Zappos: A Short Story About a Long Call

Business Insider: “A Zappos employee recently had a customer service call that lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes, breaking an internal record at the Amazon-owned online retailer … Steven Weinstein answered a call from a customer who needed some help with an order of a few items. The two began to chat, and even after she was helped, she stayed on the line.”

“Weinstein said he only took one break during the nearly 11-hour period, about two-and-a-half hours on, to go to the bathroom. One of his colleagues brought him food and water during the call.”

“At Zappos, call center employees are trained to use interactions with customers as a way to build relationships, not make a sale. And if a call is going long during a particularly busy time, then it’s up to the employee overseeing the call center to assign more people to calls rather than encourage an employee to end a call early. The last longest customer service call was set by Mary Tennant in 2012, at nine hours and 37 minutes.”


Spotify Pinpoints With Some Privacy

Christian Science Monitor: “Spotify announced this week that it is opening up user data collected from its 70 million free subscribers for programmatic, automated advertising.” However: “Spotify has not said that it will share the unique identities of users with advertisers. Instead, the shared data is limited to information like listeners’ age, gender, location, music preferences, and some behavioral habits.”

“This information will enable advertisers to pinpoint specific demographics for their ads on Spotify. Buyers will bid on ad spaces in real time– a trail-blazing step in the digital advertising world, and an example of the many ways digital companies wield the massive amounts of data that they have at their fingertips.”

“Essentially, advertisers can pinpoint users’ characteristics within Spotify, but will not follow them off the platform … So while the streaming site’s new arrangement doesn’t mean that listeners will be hearing an audio ad for a pair of sneakers that they just browsed online, Spotify users will certainly be able learn more about how they are viewed as a market demographic – assuming they don’t mute their ads.”


Speaking Geek: The Rise of Nerds & Brands

The Economist: “Today there are more reasons than ever to treat nerds with respect: never mind the fact that every company is clamouring to hire them, geeks are starting to shape markets for new products and services … From personal computers to social-media companies like Twitter and Facebook, many gadgets and platforms started out with curious tech enthusiasts experimenting in their garage or dorm room, only to turn into mainstream hits.”

“But nerds’ influence now goes well beyond technology. They hold greater cultural sway. ‘Silicon Valley’, a show on HBO which will soon start filming its fourth season, presents the “brogrammer” startup culture in all its grit and glory, and suggests that mass audiences are transfixed by what really happens behind closed (garage) doors … Each month at least 70m people play “League of Legends”, a complex multiplayer online game; that is more than play baseball, softball or tennis worldwide.”

“Incumbent businesses, too, have started to take their cue from all this nerdiness. Brands like Mountain Dew and Doritos have sponsored video-game competitions and ‘rodeos’ where competitors race drones around stadiums … But if they try too hard to speak geek, large companies will come off as inauthentic and alienating, exactly what they were trying not to be. Nerds may be a powerful commercial force, but many of them harbour disdain for big brands and overt marketing. Firms will have to try hard to send a cool, coded message.”


Meet the Spuglies: Walmart Attacks Food Waste

Quartz: “Shoppers tooling down Walmart grocery aisles now encounter brands that package and sell ugly produce. The ‘Spuglies’ brand markets misshapen potatoes and the ‘I’m Perfect’ brand offers apples that have gone askew. These companies pushing misfit fruits and veggies into the mainstream give consumers a way to fight food waste with their wallets.”

“Since it began tackling food waste within its own system in 2013, the retailer says it has diverted 82% of food that would have otherwise gone to landfills. That amounts to about 2 billion meals. According to ReFED, a food waste advocacy group, a 20% reduction in waste would reclaim the 1,250 calories per capita that goes into landfills each year. That’s enough to feed America’s food-insecure population three times over.”


Naughty But Nice: Food & Morality

The Guardian: “Anything that tastes good has got to be bad for your body, soul or both. The marketing department of Magnum knew this when it called its 2002 limited edition range the Seven Deadly Sins. Nothing makes a product more enticing than its being naughty, or even better, wicked.”

“In recent years, however, the moralistic lexicon of food seems to have expanded. One recent fad has been for ‘dirty’ American food, a term that revels in the idea that fatty burgers and messy pulled pork buns are so right because they’re so wrong … Perhaps the clearest proof that the way we talk about food is saturated with moralism is the ubiquity of the term ‘guilt.’ Marketing departments have seen the power of this and promoted ‘guilt-free’ snacks and treats.”


