//A Houseparty everyone is invited to

Social distancing and quarantine are our current reality. People are working from home and meetings have been moved online. In our social life, virtual happy hours have basically replaced all other forms of social interactions and the platform options are plenty – from FaceTime and WhatsApp video calling to Zoom and Teams.

The current talk of town, however, is Houseparty. An app that has seen a surge in downloads from 130,000 a week in late February to over two million a week in late March, right after social distancing and shelter in place orders have been issued around the world.

Houseparty has been around since late 2016 and back then, Forbes has hailed it as the latest teen hangout rivaling Snapchat by offering “spontaneous togetherness.” However, the app remained mostly in the realms of Gen Z. Four years later, Houseparty is now getting attention from all sorts of demographics given the newly gained free time and also the need for an engaging way to digitally connect amidst the Covid 19 pandemic.

Be prepared for people to pop onto your screen

One of Houseparty’s features that sets it apart from other video chat apps: Games

The concept is simple: Houseparty is a video chat app for friends. But how does it differ from other video chats? The idea is that when you are “online” (= you’re actively using the app), your friends can automatically join you. Meaning, they will pop right onto your screen without you having to accept the call. You should therefore be prepared whenever you open the app, because at any time a friend could appear on your screen and your camera would automatically turn on.

Your friends will be notified that you just “entered the house” when you log in. The app allows you to turn off those notifications or alternatively, “lock your room” which then requires you to invite someone for a conversation. That would, however, neutralize Houseparty’s unique proposition of spontaneous connections. The idea is that being notified of a friend entering the house will prompt an unplanned conversation, therefore leading to increased interactions.

Up to eight people can join one party which allows you to meet friends of friends by spontaneously joining their ongoing conversations as long as they didn’t lock the room. Houseparty also offers a gaming feature that clearly sets it apart from the competition. Currently, you can choose between Pictionary, trivia quizzes, a game called ‘Chips and Guac’ that resembles a simplified version of Cards Against Humanity, and Heads Up.

An ad-free oasis or the next marketing channel?

Given its surge in users, the question right now is how much longer Houseparty will remain an oasis for private conversations between friends before it turns into another marketing channel. Co-founder and COO Sima Sistani told The Verge that the company “hopes to profit by selling products that enhance the time people spend together in the app” instead of selling ad space. They do that by offering paid-for gaming add-ons such as packs of words for the Heads Up game.

Brands are, however, trying to find ways to join the party. Just this week, Chipotle is running a promotion offering free food for people’s next Houseparty. Even though Chipotle is not using Houseparty for the promotion itself, but Instagram, the fast food chain is aiming to exploit the current popularity of Houseparty.

Marketing website ‘The Drum’ predicts that traditional ads won’t work for the app but formats need to be bespoke. Suggestions include brand-sponsored games or influencer campaigns that offer exclusive video chats with brand ambassadors.

Will it outlive the virus?

The app offers a fun way to spontaneously connect with friends and will probably initiate more face-to-face interactions, which is important and helpful in our current situation where social distancing is key. It will be interesting to see, though, if people will keep bouncing between houseparties once we are all out and about again in real life with less time and most likely with texting returning as the main form of digital communications.

//Do you miss going to the office? Here is what might help.

Most people with office jobs have likely worked from home before. However, the majority of us have probably never done it for an extended period, and the way it currently looks like is that we will have to do it for at least another three to four weeks. In order to stay productive, sane and healthy (apart from anti-Coronovirus measures), we wanted to share our best WFH practices.

First off, make sure your “home office” is set up in a way that allows you to work comfortably and doesn’t cause any back or neck pain. Hunching over your laptop for eight hours a day will make you feel miserable pretty quickly. Try and put your laptop on a stand or stack of books so that the screen is on eye level. Invest in a mouse and a keyboard, so you can keep those at elbow level and sit in an upright and healthy posture. Keeping a distance is not only important to avoid virus infections, but also to protect your eyes. Don’t sit too close to your laptop screen and if you have glasses with blue light filtering lenses, wear them!

Next on our list is keeping or rather establishing a new routine. This helps with getting a sense of normalcy and distinguishing your work day at home from your weekend at home.

