Technology Puts Retailers on the ‘Map’

The Wall Street Journal: “Making technology investments to improve customer experiences has traditionally been the domain of retailers, which have introduced robots, touch-screen mirrors and virtual-reality goggles to attract shoppers to their stores in recent years. But as pressure from store closures continues to mount, some mall landlords also are … investing in mapping functions to help shoppers find parking spaces, navigate mall corridors or check out a flash sale at a store one floor above. The goal: to better connect with shoppers in hopes of sparking more activity.”

“Jibestream, a firm that creates interactive mall maps to guide customers from store to store on their mobile phones as well as help them find parking, has rolled out its technology to hundreds of malls … Other vendors are offering ways for landlords to better analyze foot traffic in malls, a key metric cited by landlords and retailers as online shopping continues to gain traction and pose greater challenges to bricks-and-mortar stores.”

“By tracking the cellphone signals in a mall, companies can study the paths visitors take as well as how effective display windows and in-mall advertising are in drawing customers. This is similar to how is able to measure user engagement by how long cursors hover over a certain part of a webpage.”


Price Trap: Beware the Amazon ‘Buy Box’

The Washington Post: “Researchers at Northeastern University tracked pricing of 1,640 of the best-selling products on Amazon’s site over four months. In particular, they were examining what prices were featured in what’s known as the ‘buy box,’ the area on the right side of an Amazon product page that invites you to add an item to your cart … It has been estimated that about 82 percent of sales on Amazon are made through that box.”

“Amazon relies on an algorithm to determine which seller ends up in the buy box for any given product … the process is significantly more likely to give that spot to sellers who use real-time pricing, in which software is used to automatically optimize prices on the fly based on what competitors are charging.”

“Here’s why that matters: Most sellers using that kind of pricing model don’t have the lowest prices on the site. In fact, the researchers found that 60 percent of those that use real-time pricing have higher prices than other sellers of the same item on Amazon. Most of the time, the price difference is about $1, but … researchers found ‘many’ cases where the price difference was in the $20 to $60 range.”


Amazon Has Bullseye on Target

Quartz: “Target has a supply problem. The discount retailer has too much unsold merchandise on its shelves, and hasn’t figured out how to get all of it to customers quickly. To make matters worse, a new survey shows that two in five Target shoppers are also members of Amazon Prime and among those that aren’t, one in five are considering a membership in the next year.”


“Target has made some attempts to keep up: Participants in the company’s REDCard credit card program get free shipping on all online orders. ‘I do think we can get more credit for REDCard than we potentially have,’ Target’s chief digital officer told Recode last month.”


De-Branding: A Shift From Products to Places

Fast Company: “It’s misleading to use a totally different set of qualities—good stories—to sell a product that has intrinsically nothing to do with these qualities. Hiring a top filmmaker won’t improve the quality of your energy drink … You could even say that the better the stories, the more dishonest the companies are being.”

“Here’s where debranding comes into play … the focus will shift … from branded products to branded places: stores and their owners who select and sell the products they like … Back to the traditional shopkeeper responsible for measuring bulk food and acting as an advocate for his products. Back to the real Dr. Browns, Uncle Bens, and Aunt Jemimas. Instead of brands, real people and real tones of voice will become the interface between consumers and products again.”

“And it is totally in line with today’s networked society … increasingly in the Internet age, consumers are comfortable with the idea that everything is interconnected. So what distinguishes brands is less important than what brings things and people together—whether your iPhone can talk to your Prius, for instance, or whether you can read articles from disparate sources in one place, like on Facebook. The brand that screams the loudest no longer commands the most attention; the one that offers something genuinely useful does.”


The Netflix ‘Binge Scale’: Savor or Devour?

The Guardian: “Netflix said customers who chose to watch an entire TV season finished it on average in just one week, watching a little over two hours a day. It said viewers typically binged on thrillers such as Breaking Bad and The Killing, but were more likely to take their time over the more political narratives of House of Cards or Homeland.”

“According to something Netflix calls the ‘binge scale,’ ranging from ‘savor’ at one end to ‘devour’ at the other, its original drama Narcos, about the rise to power of Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, was the platform’s slowest-burning hit in the UK, with viewers ‘savoring’ it over six days.”

“Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said the company would use the findings to make ‘subtle improvements in helping people choose what kind of programmes they want to watch, depending on what mood they’re in’.”


Botto Bistro Takes Out the Trash on Yelp

The New York Times: “Botto Bistro is far from the worst restaurant in America. But it doesn’t mind if you think so … The attitude is a little brusque. ‘We have no ice, no butter, no ranch, no lemon,’ a sign behind the counter warns. ‘We charge for bread. We charge for everything’.”

Botto takes a similar attitude when it comes to reviews on Yelp: “The bistro did not want to be reviewed and let itself be subject to the whims of people with no names but plenty of opinions … Some shady outfits try to load the dice by buying favorable reviews, but Botto went in the other direction. It asks people to trash it.”

“The restaurant has been fighting Yelp in earnest for nearly two years now. More than half of its 250 reviews are one-star.” Among the reviews: “The pizza tastes like the rag at Denny’s that they use to wipe down the counters and tabletops” and “the pizza arrived at the table with a dead rat under the cheese.” Davide Cerretini, the owner, routinely offers patrons a coupon for a half-price pizza in return for a one-star review. He explains: “It may sound to you like a suicide mission, but our business is up.”


Minor-League Question: Rumble Ponies or Stud Muffins?

“There is higher-quality baseball elsewhere, so the minor-league experience is just as much about the silly antics … as it is about the game,” reports The Wall Street Journal. So it was all in good fun when the new owners of the Binghamton Mets, the Mets’ upstate Double-A affiliate, announced earlier this year that they would be rebranding the team, complete with a new name. They even gave local fans in this small city about 150 miles northwest of Manhattan some potential names to vote on.”

“What could possibly go wrong? … When it’s all said and done, Binghamton will be home to either the Bullheads, the Gobblers, the Rocking Horses, the Rumble Ponies, the Stud Muffins or the Timber Jockeys … The B-Mets hired a brand marketing firm, Brandiose, to help with the renaming project … They said the name options were culled from more than 1,500 fan suggestions that referred to something unique about the city. A Bullhead, for example, is a local catfish, while Gobblers “honors the outdoorsman lifestyle and turkeys who call Binghamton home.”

Owner John Hughes says: “The rebrand will have short-term repercussions, but what we’re looking for is establishing a long-term connection with fans … For the first time in a long time, Binghamton baseball is relevant.” Mets star David Wright says “if he were in Double-A he might have been happy about any name change simply because it would mean getting new uniforms to replace the old, ratty ones often found in the minors.”

Mets left-fielder Michael Conforto, who played for the B-Mets last season comments: “Maybe now I think it’s funny because I’m not there.”


Treasure Hunt: The Joy is in the Journey

The Wall Street Journal: “The internet isn’t just a way to speed up the shopping experience; it is a tool to draw it out. Consumers enjoy the anticipation of a big-ticket item, in contrast to the quick fix that comes from an impulse purchase at an inexpensive, of-the-moment fashion chain … The result of all this due diligence: Shoppers are feeling much more satisfied with their purchases.”

“Stylitics, a fashion technology and analytics company, partnered with market research firm NPD Group to look at this behavior. Handbags are a natural fit for this thoughtful approach, as women seek to combine fashion with function. The study found roughly four in 10 women ages 18 to 34 said they started thinking about their most recent handbag purchase more than a month in advance. Six in 10 said browsing online stores was a major influencer in their handbag shopping.”

“Once shoppers go through the drawn-out process and make up their minds, they are happier. Handbag return rates at luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter are among the lowest across the site.”


The Walmart Goliath

Quartz: “Walmart isn’t a unicorn, and it’s no longer sexy. But it is massive. With $482 billion in revenue, it sells more than Apple, Amazon and Microsoft put together, according to Fortune’s annual ranking of companies by revenue … It’s bigger than the No. 2 company, Exxon Mobil, and No. 3, Apple, combined. Its sales are greater than the GDP of Poland.”


“The future of shopping may be online, with goods delivered via self-driving cars and drones. But will be a long time before anyone topples the Walmart goliath.”