Mueller Chocolate: Gross Profits

The Washington Post: “It’s a Saturday afternoon at Philadelphia’s popular Reading Terminal Market … On a busy day like this, Mueller Chocolate might serve 800 customers … As crowds of shoppers move past the Mueller stall, some stop to point, stare and whisper: ‘Oh, my goodness, what is that?’ Well ‘that’ is a display of kidneys (with candy kidney stones), brains, livers, eyes, hands, feet (with almonds as toenails) and noses — all edible, all chocolate.”

“It started, Glenn Jr. recalls, one Valentine’s Day in the late 1990s, when his mother decided that ‘these heart-shaped boxes are stupid.’ She had a mold created based on a drawing of a human heart in her son-in-law’s medical school textbook … When the chocolate heart made national news, orders came in from around he world, he said, and demand hasn’t slowed down.”

“The sweet stuff takes hundreds of forms at the Mueller stall, none more infamous than the chocolate-covered raw onion. It was created in 1983, when the creator of a local children’s television show, ‘Double Muppet Hold the Onions,’ asked the Muellers to make a chocolate-covered onion for Kermit to present to Miss Piggy.” Glenn Meuller Jr. explains: “The chocolate onion . . . is hideous, but we’ve been doing it for 30 years. It changed our trajectory.”


Cover Story: Fashion That’s Fast But Not Loose

The Wall Street Journal: “In India, consumers want their fashion fast, but not so racy. So, for Cover Story—India’s first domestic fast-fashion chain—that often means censoring international looks … Many Indian women aren’t comfortable showing their midriffs, for example, so Cover Story began layering crop tops … Dresses with deep necks were deemed too daring, so the company’s designers added netting along the neckline.”

“Color is another point of difference: Indian consumers tend to favor brighter colors than Western apparel shoppers. When the Cover Story designers saw black, white and gray striped clothes on the runways they swapped out the shades for blue and red.”

“Cover Story plans to bring fresh styles to its shelves every week. It expects to open 100 outlets in the next five years, particularly in smaller towns where consumers are more likely to find the unedited international styles too provocative. Competing global chains say they don’t plan to open even half that number of stores.”


Haute Stuff: The Economics of Ethnicity

The Atlantic: “The more capital or military power a nation wields and the richer its emigrants are, the more likely its cuisine will command high menu prices … Consider the divergent trajectories of Japanese and Chinese cuisines in America. In the past few decades, Japanese cooking has become something to emulate in haute cuisine, with elite Western chefs frequently visiting Japan to observe how chefs there are preparing and plating their work … Meanwhile, the status of Chinese food remains held back by many Americans’ perceptions of the country and its economy.”


“The cuisines of France and Italy … have had very different histories in the U.S. precisely because those two countries have sent different volumes of people, of varying levels of wealth, to American shores. The fact that large numbers of poor French immigrants never settled in large portions of the U.S., along with the country’s reputation for sophistication (and fussiness), helped propel French food to becoming the standard against which other cuisines were measured.”



Michaels: The Art & Craft of The Retail Experience

“We’re not Apple. We don’t make the new iPhone that people will line up in advance for. We need products that people want in an environment they want to shop in,” says Chuck Rubin, CEO of Michaels, in Forbes.

“Michaels is one of the most surprising retail successes of recent years. It has stuck to transforming its brick-and-mortar stores while almost completely ignoring e-commerce … While the company’s core hasn’t changed–it sells cheap craft supplies–Rubin has modified its stores to make it easier for novice crafters to find items. They’re bringing in more of those types of customers by moving beyond sewing-room basics, adding cooler items, like those coloring books, and Michaels-exclusive products, such as Isaac Mizrahi-branded yarn.”

“The most striking part of Michaels’ success is how it contradicts the digital era’s implied mandate for retailers–that survival hinges on selling online. But Michaels hasn’t wasted millions competing with on e-commerce. It’s grown while focusing squarely on improving what’s within its stores’ four walls … The Web remains a no-man’s-land for Michaels … Rubin knows all that stands between Michaels and Bezos is the in-store experience.”


Chipotle: Too Cold to be Cool?

Business Insider: “Chipotle is hardly the first big company to screw up, but the reason it’s now struggling to woo customers might have to do with … placing too much focus on food and not enough on connections with customers. That’s according to Chris Malone … coauthor, with the psychologist Susan Fiske, of The Human Brand.”

“Malone said he doesn’t have concrete data, but before the outbreaks, he’d personally observed minimal interaction between customers and servers, almost no managerial supervision, and employees unfazed by long wait times. Then the outbreaks — and the fact that the company couldn’t pinpoint their source — called into question Chipotle’s core competency. Suddenly the company had nothing going for it.”

“If Chipotle wants to bolster its image among consumers, it needs to ‘put more of a human face on the company,’ Malone said. But he’s skeptical that it would be able to do that.”