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The Great Beast Evolves: Facebook New Product Development Driven by Your Data

Over the last several months, Facebook has faced increasing pressure concerning several issues. For one, privacy concerns have surfaced with both breaches and questionable practices being raised. Likewise, the company has been criticized for propagating disinformation as well as hate speech. And political pressures from some groups suggest Facebook is participating in antitrust behaviors. But despite it all, Facebook expansion keeps forging ahead with the hopes of continuing its dominance. And a big part of its plan is to perpetually introduce new Facebook products that explore new areas for growth. What drives this development? Folks, it should come as no surprise that Facebook new product development is driven by your data.

Facebook recently announced the creation of its New Product Experimentation team. Described as the future of Facebook expansion, the NPE team will operate as its own limited liability corporation. The team, of course, will be tasked with the development of new Facebook products. And it will consist of 5 different pods composed of 10-15 people. Each pod will explore their own project, and depending on its success, may be responsible for Facebook’s next big thing. And in fact, some of these potentially new Facebook products might come as a surprise to you.

Facebook talking about their product development.
Don’t be alarmed that your personal data is driving Facebook’s new product development. Okay, be a little alarmed.

Facebook Expansion Plans – Brave New Territories

Major concerns exist today over the Facebook expansion of its social media outreach. Acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp clearly gave Facebook an advantage in the social media world. But new Facebook products would actually be exploring new apps, podcasts, and services. Specifically, Facebook plans to explore other areas like travel services, workplace services, and media communications. Despite lacking significant experience in these areas, the NPE team has been tasked with developing these new Facebook products.

Some of the new Facebook products could involve apps and services that facilitate travel schedules, itineraries, and destination planning. Others may develop new services related to neighborhood communities or fact-checking various sources of information. And other Facebook expansion areas will likely include an array of business apps and products. Some new Facebook products might involve automated transcription, Facebook email, meeting software, and others.

Facebook developing apps that people seem to want.
What? Did you think Facebook was only just going to sell your personal data to advertisers?

Leveraging Its Strength to Create New Facebook Products

The process by which the NPE team will facilitate Facebook expansion will be through a trial and error type of process. For example, new Facebook products that are created by the NPE team will be released to subsets of Facebook users. Based on performance feedback, the company will determine whether or not to scale the new Facebook product for all users. In essence, this will allow Facebook ideal grounds for product testing that will promote both efficiency and success. This is something other companies clearly lack in comparison to Facebook.

With billions of social connections on its social media platforms, Facebook has tremendous volumes of user data. This will certainly be used by the NPE team to facilitate Facebook expansion efforts into new areas. In fact, some success has already been evident in some of its newest apps. Aux is a social music app that allows sharing and personalization of music preferences. Bump is another app that facilitates matchmaking among students. By applying these efforts to Facebook’s user database, the range of new Facebook products seems limitless.

cartoon of the Facebook logo showing different scenes and people, depicting its data-driven approach in product development
Facebook continues to be relevant as it reinvents itself. Its approach to developing new products is data-driven. So, how will such a move impact its users?

Investing in Perpetual Relevance

While many social media companies have come and gone, Facebook continues to be relevant. This relevance has persisted because of the company’s ability to grow and continually reinvent itself. And part of this involves developing new Facebook products that allow for continued Facebook expansion over time. The NPE team is likely striving to achieve just that once again. Without the requirements of profitability or success, the NPE team has a broad range to express its creativity. In fact, the only requirement is that some lessons are learned along the way. Given these parameters, it is clear that Facebook is once again trying to stay a step ahead of everyone else.

Using Cargo Bikes for Urban Deliveries is a Great Idea!

Take a stroll down nearly any New York City street during the day and you’ll run into them: countless delivery vans, taking up space. Clearly, one of the biggest contributors to traffic congestion is routine deliveries. But increasingly, cities are considering different options for cargo deliveries. And the one that is receiving the most attention recently involves the use of cargo bikes.

Man driving a cargo bike
No greenhouse gas emissions during deliveries? A big yes to that!

Currently, cargo bikes are used in a number of major cities around the globe. Paris, London, and Dublin are just a few of the more well-known urban areas that use cargo bicycles. Recently, however, New York also announced a 6-month trial period to use cargo bikes in Manhattan for package deliveries. Amazon, UPS, and DHL will each introduce their own fleet of cargo bicycles with plans to expand in the future. But despite many clear advantages to using cargo bikes, not everyone is happy with the decision. For this reason, it’s worthwhile taking a bold look at cargo bikes and their role in transportation systems of the future.

Cargo bikes efficiently move goods around, Polly Trottenberg quoted
Cargo bikes are the answer to cities with dense traffic.

What Are Cargo Bikes?

