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The offline retail premium
In recent weeks, U.S. retailers showed healthy growth, with in-store retail sales being especially strong. The traditional retail stores – considered doomed a few years ago because of the “Amazon effect” – seem to gain relevance because of the data they can mine vis-à-vis online retailers. Using machine learning and audio and video technology, retailers can capture valuable data from customers physically entering their stores. For example, smart floors can capture the pace of “customer journeys” through the store and smart shelves show how customers “browse” through different product arrangements. Smart mirrors can further analyze what grabs customers’ attention. These emotional and subconscious data can be used by retail stores to improve “smart pricing” methods or help store employees to improve services to support customers in their decision process. Deloitte estimates that retailers who use smart pricing technologies, such as “smart dressing rooms” that provide real-time offerings, may increase their revenues by 3.2% per year on average. Leveraging these “offline” data sources provides brick-and-mortar retailers a middle ground between going bankrupt and going online, by upgrading and smartening their physical stores.
Europe risks getting behind in the biotechnology race
While there is a lot of focus on the technology race between the U.S. and China regarding AI, 5G technology and quantum computing, a less well-known, but equally important race is that for biotechnology leadership. While the U.S. and China have labelled biotech a priority for national security, investing heavily in research and development, Europe seems to take another path. In July, the E.U.’s high court ruled for regulating gene-edited plants the same as genetically modified organisms. Soon, U.S. supermarkets will sell gene-edited crops, while China is already experimenting with gene-editing on human patients. Consequently, the E.U.’s restriction on commercial development of CRISPR*-edited organisms triggered a strong reaction from the industry, saying this meant a severe blow to biotech innovation. To keep up in global biotechnology development, Europe will have to develop a strategy. As with the race in AI, where the risk of being overruled by U.S. and Chinese tech-companies led Brussels to call for a €20 billion fund for AI research, Europe might be looking for similar ways to drive innovation, besides regulating biotechnology.
*CRISPR: a tool for editing genomes by altering DNA sequences and modifying gene function.
A new urban waste paradigm
As the global economy keeps increasing production to meet the growing demand for products of the global population, the amount of waste is growing rapidly. Especially in developed countries, waste processing is becoming a huge cost item on municipal budgets. Ongoing urbanization and the emergence of new middle classes will further increase this pressure, as waste generated per capita is positively correlated with both GDP per capita and urban lifestyles. As a result, international waste trade has grown exponentially over the past two decades and the global waste management economy will generate over $500 billion by 2020. In addition to cities exporting their waste, (inter)national regulation to reduce waste is becoming a priority in coping with trash. Countries are imposing more stringent waste regulation, for example the “war on plastic”, and cities are stimulating consumers to abide by waste recycling guidelines by boosting their ecological awareness, or implementing “circular economic models”. Furthermore, innovations in advanced material science can enable less wasteful production methods, helping to shift from treatment to prevention in this new “waste paradigm”.