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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We Never Close: 24/7 Adventures

The Wall Street Journal: “Apparently short of actual adventures, teens and 20-somethings are sneaking into chain stores and restaurants, including McDonald’s, Walmart , Chuck E. Cheese’s and IKEA, staying all night and posting videos online as evidence. A YouTube search for 24-hour overnight challenges turns up 1.6 million results. A closer examination of the phenomenon reveals something thrill-seekers didn’t expect—spending extended periods inside an empty chain store can be really, really dull.”

“The craze appears to go back to 2016, when Belgian youngsters hid inside an IKEA after it closed and then posted the video online. The fad soon spread to the U.K., where a boy slept overnight in an IKEA furniture store, worrying his family, who didn’t know where he was … Indiana college student Christian Perry said he was determined to finish the challenge at a Walmart Supercenter, however dull things got. Last May, he and a friend decided to spend a full 48 hours in one of the stores in Indianapolis. The Walmart is open around the clock. The pair needed a secret place to slumber and a way to stay sane.”

“Just minutes into the outing, Mr. Perry, who is 21 and studying computer science, realized he couldn’t bear Walmart’s music and needed a distraction. ‘I started reading labels after that,’ he said … The 13-minute video the friends posted on YouTube shows highlights of their itinerary. They looked at fish in the aquarium section. They read magazines, played games at the arcade and dribbled balls in the sports aisle … After hunkering down in the toilet-paper section the second night, the duo quietly slipped home. ‘It was one of the worst experiences of my life,’ Mr. Perry said.”

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Is there a cure for curation?

Wilfred M. McClay: “‘Curation’ lends to the proceedings a certain air of quasi-professionalism. It seeks to claim for the proprietors an exquisitely refined faculty of discrimination, a sense that ‘objective’ higher standards are being enacted and adhered to. The selection that has been made, we are being assured, was not a product of whim or fancy, let alone crass commercialism … as the word’s allusion to museums and museum work subtly suggests, the use of ‘curate’ carries overtones of social climbing, of seeking to associate oneself with the ‘better sort’ of people—tasteful, knowledgeable, attractive, suave, well-to-do.”

“The word derives from the Latin curare, to take care, and has in its historical ancestry the notion of a “curate” as one who is charged with the care of souls … Perhaps in some instances, such as that of the independent bookstore, it can even be said that the “thoughtful curation” of the inventory reflects an attentiveness to the needs of the soul.”

“But the word ‘curate’ itself may be too corrupted by misuse to be able to carry such larger meanings much longer … It is now commonplace to speak of ‘social curation,’ which means something akin to ‘the wisdom of the crowd,’ the belief that the most meaningful way of sorting through and selecting and organizing masses of data is by the aggregation of the opinions and tastes of millions of completely independent individuals. There is a good deal to be said for this view, but the process it describes is the very opposite of curation itself, a word that, if it is to mean anything at all, means the application of a conscious sensibility and organizing intelligence.”

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Giddyap: Aldi Offers Equestrian Experience

The Daily Mail: “Aldi is now offering discounted horse riding lessons to its customers – in a bid to encourage more people to get into the sport. The budget retailer has become the first supermarket chain in the country to offer riding lessons, after teaming up with two prestigious riding schools to offer sessions.”

“The lessons, which can be bought online, will be available at the Summerhouse Equestrian in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, and Parbold Equestrian near Wigan, Lancashire, with prices starting from £21 (US $30). The supermarket has also unveiled its new equestrian range – meaning you can now get riding tops, jodhpurs, boots and special socks from your local store. Those who buy their riding lessons from Aldi will save 30 per cent off the regular price.”

“Aldi’s joint managing director for corporate buying, Julie Ashfield, comments: “We believe that cost should never lead to compromise. Our competitively priced equestrian clothing ranges have proven extremely popular in the past, and this year, we want to go one gallop further in making horse riding more accessible for all. By offering discounted horse riding lessons for all the family, we hope that parents across the UK will be able to introduce their children to the sport, or have a go themselves.”

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Fonts of Success: How Typeface Builds Brands

The New York Times: “When ads for the Netflix show ‘Stranger Things’ first appeared in 2016, the glowing, blood-red, unevenly shaded font that spelled out the title told viewers exactly what they could expect. The retro typeface — and a haunting, one-minute title video — became synonymous with the supernatural thriller series and, as the show gained in popularity, memes centered largely around its instantly recognizable title have become plentiful … Hollywood has long known this marketing trick, with movie studios strategically choosing fonts, colors and lighting for a film title that will reflect its tone and genre.”

“When Southwest Airlines revamped its brand in 2014, it overhauled its font and logo as part of the upgrade. It wanted to create the image of an airline that cared about customer loyalty — one that had heart. So, Southwest changed its all-caps Helvetica font to a thicker, custom-made Southwest Sans font that included lowercase letters — changes meant to convey a softer, friendlier tone.” Southwest communications director Helen Limpitlaw comments: “We’ve definitely seen an increase in revenue, an increase in bookings and brand momentum.”

“In 2002, Monster Beverage rolled out its Monster Energy drink logo, which featured three neon-green claw-marks in the shape of an ‘M’ on a black background, with ‘Monster’ in white Gothic-like lettering under it. The eye-catching logo and colors exuded energy and youth and connected with fans of sports like snowboarding and Formula One racing, who were its target customers … Now, 16 years later, Monster’s logo remains valuable and recognizable.”

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Coffee & Laundry: A New Social Fabric

The New York Times: “On a bustling Hong Kong street lined with dried seafood stores, where baskets of sea cucumber vie for space with scallops and abalone, one shop stands out. Amid the pungent smells of dried fish and shrimp, the scents of brewed coffee and freshly laundered clothes come wafting out of the aptly named Coffee & Laundry. The shop — half laundromat and half cafe — offers customers a variety of drinks and pastries along with 10 self-service washing machines and dryers.”

“Washing their own clothes at a laundromat is a new experience for Hong Kong residents. The first self-service laundromat is believed to have opened only in 2014. Since then, the number has taken off; more than 180 laundromats had appeared by the beginning of this year, according to one estimate.”

“On a recent evening after work, Michael Bolger, 27, sat reading a dog-eared book while waiting for his clothes at Coffee & Laundry.” He comments: “It’s nice to just sit and read in a place that’s not your apartment. It’s kind of therapeutic, sitting here and watching the washing machines.”

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Mistaken Identities: Fake Birthdates Foil Facebook

The Wall Street Journal: “A recent survey of U.S., French, German, Italian and British consumers found that 41% had intentionally falsified personal information when signing up for products and services online. Most common was providing a fake phone number … Respondents also said they have provided a false birth date, made up a postal address, lied about a name or selected the wrong gender.”

“All the lying does seem to foil advertisers. It is ‘a much bigger problem than people are aware of,’ says Nick Baker, director of research and consulting of U.K. market research company Verve, which conducted a 2015 survey showing a large amount of fake information on website registrations and the like. Incorrect birth years, he says, are particularly nefarious because advertisers are often trying to match up habits or buying patterns with a specific age group.”

“But some companies that provide data to marketers say they are depending less and less on biographical information. Preethy Vaidyanathan, the chief product officer of New York-based marketing technology company Tapad, says they track much more valuable information from phone and web browser use.”

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