Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Food + Dining Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Shopping + Style Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Arts + Entertainment Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Travel + Visitors Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Homes Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Health Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Giving Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Weddings Parties + Nightlife
Ali Shops Blog

Archive for the ‘Web/Tech’ Category

Shopping Zara at Home

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I sprinted through Zara at Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, Ill. over the weekend – so close to an $89 buttery brown motorcycle jacket and $49 skinny green jeans, and yet, so swiftly interrupted by two little boys determined to get over to Marbles: The Brain Store.

No problem.  Tomorrow, I’ll be shopping Zara.com from the couch after the boys are in bed. The Spanish fast fashion chain is launching online shopping in the U.S. on Wednesday, Sept. 7–with free delivery to all 50 states. You won’t miss a thing: Zara’s full range of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing will be available online.

If you’ve never had the chance to shop one of Zara’s 30 U.S. stores–there are 4,000 stores worldwide–you’re sure to be delighted. It’s a step up from H&M, but with similar nimbleness to transform runway looks into affordable street wear. Zara is known for quickly responding to customer demand–if red dresses are flying out of the store, expect more styles in stores within days. Zara has taken its move to online seriously–the site promises a consumer friendly shopping experience with multiple ways to search for colors, sizes, prices and more. Online returns will be free within 30 days. Here’s a peek:

Twin Cities biz whiz Stacey Finnegan sold il Vostro Boutique at 50th & France to focus on an innovative e-commerce site launching today: Zinqstyle.com. On the surface, it’s another online store, selling many of the contemporary brands Finnegan carried in her bricks and mortar store – Hale Bob, Petit Pois, Cirelo jewelry. But her intent is to create the next chapter in interactive online retailing. Zinq’s tagline: “Fashion + Technology + Entertainment. Be part of the story.”
Zinq is partnering with brands like Hale Bob to produce fashion shows featuring upcoming collection. Yes, you can already see fashion shows in real time elsewhere in cyberland. But Zinq will take orders on the spot. So consumers can not only  preview next season’s trends, but reserve them before they hit stores. The customer gets to be first; the manufacturer finds out what will sell and can adjust production accordingly to cut back on overstock.
Finnegan believes this is the answer to the damaging cycle of discounting and sale buying fueled by overstock and designer discount websites. “We’re training people to wait until they get everything at a price that can’t sustain the designer anymore,” Finnegan says. “The more we play into these Gilt Groupe sites, the damage we’re doing to the whole fashion ecosystem is significant. I’m trying to build excitement at the front end.”
Stay tuned for details: Zinq plans to stage its first live fashion show in Minneapolis (to be broadcast online) in May. Meanwhile, enjoy an introductory offer of 20 percent off Hale Bob and a gift with purchase, April 9 to 17.

Say Cheese…Or, Don’t Pick Your Nose

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Photographer phenom Liz Banfield shoots weddings around the country and has a beautiful book to show for it, called, fittingly, Weddings. But when she’s not capturing brides, she’s often photographing kids – for Target ads, Real Simple magazine and other commercial and editorial clients. A mom herself, Liz has recently been blogging about child modeling, since so many parents think they want to get their children into it. Not me. I just wanted a few good pictures of my boys, ages 6 and almost 3, that did not involve an elbow in the lens. Liz invited us to her South Minneapolis studio to offer some pointers:

  • Capture the energy rather than attempting to stifle it. Rather than sitting the boys on the sofa, Liz told them to jump over it (years of training down the drain in seconds). The resulting smiles were better than anything you’d get by saying “cheese.”
  • Get on their level. Literally – get down and get right in their faces. And mentally – the second Liz broke into potty humor, she became a hero to my giggling boys.
  • Coordinate clothes, but don’t match. Solid colors generally photograph best, especially in vivid hues – Liz preferred a cobalt blue over navy.
  • Turn off the auto flash. Natural light always looks better
  • Press the shutter down half way and wait for your moment. Kids move fast, and you want to avoid the typical delay associated with digital cameras.

Lucky for me, pictures don’t actually speak a thousand words. Watch what happened when the video camera was rolling. Really makes you appreciate Liz’s talent. (I promised we wouldn’t return until it’s time for graduation pics):

Free shipping day!

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

It’s not too late to order online for Christmas delivery. In fact Friday, Dec. 17 is likely the very best day:  nearly 2,000 online retailers, national and independent, are participating in Free Shipping Day – waiving shipping charges and guaranteeing delivery by Dec. 24. Get the details here.