Set an alarm and get up a good amount of time before work starts so you can to get in some body movement and wake yourself up with stretching, yoga, or even a run if you’re up for it. Even if you are not going anywhere, put on some decent clothes, as it will make you feel more productive and ready to work. Eat breakfast, or don’t, and write a to-do list for the day while you fire up your computer. Don’t be overly ambitious and set realistic goals that you can actually get done in a day.

As you work away, remember to keep moving. Since you haven’t left home and might not do so for the rest of the day, get up and walk around or stretch for five minutes every hour. You can even do that while being on a conference call! You are not tied to your home office desk, so switch things up and take your laptop to lounge on your couch for a bit or stand at your kitchen counter.

Speaking of kitchen: Lunch time is around the corner! Actually take a break and eat lunch away from your laptop so you don’t get interrupted by emails that are popping up. Treat yourself with some chocolate or a cookie for dessert to keep the mood up and be more motivated for the second half of the day. To get over the afternoon slump, you can also go for a quick walk, but remember to keep a distance!

During breaks or after you’re done with work, give yourself and your eyes some digital rest and try not to be on your phone. Read a book, cook a new recipe, go for another walk, take care of your plants, play an instrument, draw something or journal your thoughts with an actual pen and paper.

Last but not least, your work from home day is still a weekday, so go to bed around the same time as if you would go to the office the next day and get a full night’s sleep.

We hope this helps with improving your work from home routine until we can all meet in the office again. Stay safe and healthy everyone!

//What’s for lunch? Navigating Midtown’s foodscape in the age of reward points and subscription services

The typical desk lunch has been a staple of the American office culture for a long time. Here at OSK New York, we handle things a bit differently. Lunch is a thing. Our team sits down to eat together at our long dining table with proper place settings and coffee and chocolate as dessert. We mostly talk about work-unrelated topics: what’s happening on the weekend, the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale or the difference between the American and German school system. As studies show that taking an actual break from work increases performance and creativity, we take lunch very seriously to make sure that we reach peak productivity.

People either bring their own lunches or go and get something in the sea of food options available in our neighborhood. Every day approximately 3.1 million people go to work in Manhattan with a big chunk headed to office buildings in Midtown East. And starting from 11:30 a.m., people swarm out of those buildings to the many restaurants, food halls, delis and bowl places to get their food.

With ever increasing lunch prices – now starting at approx. $12 for a salad – it can get quite pricey to buy lunch every single day. But luckily, it’s 2019 and there is an app for that – or actually two.

The apps we’re looking at are not the usual food delivery apps such as Seamless, UberEats, or DoorDash. These two apps have emerged and established themselves as the lunch apps of the moment that a good amount of people in Manhattan, and also of our team, has subscribed to.

Subscribe!

For the first of these apps, subscription is actually the key word. MealPal is a meal subscription service that was founded in 2016 and is now operating in markets in the US, Canada, and Australia. In New York, it’s gaining more and more traction as you can tell by the number of food places setting up the MealPal QR Code on their counters.

How does it work? Users pay a monthly subscription fee that includes 12 or 20 lunches. You go into the app, pick the dish you want from a participating restaurant, select a pick-up time, and reserve your meal. Lucky for us, the majority of the restaurants around our office is participating so there are plenty of options.

It’s a good deal for everyone who participates: Restaurants get a predictable and confirmed number of customers and can optimize their food prep by making a large amount of the same dish. Diners get a subsidized meal for about half the price of a regular lunch and don’t have to wait in lines. And MealPal makes a margin on each order and can collect consumer data to optimize their offering.

Feather’s website: A subscription service that lets you rent furniture on a monthly basis

MealPal is the latest incarnation of the subscription service trend. This trend once started with music and video streaming services, and has now taken over almost every imaginable industry. Only to name a few: There is ClassPass for workout sessions, Blue Apron for home-cooked meals, Burst for toothbrushes, Misfits for organic vegetables, Feather for furniture, Birchbox for beauty products, JustFab for clothes, and Nike for kids’ shoes.

According to a report by McKinsey, the subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100% annually over the past five years. The target audience of these subscription services are often younger and affluent customers in urban areas that appreciate the convenience and discounted price they get in exchange for their commitment. MealPal hits that sweet spot with both a convenient and affordable offer.

