If 2010 was the year that 3-D captured our attention –— and dollars — at the box office (as did, to a lesser extent, the reality of 3-D television), then look for 2011 to add another dimension as "4-D" moves more mainstream. The phrase, as it's being bandied about in the film and entertainment worlds, refers to adding an "atmospheric" element to the more familiar 3-D format — jets of air or sprinkles of water to simulate wind and rain, for example, or shaking seats or spritzes of fragrance. ( Walt Disney theme parks have been doing this kind of thing for years.)
And Polo Ralph Lauren isn't alone in fashion's fourth dimension. A few weeks earlier, Tiffany & Co. used similar technology to transform the exterior of its new Beijing flagship into a dazzling jewelry display set to soaring music that ended with the cube-like building being transformed into a giant Tiffany blue jewelry box, tied up with ribbon.
Throughout most of the last decade, the Internet has been wielded as a tool (or weapon) primarily of the individual — giving a soapbox, megaphone, printing press and broadcast tower to each voice, skill and viewpoint. But in 2010 there were signs that its use as a tool to harness crowd power — meaningful group collaboration toward a specific goal — was on the rise. Exhibit A: Groupon, a daily deal website that offers a big discount on restaurants, events and merchandise — but only if a certain number of people buy in by the deadline. The company, which launched in November 2008, has been so successful that it caught the attention of Google, which tried to acquire it for a reported $6 billion just a few weeks ago. Google itself opened a new chapter in crowd-sourcing with e-commerce site Boutiques.com, which not only allows customers to shop someone else's style preferences (from celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker or from a friend or classmate) but also trolls photos posted on street style sites to serve up accessorizing tips.
It's not just business, but crowd-powered art too, such as the Johnny Cash Project — which has strung together portraits of the country music star drawn by thousands of fans around the world as individual frames of a music video that accompanies the song "Ain't No Grave." Look for 2011 to usher in the era of the happy worker bee — with more collaborative projects and products coming to fruition than ever before. (If they end up giving any sort of award for best crowd-sourced product, we'd like to go on record as suggesting it be dubbed the "Crowdy" Award.)
The notion of customer service may seem quaint in an era in which everything and anything can be bought without interacting with another human being. But it has become one of the last remaining ways any brand — but a luxury brand in particular — can make itself stand out in a cluttered market place. Look at online footwear retailer Zappos, which used a nearly obsessive level of customer service to distinguish itself from competitors. (Apparently the folks answering the phones at Zappos will even help you find a local pizza joint, according to one oft-repeated tale.) Swiss watchmaker Omega is planning to open a spate of standalone boutiques in the U.S. in 2011. It's a move the brand's president, Stephen Urquhart, says is motivated largely by the ability to control every aspect of customer service — for both prospective and returning customers.
In the new year, don't be surprised to hear the sales associate address you by name (it's right there on your credit card, after all), or welcome you back to the store, since good, old-fashioned customer service will be ever more important.