Is Slower Better? The Joy of Waiting

Dan Ariely: “Many businesses are trying to deliver their wares more quickly, but it isn’t always a good idea. When we want something, we usually think that faster is better and now is ideal … the retailer is basically forcing everyone to pay for faster shipping (the list price of your goods will necessarily include the cost of faster shipping) and forgo the joy of waiting. Neither is ideal, especially if your purchase happens to be an exciting treat rather than a dreary necessity.”

“Many online retailers would do better to help their consumers savor the anticipation rather than deliver so quickly that we lose some of the fun of our purchase.”

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Time Well Spent: Unplugging By Design

The Atlantic: “As the co‑founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, Tristan Harris is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices. Harris hopes to mobilize support for what he likens to an organic-food movement, but for software … a code of conduct—the Hippocratic oath for software designers … He argues that technology should help us set boundaries.”

“This could be achieved by, for example, an inbox that asks how much time we want to dedicate to email, then gently reminds us when we’ve exceeded our quota. Technology should give us the ability to see where our time goes, so we can make informed decisions … And technology should help us meet our goals, give us control over our relationships, and enable us to disengage without anxiety.”

“Harris hopes to create a Time Well Spent certification—akin to the leed seal or an organic label—that would designate software made with those values in mind. He already has a shortlist of apps that he endorses as early exemplars of the ethos, such as Pocket, Calendly, and f.lux, which, respectively, saves articles for future reading, lets people book empty slots on an individual’s calendar to streamline the process of scheduling meetings, and aims to improve sleep quality by adding a pinkish cast to the circadian-rhythm-disrupting blue light of screens.”

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Motoring May Be a Virtual Reality

The New York Times: “Through the wizardry of digital technology some of today’s most sophisticated vehicles, like the GMC Sierra Denali, are designed to keep annoying engine noise from seeping into the cabin. Others, like the Lexus NX F Sport, include digital tuners to accentuate the engine’s throaty growl to satisfy the primal urges of driver and passengers. And sometimes — in a seeming contradiction — the same car does a bit of both.”

“In the Nissan Maxima, for example, noise-cancellation technology helps suppress undesirable droning frequencies from the engine. But the throb of horsepower is acoustically amplified when the driver steps on the gas … All of this, like so much else in modern automobiles, happens through the magic of digital software and hardware … Suppressing noise digitally can reduce the need for insulation, helping to make vehicles lighter and thus improving fuel economy … Noise cancellation can also improve the accuracy of voice recognition for navigation systems … it can make it easier to appreciate the music from sophisticated onboard audio systems, or even make it easier to have conversations.”

Meanwhile: “Because the current generation of smaller, more fuel-efficient engines and turbochargers often does not generate the sort of throaty resonance drivers expect, automakers design systems to augment the sonic experience … consumers in different parts of the world have different opinions on what constitutes a ‘good’ engine sound. In the past, for example, car companies might have had to design different exhaust systems for a European car and an American model of the same car.” Now, all that’s required is a software update.

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The Art of Retail: A New Media Canvas

The New York Times: “Art is playing a larger role in stores, as retailers do whatever they can to make shopping in person fun, inspiring and worth the time.” Peter Marino, a retail architect, comments: “Shopping can be stressful but the art uplifts and makes you smile. And when people go back to the hotel, it’s the art they discuss and remember.”

“The focus on art is part of the change in retail and the continuing move to digital transactions. ‘The product isn’t enough now, it’s the experience,’ said Rob Ronen, an owner of Material Good, a watch and jewelry store in SoHo … ‘Because if the shop is just about the product people go online’ … The jeweler Stephen Webster opened a store in London’s Mayfair neighborhood in May that has opposite the door a taxidermied swan in full flight, with wings outstretched, greeting his visitors.” He explains: “People ask questions about the swan, and it focuses people more on what is in store.”

“Art historically has a strong track record drawing people into stores. Take the Paris department store Bon Marché, which became the fashionable place to be in 1875 when it opened an art gallery … Carla Sozzani, founder of Milan’s 10 Corso Como concept store, which has blended fashion, design and books with art for 25 years, believes that displaying art slows the way people shop.” She comments: “Even the way people purchase changes because they think more about what they are buying so they buy things they really want, which creates a faithful clientele.”

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Street Art: Urban Cachet for Restaurateurs

The Wall Street Journal: “Restaurants throughout New York City are showing off street artists’ work inside and out, from commissioning large-scale murals to arranging framed pieces on the walls. The work doesn’t just add a splash of color, they say, it also helps confer urban cachet to the brand … At Vandal, a Lower East Side restaurant … larger-than-life works from such artists as Hush, Shepard Fairey and Vhils take center stage … Tao Group co-founder Rich Wolf said his company, which also operates Beauty & Essex, Stanton Social and its namesake restaurants, spent more than $1 million on the artwork.”

“Restaurants that do things on a smaller financial scale with street art are also finding the artistic investments have paid off … The strong visual elements of much street art help restaurants attract attention, crucial in a social-media-saturated age when images of what’s on the menu or on the walls can be shared widely. While graffiti and street-art traditions extend back centuries, they have exploded in popular culture as artists such as Banksy and JR have won mainstream recognition.”