Subscriptions per se are not a new thing. Monthly cable bills have been around forever and everyone at some point in their lives probably has had a magazine or newspaper subscription. However, the unexpected combination of a subscription with products that you never thought about subscribing to before, but that you actually do need on a regular basis, is what is new and appealing. And the possibilities are endless. 

Gimme points!

The second app that we have recently discovered is called Ritual. Ritual was founded in Toronto in 2014 and expanded to the US three years later. Last month, they ran a promotion for $1 lunches that made us all sign up. Initially we expected that everyone would stop using it after the promotion ends. But surprise, we are still ordering food through Ritual.

Ritual rewards: With Elite status, you get more points per purchase

How so? At first sight, there is nothing new about Ritual. You use the app to make an order and then go pick it up when it’s ready so you don’t have to wait in line. It also asks you to join your company team so that you get notifications when one of your co-workers makes an order. This way, you can piggyback on their order and they can pick it up for you along with their own order. This saves you a trip through the masses of people on Midtown streets during lunchtime. 

Apart from their sporadic $1 lunch promotions and regular $5 off from selected restaurants, Ritual has a rewards points system. And this is where it gets interesting. In a society where people are obsessed with collecting points and read The Points Guy like a bible, Ritual offers an advantage over other food ordering apps and proprietary apps.

Most restaurants and food places have a reward system in place that for example gives you a free meal after ten purchases. These reward systems, however, are all specific to each place and unless you go to the same lunch spot every day, it takes quite a while until you actually get a reward.

Dedicated shelf space for Ritual and MealPal at Just Salad on 3rd Ave & 40th St

With Ritual, you collect points in the same system no matter where you order, which allows you to get to a reward much more quickly. This universal reward system in combination with its regular discounts, presents a big draw. 

Both MealPal and Ritual have found a unique selling point to set them apart from the well-established food ordering apps. They have even amassed a big enough of a user base to prompt some places in Midtown to set up designated shelves so that their users can easily find their orders and pass by the line of people ordering in store. 

How we get our lunches will probably change again within the next year or even the next few months. But for the moment, even though we don’t know what is for lunch, we know that there is an app for that – or actually two.

//VIDEO: The Future of Retail

The apocalypse, robot people and brandscapes: Our Creative Director Scott Faucheux answers questions about the changing retail landscape and what he thinks the future of retail will look like.

Watch the highlight video below that includes impressions of our tour of the latest experiential stores in New York City and read the full interview here.

PS: What is continuity? 😉

//The apocalypse, robot people and brandscapes: OSK’s Creative Director Scott Faucheux on the Future of Retail

Scott Faucheux, Creative Director at OSK New York

Do you remember the last time you went a day without going online? Nowadays, everyone is perpetually connected to the internet through smaller and more personalized devices. This new way of life has also largely changed the way people consume and purchase things. Bloomberg recently reported that online stores have gained the second biggest share of the U.S. retail market, surpassing grocery stores and restaurants. With the rise of E-Commerce, many feared that physical retail stores would disappear. Yet, in an increasingly digital world, brands have the chance to make use of people’s craving for physical experiences to prevent the so-called retail apocalypse.

OSK’s Creative Director Scott Faucheux has almost two decades’ worth of retail design experience for clients such as Samsung, Urban Outfitters and Kiehls. Alum of Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture and Urban Studies, he calls himself a designer and brand thinker who creates innovative combinations of brands, people and places to turn them into compelling experiences. Over the course of his career, he gradually evolved into the world of experience design and has been refining and redefining the role of experiences in the built environment.

At the Timberland store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

Scott, you have been working on retail design projects for the last twenty years. Recently, an increasing number of retail stores are closing, which many attribute to the rising dominance of online shopping. Looking back, how would you say retail has changed over time and how is it adapting to the digitalization of life?

One of the biggest conversations right now is around the retail apocalypse. Why are all these brands failing? I like to think of the main factors as the four horsemen: Bad product, bad service, bad spaces and most importantly bad stories. There is an evolved sophistication that is happening and technology really has enabled it. More and more retailers are using data to understand what people are doing, which is kind of a paradox. Twenty years ago, if you said data is going to run the stores, people would freak out and say “Oh my god we’re all going to turn into robot people!” But the reality is that technology is enhancing personalization and understanding of how people shop, and also how a particular person shops. We can actually track and personalize experiences and build around an individual, which is a pretty fantastic change from just putting a commodity on a shelf and promoting it. Instead, we can build a story and create emotions around a product.