All of us are familiar with modern delivery vehicles that involve vans and box trucks. Some of these are now even hybrid or fully electric. But even the more energy-efficient options of these vehicles are cumbersome and take up a great deal of space. For this reason, many have turned to cargo bicycle alternatives as a means to make final destination deliveries. Cargo bikes can also come in different shapes and sizes, but all offer greater maneuverability and take up less space. And the majority of cargo bicycles are actually electric-assist in nature, which makes them ideal for cargo deliveries.

Like other bicycles, cargo bikes require its driver to pedal, but pedaling assists the electric motor in acceleration. Likewise, most cargo bikes are three-wheeled with the cargo load located in a structure in the rear. However, despite these differences, cargo bicycles are still able to utilize bike lanes. This allows them the ability to access destinations quicker in areas where traffic is heavily congested or jammed. Because of these features, it’s not surprising that dense urban settings appreciate that these delivery options have significant benefits.

Cargo bicycles, Sam Zimbabwe quoted
How cargo bikes would benefit us is simply undeniable.

What Do Critics of Cargo Bicycles Say?

Of course, not everyone has been in favor of allowing cargo bikes in major cities. In New York, cargo bicycles will now be able to occupy loading zones as well as wider sidewalks. For delivery trucks and cargo vans, that means more competition for parking spaces. At the same time, cargo bikes will not be required to pay meters or acquire a specific license to enjoy these parking privileges. This naturally has many businesses rather upset, especially when they must pay hundreds of dollars in city fees and taxes. Not everything can be delivered by a cargo bike, and companies delivering these items want some concessions.

At the current time, cities like New York have yet to work out these issues. With online shopping deliveries increasing for the holiday season, the push was to get cargo bikes on the road quickly. Therefore, it is likely that the next several months will serve as a trial period to identify these types of complaints. But while some complaints may deserve attention, others will not. Cost and parking disincentives encourage businesses to think about adopting cargo bikes as part of its delivery fleet. And many good reasons exist that support cities from standing behind new cargo bicycle policies.

Cargo bikes, Polly Trottenberg quoted
These are exciting times for urban deliveries.

Cargo Bikes Deliver a Lot to the Table

As noted, cargo bicycles offer greater flexibility while taking up smaller amounts of space. This reduces traffic congestion, which is often one of the more significant transportation issues in urban centers. But this is only one of their benefits that major cities appreciate. A major benefit is that both manual and electric cargo bikes produce no greenhouse gas emissions. This has notable advantages for big cities and companies trying to reduce their carbon footprint. At the same time, electric cargo bicycles use renewable energy sources. This has obvious additional benefits in relation to concerns about climate change.

Other advantages include pedestrian and passenger safety, which is also quite concerning for many large cities. Cargo bikes, unlike large trucks, are much less likely to cause accidents. And if one occurs, the chance of serious injury or death is quite small. In contrast, larger trucks caused nearly half of all cycling deaths in New York last year. Lastly, cargo bicycles are often more efficient in both time and infrastructure use. Because they can use bike lanes, cargo bikes increase the utilization of these transportation access routes. Thus, not only can cargo bikes get to final destinations faster, but they do so without needing new roadways.

Cargo Bikes Are a No-Brainer for Major Cities

For the reasons cited, it’s clear that cargo bikes offer large urban centers a great solution to end-destination delivery systems. Though minor issues may need to be addressed through policies, the advantages far outweigh the potential setbacks. But for cargo bicycle systems to work, some key characteristics are usually present. Specifically, cities must have an established bicycle infrastructure network as well as city leader support. Likewise, cargo bikes work best in dense urban centers and where high-volume deliveries are required. With these caveats, the employment of cargo bicycles is a smart decision that will serve cities and companies well.

Cargo Bikes for Urban Deliveries

Man driving a cargo bike
No greenhouse gas emissions during deliveries? A big yes to that!

Beating Back Amazon with Automated Grocery Stores

Gone are the days when folks could get all their groceries at the small “mom and pop” shop down the street. Which is fine–the U.S. grocery retail market is a massive industry, with grocers accounting for $900 billion in sales. Competition is fierce, with major companies jockeying for consumer loyalty. But unlike the grocers of old, modern grocery retailers are becoming much more technologically savvy. From an automated checkout to a fully automated grocery store, grocers of tomorrow will look much different. That means a lot of change not only for customers but for the competitive retailer landscape as well.

Perhaps one of the most significant pressures facing grocer retailers today is the new kid on the block—Amazon. In addition to taking over Whole Foods, Amazon now threatens to change the way Americans shop and collect their groceries. Amazon Go stores already employ a form of automated checkout. Likewise, its automated grocery store is expected to become much more pervasive over the next few years. That, combined with robotic warehouses and home delivery algorithms, has other grocers nervous. And it is a significant reason other retail chains are exploring their own versions of an automated grocery store.

photo containing an excerpt from a report from McKinsey & Co. in relation to the topic of an automated grocery store
Competition is fierce – fierce enough to force industry-wide change.

