Shoparazzi & The Kmart Shopping Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “Kmart … recently overhauled one of its stores in a Chicago suburb. The Des Plaines, Ill., outlet introduced a modest grocery section with meat and fresh produce … Lowered aisle heights allow customers to see new department signs from across the store, and the layout was made to look more spacious by widening the aisles. On a recent Saturday, a filled the store to take advantage of giveaways and to admire a face-lift that includes new paint, brighter lights, less clutter and the wider aisles.”

Dan Macaluso, a shopper, comments: “It’s amazing what cleaning the floors and turning the lights on can do … It suddenly looks like they want to be in business.” Kmart CMO Kelly Cook explains: “We’re starting here … In the next couple of weeks we’re really going to drill down to understand every single aspect.”

The branch is testing a free personal shopping program called Shoparazzi. Through it, customers can place an online order for pickup—even asking for items Kmart doesn’t stock but which a personal shopper could acquire … Tricia Perrotti, a Kmart spokeswoman, said the Des Plaines renovation is part of a plan to better align marketing and the store experience.”

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The Philosophers of Innovation

The Ascent: “When a business is beginning, often times its struggles are existential in nature. Consultants can come in and teach you the finer points of agile, scrum, kanban — you name it. Accountants can come in and teach you how to make sure you don’t lose track of your money. But precious few can come in and tell you what your business is really going to be at a deep level. But that’s the kind of stuff philosophers are trained to do. They look for essences. They probe, pull apart, and split hairs. They are trained to be skeptical until something like certainty and precision are reached.”

“Philosophical training allows for a certain kind of speculation … Speculation is characterized by its freedom. But in every discipline, speculation, and the characteristic freedom is usually limited by whatever the foundational principles are of that discipline. Philosophy, on the other hand, really has no foundational principles. In fact, its modus operandi involves questioning the foundational principles of all of the other disciplines.”

“Does this ring a bell to those in the business environment? It should, it’s practically a description of the ideal brainstorming practice. Brainstorming is embraced by so many businesses because it leads to innovation … Innovation is more highly valued now in the business world (or at least more talked about) than ever before, so if philosophy breeds the kind of thinking that leads to innovation, it seems that those who do philosophy well have a leg up on innovation.”

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Apple Jack: Force-Fed Innovation

Quartz: “In an era where corporations bend over backward to appear customer-friendly, Apple’s determination to force-feed innovation to buyers is unusual. It’s a stance with roots in the company’s history as an underdog in the cutthroat world of consumer technology … Apple’s most groundbreaking developments came when it trailed larger companies, and needed devices that were radically different to attract notice and help it steal market share from incumbents.”

“Of course Apple is no longer the scrappy young upstart it once was. As the tech behemoth continues to grow and exert its influence, Apple is now the incumbent, fending off challengers. It has fewer opportunities to launch major new or disruptive products, so its best bet to stay ahead of its competitors is innovating within its existing devices. In the case of the new phone, removing the headphone jack makes the device slimmer and more water-resistant. Like it or not, customers will probably buy it. And in time, conventional headphones may seem as quaint as floppy disks and flip phones.”

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Why Did Lego Hinder Product Sales?

The Washington Post: “Business has been so brisk at the world’s most profitable toymaker that Lego last year did something unusual: It began looking for ways to discourage customers from buying its products. The Danish company scaled back its advertising efforts amid a 25 percent rise in annual sales … It simply couldn’t make enough toys to satiate demand in North America, and needed a break while it boosted capacity at its factories and increased its workforce by nearly 25 percent.”

“But executives at Lego are hoping to ramp up production in time for this year’s holiday season … The company is buildings its first factory in China, and is expanding existing plants in Mexico, Hungary and Denmark. Lego also hired 3,500 employees in the first half of the year, increasingly its workforce to 18,500.”

Lego CFO John Goodwin comments: “In the past decade we have seen LEGO sales growth in the double digits year after year. We are of course very excited about this development. [But] the high demand also puts a strain on our factories around the world.”

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Zalando: Fashion, Emotion & Ecommerce

The Economist: “One of Europe’s most interesting technology companies sells shoes and threads … Zalando has a Silicon Valley-inspired work environment, holding “f**k-up nights’ to celebrate failure and ‘hack weeks’ to cook up new ideas. It encourages its employees to abandon hierarchy and structure for what it calls ‘radical agility.’ It has a 1,350-strong, and rapidly growing, technology team. Among its other assets are its software, which it built itself, and its user-friendly apps (two-thirds of all traffic goes through mobile phones).”

