future of shopping

Harvard Law professor Cass Sustein found in his survey on “predictive shopping,” 41% of people would “enroll in a program in which the seller sent you books that it knew you would purchase, and billed your credit card.” That number went down to 29% if the company didn’t ask for your consent first.




Shopping Made Psychic
The New York Times

But what if the products and services were different, like a sensor that knew you were almost out of dish detergent? Without consent, were people willing to have a company charge their account and send them more detergent? Most people (61%) weren’t. But the results were a bit more interesting when Sustein did a similar survey among university students. While most still weren’t into being charged automatically for books they might like, “69% approved of automatic purchases by the home monitor, even without consent.” The professor posits that “among younger people, enthusiasm is growing for predictive shopping, especially for routine goods where shopping is an annoyance and a distraction.”


Which Mode of Travel Provides the Happiest Commute?

While the results from a recent McGill University study aren’t especially surprising — and consist of a McGill-specific survey sample — they do add credence to what many people already know in their commuting heart of hearts: That walking, biking, or taking a commuter train to work is much more satisfying than driving or taking the subway or bus. My significant other, for example, loves biking to work because it’s both enjoyable and on his own timeline — he pretty much always knows when he’s going to arrive at work, which diminishes his extreme dislike of idling in traffic for no apparent reason (I don’t mind it as much because of my interest in singing loudly, and poorly, in the car). And a long train ride can allow for reading or doing work, making the time more productive.

But there were some surprises: Bus riders and cyclists — both of whom travel about 22 minutes to work — had very different levels of satisfaction. So, time spent commuting isn’t necessarily a consistent predictor of happiness. And, in the end, “people expressed more happiness with their commute when the mode they took was the mode they wanted to take.”


It’s Not a Skills Gap: U.S. Workers are Overqualified, Undertrained

Add this research from Peter Cappelli to the ongoing debate about the skills gap. According to the Wharton professor, and explained by Businessweek’s Matthew Philips, much of the problem lies in how we do (or don’t) train employees. Back in 1979, for example, young American workers received 2.5 weeks of training per year; by 1991, only 17% of employees said they received any formal training within the year. And by 2011, a mere 21% of Americans had received any training within the past five years. The prevailing argument is that companies no longer train their employees because it’s a bad investment (top talent will end up leaving anyway), and because they’re relying on internships to teach young workers. But Cappelli says that “the fear of having a competitor reap the rewards of your investment are overblown” — to the detriment of both companies and workers. In the end, says Philips, “the problem may not be the skills workers ostensibly lack. It may be that employers’ expectations are out of whack.”


Can a Robot Be Too Nice?
Boston Globe

As robots and algorithms become more and more central to pretty much everything we do, the question of how humans and robots interact becomes more and more important (I mean, just look at the robot bellhop). Leon Neyfakh does a great job of rounding up all the ways researchers are trying to nail down what types of robot personalities people respond to, and in what circumstances. When it comes to robot nurses, for example, people prefer an outgoing and assertive personality. However, people were not at all confident in the protective abilities of extraverted security guard robots. So the future is looking more and more like a place where “it’s not enough for a machine to have an agreeable personality — it needs to have the right personality.” And as researchers aim to figure out what these personalities are and how they might change depending on the circumstances (yes, it’s conceivable that one robot personality could migrate between all the devices you use throughout the day), Neyfakh observes what always seems to be the bottom line when we talk about robots and their human pals: “What the ideal machine personalities turn out to be may expose needs and prejudices we’re not even aware we have.”


Why Uber Just Hired Obama’s Campaign Guru

Uber’s great and all, except for one tiny problem: A lot of countries around the world think its business model is illegal. It’s through this lens that the company’s recent hire makes brilliant sense: David Plouffe, President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager. Plouffe, as Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen writes, was instrumental in “turning sentiment into success” six years ago. Plouffe engineered this through data — collecting it among potential voters and then micro-targeting based on the intelligence the campaign gathered. Uber, of course, gathers similar real-time data – data that could be used in a grassroots sort of way: Uber devotees who may not be aware of the company’s regulatory problems can be recruited with specific messages to sign petitions and lobby their government representatives. Wohlsen puts this challenge nicely: “To survive, Uber is now about more than rides. It’s about turning out the base.”

Photo credit: iMedia Connection

Via Harvard Business Review