All posts by Michael Ejekam

World’s largest indoor theme park opens in Dubai

(CNN)It’s already home to the world’s tallest buildings, biggest shopping malls and largest man-made islands.

Now, Dubai can claim yet another superlative — the “world’s largest indoor theme park.”
IMG Worlds of Adventure, an amusement park that cost more than $1 billion dollars and took three years to build, opened its doors to the public on Wednesday.
The park is as big as 28 football fields, measuring some 1.5 million square feet in size.
“We wanted this to be an icon for Dubai itself and an icon for the region,” says Lennard Otto, CEO of IMG Worlds of Adventure. “And opening the world’s largest indoor theme park seemed very fitting for this market.”
Later this year, the even bigger Dubai Parks and Resorts development is set to open just outside the city.
That park — built at a cost of more than $3 billion dollars — includes LegoLand, a Bollywood-themed zone, and a water park.
The new theme parks are part of Dubai’s plan to boost tourism to the United Arab Emirates amid plunging oil prices in the Gulf.
As many as 18 million visitors could visit Dubai’s amusement centers by 2021, according to analysts.

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This store is launching a ‘slow shopping’ service for a good reason

A shopper takes a seat during the ‘slow shopping’ service.

Image: sainsburys

LONDON Shopping isn’t necessarily the most relaxing experience. But one UK supermarket will be slowing down the pace for two hours each day to help elderly customers and people with disabilities.

Sainsburys in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, is trialling a new concept called ‘slow shopping’, tailored to accommodate the needs of these two populations.

Slow shopping will be run at the store every Tuesday from 1pm to 3pm. People using the service will be greeted at the store’s entrance, where a Sainsbury’s employee can help them with their shopping.

Chairs will also be placed at the end of aisles to help people who struggle to stand for the duration of their shopping trip. The store’s help desks will also be serving samples of cakes, biscuits and fruit to shoppers.

The idea was spearheaded by local resident Katherine Vero, who found it challenging to go shopping with her mother, who had dementia. After her mother passed away, Vero was inspired to create a slow-shopping service.

My mum used to love shopping, but as her dementia developed it became increasingly difficult and stressful for us both,” said Vero in a statement.

“But I didnt want her to stop going out and become isolated. I wondered if there was a way to help us enjoy shopping.”

According to research carried out by Alzheimers Society, 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia and 80 percent of people with the condition say shopping is their favourite activity.

The experience of deputy store manager Scott McMahon of helping his elderly parent while shopping opened him up to the approach by Vero.

“When my father developed cancer, I saw how hard he found shopping, yet he still wanted to go to maintain his independence, so when Katherine approached me about trialling slow shopping, I was keen to help,” he said in a statement.

Sainsbury’s isn’t the only store to adapt to its customers’ needs. Earlier this year, a supermarket in Manchester launched a ‘quiet hour’ for autistic shoppers.

With the slow-shopping trial in full swing, Vero is hoping the service will be rolled out to stores nationwide.

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Facebook steps in to prove the value of chatbots with Tommy Hilfiger

Here come the fashbots, and this time they might actually be useful.

Facebooks seemingly half-baked chatbot platform soured many on the potential of conversation user interfaces. The first bots built by outside developers back in April were clumsy and more trouble than just using a website. So Facebooks Creative Shop is getting involved, working with bot creator and the Tommy Hilfiger fashion brand to make a flagship chatbot worthy to point to.

The TMY.GRL A.I. Messenger Bot will promote todays debut of Tommys capsule fashion line for supermodel and social media star Gigi Hadid. People can discover it by tapping the message button on Tommys Facebook page or posts, opening a shortlink URL or scanning its Messenger QR code.


Through the bot, fashionistas can type questions or select pre-made queries to learn about Gigi, see behind-the-scenes content from the collections runway show event and, most importantly, shop for items from the nautical-themed clothing line.

Facebook still hasnt built a native checkout and payment flow into its Messenger bot platform. Shoppers will be linked out to Tommy Hilfigers website to put in their credit card details and confirm purchases. While that might give brands a deeper sense of control over the experience, it likely also reduces conversion rates as leaving Messenger gives them a chance to get distracted or reconsider buying something. Its something Facebook will hopefully build soon.