Apt to use apps on Black Friday?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I got out of doing the “talking to crazy shoppers who line up outside stores at 3 a.m. on Black Friday” story this year. Been there, done that. And frankly, with stores opening as early as 10 p.m. – or even remaining open all day on Thanksgiving – it’s become commonplace. (Get Black Friday shopping tips here.) What I’ll be watching instead is how technology plays into shopping strategy. Will shoppers be tweeting their best finds? Will they look up Facebook coupons from stores or log into Foursquare for discounts or send angry messages to retailers that run out of advertised doorbusters? Will they make use of the myriad shopping apps coming out just in time for the Superbowl of shopping? Best Buy, for example, is hyping two mobile apps for the holidays:

Shopkick: This free smartphone app detects “shopkick Signal” technology at select Best Buy stores (Target and other retailers participate, too). The customer instantly receives rewards called “kickbucks,” which can be accrued over time, then redeemed in the store or converted into store gift certificates. Customers can also provide the mobile number connected to their account at the cash register for personalized discounts.

Tecca: Curates product information, pricing and expert reviews to help consumers understand new technology, compare products, functions and prices. Simply scan a barcode and the app recognizes the product. Available for iPhone and Android as well as Web browsers.

Just two examples of how retailers are trying to incorporate social technology into the shopping experience. Will you use it?

The new look-at-me! please! Microsoft store

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Microsoft’s biggest mistake is trying to go head to head with Apple at the malls. Plopped between, say, Ann Taylor and Gymboree, the new Microsoft Store would simply dazzle – it’s modern, flashy and incredibly interactive. But across the corridor from Apple at Mall of America (first floor, south side), comparisons are inevitable.

Standing in the middle of the extremely loud new Microsoft store, the sixth nationwide, I felt a bit like I’d landed at a frat party where the hosts need to be noticed to feel validated. People jumping around, too noisy to connect. I looked across at Apple – the cool campus coffee house filled with intriguing people who make you want to linger and do great things. Apple was also busy, but much calmer. Geniuses in blue, some with mohawks and piercings, waited at the door and hovered over sleek white and black machines, enlightening customers.

I had trouble figuring out who worked at Microsoft. The ones in green? Blue? Red – no wait, that guy was just a shopper. There’s just a lot going on. A lot. Which is a criticism, in comparison to the elegantly simple Apple. But compared instead to Best Buy, or the electronics department of Target or Wal-Mart, the new Microsoft store is a rock star. Phones are projected on super-sized wall screens. Xbox gaming stations are sprinkled throughout the store. Products are neatly grouped, making it easy to zero in on small laptops, phones, electronic readers or other devices. (For product pros and cons, read my colleague Julio Ojeda-Zapata’s blog.) There’s a service bar (not quite Genius, but looks helpful).

For the person who wants an overview of the latest in technology, presented by knowledgeable staff, the new Microsoft store is the place to go. And should you realize, midway, that you’re more the coffee bar type, Microsoft has once again made it easy to get there instead.

Where Geek Girls and Shop Girls collide

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Technology experts Meghan Wilker and Nancy Lyons of the Geek Girls Guide entered the FM107 studio for our Shop Girls radio interview pecking away at their iPhones. The minute the On Air light went on, they flipped me: recording our interview on one of those adorable little Flip video cams, which they consider one of the best things to happen to mothers since all-day kindergarten. You want to be friends with these two. They're with-it, working moms on the cutting edge of technology, but are able to talk about, well, geeky matters in an entirely approachable way. Here are a couple of the cool new things they told me about for iPhone devotees: The Owle Bubo, an attachment that turns the iPhone 3GS into a higher quality, more flexible video camera, and a couple of must-have apps that moms can feel good about using to bribe – er, educate – young kids: Baby Flash Cards and the pro-vegie game Pickin' Time. Geek Girls speak fashion too: they turned me on to Polyvore, a cool website where you can catch up on the hottest trends and actually mix and match pieces to create looks. Want more? Listen to a podcast of the Geek Girls on Shop Girls (Hour 1, Dec. 19).

This pricing is Bananas

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Bananaflat Maybe it's the straight pants, or maybe it's the running after children, but I'm liking my flats lately. Found some cute ones at Banana Republic last weekend: patent finish, pointy toe, bright, coral-y red. Best part: the price: $40.99 (marked down from $98). But they didn't have my size. The salesperson said I'd find them online, and I did – for $69.99! I complained to online customer service and received an email that said, in a nutshell, "sorry – we don't match store prices." Online, store – to me, and, I'm guessing, most consumers, it's all the same. There's no excuse for price differences – unless the online items are less, to compensate for shipping charges. Today's shopper jumps from online to stores and back again. She's extremely price sensitive and a $30 discrepancy serves only to make her suspicious of the company's prices across the board.
I found the shoes in my size at another store. Just checked Bananarepublic.com again, and it seems someone important must have read my email: the online price has been reduced to $49.99. Better, at least, but still offensive.
And they wonder why consumers abandon virtual shopping carts.


mspmag.com | Mpls.St.Paul Magazine © 2008 MSP Communications, Inc. All rights reserved