Robots Deliver, No Mask Needed

Robots Deliver, No Mask Needed

Fulfillment warehouse robots are having a moment as online shopping continues to increase during the pandemic. The hot market for autonomous fulfillment solutions has helped Locus Robotics, which makes autonomous mobile robots for use in fulfillment warehouses, raise an additional $40 million during a successful Series D this week.

“Automation has proven to be a critical solution for retail and third-party logistics businesses during this challenging time,” says Tony Palcheck, Senior Director, Zebra Ventures, which led Locus’ Series D. “As the retail industry continues to shift to e-commerce, Locus Robotics’ warehouse automation will help businesses meet the demands of this ‘new normal,’ ensuring that customers can increase operational efficiency to meet requirements for fast, accurate delivery.”

Locus Robotics makes autonomous mobile robots that operate collaboratively with human workers to improve piece-handling productivity as much as 2X-3X, with less labor compared to traditional picking systems. The robots are aimed at helping 3PLs and specialty warehouses efficiently meet the increasingly complex and demanding requirements of fulfillment environments, which now include social distancing restrictions — something robots don’t have to worry about.

“We have recently seen a dramatic disruption of retail with e-commerce growth as high as 400% year-over-year in some categories. And others were severely limited as the bulk of their inventory was in stores that they could not get into due to lockdowns. It’s critical that retailers are prepared for direct fulfillment from the warehouse,” said Greg Buzek, President of IHL Group. “This announcement underscores the need for companies to prepare for today’s new labor challenges that will be impacted by the significant volume increases that are already occurring. Companies investing now in warehouse automation, particularly AMRs, will be better positioned for success in the post-pandemic economy as they can support sales from any channel.”

SOURCE:ZDNet.com

DON’T BE A DICK: ADA Compliance

DON’T BE A DICK: ADA Compliance

Ecommerce ignores those with disabilities.

We tend to think that all of our visitors have perfect eyesight and perfectly capable limbs and ears that work as expected.

Obviously, it’s not true. According to the World Bank:

  • One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries.
  • One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.

(MORE STATISTICS)

Disability Statistics in the United States

Here’s a more specific look at the number of people in the United States who could find their way to your website and who also live with various disabilities:

  • As of 2016, an estimated 3.8 million people aged 21 to 64 years were blind or had serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses
  • Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing
  • The number of people living with cognitive disabilities in the United States is equal to twice the population of New York City.

Why Care? Are You an Asshole?

Technologies that assists the disabled have evolved considerably. And now it’s time that ecommerce becomes inclusive. Yes, you gain a very largely ignored market, but it’s also just the right thing to do. I have known a few disabled people (including my own sister) who struggle with equipment and technology that is designed for the able-bodied majority. Think about it: would you be able to go about your business blindfolded? With both hands tied behind your back? No. No, you would not. So stop thinking about yourself and show some fucking empathy.

And You Can Be Sued

The ADA is actually the law. No joke. And you can enter litigation hell if you do not comply. As an example: some of the 3.8 million people mentioned above with visual impairments may use a screen reader to consume text in the HTML code of web pages, to translate it into audible speech. If text is not embedded in image properties (using alt tags), this could render the content inaccessible to visually impaired users, violating the Equality Act of 2010. — (source).

Lack of Compliance is Considered Discrimination

Given these numbers, if your website is not accessible to those with disabilities, you are leaving out a significant portion of the population. And when these users can’t easily access your website, they will go somewhere else, even if it means paying more for a service or product.

You know that discrimination against people with disabilities is against the law, so don’t do it.

My initial results seem promising but also troubling.

Solutions

I set about to understand what this means and was immersed in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There are similar global, national and industry-specific standards. I’m focusing on the ADA in this case because it’s the broadest and most applicable to my audience. So, since I’m locked down here in Los Angeles, I had a ton of time to spend learning. Here’s what I found:

Multiple Options

There are, as far as I can understand (not being a pro in this field), there a few ways you can make your site easily accessible to the disabled.