Iasked why the company is diving into the unproven world of bots, Tommy Hilfiger himself told me Were really focused on going directly to the consumer. We are obviously distributed in our own stores and in department stores, but going directlyto the consumer is really part of the motive and the future of the omni-channel process.

Puneet Mehta, CEO of, explains that consumer goods companies are attracted to bots because of the relationship aspect, not just sales. If they can create a memorable, interactive experience with their brand instead of just one-way marketing, customers will keep coming back. Thats why Facebooks marketing experts from its Creative Shop, which typically help out advertisers, got their hands dirty on developing this bot.

Botty Hilfiger

How did a 31-year-old company come up with the idea for a chatbot? Hilfiger tells me it started with a conversation I had with Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. We talked about innovative ways to enhance the shopping experience. Were always a bit ahead of the curve.



Chasing new technologies hasnt always panned out. While Tommy Hilfigers Instagram and Snapchat strategies have been a success, 25 years ago it unsuccessfully tried to build touch-screen vending machines. Hilfiger explains that We had lots of trials and tribulations with that. The credit card system was working, the touch-screen heated up.

But now he feels that by relying on a dependable company like Facebook, theres less to worry about and more to gain as customersembrace new ways to shop.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-2-17-26-pmTommy Hilfiger CMO Avery Baker tells me that one of the things thats always been important in fashion is customer service and the experience in a store. TheTMY.GRL A.I. Messenger Bot will try to answer peoples questions and offer a more immersive, responsive feel than shoppers usually get online.

The bot will try to capture some of the personality of talking to Gigi herself, while remaining transparent that theres not a human on the other end. No one wants to feel like theyre being spoken to by the corporate animal, Baker admits.

Fashion still seems like an unlikely candidate for chatbot success. People cant touch or try on the clothes, and the bot doesnt know enough about the users style to make smart recommendations about which items they might prefer.

But Hilfiger believes this brand-specific bot could perform better than multi-brand retail shopping bots like Spring, which launched with the Messenger bot platform and was quickly proven confusing and unconvincing.


Tommy Hilfiger (center)

I think if youre an established brand and the consumer is familiar with the brand, they have confidence that that certain cotton or cashmere or denim is the quality that would be acceptable, that they would be confident that the fit would be okay, Hilfiger concludes. Theres a lot of different reasons why people shop online. Now they can receive shipments, try on items, and send back what they dont accept. They dont necessarily need to touch and feel.

At the very least, Tommy Hilfiger could use the campaign to lure people into messaging their bot first. Thats critical, since Facebook Messenger only lets brands message people whove already pinged them. Getting conversations started is essentially the new version of getting people to Like your Facebook Page. Better to build an audience early than get left behind.

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Americas Oldest Mall Is Saved By Transforming It Into 48 Cozy Low-Cost Micro-Apartments

Ever wanted to be locked in a shopping mall when you were a kid? Well, now you can LIVE in one if you’re based in Rhode Island. The Arcade providence, America’s first indoor shopping mall that was build in 1828, has been repurposed into a residential structure with 48 low-cost micro-lofts since it fell into decline in the late 20th century. The mall was transformed at a cost of $7 million by Northeast Collaborative Architects

Starting at $550 a month, residents can rent a one-bedroom unit from 225-800 sq. ft. Each apartment contains a kitchen, full bath with shower, built-in beds, seating and storage. There are no stoves in the units as they are designed for the people who lead busy lifestyles but the tenants can eat at freshly designed restaurants on the ground floor and enjoy vibrant evenings in a shared lounge. There’s also a shared laundry facility and a bike storage room as well as parking garage across the street. Would you live in such an apartment?

Built in 1828, America’s oldest shopping mall in Rhode Island was struggling to fill its commercial spaces and was doomed to be closed


But then Northeast Collaborative Architects came along and transformed it into a residential space at a cost of $7 million


The historic building now has 48 low-cost micro-lofts


Starting at $550 a month, residents can rent a one-bedroom unit from 225-800 sq. ft.


The apartments are based on the top two levels


There are no stoves in the units as they are designed for the people who lead busy lifestyles


But the flats contain full bath with shower


And they have cozy bedrooms with built-in beds


As well as tiny living rooms


The tenants can live a vibrant life with 17 retail stores and restaurants kept on the ground floor


This is how the mall looked in the old days


Watch the video here:

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Q&A: Better banking for you – what is the plan?

