The Color of Money: Bias & The Brand Experience

Alexandra C. Feldberg and Tami Kim: “Over the past two years, we have investigated discrimination in customer service by conducting large-scale field experiments in the hospitality industry. We have repeatedly found that front-line workers exhibit racial bias in the quality of customer service they provide. In one experiment, we emailed approximately 6,000 hotels across the United States from 12 fictitious email accounts. We varied the names of the senders to signal different attributes, such as race and gender, to the recipients.”

“Overall, hotel employees were significantly more likely to respond to inquiries from people who had typically white names than from those who had typically black and Asian names … Hotel employees provided 20 percent more restaurant recommendations to white than to black or Asian people. Employees’ politeness also varied by race. When responding to white people, employees were more likely to address them by name and to end their emails with a complimentary close (e.g., “Best,” “Sincerely”) than they were when responding to black or Asian people.”

“Instead of relying primarily on trainings to remedy bias, if they truly want to transform the way they serve customers, companies need to make structural changes. For instance, they should standardize scripts and provide employees with specific protocols for managing these situations. Such efforts can institutionalize norms of behavior for employees when they interact with customers … To detect bias in these behaviors requires quantifying different aspects of customer service and comparing treatment quality across a range of customers … It is only after identifying these disparities that companies can develop targeted interventions to combat biases.”

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Micromerch: Statements for Daily Life

The New York Times: Here comes micromerch:”personal merchandise for niche public figures and celebrities (or even not-yet celebrities) made possible by innovations in manufacturing and distribution, and with mechanisms greased by the ease of the internet. Consider it the modern-day equivalent of the private-press LP or the small-batch zine, amplified for social media and very late capitalism … small-batch merch — a couple dozen to a couple thousand items — can be made available for almost anyone, from emergent social media or reality TV demicelebrities to casual dadaists who toy with the dissemination of ideas in the modern marketplace. In an era when personal branding is presumed, no following is too small to monetize.”

“Want to show support for Sean Bryan, a.k.a. the Papal Ninja, an American Ninja Warrior contestant and lay minister? There’s a shirt (and laptop case) for that. Enthralled by the 1980s sunglasses worn by the rubber-legged teen social media star Roy Purdy in his absurdist dance videos? For a while, he sold them, too. Obsessed with Gordie, the French bulldog owned by Alex Tumay, who engineers Young Thug’s records? Buy a shirt.”

“Peloton, the home indoor cycling business, has a stable of a dozen instructors, and sells merch inspired by each. Jill Foley, Peloton’s director of boutique apparel, said the company has sold hundreds of T-shirts and tank tops with instructor catchphrases like ‘It’s Not That Deep’ (Cody Rigsby) and ‘Sweat Sing Repeat’ (Jenn Sherman).” She comments: “We’re getting messages to people in this micro way. We’re in people’s homes in their daily life.”

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Ocean Medallion: Smooth Cruising on a ‘Smart’ Ship

Quartz: John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer of Carnival Cruises, “previously worked for Disney, where he was instrumental in the creation of the MagicBand, a wristband meant to help reduce the aggravations of the typical Disney vacation … At Carnival, Padgett and his team quickly set out to create Carnival’s own version of the Disney MagicBand, called the Ocean Medallion. It uses AI to take the MagicBand technology to another level. Instead of just alleviating the ‘friction’ of typical travel experiences (lines, room keys, paying for things) it will use data to anticipate what you want to do, eat, and see.”

“The Medallion, offered first on Carnival’s Princess cruise line, is about the size of a quarter … It facilitates boarding and cuts down on wait times. It can be used to pay for things on the cruise, it unlocks the door to your room as you approach, and can be used on the ship-wide gambling platform. Carrying the Medallion means the staff knows your name and where you are. If you order a drink, they can come find you to deliver it. If you go to another bar on board, the staff already knows what you like. The Medallion also updates your information, keeping track of your likes and dislikes, what activities you enjoy, and what you consume. It anticipates other activities you’ll enjoy and the side trips you’ll want to take.”

“In many ways the Medallion is a beta launch of the first fully wired smart city. What it takes to make it work could one day be used on land. Padgett says the technology is innovative because the preferences you reveal are updated in real time. You order a Martini and every crew member on the ship instantly knows more information about you, and is that much closer to determining whether you might enjoy trying scuba diving—or just kicking back in your stateroom with an old episode of The Love Boat.”

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Branding The Brandless Brand

Business Insider: Brandless, “which sells food and consumable essentials all for $3 and pitched itself as the “Procter & Gamble for millennials,” first launched in July … The brand is now moving into the physical world with a pop-launching in May, called ‘Popup with a Purpose.’ It will be a ‘three-dimensional experience of the values of what Brandless is really about,’ according to CEO and co-founder Tina Sharkey. The Brandless brand will be on display, but no products will be for sale. Instead, the 3,500 square foot location on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles will be offering samples, and opportunities to “live, learn, and love with intention,” according to a press release.”