  1. You can pay a firm to audit, fix and certify your site with authority ($)
  2. Run a self-compliance test and then have it certified ($)
  3. Diagnose, fix and self-certify (NO $)
    • The paid audit & fix option is great if you’ve got a few thousand + to spend on crafting your own response through a legal team and having your site certified globally.
    • The self-compliance route is cheaper, but you will have to get pretty sophisticated with your coding.
    • Being lazy and slowly going crazy self-quarantining, I went the easiest route: self-certification. I chose EqualWeb. The self-diagnostic tool was easy, comprehensive and accurate. Better yet, they fix your mistakes with a code insertion. A Chrome extension is helpful and they have a FREE plan which allows you to enter this confusing subject, understand it and offer options. Well done, EqualWeb!

I’m purposefully not endorsing any company here simply because I have not done exhaustive research on each that would let me do so with confidence.

 

Accessible Design is Good Design”
-Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft
The Boring Bits: Hosting & Domains

The Boring Bits: Hosting & Domains

A client recently requested that they move off Shopify and onto WordPress. I’m happy to help with technical issues for my clients, but as I dug around for hosting plans and domain registrations, a few things became very clear:

Managed WordPress Hosting

For years, I have used a hosting company. As my site grew and required more resources, it became evident that I  needed to get serious about my host and amove to a managed WordPress host. What’s the difference? Regular hosting companies allocate their servers across multiple platforms. They often have their own, branded HTML editor as well as myriad other platforms. A managed WordPress host focuses strictly on WordPress and nothing else.

The benefits are significant. Servers are configured correctly for WordPress. This is no light task. Setting WP up is a really unpleasant experience. You’ll experience faster responses, tech support that knows their stuff and can determine WP-specific errors and fix them quickly. Further, since the focus is on WP, you’ll be able to avoid conflicting security plug-ins, access development tools and add higher levels of performance such as CDN (content delivery network) and easily set up staging and collaborative workspaces. And there’s a triple bonus: free site migration (yes)!

I recommend Flywheel as a preferred managed WordPress host. Their response rate is phenomenal and their pricing is very competitive, Further, they offer a seriously easy to use interface and tools that let me focus on client relations and design instead of technical problems. 

Last month, Flywheel was acquired by WP Engine. From their press release:

WP Engine, as Brunner describes it, focuses largely on mid-market and larger businesses, while Flywheel — founded and currently based out of Omaha — has focused on smaller businesses. That makes the two natural complements to each other, but Brunner notes that there will be more gained from the union.

“The team there is very product-focused,” she noted. “They’ve built a suite that we feel has been focused around small agencies, but they are also the types of tools that larger agencies will benefit from.” She is referring to the product Local by Flywheel, a local development application used by more than 150,000 developers.

Flywheel, founded in 2012, had only raised around $6 million in funding, including a $4 million round several years ago. The economies of scale of throwing in its lot with WP Engine will give it a much wider exposure and access to new customers.

If you’re shopping for a managed WP host, Flywheel definitely ranks. It would be worth your while to try their trial to evaluate how easy they make developing WP sites.

Here’s the formal pitch:

Flywheel Platform Video

Domain Registration

Renewing your domain is probably the most important detail of your online store. And the least sexy. I’ve chosen a .ink domain which made renewing it previously an expensive chore.

Until I found porkbun.com. Yes, the name is snicker-worthy, but this Portland, Oregon-based registrar is by far the cheapest when renewing esoteric domains (.ink, .abagado, .bar, etc.). I easily saved 50% off which made renewing a little bit less painful.

As mentioned earlier, the internet has seen a new generation of top-level domains known as “new generic TLDs” or simply, ngTLDs. These are top-level domains that have been introduced by ICANN in recent years and don’t fit the same mold as a .com or .net. In October of 2013, ICANN announced that the first batch of ngTLDs was delegated into the internet’s root zone (the top of the DNS hierarchy which contains all of the delegations for top-level domains).

