Walmart Moves Upscale To Set Itself Apart

USA Today: “Depending on which Walmart store you choose nowadays, you might do a double take. In a growing number of stores, there’s an entire wall dedicated to organic produce, fresh sushi and a selection of about 50 gourmet cheeses … Forget just having a cold case of packaged deli meats — now there’s a charcuterie section … Roma tomatoes tumble down angled displays that make it easier to see what’s available and honeycrisp apples beckon from farmers market-style crates.”

“These Walmarts are the leading edge of what could become a grocery revolution at the giant retailer … Walmart’s produce and bakery sections are being upgraded to make them more attractive and easy to navigate … Further into the store, the bakery department now has chalkboard-style signs, lower tables that better showcase cakes and cookies, and bread baskets that invoke the charm of a local market … Walmart put department managers back in grocery after having removed many of them to improve efficiency … At the same time, Walmart is ramping up its online grocery service with store pick-up … The service doesn’t require customers to leave their car — a store employee brings out pre-bagged orders”.

“Walmart spokesman John Forrest Ales says many pick-up customers then stay and shop some more … The higher-end feel of its food offering may also attract higher-earning customers who could help increase sales in other areas too … Walmart can no longer rely on its bread and butter — low prices — to set itself apart.”

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Target Store Tests ‘Connected Living Experience’

Engadget: “Last year Target unveiled its Internet of Things ‘Open House’ experiment in San Francisco. The goal was to create a shopping experience that would help customers figure out how connected devices work with each other … Now it’s moving past the testing phase and opening a ‘connected living experience’ in a suburban Minneapolis store … The Minneapolis setup won’t be as elaborate as Open House in San Francisco with its touchscreen tables. Instead it will have large displays above the products that explain how a gadget interacts with other devices. Target will also make sure the staff is up to speed.”

“The store will be the first in what could be a major change to how the retail chain sells electronics … the company has found that its shoppers are confused not only about how these devices work together, but where they’re actually kept in the store. Would a smart thermostat be in the electronics or home section? Putting all the devices together in one spot and creating scenarios that emphasize how a smart light and a connected garage work together not only highlights what’s possible, it helps sell stuff.”

“Target plans on bringing its connected experience to other stores to see how shoppers react. Cupertino, California, and Tribeca in New York City are the next two locations.”

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Hostel Territory: High Style on the Cheap

Fast Company: “For the past few years hostels—once the domain of twenty-something backpackers looking for cheap accommodations, design damned—have undergone a makeover and are touting the same amenities and aesthetic considerations as fancy hotels. Gone are the days of lumpy beds and questionable cleanliness … The Backstay Hostel, in Belgium, boasts accommodations in a gorgeous Art Deco structure. Grupo Habita—a luxury hotel developer—opened Downtown Beds in Mexico City.”

“The Generator, in Amsterdam, is outfitted with furniture from the au courant British designer Tom Dixon and hometown star Marcel Wanders. Its walls are festooned with whimsical wallpaper from the design-art duo Studio Job. Curated antiques and artwork add a quirky element to the lobby and guest rooms. Sounds like a recipe for the newest spendy boutique hotel, but a bed at the hostel will only set you back $15.”

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Big Beer: Off With Their Heads!

Bob Pease, writing in The New York Times: “Today there are more breweries in this country than at any time in history — some 4,300, with scores coming online every year … But state laws usually don’t allow brewers to sell their products themselves; instead they have to use distributors, which hold enormous sway over which beers end up at which bars, restaurants and stores.”

“The problem is that, along with being the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev is also the biggest beer distributor in the United States. And in several states, the law allows the company to distribute its own beer — and most markets have only one or two distributors. The company has also recently increased its control over the beer-distribution industry by purchasing five independent distributors.”

“Since its merger with SABMiller was announced, the company has bought several well-regarded craft brewers around the country … The enlarged Anheuser-Busch InBev … will have even more power to strong-arm independent distributors not to carry rival brands and exert pressure on retailers to cut back on, or even refuse to carry, competitive brands. And it will have more resources to buy up smaller breweries as they start to feel squeezed out of the marketplace.”

“Recent reports say that antitrust authorities are likely to approve the deal by the end of the month. If they do so without adequate protections, the merger could stifle consumer choice and choke off America’s beer renaissance.”

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Innovation Lanes: Delta Tackles TSA Bottlenecks

Fast Company: “The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimates that wait times at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York have increased 80% since last year. While everyone points fingers, Delta aims to fix the problem with its ‘Innovation Lanes’ experiment.”

“The airline touts it as a ‘parallel process’ in which people and their baggage are moving separately though security. So instead of waiting in a single line for all the people in front of you to pass through baggage and body screening before your turn, you’re able to go at your own (likely faster) pace. You load your carry-on luggage and shoes into a bin, then push it forward onto a conveyor belt and proceed through body-screening along with your belongings. What’s more, empty bins are routed to the front of the line via a conveyor belt, which means staff don’t have to cart bins around.”