“Zalando pays close attention to data. It gleans a wealth of numbers from the more-than-5m daily visits to its site, and some brands and retailers of the bricks-and-mortar sort give it access to their stock counts. Both sets of figures help improve the firm’s forecasting of fickle fashion trends, its use of targeted ads and the speed of its responses to shifts in weather patterns or fashion tastes. Through data-mining it can spot the trendsetters among its customers and stock up on what they buy. In future it wants to sell its insights to the rest of the industry.”

“Amazon is pursuing the more price-conscious shopper, whereas Zalando is after a higher-value, more brand-conscious segment. The company believes that for such customers, shopping for clothes, shoes and accessories is an emotional activity; shopping on Amazon is just a transaction.”

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Abercrombie & The Demographics of Fashion

Business Insider: “Abercrombie has been trying to save itself for a while now, reinventing its image and as a result becoming totally unrecognizable to the generation of kids who grew up shopping there in the late ’90s and early aughts. The goal was to appeal to older shoppers — 18 to 25 year olds, not teens … In theory, this was a smart idea … this would open the gates to a demographic with more spending money. The move would also help Abercrombie set itself apart from its more teen-friendly sister brand, Hollister … But the brand’s attempt to execute a turnaround is proving to be very difficult.”

Eric Beder of Wunderlich Securities comments: “While the shift to an older customer is a strategy for Abercrombie, we see limited reasons for older customers to shift back to a ‘teen’ brand and, frankly, there are better brands and lifestyles for the 20+ customer to focus on.”

Betty Chen, managing director of Mizuho Securities adds: “In the history of retail, it is very difficult when a brand tries to reposition itself anywhere along the age demographic. You can almost predict failure when you’re going older or younger.”

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Choreography, Culture & The Apple Watch

Sydney Skybetter in Forbes: “We’re super attuned to how folks perform in organizations, and I mean “perform” on all registers. How folks speak, who interrupts whom, that nobody seems to like sitting next to Ted – these are all important data points for us … if you’re working on organizational culture, or trying to figure out why certain kinds of conversations feel intractable, or why every meeting that Ted is invited to somehow goes to hell, well, you might need an empathic touch … If you want your team to ideate and move seamlessly together, hire a choreographer.”

“When the Apple Watch was first revealed, I remember thinking … that some nerd in a sub-basement at Apple got paid to choreograph the thing. There was an interface team responsible for coding … the watch’s understanding of human anatomy and gestural metaphor. The watch needed to understand that certain movements indicated particular intentionality, and surveil the wearer to know when, for example, the wrist was lifted more than 12 inches on the Y axis and rotated about 90 degrees, which means it’s probably being looked at.”

“To a growing number of human / computer interface designers, these cues are a choreographic rule game with exponential complexity. How the watch now – and in the future – interacts with a lattice of technologies like your car, your thermostat, your house, your phone, your security system, your refrigerator, etc., are dependencies that need to be composed and standardized. It’s a fundamentally choreographic concern, and, per the ambivalent emergence of the Internet of Things, a real potential clusterfrack.”

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The 5-Hour Rule: ‘Learning’ as Lifestyle Choice

Business Insider: “Benjamin Franklin’s five-hour rule reflects the very simple idea that, over time, the smartest and most successful people are the ones who are constant and deliberate learners … Warren Buffett spends five to six hours per day reading five newspapers and500 pages of corporate reports. Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks.”

“For many people, their professional day is measured by how much they get done. As a result, they speed through the day and slow down their improvement rate. The five-hour rule flips the equation by focusing on learning first. To see the implication of this, let’s look at a sales call (note: replace “sales call” with any activity you do repeatedly). Most professionals do a little research before the call, have the call, and then save their notes and move on.”

“Somebody with a learning focus would think through which skill to practice on the call, practice it on the call, and then reflect on the lessons learned … Focusing on learning un-automates our behaviors so we can keep improving them rather than plateauing. Every event is an opportunity to improve. By focusing on learning as a lifestyle, we get so much more done over the long term.”

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