Wonder why, of late, your margarita is being served sans lime? Or how Fed Ex could have failed so miserably with its holiday deliveries? Or what the latest mobile app is? The answers may surprise you. This week, we’ll skim through business headlines to catch up on a few emerging trends, cost hikes, and new product offerings.
The cost of limes has gone up dramatically lately because producers in Mexico have faced severe drought and crop disease – and now have to hire armed guards for fruit transport, since black market prices make the crops appealing to the Mexican drug cartel and hijackers. In the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that’s caused a single lime to climb from 21 cents in 2013 to 53 cents in 2014.
Need copper plumbing? Think again, since (as of this writing) copper scrap is now at an all-time high of about $4.60/pound. Emerging Chinese infrastructure is creating giant demand while Chili, a major supplier, upset the supply chain. Meanwhile, as the U.S. dollar value deflates, copper values inflate, and there is speculation that some mysterious entity may be trying to corner the market. High suspense! Experts explain that adding that to Wall Street’s frenetic consumption of copper results in spiking prices.
Setting the record straight
Fed-Ex isn’t naming names, but it is laying part of the blame for its holiday delivery fiasco on major online retailers. CEO Fred Smith said a few major retailers said they shipped products earlier than they actually did, and/or improperly addressed packages or misapplied labels. The shipping giant wants to set the record straight, and it’s now taking a firmer stance with customers’ sloppy shipping practices.
Application for change
Tired of fumbling for vending machine or parking meter change? PayRange developed a key-sized, wireless device that can be put in a variety of vending applications to accept mobile phone payments via Bluetooth technology. The product, launched this March, will rely on customers to download the app and pre-load it with funds. Expect success: the founder is Paresh Patel, VendScreen’s cofounder, who already has a significant tech portfolio.
Let me take a selfie
Need help matching shoes to your outfit? Zappos Labs is offering fashion help to Instagram users who tag their selfies #OOTD. The “outfit of the day” hashtag offers photo posters a personalized recommendation for footwear to go with the outfit shown on their selfie. During the testing phase, all requests are being matched by one person with (hopefully) extraordinary fashion sense.
Click and mortar
Ace Hardware is releasing a mobile app that not only will allow customers to browse product lines, but also provide how-to tips for products scanned on the shelves. Users can add their own to-do lists, and benefit then from linked circular sales announcements and customer reviews. The idea behind going mobile is to drive shoppers from cyberspace into brick-and-mortar stores.
I believe you have my stapler
Moving beyond “trend” and into “phenomenon”. Coworking spaces have become a hot commodity in larger cities all over the world. Not always an incubator or necessarily a start-up space, this coop working model rents desks and office space backed by the usual amenities, including copiers, lobbies, conference areas, and Wi-Fi. Many offer workshops and networking events as well. Some offer intranet and web profiles and marketing help. Prices vary from hourly desk rentals to day rates to private offices or desk clusters at a monthly or yearly rate. Some will trade space for services to provide free legal services, etc., to other members. Some are reluctant to offer space with storage due to increased demand by members, who expect not to have to wait for a vacant spot when they need to work.
Shhh. It’s a secret. Or at least, the exact nature of the work being done by Vicarious is hush hush. However, the firm must have revealed some pretty intriguing hints to get Mark Zuckerberg and Ashton Kutcher to invest part of the $40 million recently raised for start-up capital. Hint: think “artificial intelligence” – the company intends to replicate the capabilities of the human neocortex, reports the WSJ.
What’s on the horizon? Stay tuned!