“Restaurants must understand the value and meaning of the work and not just see it as a shiny marketing tool, said Roger Gastman, a Los Angeles-based artist representative who works with several prominent street artists.” He comments: “When the art is used solely for promotion, it’s not true to the culture.”

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Toblerone’s ‘Treasonous’ Triangle

The New York Times: “The maker of Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar, has reconfigured the unique appearance of two of its milk-chocolate versions, with narrower triangles and a larger gap between peaks … the changes to the smaller one … were so pronounced that Toblerone’s Facebook page was filled with outrage from aggrieved consumers, even though only a relatively small number were likely to be affected.”

“The change, which was announced on the Toblerone Facebook page last month, is in keeping with a common strategy for companies trying to avoid price increases by reducing the contents of a product without changing the packaging. Most consumers are unaware of the changes because the product usually looks and is priced the same — there is simply less of it — but the newer, gappier Toblerone bar felt treasonous to the brand’s loyal consumers.”

“The triangular milk chocolate bar, sold in a yellow package with red letters, has been around since 1908. The founder, Theodor Tobler, combined his family name with ‘torrone,’ the Italian word for nougat, and patented his recipe of chocolate mixed with milk and honey … Mondelez International noted that while the overall look of the bar is different, the recipe remains the same and the chocolate is still made in Switzerland.”

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Halo Top: Lo-Cal ‘Wonder’ Dessert

Bloomberg Businessweek: “If you’re a committed ice cream adherent, you may have already heard of Halo Top, the wonder dessert with as many calories per pint (240 to 280; $5.99) as a single half-cup serving of most ice creams. It also has just 5 grams of sugar, as much protein as a 3-ounce serving of beef (24g), and only 8g of fat. Compared with a pint of Chunky Monkey (1,200 calories, 112g sugar, 16g protein, 72g fat), or even Breyer’s fat-free (360 calories, 52g sugar, 8g protein), Halo Top looks like a flat-out miracle.”

“Like many great inventions, Halo Top was the result of trial and error. In traditional ice cream, not only does sugar provide flavor, but it also lowers the melting point so the frozen product doesn’t get rock hard. Fat, meanwhile, helps create a scoopable consistency. Remove both of those components, and you’re left with what amounts to flavored ice.” Halo Top founder Justin Woolverton “landed on a no-calorie sugar alcohol called erythritol (not the kind of alcohol that would get you drunk) along with the all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener Stevia for sweetness, milk protein to make up for the lost fat, plant fiber to help with meltability, and extra egg white for overall consistency.”

Halo Top “appeals to two seemingly opposed groups: those seeking low-calorie ice cream alternatives, and others seduced by a dessert that can help them bulk up … Halo Top’s success has enabled it to experiment in an unexpected way: with higher-calorie versions. In October the company introduced 10 flavors, including red velvet and peanut butter cup … At 360 calories a pint, it’s still a sweet deal.”

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There Goes the Neighborhood (Grocery)

The New York Times: “The neighborhood grocery store — with its dim and narrow aisles full of provisions precariously stacked from floor to ceiling and the cashier who greets you and your dog by name — is a critical piece of a New York life … It can keep a neighborhood manageable for new parents who need diapers now or seniors who cannot carry their groceries a long way … Even if the corner market seems sad and shabby and its aisles are barely wide enough to accommodate a single mini-shopping cart, you can dash in for a carton of milk or a loaf of bread.”

“Some have succumbed to high rent, narrow profit margins and increased competition from upscale supermarkets, online grocers and drugstore chains that have expanded their wares to include grocery items … For two decades, drugstores like CVS and Duane Reade (a.k.a. Walgreens) have been steadily taking over retail space that once housed grocery stores.” However: “Few drugstores, or for that matter, supermarkets, are likely to hold your keys for your brother, or inform you that your husband was just in and already bought dinner. That’s the time-honored business of a neighborhood market. Chances are, you’ve watched the owner’s children grow up in the photos proudly taped to the register.”

“In a city of eight million, the shops on the corner are the ones that make New York feel like a small town. Without them, a neighborhood can feel less like home.” Tommy Berger, a Brooklyn resident comments: “These are unique relationships … with these shopkeepers. I count on them being there in sunshine and rain. And if they go away it disrupts my whole worldview.”

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Trader Joe’s: A Toxic Culture of Coercion?

The New York Times: “A number of workers, known at Trader Joe’s as ‘crew members,’ complain of harsh and arbitrary treatment at the hands of managers, of chronic safety lapses and of an atmosphere of surveillance. Above all, some employees say they are pressured to appear happy with customers and co-workers, even when that appearance is starkly at odds with what is happening at the store.”

“Tensions have been heightened, according to several employees, by the pressure to remain upbeat and create a ‘Wow customer experience,’ which is defined in the company handbook as ‘the feelings a customer gets about our delight that they are shopping with us’… with more than 400 stores generating over $10 billion in sales, according to estimates, the company culture appears to have evolved from an aspiration that could be nurtured organically to a tool that can be used to enforce discipline and stifle criticism.”

Gammy Alvarez, an employee at a Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan, comments: “The environment in this job is toxic, but they’re trying to create this whole false idea that everything is cheery and bubbly. I think they want us to be not real people.”

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