What’s that voice in your head?


May 3, 2019

Today, robot farming takes a leap, and a Canadian bookstore is going deep, but first…
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Spotify debuts interactive voice ads in US pilot run

Spotify has launched voice-enabled advertising — a Siri-like voice that pushes listeners to verbally purchase ad content.

According to Spotify, the audio ads will start by guiding listeners to a branded playlist or podcast. When the ad runs, the voice will nudge you toward owning the content by saying, “Play now.” 

In other words, it’s the ugly “impulse buy” voice inside your head come to life.

The new normal

Voice assistants are here, people: A recent Juniper Research report found 2.5B VAs in use today — a figure expected to grow to 8B by 2023 — and Spotify isn’t the only one capitalizing.

A year after Amazon opened its own “in-skill” purchasing (i.e., in-app purchasing) to Alexa developers in the US, the company will take the service international.

With in-skill purchasing, developers generate revenue from voice apps through Spotify’s method (a one-time purchase), subscription, or consumables (hints for trivia games, etc.).

Now the kid gloves are off

People are already wary of voice assistants that set alarms, crank jams, and control smart home devices (Alexa’s great at dimming smart bulbs) — but that clearly hasn’t stopped them from using those assistants.

Now, voice-enabled ads will push us to fulfill corporate interests even more obviously than before.

If our gut instinct is the angel on one shoulder telling us to beware, then voice-enabled ads are the devil telling us to buy, buy, buy.

Sheeeeeeeeple
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Canadian bookseller Indigo is growing fast. Are Big Bookstores back?

The Canadian bookseller Indigo recently opened its first American store. 

The company, which has hundreds of locations in Canada, is growing rapidly by positioning itself as a “cultural department store,” reports The New York Times.

Swimming upstream in a book-eat-book world

Big booksellers have had a bad few years: Borders went belly up in 2011, and Barnes & Noble is trying to write a new chapter after putting itself on the auction block last year.

But Indigo, on the other hand, is growing: The company recently surpassed 200 stores in Canada, including 89 superstores.

So, how is Indigo doing such big business? The answer isn’t between the lines, but beside them: Books account for just slightly over 50% of sales.

A bookstore that doubles as a lifestyle brand

Indigo also sells candles, art, trendy lunchboxes, herb kits, knife sets, glassware, home goods, and fashion accessories in addition to books.

The company believes that selling products that are physical extensions of its books makes the entire book-buying process more appealing, and customers seem to be on the same page.

Despite its success, Indigo still faces a bookstore battle royal. Amazon has recently opened physical bookstores, and the number of independent bookstores in the US increased from 1,651 to 2,470 over the past decade.

» Turning the page

Gettin’ sticky wit it: Big tape brand 3M buys big bandage brand Acelity in a $6.7B deal

Office supply giant 3M — AKA the official sponsor of the 9-to-5 grind — has agreed to buy Acelity, a San Antonio-based wound-care products company (bandages, etc.), for a total enterprise value of about $6.7B.

3M is more than tape and sticky notes

When you think of 3M, you think Scotch Tape and Post-It notes. But the company’s health-care wing accounts for 18% of its $32B in annual revenue.

With revenue of almost $1.5B in 2018 and EBITDA of $441m, Acelity is expected to complement 3M’s health-care business nicely, as the St. Paul, MN, operation aims to have its health-care segment generate annual revenue of $7B.

» For your health

Robo-farming Iron Ox brings its first produce to the people

Iron Ox, a robot-farming startup, has started selling its robo-harvested greens at a grocery store in San Carlos, California.  

It’s a small test, but it could provide a path for future robot agriculture — if the robo-farmers ever learn to do a more efficient job than their human counterparts.

A small salad for the market, a giant leaf for robo-farmers

The partnership is an important proof-of-concept for Iron Ox, which was founded in 2015 and has raised $6.1m in funding so far. 

The test was tiny: Iron Ox is selling only 3 varieties and delivering produce to a single market once a week. 

And the business still relies on humans to plant and package the produce (robots only tend to it as it grows), raising questions about whether robots are ready for the salad bowl.

Are robots really raising the (salad) bar?

Iron Ox’s high-tech harvesting equipment —  robotic picking arms, hydroponic growing chambers, and autonomous plant transporters — still requires heavy human input.

But Iron Ox claims smaller footprints and proximity to stores (the first facility is 0.6 miles from its market) will cut down on both financial and environmental costs — once the robots are better farmers, that is.

» Robots do the darndest things
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