Friday. Will the trend continue in 2016?

Black “Friday” — death by a thousand clicks
Increasingly retail stores have been jumping the gun on Black Friday by offering Black Friday sales before the actual Friday. The result in the US is that there is no longer a singular event. Black Friday has suffered scope creep, and it literally has become a “Black Week” of promotions and deals.

More importantly, consumers don’t see Black Friday as just “stores” any more. Amazon and other online retailers have creatively capitalised on “Black Friday” by offering daily online deals across an entire week, or more. This has created a new trend for “Cyber Monday” which is the first Monday after the traditional Black Friday. In the US, workplace productivity actually drops on Cyber Monday as people at work scramble to get better deals on stuff they didn’t buy or couldn’t get on Black Friday. Cyber Monday is projected to be the single largest volume day of the entire holiday shopping season.

Did the same trend happen in the UK and other countries? Compared to the US, the UK has a higher % of sales occurring online, especially for technology. Many of the UK promotional ads in 2016 now in fact show the Black 5 days of deals: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Cyber Monday.

The net result is that today’s consumer is an empowered consumer. They are not bound by place or time of event. This translates into a much diminished effect of single retailer store events like Black Friday.

Large retailers have privately confided that Black Friday needed to “die”. The traditional approach of cramming all deals into a single day dramatically lowers prices and margin. It would be healthier for both if retailers and consumers could evaluate offers and spread shopping over a period of time. In fact, that is how today’s omnichannel shoppers are already behaving – shopping multiple days in multiple ways.

So what happened in the UK for 2016?
Were Black Friday sales up again this year? Or, did consumers shift more of their shopping purchases to Cyber Monday? How much of their Christmas budget have they spent? The final store sales numbers won’t be tallied for a couple of weeks.

However, CONTEXT is conducting consumer pulse survey right now. We are asking consumers when they shopped, and how much they purchased on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It will be interesting to see how much they expect yet to spend in the rest of holiday season.

 

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Filed under IoT, IT Distribution, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, PCs, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Technology, Tablet PCs

Touch Bar Blues

I’m on my third MacBook Pro.

I remember the thrill of ditching Windows for my first MacBook Pro and feeling ultra-cool as the Apple logo lit up on the cover. Google and the Cloud liberated me from hard wired office email and document sharing standards, and I could remain Excel-Word-Powerpoint productive with the rest of the company. I truly had the best of all worlds.

Connectivity wasn’t an issue. In the beginning there were a few problems attaching to older projectors as sometimes the adapter didn’t work. But that was early days, and soon, whipping out a Mac or a PC in company and customer meetings was a non-event. When my 15″ inch storage got too small, I installed a 1TB replacement SSD. And when I thought the next 15″ got too big and heavy, I sacrificed quad core for dual core in the 13″ version, and never noticed the difference. Importantly, I was able to connect to all my devices as before.

I was looking forward to the new MacBooks.

I was hoping both the 15″ and 13″ would lose some ounces, svelte the design, get faster, and blow the lid off storage capacity, all topped by an OLED touchscreen display. And the assumption – of course – was that I’d be able to integrate seamlessly into the office just as before.

Well, it isn’t to be. Shame. I don’t need a touchbar, and I cannot even connect to my iPhone 7 without an adapter. I’m going to need another adapter to connect to my back up drives (yes I do use Cloud backup but I play it safe) and I haven’t even begun to think about how I connect to the company projectors, let alone the myriad versions in customers offices around the globe. So until USBC is truly universal, and upgrading means I have no connection issues, my trusty 13″ will do a perfectly adequate job for a few more years.

I’m fine with Apple pushing us early into new standards, but it should be taken easy. Progress on PCs today is not what it was ten years ago. The latest is not today necessarily the greatest. Much less in a company environment. So I’ll wait. Meanwhile, that HP Spectre looks very nice… does that make me a “MacBook refugee”?

by JD

 

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Despite continued uncertainty over Brexit, consumers must spend now to avoid price hikes

UK consumers’ confidence in their ability to weather the uncertainty around Brexit continues to slide as we approach the most crucial shopping period of the year, according to the latest Retail Pulse UK Survey carried out by CONTEXT. Across a range of criteria, the Great British public are shying away from spending. On top of this, UK retailers are getting ready to raise prices early next year as the pound continues to perform poorly. This means consumers have a choice to make; buy now – even though they’re unsure about their finances – or delay purchases and pay more later.

