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NRF 2014: The coolest new products, and why

By Lisa Biank Fasig

Senior writer and editor, COLLOQUY

NEW YORK — From gender-based cereal to wristbands that record your steps and sleep, many of today's coolest new products are the result of the small daily activities of consumers.


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Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel Group, shared some of these new products, in the context of three major trends, at the National Retail Federation's Big Show in New York this week. All trends speak to the increased demand, creation and use of data by consumers, but also the opportunities it presents merchants.

"It's easy to say that the key to successful new products these days are those that connect with consumers in easy and meaningful ways," she told gatherers at the show.

Trend one: Customization. Consumers increasingly want their experiences to be personal to them. They would like to have more control to pick and choose what goes in a combo meal, for example. "They want to be able to customize things and be what they want them to be," Dornblaser said. Which leads to these products:

  • Printed food: Researchers are pioneering technology to actually print food, headed in part by NASA so it could print food for astronauts.
  • GetGoing: This service allows consumers to create two travel itineraries and the service would choose one. GetGoing is based on Millennials spending more time on researching vacations, and Dornblaser wonders if it were created to offset that fatigue.
  • Oculus Rift: A headset that enables immersive gaming.
  • SexCereal: For men or women, this cereal is formulated to help enhance sexual health. "It's an interesting, funny little product, illustrative to today's type of customization," she said. "This ties into that need that we see from consumers as well."

Trend two: The second skin. Consumers are more connected and comfortable with technology than ever before, as evidenced by wearable computers. Some youth think a text conversation is as meaningful as face-to-face. Which yields this selection of new products:

  • Google Glass: Well known at this point, this eyeglass computer lets users do what they notionally would need their hands for, but without their hands.
  • Jawbone UP: Wristbands that record the wearer's steps and sleep, and it syncs with a smartphone. Consumers want to be able to track everything, even if they don't always know what to do with the information.
  • Samsung Galaxy Gear: A watch that connects to a smartphone, to move beyond tracking to controlling everything from what is in the refrigerator to the security of the home.
  • Garmin Heads Up Display: Navigation display that beams onto the windshield, to simplify GPS.
  • Tile: A device that connects to smartphones through an app that can locate lost items. If the consumer loses something, she can post it on the Tile app so all other tile users can look for it too.

Trend three: Transumers. Consumers are in transit more than ever before, averaging anywhere from 25 to 50 minutes. Many are taking mass transit, being exposed to surroundings for longer, and they want the services and products they desire along that passage.

  • Smak Parlor: A boutique in Philadelphia that has transitioned the concept of a food truck to women's fashion, complete with a dressing room.
  • The Amazon drone: Book delivery by drone, though Dornblaser wonders if it isn't clever marketing to generate attention around the holiday season, as drones are currently illegal in the United States.
  • One-person vehicles: Lit Motors has created a prototype vehicle with the chassis built around what is basically a scooter. A more efficient, practical and safe alternative to bikes.
  • Virtual stores: The virtual grocery store PeaPod, which has been around for years, is enabling shoppers with the app to basically see a grocery shelf via smartphone and place orders, eliminating the need to go to the store.

For merchants, Dornblaser said, these trends represents opportunities to catch consumers in those in-between places. The trick is to always balance their perceived needs against overwhelming them. What merchants want, she said, are products that consumers must have upon seeing them.

"It's coming up with something that gets consumers saying, 'That is exactly the thing that I need to help me solve my problems.'"

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