“Security lines are one of the biggest headaches about air travel, and since it’s one of the initial parts of a journey, it can set the tone for a passenger’s entire experience. Fixing this could make an airline more competitive, and, per passenger, it’s likely cheaper—and more meaningful to passengers—than giving out extra snacks or a paltry couple of inches of leg room.”

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Chick-fil-App: No More Waiting in Line

Business Insider: “Chick-fil-A is rolling out a new app that will let customers avoid waiting in line at the register. The app, called Chick-fil-A One, will allow customers to order and pay for their food in advance, then pick it up at a counter designated for online orders. The app will also allow users to customize and save their favorite orders. Michael Lage, a veteran of Facebook and Google who helped develop the app, says it will change how customers, particularly parents with young children, experience and interact with Chick-fil-A.”

“To celebrate the launch of the app, Chick-fil-A is giving away free chicken sandwiches to everyone who downloads it between June 1 and June 11 … The app will continue to give away free food beyond the launch through its built-in rewards program, which will randomly send customers free-food offers based on what they typically order.”

“When customers get free treats from Chick-fil-A, they will have the opportunity to rate them. Those ratings will be factored into the app’s future free-food offers. Customers will typically get a choice of several items for their free-food offers. For example, they will be allowed to choose among a free drink, dessert, or medium fry. ‘We want to make sure the experience is based on personalization and choice,’ Lage said.”

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How Categories Affect Our Perceptions

The New York Times: “What we think we’re looking at can alter what we actually see. More broadly, when we put things into a category, research has found, they actually become more alike in our minds. ‘Similarity serves as a basis for the classification of objects,’ wrote the noted psychologist Amos Tversky, ‘but it is also influenced by the adopted classification.’ The flip side holds: Things we might have viewed as more similar become, when placed into two distinct categories, more different.”

“Categorization affects not just how we perceive things, but how we feel about them. When we like something, we seem to want to break it down into further categories, away from the so-called basic level. Birders do not just see ‘birds,’ gardeners do not just see ‘flowers’; they see specific variations. The more we like something, the more we like to categorize it.”

“When we struggle to categorize something, we like it less … Even if we seem to like easy categorization, we’re not rigid about the categories themselves. A few decades ago, for example, the idea of beer in America meant a pale-colored lager, strongly carbonated, low in alcohol and lacking flavor. Following the craft beer revolution, the very category of beer has expanded enormously, with any number of subcategories … Categories can help us enjoy things for what they are. When existing categories do not suffice, we simply invent new ones … The great peril of this reliance on categorizing is that we could miss something that lies outside our perception.”

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The ‘Perfect’ Ingredient Tells A Story

The Washington Post: “Artisanal beauty products are often built around at least one obscure ingredient, the procurement of which (it’s implied) is really difficult. There’s no distance these brands won’t travel, whether for a body scrub with ‘white sand particles from the shores of Bora Bora,’ or a ‘gel treatment serum’ made from ‘the stem cells of Australian kakadu plums.’ They might need to go back in time to craft skin products made with ‘donkey milk . . . known as a beauty elixir since the ancient ages.’ There’s an emphasis on the rare find from nature, almost but not quite lost to mankind … the fruit from a tree previously known only to peoples of the Amazon.”

“That rare ingredient must be gathered with care, ideally by local villagers, processed in a lab under the most stringent standards, and then placed into a product whose label declares its transparency of its process, its freedom from potentially dangerous chemicals, its fair trade and cruelty-free status, its philanthropic efforts, and the all-around goodness of its intentions.”

“The perfect ingredient doesn’t just moisturize or smell good or look pretty on a label; the perfect ingredient tells a story we all want to hear.”

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Organic Coup: The Costco of Chicken Sandwiches

Business Insider: “The Organic Coup, which is the first USDA-certified organic fast-food chain in the US, just raised $7 million in an initial round of financing led by Costco founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal … The chain, which specializes in fried-chicken sandwiches and chocolate-drizzled caramel popcorn, has two restaurants — one in San Francisco and another in Pleasanton, California.”

One of the restaurant’s co-founders is Erica Welton, a “food buyer for Costco for 14 years before leaving to launch Organic Coup with Dennis Hoover, a 33-year Costco veteran … Welton and Hoover don’t have any prior restaurant experience” but “are modeling the new chain off of Costco in many ways.”

“Organic Coup is paying starting wages of $16 an hour in San Francisco and $14 an hour in Pleasanton. Fast-food workers in the US make $7.98 an hour on average, according to PayScale. The restaurant’s specialty is its spicy fried chicken made from organic, air-chilled chicken breasts fried in coconut oil … The menu is pretty simple. Customers can get the fried chicken with a range of sauces on a bun, in a multigrain wrap, or in a bowl with shredded vegetables … The chain will be adding tator tots to the menu as well.”

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