The CONTEXT Retail Pulse Survey is published quarterly, and examines consumer sentiment towards the UK economy and personal finances. The report for Q2 2016 showed that people 65 years and above were very bullish on Brexit—indeed, many of those surveyed likely favoured withdrawal from the EU. But just five months later, confidence in the future prospects of the economy from this age group has fallen significantly. While 42 per cent of UK 65+’s expected positive economic performance in July 2016,  feelings have swung massively in the opposite direction with 44 per cent now believing the economy will get worse.

Anxiety about the economy is also creeping into everyday purchasing decisions by all age groups. Consumers in the UK are now two times less likely to invest in electrical products—including smartphones, TVs, and notebooks— than they were in July. This is due to increased worries about the state of personal finances, with one third of all those questioned agreeing they will cut back on electrical purchases due to just this one factor alone.

The CONTEXT Retail Pulse Survey reveals the current trepidation felt in the UK. With the European Commission slashing its growth forecast for the UK for 2017, many expect inflation to rise. Factor in a weak pound, and an uncertain jobs market, it’s no surprise to see UK consumers thinking of cutting back their spending on consumer technology.

Taken as a whole, the Survey suggests a potential negative impact on retailers this holiday season, with Black Friday almost upon them. There is – however – a bright spot: stores looking to make a success of the imported American event and the run-up to Christmas should look to young professionals aged 25-34. According to the CONTEXT Survey, 22 per cent of this age group think their personal finances will improve—the most positive sentiment of any age group—and 19 per cent say they will spend more on electricals in the next quarter.

There are also other indicators in the CONTEXT Survey that suggest UK consumers may be willing to spend, despite their uncertainty. Household saving now stands at 5.1 per cent, a return to the low levels last seen just before the global financial crisis. Unsecured borrowing is also rising, reaching a 10.3 per cent year-on-year increase. This could indicate a more carefree attitude to spending amongst younger demographics. Those savvy enough to see price rises coming could increase the overall spending and make this holiday season a success for the industry.

by AS

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Windows 10 Pro adoption beginning to rise

Thirteen months after its launch, adoption of Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system is slowly beginning to increase amongst business users. By August, Windows 10 Pro (excluding the Windows 7/Windows 10 downgrade version) made up 24% of Windows Business PC sales in Western European distribution, up six percentage points compared to July. Whilst adoption in the first half of the year had largely been driven by the Windows 7/Windows 10 Pro downgrade version, July and August were the first months to see the share for “pure” Windows 10 Pro sales grow faster month-on-month than share for the downgrade version, albeit from a much smaller base. The share of Windows 10 Pro was up from 16% in June to 18% in July and 24% in August, while Windows 7/Windows 10 Pro moved from 65.5% in June to 66% in July, followed by a drop to 64% in August. Combined adoption rates for the two versions increased from 81% to 88% over the period.

The rise in Windows 10 Pro share, though moderate for the time being, is good news for the PC industry, which is looking at Windows 10 refreshes as the next larger growth driver in commercial PC sales. Certainly, some of the recent rise in adoption might be driven by the fee that we hear is being applied to the downgrade version, which is likely to cause budget-conscious buyers to move faster to “pure” Windows 10. But anecdotal evidence suggests that there is also a more “genuine” rise in interest for the new operating system, particularly within the small- and medium-sized business segment, as companies are slowly beginning to make the move from testing to deployment. In terms of volume growth, the business segment does indeed see a positive development: Windows Business PCs across our Western European panel were up by +7% year-on-year in the first two months of Q316, and while it would be taking things too far to say that this was entirely down to Windows 10, the new OS certainly did play a role.

Comparing adoption rates of Microsoft’s latest version of Windows to its most successful predecessor, Windows 7, the “pure” Windows 10 still has a long way to go to catch up. The 24% share of Windows 10 Pro that we’re seeing now, thirteen months after its launch date, compares to an adoption rate of 77% for the “pure” Windows 7 version at the same time after launch in October 2009. Things look better however when comparing the two OS’s combined shares of “pure” and downgrade versions: Windows 10’s 88% share in August this year is not that far off from the 98% held by the combined Windows 7 and Windows 7/XP versions in November 2010.

It will be interesting to see if the first few signs of an increase in Windows 10 sales will translate into a more significant growth trend over the next few months. Expectations are for the commercial segment to start refreshes in earnest at the beginning of 2017, with larger enterprises transitioning over the course of the next two years. We will be monitoring this closely.

by MCP

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Google and Amazon lay the foundations for a virtual assistant to run our homes

The dream of the smart home always seems just out of reach. Everyone knows how it should work. You buy a new connected device, plug it in, and it instantly syncs with all your other devices. Of course the reality is often markedly different—one poor man spent 11 hours trying to make a cup of tea with his new kettle. This is not an isolated experience as many tech reviewers and consumers have documented their own valiant battles to control their devices.