An Automated Grocery Store Offers Many Advantages

Given recent industry report statistics, a significant degree of improvement could be made among grocery retailers. Reportedly, grocery stores lose over $325 billion in sales because shelves are not stocked. Likewise, traditional grocers no longer dominate the industry. Newcomers like Aldi’s and Lidl, as well as Amazon, have made a significant impact. As a result, traditional grocers now only own 44 percent of the market. Yet, three decades ago, this figure was as high as 90 percent. Because of this development, many grocers are considering an automated grocery store as a potential step in the right direction.

Many grocery stores already have some version of an automated checkout. However, the future version of an automated grocery store is much, much more. In addition to automated checkout, an automated grocery store will have shelf-scanning robots. Likewise, grocery carts will become “smart carts” that can track, scan and provide automated checkout. And retailers will progressively adopt dynamic pricing software using data analytics. From arrival to departure, an automated grocery store will soon streamline the process while optimizing sales and the experience.

photo quote from Keith Knopf in relation to the topic of an automated grocery store
An automated grocery store is a step in the right direction.

Back-of-the-House in an Automated Grocery Store

Though grocery delivery and curbside pickup remain a small percentage of sales, volumes are increasing. The success of companies like Instacart highlights that this segment of grocery retail appeals to millions. Understanding this fact, many grocers are now exploring the use of automated mini-warehouses as part of their automated grocery store. These areas represent sizable areas attached to retail stores that are primarily run by robots. Also termed “micro-fulfillment centers”, automated mini-warehouses can receive, fill and prepare grocery orders for delivery. If successful, this strategy could drive companies like Instacart out of business.

The other major addition to an automated grocery store that works behind the scenes is predictive analytics software. In the past, grocers used historical data and trends in determining product price changes. But soon, an automated grocery store will employ predictive pricing changes based on consumer behaviors and automated checkout data. Stores using such software are already seeing positive results. In fact, one has already reported a 2 percent increase in sales and a 5 percent increase in profits using these new technologies.

photo quote from Brian Cornell in relation to the topic of an automated grocery store
Despite all the automated scanners and robots, it’s still important to have some human interaction.

Automated Checkout, Automated Orders and the Human Effect

In recent years, the number of robotics purchases made by grocers has climbed substantially. In fact, over $3.5 billion was spent on robotics alone in 2018. Given this matter, many are concerned regarding the human displacement effect that an automated grocery store may have. Some retailers, like Target, are resisting robotics or fully automated checkout systems because of the valued personal touch. However, there are mounting pressures that are forcing retailers to reconsider such stances. Efficiencies and enhanced processes are certainly driving the move to a more fully automated grocery store.

In some areas, human labor costs support the shift to automation. For example, automated checkout systems are used by many retailers because it completely eliminates employee costs without impacting customer service. The same is being experienced in automated mini-warehouses where grocery order fulfillment can be better achieved through robotics. Still, some human efforts are still required. For example, restocking shelves and placing frozen goods in delivery orders cannot be performed by robots yet. Regardless, it’s rather clear that a significant human displacement effect will be seen as the automated grocery store concept evolves.

cartoon of four grocery retailers with their versions of an automated checkout competing with an Amazon drone on a race track
Grocery retailers are moving to compete against Amazon and its innovations. How will these industry players impact the way Americans do their groceries?

New Kids on the Automated Grocery Store Block

Understanding that many grocery retailers are interested in pursuing an automated grocery store, several new companies have emerged to help. From automated checkout assistance to data analytics support, various startups and technology firms offer cutting-edge services. For example, Simbe Robotics now makes roughly 50 different robots used by retailers in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. These shelf-scanning robots reportedly reduce out-of-stock items by more than 20 percent on average. Bossa Nova, another shelf-scanning robotics company, is one that now services Walmart stores across the nation. It seems evident that robotics will become a permanent fixture in the automated grocery store of the future.

Other new companies are involved in other aspects of an automated grocery store process. For instance, Grabango uses ceiling-mounted cameras to facilitate automated checkout for grocery shoppers. Takeoff Technologies provides automated robotics systems in mini-warehouse grocery-order-fulfillment centers. And Eversight produces predictive analytics software that aids with automated pricing algorithms. These companies are a significant reason why many grocers believe they will be able to compete with industry players like Amazon.

Survival of the Grocery Store Fittest

It’s clear that the grocery store landscape is changing. Amazon has certainly made an impact on the industry through its automated checkout and other systems. Likewise, some grocers have been forced to file bankruptcy amid rising competition, such as Winn Dixie. For those who want to survive, they must consider pursuing a fully automated grocery store. The challenge will be employing these concepts in a way that consumers want. Everyone wants efficiency, lower prices, and convenience. At the same time, human touch and personal interactions have value as well. Finding this perfect recipe will be the goal for modern grocery retailers if they wish to remain relevant tomorrow.