“The pop-up will be interactive and there will be panels, workshops, and talks by experts in the fields associated with the areas of food and wellness that Brandless has staked out. Along with the pop-up, Brandless is also launching a lifestyle blog that will be focused on educating consumers of the claimed benefits of, for example, ‘tree-free toilet paper’.”

“Sharkey sees Brandless as filling gaps where the ease of shipping and low point of entry can allow people to try new things — like gluten-free baking mix — that would otherwise be either too expensive or just hard to find locally in some areas … The B.more membership program, which previously only lowered the free shipping order threshold to $48 dollars, now makes all orders ship free. The company has since started focusing on offering B.more to repeat Brandless customers.”

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Short Edition: The Literary Vending Macine

The New York Times: “Short Edition, a French community publisher of short-form literature, has installed more than 30 story dispensers in the United States in the past year to deliver fiction at the push of a button at restaurants and universities, government offices and transportation hubs. Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and winemaker, liked the idea so much that he invested in the company and placed a dispenser at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Last month public libraries in four cities — Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; and Columbia, S.C. — announced they would be installing them too. There is one on the campus at Penn State. A few can be found in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla. And Short Edition plans to announce more, including at Los Angeles International Airport.”

“Here’s how a dispenser works: It is shaped like a cylinder with three buttons on top indicating a “one minute,” “three minute” or “five minute” story. (That’s how long it takes to read.) When a button is pushed, a short story is printed, unfurled on a long strip of paper. The stories are free. They are retrieved from a computer catalog of more than 100,000 original submissions by writers whose work has been evaluated by Short Edition’s judges, and transmitted over a mobile network. Offerings can be tailored to specific interests: children’s fiction, romance, even holiday-themed tales.”

“Short Edition, which is based in Grenoble and was founded by publishing executives, set up its first kiosk in 2016 and has 150 machines worldwide … The dispensers cost $9,200 plus an additional $190 per month for content and software. The only thing that needs to be replaced is paper. The printed stories have a double life, shared an average of 2.1 times.” Kristan Leroy of Short Edition comments: “The idea is to make people happy. There is too much doom and gloom today.”

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Wearhouse Hero: Boosting App-arel Sales

The Wall Street Journal: “Like many traditional chains, Men’s Wearhouse has had better luck converting store visits into sales than it has with shoppers browsing its website. Executives say they are turning to new technology created by a startup called Hero in hopes of improving results while still using the company’s existing workforce. Over the holiday shopping season, the company tested out the app in about 100 stores. It found that online shoppers were more likely to buy an item after chatting with a store worker, prompting an expedited rollout to the company’s remaining stores.”

“By September, more than 3,000 workers across both Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A Bank will be able to chat with online shoppers. The employees can wave their phones over product tags to generate web links to purchase the items and set up appointments through the app … The app connects an online customer with an available salesperson in the nearest store. To ensure that employees don’t become too pushy, it lets shoppers rate them, much in the same way an Uber passenger rates a driver. The video chat is one-way: Shoppers see into the store, but workers can’t see the customers.”

“Alistair Crane, the CEO of Hero, said his technology is built on the fact that store workers were already texting customers and using social media sites, like Instagram, to showcase products.”

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Grocery: The New Toy Store?

The Washington Post: “A Barbie by the broccoli? Hot Wheels by the hot sauce? Some toy experts say that stocking toys at supermarkets is a recipe to boost the industry as Toys R Us begins to close all 800 of its U.S. stores. Toymakers could see a bump in sales by targeting grocery stores — and their customers prone to impulse purchases with fidgety kids in tow. That’s the argument of industry experts who say that as the iconic toy behemoth fades away, the country’s more than 38,000 supermarkets may present a bright path forward.”

“David J. Livingston, a supermarket research analyst, said he doubted grocery stores would ‘go overboard’ with toy displays. Moreover, he thinks parents would quickly grow irritated by toys and the distractions they bring. Some parents don’t bring young kids grocery shopping to avoid the begging and the hassle, Livingston said. And for the parents who do bring their kids along, they’re more likely to be swayed by a free cookie from the bakery or a free piece of fruit at check-out, Livingston said.”

“Still, millennials think of supermarkets as a one-stop shop where they can buy cosmetics and other products while fitting in a grocery run, said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the trade group The Toy Association. In the wake of Toys R Us downfall, toy makers will be on the hunt for new places to find customers.”

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Oh No: Not Necco Wafers!