The root cause of the frustration stems from the multitude of technology standards, but Google and Amazon are both making great strides trying to address it. They have realised that convenience is the key to making the category a success. And what could be more convenient than telling someone, or in this case something, to do a job for you? The Amazon Echo, newly available in the UK, has won over industry experts for its ability to search online for information, and control the home’s connected devices using simple voice commands. But it is Google Home that has many in the industry excited.

Google has always been a data company, with a mission to organize the world’s information. If you have a Gmail account, it’s been reading your emails for years. If you use any of its services such as Android, Chrome, Maps or Search it knows pretty much everything about your habits. A few years ago, it launched Google Now that aimed to map out your life as a personal concierge you could speak to. With Google Home, this goes one step further.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence mean that you can now converse with Google Home. After you ask it what’s on at the cinema, you can then ask it to filter by age-certification or genre, and then to book tickets. It will wake you up and give you a morning briefing based on the papers you read. It will alert you to any delays on your commute, and remind you about appointments. Plus, it can connect to your smart home devices—though not as many as the Amazon Echo—and operate them all by voice. Initial reviews have been very positive, and while there are discussions to be had about privacy and security, the promise is there for all to see.

We surveyed 2,500 European consumers about their hopes for the smart home, and only three per cent thought they needed a hub to control all their devices. But it’s looking more likely that a device like the Echo or Home will be the gateway to your home’s other devices, with users enticed by the ability to search and manage other aspects of their lives.

The price points are within consumer expectations, though they do not leave much room for purchase of additional smart home products. Thirty per cent said they’d pay up to £150 for smart home devices over the next year, exactly the price of the Echo, with Google Home set to retail in the U.S. at $129. Fifty per cent would pay more than £150, meaning these devices are accessible, and could well act as the catalyst for people to buy more smart home devices. Indeed, Google is pushing its Nest thermostats and IP cameras anew on the back of the Home launch.

By choosing voice as the input method, Amazon and Google have removed the cumbersome user-experience of finding the relevant app on your smartphone for the lights, and then navigating to another app for speaks. It is choice that could usher in mainstream acceptance for having a virtual assistant in our homes.

by AS

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Chester Gould was Right

It wasn’t until I was loaned Apple’s new Watch Series II that I put one on. When the Watch was launched I decided it would not be something I’d wear, much less buy. But I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised to get it, and welcomed the chance to give my 26-year old Rado a rest while I tried the Watch out.

I’m not going to get into the technicalities because a watch is for wearing, it’s personal, apart from saying what an amazing piece of kit the Watch is: beautifully crafted, fabulous screen, snappy performance, even GPS, and so easy to set up and incorporate into living alongside an iPhone.

But when I first put it on, it took a while to get used to the sheer bulk of the 42mm screen, and the gold colour with a beige woven nylon strap was to my taste a bit bling. It took a few days to get used to having it on my wrist, and get through the inevitable mixed reactions from staff, family and friends.

Then I started using it, responding every time the haptic tap alerted me to a message, meeting, or exhortation to stand up, or breathe. I discovered Siri on the Watch – and started leaving text messages everywhere to try out, in the style of Chester Gould’s comic book detective Dick Tracy, the experience of talking to your wristwatch. It worked very, very well. I got hooked on Activity monitor, and was thrilled the day I completed 230% of my daily exercise requirement.

Interestingly, Apple seemed to have learned from the Series I that their Watch will never make it as a desirable piece of luxury jewellery along the lines of a Rolex or Cartier, despite sales – according to the company – ranking the Watch as number two in the world in terms of value. Instead, sensibly, the Watch is now pitched at the health, leisure and up market lifestyle sector and in that vein, especially with the GPS, I reckon it fits very well indeed.

As I said at the beginning, a watch is a personal thing. I wonder if everyone who has a Watch goes through the same stages I did: first, fascination for and playing with the technology. Second, using every alert and app available so that the taps on your wrist begin to run your life. And third, settling down to a modus operandi where only the important things that complement the Macbook/iPhone partnership are allowed through.

I was sitting on a plane writing this blog, and as the steward leaned over dispensing snacks, I could see a silver colored Apple Watch – with metallic strap – sitting on his wrist.
“Aha,” I said, “an Apple Watch. Is that a Series I?”
The steward saw my Watch. “Is that the new one?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m trying it out,” I replied. “What do you think of yours?”
“Actually, I never wanted one,” he said. “I was given this as a present.”
“Do you like it?” I asked.
The steward glanced at his Watch, paused for a second, and replied, “It’s growing on me.”
Which just about sums it up. Apple’s Watch – it’s growing on me.

by JD

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