Can shopping on your phone be a luxury experience? It seems unlikely, but that’s not stopping Amazon’s latest attempt to get high-end brands onboard its platform. Today, the company is unveiling what it calls Luxury Stores — a new way for brands to present their wares to discerning customers on Amazon’s mobile app, with high-end ready-to-wear brand Oscar de la Renta as the first official partner.
Luxury Stores will allow brands to create what Amazon is calling a “store within a store” experience. That means giving companies more control over inventory, selection, and pricing, while leveraging Amazon’s enormous reach to find customers. The online retailing giant will also supply brands with the digital equivalent of fancy shop windows, giving them the option to display their clothes in interactive 360-degree views.
“This interactive feature will begin rolling out with select garments at launch, allowing customers to explore styles in 360-degree detail to better visualize fit, and making shopping for luxury easier and more engaging,” said Amazon in a press statement.
The feature is launching with just Oscar de la Renta, but other brands will be joining in the months to come. Actually browsing the new Luxury Stores won’t be an option for just anyone, though. In line with the luxury ethos, Amazon is introducing some artificial scarcity. Only selected Amazon Prime members in the US will be invited to browse the digital racks, with Amazon presumably targeting affluent customers. (You can also request an invitation.)
More broadly speaking, the launch of Luxury Stores is Amazon’s latest attempt to break into high-end fashion. Although the company certainly sells a great deal of clothes (it’s the largest seller of apparel in the US), these items are mostly considered “fast fashion.” The retailing giant has never managed to attract or retain designer and luxury brands, who have criticized the site’s shopping experience and the prevalence of generic brands. Nike, for example, stopped all direct sales through Amazon in 2019, claiming it wanted “more direct, personal relationships” with customers than Amazon could supply.
Luxury Stores look like an attempt to address this complaint, giving brands more control over the look of their little corner of Amazon’s platform. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a red velvet rope, with Luxury Stores separating the hoi polloi from the haute couture.
Will it be a trade-off brands are willing to make? Some, certainly, will be interested in courting Amazon’s 100 million Prime customers, especially at a time when the pandemic has stifled the footfall necessary to sustain many luxury shops. Oscar de la Renta CEO Alex Bolen told Vogue it just made sense to reach customers where they were.
“For me to get more mindshare with existing customers in addition to getting new customers — that’s the name of the game. We want to be able to talk to her wherever she’s comfortable shopping,” said Bolen, adding: “This idea that you don’t want to speak to a customer where she’s spending a lot of her time is a mistake.”
Can flight simulators solve the pilot shortage?
Flight sims are a powerful experience, offering us close looks at natural wonders, the chance to experience dire weather firsthand, and impossible, cursed versions of the world. But can they help solve the pilot shortage?
As travel demands have increased over the past decade, so has the need for commercial pilots — and the release of games like Microsoft Flight Simulator might just help bridge that gap.
Since the first flight simulator was created in 1929, these games have been used mainly to train pilots for commercial flights, only becoming associated with games when Sega released the arcade machine Jet Rocket in 1970. Nowadays, most people know the genre because of Microsoft Flight Simulator. The first entry in the franchise arrived back when the Microsoft suite was mostly productivity software, so if you wanted to sneak in some fun on company hardware, the flight sim was your best bet.
For a lot of modern fans, this franchise was their entry into the world of aviation, and it sparked a lifelong love of flight sims — and, for some, of piloting itself. We spoke to two hardcore simmers, as well as some of the minds behind Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane, about how immersive flight sims can inspire fans to undertake the long, expensive effort of getting their pilot’s license.
Watch the video above to learn more about how the immersive experience of playing flight sims might just solve the pilot shortage. For more on Microsoft Flight Simulator, check out our guide.
NBA 2K21’s latest patch shores up shooting, other community requests
NBA 2K21’s latest patch is mainly a collection of fixes and optimizations, but many relate to the game’s new controls — and player feedback about them — making version 1.03 an important update. It’s available as of now on all platforms.
For starters, the size of the shot meter is increased, “based on feedback from the community,” says the patch notes. This should be helpful to those who have found perfect release timing to be a lot more difficult in NBA 2K21, and perhaps for those who are trying to adapt to the new Shot Stick Aiming option.
Shooting at the three lower difficulty levels was addressed in a hotfix for NBA 2K21 two days after its Sept. 4, 2020 launch, though players in the game’s forums, subreddit, and elsewhere have still griped about it.
Shot Stick Aiming, which director Mike Wang last month called a refinement of a control introduced in NBA 2K17, introduces left/right accuracy to the timing game. We didn’t find it to be helpful in our review, but more experienced players may disagree. Timing and aiming may both be toggled on or off in the controls (with both off meaning shots depend entirely on the shooting player’s ratings).
With that in mind, pull-up jump shots have been nerfed. Evidently this is one area where shooting was easier, but that also draws community feedback. Players also won’t have as quick a step “out of certain dribble moves,” but they will find that more of their removes “yield ankle breakers and defensive reactions.” Wang, answering fans on social media, said ankle-breakers were worked on in version 1.02, and should be completely fixed with this patch.
Shooting out of post moves will also be more responsive. Speaking from experience, I had quickly abandoned what little post game my small forward had, finding a shot on my right thumbstick nigh impossible with low to average ratings.
Finally, Park Dribble Moves (specific to games in that multiplayer venue) have not been taken out of the game — an option Wang considered (on Twitter) two weeks ago. But they’re now activated with a left stick click/toggle “for more consistent dribbling controls.” Previously, they had been activated with a right stick click-and-hold, which led to input mistakes or the inability to get them to activate.