The Wall Street Journal: “Necco wafers have been around since before the Civil War—and plenty of detractors would argue they taste like it, too. The flavors have been described as ‘tropical drywall,’ ‘plaster surprise,’ and ‘attic citrus.’ One Twitter commentator calls it a candy that ‘only a psychopath would like.’ And yet, like anything appreciated only after it is gone, Neccos are suddenly having a moment … Last month, the New England Confectionery Co.—creators of the iconic wafer since 1847 and the oldest continually operated candy maker in the U.S.—served notice to its hometown of Revere, Mass., that it would close operations in May if it didn’t find a new owner.”

“People have a complicated relationship with the Necco wafer. It’s a nostalgic candy people love to hate, which brings back happy childhood memories of a chalky crunch … Yet they are in high demand now … Since the news spread, customers of Economy Candy in New York have been in disbelief. There has been an increase in sales both in the store and online, says owner Mitchell Cohen. Customers who normally buy one or two Necco rolls are now buying the whole box or a case ‘to stash away,’ he says.”

“A group of sixth-grade Oregon students wrote letters to Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo in support of Necco wafers and Sweethearts. ‘If NECCO goes out of business our class will be devastated,’ read one letter suggesting launching a social-media campaign with the hashtag #SaveNecco. Mr. Arrigo says he is disheartened over the potential loss of the iconic candy, but wasn’t surprised about the national surge in demand. ‘Who knows, Necco wafers might make a comeback the way Twinkies did a few years ago,’ he says.”

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Alibaba Opens Door to O2O Retail

The Economist: “The season for the best xiaolongxia (little dragon shrimp) is just beginning, and so on a recent evening four young friends tucked into a pile of steaming-hot crayfish. But rather than sitting in a restaurant they were at a table surrounded by supermarket aisles stocked with nappies, baby formula and cooking oil … ‘Eat-as-you-shop’ is one innovation of Hema Xiansheng, a chain of fancy supermarkets. And these shops are themselves the showiest elements of a bid by Alibaba … to master ‘online-to-offline’, or O2O, retailing, in which customers use digital channels to buy from physical businesses. Alibaba currently runs 40 Hema stores in ten cities. It wants to open 2,000 in the next five years.”

“Alibaba is hoping to apply its online know-how to them with Ling Shou Tong, a free retail-management platform launched in 2016. Through it, shop owners can order products sourced by Alibaba from partners such as Procter & Gamble. It then uses its logistics affiliate, Cainiao, to ship them. Shops are given advice on what to stock based on Alibaba’s trove of data—plenty of dog food in pooch-loving areas, say. In return Alibaba gets valuable data on spending habits in poorer cities, especially among older shoppers who buy offline.”

“A clearer signal of Alibaba’s ambitions as a provider of services to other outlets came on April 2nd, when it bought the shares it did not already own in Ele.me, valuing the food-delivery platform at $9.5bn. These services span online tools for inventory management to marketing and smartphone payments. They also include labour. Ele.me’s network lets thousands of small restaurants ferry dishes to the doors of some of China’s 700m smartphone users. Through the acquisition Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, added 3m delivery people to the 2m of Cainiao, boosting the group’s ‘last-mile’ delivery capabilities.”

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Dept. of Social: Community Shopping

The Wall Street Journal: “Going to a department store might seem like simply shopping, but it’s also a chance to practice civil behavior, to appreciate beautiful things, to feel a connection to others. In the 1970s, Bloomingdale’s was considered a New York City attraction on par with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which, according to Robert Hendrickson, author of ‘The Grand Emporiums,’ was Bloomie’s only real competition when it came to meeting a possible romantic partner.”

“Last spring, inspired by memories of the excitement of shopping in New York in the 1980s, Bergdorf Goodman’s fashion director Linda Fargo opened Linda’s at BG, an in-store boutique stocked with her personal picks in everything from high heels to Squirrel nuts. ‘Online is efficient,’ Ms. Fargo said, ‘but nothing can replace touching things, looking in people’s faces. Sensuality—that’s what we can offer people’ … Nordstrom executives appeared to be thinking along similar lines in 2013 when they hired Olivia Kim, formerly of New York-based Opening Ceremony, to make the store more relevant to younger customers.”

“As Nordstrom’s vice president of creative projects, Ms. Kim has initiated a series of pop-up boutiques and brought in buzzy, Instagram-friendly designers like Marine Serre and Jacquemus. But her proudest achievement, she said, is seeing Nordstrom used as a hangout space by customers: ‘Not everything needs to be transactional. I’m more interested in that they’ve learned something, that they feel energized and excited’ … As Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of Selfridges, once said, ‘a store should be a social center.’ Department stores are taking note.”

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