Image copyright PA

Some very big changes are now in the pipeline for the way people use their bank accounts and the way banks charge their customers.

The aim is to help people save money by encouraging them to change their banks, especially if they are likely to go overdrawn.

The plans come from the Competition and Markets Authority, which has the power to enforce its proposals.

They are the result of its two-year investigation.

What is this all about?

Image copyright PA

The big idea is that something must be done to break the inertia of the UK banking public.


Just 3% of individuals and 4% of businesses switch their banks in any one year.

The CMA has already come to the conclusion that there is not enough competition to pressurise the banks into offering significantly better or cheaper services than their rivals.

In effect the big five banks – RBS, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Santander – plus the Nationwide building society have their own huge, but largely captive, markets.

So the aim is to make it easier for people to switch banks and accounts, and to encourage them to save money by finding a better deal.

“The older and larger banks, which still account for the large majority of the retail banking market, do not have to work hard enough to win and retain customers and it is difficult for new and smaller providers to attract customers,” the CMA says.

What else is the CMA worried about?

The other big issue is one that has dogged the industry and its customers for many years – the ability of banks to charge more or less what they like if you go overdrawn without permission.

In 2009, the Office of Fair Trading (now part of the CMA) failed completely in a legal challenge which would have overthrown the right of banks to set their own charges as they saw fit.

Now the CMA is ordering the banks to set their own monthly cash limits – a monthly maximum charge – on just how much they can charge if you go into an unauthorised overdraft – going into the red without asking your bank in advance.

Image copyright PA

Of course that doesn’t go as far as a regulator being allowed to set a monthly limit on overdraft fees and charges.

But the fact there will be some sort of stated cash limit will make things clearer.

“Many personal customers, in particular overdraft users, could make significant savings by switching to a different current account,” says the CMA.

That particular change should happen by September next year.

What else will I see?

To encourage customers to switch or shop around, the CMA is ordering the banking industry to embrace the idea of Open Banking.

That means the financial technology industry is being invited to develop a computer application which will let bank customers run all their bank accounts, including moving money between them, even if they have several accounts spread around different banks.

Image copyright CMA
Image caption The CMA describes how Open Banking will work

At the moment the increasingly popular bank apps, which are issued by banks to their own customers for use on mobile phones, operate that bank’s accounts only.

This new, all-purpose, banking app should be able, the CMA says, to let customers upload all their banking details so that “authorised intermediaries”, such as price comparison services, will be able to tell them where the best accounts and services are to suit the way they typically save and spend.

The CMA hopes that this will encourage customers to move money around, either to avoid upcoming overdraft charges, or to gain higher interest on more generous accounts.

What else?

Image copyright Reuters

There are quite a few other proposals, for instance:

  • obliging banks to publish more information on service quality
  • insisting that customers are sent occasional reminders to review their banking arrangements
  • and making it even easier for people to move their current accounts from one bank to another by improving the current account switch service, which was introduced three years ago.

How soon will all this happen?

The CMA has spent the past two years investigating the banking industry.

Its final report, published today, is just the latest in a very long line of official inquiries into the banking industry that have been held over the past 20 years or so.

But now the CMA’s plans have been finalised and published, they have various implementation dates ranging from the beginning of 2017 to the autumn of 2018.

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This mall has a real-life Pokmon Go gym

A Pokmon Go gym inside the Colonie Center mall in Albany.

Image: Colonie Center, Facebook

With the Pokmon Go fever still shaking half the world, there’s bound to be plenty of trainers at any crowded place, and businesses can either fight it or embrace it.

The Colonie Center mall in Albany has decided to make the best of the situation. As seen on Reddit, the mall built a real life Pokmon Go arena for players.

With little more than a large Pok Ball on the floor, a few cardboard posters and team flags posted overhead, the “gym” is little more than a marketing gimmick. But it’s a smart one. There’s bound to be plenty of Pokmon Go players there at any time (as proven by this Imgur gallery of the same spot), so offering these customers something extra is likely a good idea.

The mall is also organizing Pokmon Go events and giveaways, boasting “3 on-site Pokestops and plenty of Pokmon loose throughout the center.”

This is one of many examples in which the megapopular augmented reality game influenced actual reality. It saved an ice cream shop in Anacortes, Washington from going out of business, and a churros shop in Westminster, California added a Pikachu-shaped churro to draw in customers.

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