You have to reconsider what the purpose of the store is. In the past, the store has always been the transaction point and that is not true anymore.

“Experiential” has been one of the key words for a while now. How does that specifically affect retail design?

You have to reconsider what the purpose of the store is. In the past, the store has always been the transaction point and that is not true anymore. If we think about a store as a mere commodities point, it represents a very a different value than if we consider it as a communications point or as a brandscape to tell a story. Brands now are telling their stories in stores through sensory experiences that are multi-dimensional. Some incredibly rich and layered things are happening in new stores right now because the focus is not around the product anymore. Stores are taking consumers on journeys and telling them focused and curated messages that they can take on and add meaning to. People are no longer shopping for mere objects, but are finding cultural artifacts. Stores now have much more power as a story-telling platform than they do as a transactional platform.

What other societal trends are affecting consumer behaviors? How do you translate those into store design?

I think there are a couple societal shifts that have radically altered the way we think about communities in general as well as brand communities. One is the level of social sharing and the level of reach that each individual has into their network. The other is their ability to share their own ideas. It is really amazing to see brands which embrace that and invite their audiences to actually co-author an experience with them. What in the past may have been a brand just saying “Here is what we are, you take that message,” now, is a conversation around “Here is what we have to offer, what do you think?” This way, you can change opinions and create a much broader, more meaningful and relevant idea about what a brand is and what it means to a larger audience.

Are shareable experiences and moments the key to retail success?

There are definitely brands that are simply manufacturing moments that are meant for sharing, and I would say with a wide variety of success.  The authenticity with which you create an experience should be natural and not forced. You see a lot of cool pop-ups with things like Instagram walls – that is manufacturing a moment to be shared in a very specific way. Instead, you should rather create environments where people can explore and find their own moment that they share because they want to and not because the brand says “Here is the format, go share it.”

Now, retail design is only one small portion of the design work that you do. Can you apply your experience from the retail world to other areas of your work?

The approach I use for my design work is one of really looking empathetically at what the visitor journey should be:  What happens along the way? Where are the actions and where are the emotions that need to happen? All of those little cues and moments that make up a journey can be scripted not just in a retail environment but in hospitality and events as well. If we remove the words retail, event or pop-up from the discussion and completely do away with the labels that set boundaries around our work, and begin to think about it just in terms of the visitor’s journey, we can improve all experiences because we are no longer constrained by what we think needs to be. If we eliminate the automatic programing, there is a lot more opportunity to create more impactful and compelling experiences. We can actually innovate by looking at other formats and creating the right impact, the right sensory cues, the right drama.

How does the future of retail look like? And are there examples of brands that are already offering those experiences today?

I think there are three main divergent paths for what the future retail experience will look like. The easy answer is of course big technology with seamless interactions and all kinds of user-generated elements. Those immersive theaters of amazing technology are easily predictable. At the opposite end of that spectrum are brands like Urban Outfitters and Anthropology that are art-driven, completely unique and that are very tactile and sensual. You explore and discover that no two stores are alike and it is up to you to come and find what is cool and what works for you. I think it is that level of personal discovery that is really going to drive the future of retail – whether it is technology-aided or anti-tech. Those possibilities exist anywhere along that spectrum.

The third one that is also really fascinating is demonstrated by Intersect by Lexus here in New York: a brand world that is not necessarily about your product. It is about attention to detail, the appreciation of craft, and what you and your brand really stand for – all coming to life through a whole series of experiences that touch different parts of what we are interested in as people. I think those brandscapes coming to life have huge potential for the future and are something that we are going to see a lot more of.

What do you think will be the next big thing in retail?

I think the next big thing in retail is going to be human-centered design. We have to keep in mind that because the POS can be anywhere, the store itself becomes a story-telling environment and the level of service that you get along the journey is way more important – that really is becoming the transaction rather than the actual exchange of money for goods and services. Retailers who are not investing in understanding how to speak more meaningfully to customers are limiting themselves and no one is going to come to their stores because there is no value. Looking at how our understanding of a person, the data we collect around that person, and how that data creates tailored experiences is really going to be transformative in shaping the future retail experience.