In Retail, Everything Old Is New Again


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

Sean | Flickr

Despite the relentless growth of online shopping, real-world retail is never going to vanish. It’s just going to keep mutating in surprising ways. Here are three telltale examples in the news:

  • Amazon, widely believed to be the Grim Reaper for bricks-and-mortar bookstores everywhere, keeps opening its own in-person outlets (Recode). The company just announced plans for number ten, in Bellevue, Washington. Huh? Why? Maybe now that the online giant has so thoroughly defeated its rivals, there’s room to grow again in the physical retail environment — turf that Amazon will now take for itself. Or maybe Jeff Bezos values these stores as showcases for Amazons lines of devices, its Echos, Dots, and Kindles. Either way, an Amazon Store may be coming to a mall near you.
  • Vending machines may be old school tech, but they’re undergoing a digital overhaul today (Alyssa Bereznak in The Ringer). New companies are selling wall-hanging boxes equipped with touchscreen controls that double, when idle, as advertising displays and social-media consoles for purchasers to share their joy on Facebook or Twitter. Sure, sellers save on labor, but there’s also a novelty factor: As Bereznak puts it, “People enjoy buying things from robots.”
  • Proof of that dictum can be found in the continuing experiment that is Eatsa — a startup that sells custom bowls of quinoa salad through a 21st-century update of the Horn & Hardart Automat. Eatsa — which now operates seven restaurants in San Francisco, Washington D.C., and New York — is super-progressive in many ways: vegetarian menu, sustainable ingredients, low prices. But Eatsa also puts a wall between you and the people making your food. That’s convenient, but not exactly humanist. One sign that the Eatsa equation might be a little awry: The best innovations don’t require instruction manuals, but The Washington Post felt it would be useful to run an explainer about how the place works.

Is Trump the “First Silicon Valley President”?

The tech industry is up in arms about many of President Trump’s policies, but — hold on — his approach to running the government is actually inspired by Silicon Valley ideas (Charles Duhigg in The New York Times).

After all: His political organization embraced Facebook’s old “move fast and break things” approach. It relied on Uber’s “don’t ask permission” tactic. It chose an ultra-lean org chart over staffing up. And it adopted a Twitter-based cut-out-the-middleman approach to communicating with the public. Its “Make America Great Again” slogan was as pithily effective (and just as vague) as any startup’s mission statement.

Trump as disruptive outsider is a powerful interpretation of his success. And it’s one that should give pause to the many tech-world insiders who otherwise detest everything the president stands for. Sure, it could be that Trump’s team really understands concepts like minimum viable product, disintermediation, and iteration. Or it could be that they’re just winging it — and the resulting energetic chaos happens to resemble, at times, the trajectory of a high-growth startup.

At other times, it resembles less attractive things. If you recall the importance in Trumpland of loyalty, deference, and proximity to the boss, Trump’s trademarks may also remind you of another institutional model: the organized-crime family.

Worked at Uber? No Offer For You

Uber’s “take-no-prisoners, win-at-any-cost mentality” may have helped the ride-hailing company win early success and impressive marketshare. Now it might be beginning to hurt ex-employees looking for jobs at more scrupulous firms (The Guardian). Uber’s recent travails have included sexual harassment and discrimination controversies, a protest-inspiring affiliation with the Trump administration, the CEO’s on-camera argument with a driver, and revelations of a software tool for evading government oversight.

All of that says “bad culture” to anyone in HR at another company. So if you’re trying to flee Uber, you face a double bind: If you fared poorly in your old job, well, that’s never good. But if you excelled at Uber, maybe you’re just a jerk. As one former employee puts it, “They have to defend themselves and say: ‘Oh, I’m not an asshole.’ ”

Meanwhile in Uber-land: Earlier this week, a New York Times piece exposed the company’s use of a tool called Greyball, which identified government officials who might be monitoring Uber’sbehavior and made sure those users didn’t get rides. Now the company has announced it will no longer use the software for that purpose — though it might still use Greyball for other reasons (Ars Technica).

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