Santa Yurts and Vending Machines

Robot Work vs Human Work
November 27, 2020

Christmas looks different this year, especially for Mall Santas. Across the USA, Mall Santas are being socially distanced, placed behind plexi, or locked inside of snowglobes, all in an attempt to bring some normalcy to an otherwise astonishingly abnormal year. While the idea of a “Santa-but-make-it-a-Zoo” is endearing, the real innovation is for the crowd who have decided not to venture out to the mall at all. Santa Zooms are trending up, adding a virtual dimension to quarantine Christmas. Even Saint Nick’s job isn’t safe from the gig economy (aside: the Future Commerce team didn’t like the original title “OnlyFans, but make it Santa”). Yurts aren’t just for pandemic dining, they’re for creating holiday memories.

Kris Kringle’s job is moving virtual, along with other experiences. “Experiential Commerce” isn’t solely reserved for flagship stores — vending machines have been on the rise in 2020 for obvious reasons. Vending presents unique friends-with-socially-distant benefits: no staff or PPE required. Like a yurt for products. Nike’s recent test of their “Unlock Box” in the Washington Heights Foot Locker concept provided a unique point of in-store engagement and activation. The validation from brands large and small is on the rise with the likes of Uniqlo’s viral parka-vending stations in airports popularized by The Office’s Angela Kinsey. Sprinkles have had cupcake vending for a decade. BuffCity Soaps have recently acquired vending. Disney have PPE in vending at the entrance to their parks.

Vending solves a new 2020-era problem for self-service in retail grocery. Health restrictions closed the self-service counters in Whole Foods across the country for items like local honey and nuts-by-the-pound. Tech innovation solves these challenges with entrants like NüMulk, a self-service vegan milk startup that places vending stations in grocery chains.

This model for micro-retail may displace the job of a handful of minimum wage laborers while providing skilled jobs for others. Rather than a minimum wage sales attendant job, a skilled mechanic maintains the machine. The touch display and required internet connectivity are powered by information workers. In other words, “robot work” is being replaced with “human work,” says Ferris Jumah of in our most recent episode of the podcast:

Keeping track with everything, making sure everything is getting in front of you, understanding and researching your audiences what they want, that's robot work. And we kind of exist to create those robots for you, so we can give you time back to do human work.

The new era of experiential engagement is providing more human connection and meaningful work, not less. Human ingenuity is driving towards a future where people pursue their passions. Even if that passion is role-playing as Santa to children via Zoom.

Shopify updated its dataviz tool for BFCM for the 4th year in a row. Sales topping $2.5M per minute, 25,000 orders per minute on the platform at 11AM EST.

Disco-per-minute want the feeling of going dancing but want to avoid large crowds? Teledisko’s got you covered. The self-contained dance club (limit 3) is kitschy and IG-worthy, but makes us wonder if the “world’s smallest nightclub” defeats the purpose of social-distance clubbing: they attract a large crowd.

Balenciaga made a video game. Set in 2031, Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow will debut the Balenciaga FW21 collection in a game, rather than on the runway. Don’t attempt to cop the game on StockX in the same cart as the Balenciagas that “look like socks” — this one will be playable via web browsers only.

EZ Bake Oven but make it 2020. Let’s face it, we’re mostly touching our phones. Blast that germ-laden sucker with any number of options including PhoneSoap, a $199 UV oven that will kill the “petri dish in your pocket.”

Luxury advent calendars. Nothing celebrates the coming Christ-child born in a manger like a luxury brand releasing an advent calendar. L’Occitane’s calendar ($75USD) features hand creams and shower oils contained in a whimsical box illustrated by French artist Edith Carron. Dyptique’s calendar ($425USD) has “25 days filled with wonder and joyful impatience” which is just [chef’s kiss]. It features 25 scents, trinkets, mini-candles, and fragrances.

If you’ve been especially good, treat yo’self to Carolina Bucci’s $1,800 masterpiece which contains everything you need to make the world’s most overrated friendship bracelet.

If 2020 was the year of the business podcast, perhaps 2021 is the year of the personal pod-diary. StoryCorps made the Google homepage link of the day with their Thanksgiving Project to record and preserve the story of a loved one. TikTok teens are following Senior Citizens as the older generations check out the platform. Read more in this touching piece from WSJ (gated).

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