The very first ngTLD was .guru, and it was made available to the public in February of 2014. Following the success of .guru, a number of ngTLDs like .club and .link were introduced and were welcomed by new domain buyers. In June of 2014, .xyz was introduced, and two years later, more than six million domains were registered using this ngTLD.

— Source: DreamHost.com

Color Theory

Color Theory

Color is an odd phenomenon. We all see it, respond to it, quantify it, but what is it really? 

It’s just a group of photons vibrating in particular waveforms. But it is so much more. It has become part of our culture, our literature, music, psychology and much more.

Personally, I’m fascinated by color. Others are too. So fascinated that it has its own science: color theory. Our buddy Sir Isaac Newton came up with the standard color wheel to define how colors relate in 1666. We still use it today as a basic tool in design. We have expanded it to accommodate more than the visual light that Newton was seeing; there are digital and print variations, for instance. Dyes and tints apply to textiles and pigments give color to base materials. 

While creating this collection, I had to learn, as in really study, how color behaves across media. It’s a lot more complicated than you first think. In this particular case, I am using hexadecimal color codes to instruct a machine to mix inks which then applies them to items. The basic color wheel holds true, but the procedures require additional info.

Additive vs. Subtractive Color

As kids, we all learn that if we shine a red lamp and a blue lamp, we get purple (violet). Red and yellow become green and so on. But add all three primary colors and you see white. This is additive color, meaning that the surface upon which the object is shown is irrelevant (mostly). Television and screens do this trick very well using a slight variation of RGB (red, green, blue). They alternate dosages of these three primary colors to create millions of combinations. This is important to keep in mind when you’re designing for digital presentation as the design is actually made of emitted light coming at the viewer.

If you add primary colored lights together, you get white light. However, if you try this with paint, you get a blech brown. Printing uses subtractive coloring to create true shades of color upon a surface. This surface reflects light (not emit, as does light). This is why printing has four basic colors, CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black is the “k” part).

Yeah, so?

It’s a basic knowledge that goes a long way. That beautiful blue flower you see in the garden in real life is going to look very, very different when it is rendered in CMYK on a t-shirt. There are literally thousands of apps that assist in mitigating this difference (or manipulating it all together). 

cgk.ink experiments. A lot.

We’re learning how ecommerce evolves even over short periods of time. This site is a laboratory first, in which we apply what we know and check out the results. We sell the successes and, well, do “other things” to the failures. We welcome your comments below, whether on this topic or any of the other ideas we’re playing within our little lab!

Hands on Ecommerce: 101

Hands on Ecommerce: 101

I write a lot about ecommerce and, indeed, working on ecommerce sites is the bulk of my business. [caption id="attachment_2282" align="alignnone" width="1024"]cgk.ink | STORE Select STORE from the top menu to begin.[/caption] So I thought it was time to demonstrate my skills in real, live, concrete ways. I’ve decided to create the cgk.ink store as a sort of teaching tool so that you can see the mechanizations and processes behind running an effective online retail store yourself. I plan on using this as a workshop of sorts where I put into play a lot of the things I talk about in concrete ways. This is a fully functioning ecommerce site and the products are very real — as will be the charge to your card if you decide to buy. Wherever you see  means that there is a pop up that explains in more detail exactly what that component does, why it’s there and resources to explore. The first installment is all about a rapidly growing type of ecommerce that is akin to drop shipping but with a twist: Direct to Garment (DTG) print fulfillment. Companies like Printify, Printful, Art in America, etc. have been around for a while. Essentially the process works like this:

  1. You select an image or design
  2. You transmit that to the selected company
  3. They take a blank item (T-shirt, plate, mug — the product list grows every day) and using their own machinery imprint the design on the item which someone has selected on your customer-facing web site.
  4. You enjoy the fact that there are no upfront costs, no inventory to keep and the printer ships and fulfills the item directly to your customer.
  5. You collect the profit which is your retail price – the manufacturer’s cost.
Sounds pretty simple. And it is, but there are several concerns to address as well as unique marketing opportunities. Which images work best? How do you optimize an image that is being displayed in a different medium? How do you price your item? Let’s explore our first steps together.]]>