Though Patch No. 2 doesn’t implement all new features or content, it is a hefty enough one to merit NBA 2K21 players’ full attention. All of the changes, fixes, balancing and re-balancing is recapped in Visual Concepts’ latest Courtside Report blog.
Biden and Trump are courting YouTubers ahead of first presidential debate
On Tuesday night, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will face off in the first presidential debate of the 2020 cycle, and cable channels will be lit up with analyses of which candidate beat expectations and which lines landed best with audiences at home.
But 60 years after the first televised presidential debate, the post-event spin isn’t limited to television anymore. The moment the event finishes, a new class of pundits on YouTube and Instagram will be digging through the footage for memorable moments to clip, remix, or outright manipulate. And just as candidates in previous cycles played to cable pundits, the 2020 campaigns are increasingly planning their message with an eye to how it will play on YouTube.
On YouTube at least, the early advantage is to Trump. Over the last four years of Trump’s presidency, the campaign and Republican Party have built a vast network of conservative online influencers, including personalities like Ben Shapiro from The Daily Wire and Dave Rubin, host of The Rubin Report on YouTube. Shapiro and Rubin speak with Trump surrogates often, reaching over 1 million subscribers per channel.
But behind the scenes, Biden’s campaign is pushing to make YouTube a more friendly place for Democrats. The Biden campaign has been working directly with YouTube channels and Facebook pages like Occupy Democrats and creators like Brian Tyler Cohen to create content that reaches millions of people, the campaign said, as part of a broader effort to counterbalance influencers like Shapiro and Rubin. A conscious counterpoint to the Trump campaign’s “Death Star,” the effort has been nicknamed “the Rebel Alliance.”
The effort isn’t limited to YouTube. In June, the Biden campaign hired the influencer marketing firm Village Marketing for creator outreach, focusing primarily on Instagram. Internet stars like Keke Palmer, Jerry Harris, and Khadeen have all held Instagram live streams with the former vice president. Biden’s team struck a deal with the celebrity video platform Cameo for fundraising and even released virtual yard signs for the popular Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But the campaign has also started building relationships with political YouTubers, like connecting surrogates for interviews with popular creators.
“The Biden campaign has been really proactive in terms of getting surrogates to speak on my channel,” Brian Tyler Cohen, a podcaster and creator with over 700,000 subscribers on YouTube, told The Sports Grind Entertainment in an interview last week. “I’ve been able to speak to Governor Whitmer, Andrew Yang, and Vice President Biden’s chief of staff.”
Still, the Biden campaign has focused more on getting the former vice president and his staff in front of non-political voices online. Biden has made inroads outside traditional political channels on YouTube, chatting with family YouTube vloggers in April, offering advice for families during the pandemic, and even striking up conversations with beauty vloggers like Dulce Candy.
If campaigns are paying particular attention to YouTube, it’s because the polling tells them they need to. As of 2020, more than a quarter of all US adults say that watching YouTube is an important way in which they get their news, a recent Pew Research Center report says. Users from 18 to 29 — what campaign strategists call the youth vote — received a majority of their YouTube news from independent channels.
“When YouTube news consumers were asked to describe in their own words why YouTube is a unique place to get news, the most common responses relate to the content itself – including access to news sources outside the mainstream and the plethora of different opinions and views that are available on the platform,” Pew said in its report.
Over the last few years, Trump and the GOP have scorned mainstream media outlets from CNN to The New York Times for being “fake news” or acting unfairly toward Republicans. “The people on the right started migrating to other places where they would be treated more fairly,” Rubin told The Sports Grind Entertainment in an interview last Thursday. Regardless of the truth in this narrative, these ideas helped the political right build a substantial presence on YouTube and other platforms long before Democrats understood their necessity.
“It was Dan Crenshaw who reached out to me. It was the Ted Cruz people who reached out to me. It was Rand Paul people who reached out to me,” Rubin told The Sports Grind Entertainment. “They clearly see the seas changing in terms of where people are getting their news, and that they need an opportunity to have their ideas heard.”
In that same Pew report, the research center also said that independent channels cover conspiracy theories far more frequently than established news organizations. This heightens the risk of misinformation when campaigns choose to interview through independent channels. In order to combat this, YouTube has rolled out several new changes ahead of the election, like including official candidate information in search and linking out to reliable sources on voting information.
For Democrats, the heated primary season drove home the importance of YouTube specifically. Throughout the Democratic primary season, candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang frequented popular YouTube-first shows and podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience and the H3 Podcast, but Biden’s campaign is just beginning to build these relationships with creators and influencers. Often, these shows span longer than any television interview and give candidates and their surrogates more time to discuss issues than at any debate.
The Sanders campaign saw this opportunity early on during the Democratic primary, often finding significant success and support from ostensibly non-political outlets like The Joe Rogan Experience. “Too often politicians try to reach people through political channels,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said in a press call last year after the candidate’s appearance on Rogan’s podcast. “It is always good practice to try to reach folks outside of the normal political conversation, particularly in formats that allow a more free flow and longform answers.”
Not only do these YouTube shows carve out room for longer, more in-depth discussions, but the simple ability to link out to calls for action takes these conversations a step further than traditional media. A link in a channel’s YouTube bio could lead hundreds of viewers to take steps to phone-bank or register to vote, something unmatched on cable television. It’s a huge change from television, which tends to be directed toward casual viewers and casual voters. On YouTube, candidates can reach an audience of potential activists.
For channels like the left-leaning Crooked Media, it’s a huge opportunity. “In 2020, [we’ve] taken on the role of focusing the scope from just information down into action,” Tanya Somanader, Crooked Media’s chief content officer, told The Sports Grind Entertainment, “and telling everybody who listens to our shows, here’s exactly what’s going on and here’s exactly how you can get involved to change the outcome on November 3rd.”
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