Lord & Taylor Is Coming Up Roses

Washington Post: Lord & Taylor “has ordered up a big roster of rose-emblazoned pieces, many of them exclusives from labels like Karl Lagerfeld Paris and Calvin Klein, that are meant to cater to the contemporary, trend-conscious shopper … In addition dresses and blouses, they’ve lined up offbeat items like rose-flavored gummy candies and rose-shaped temporary tattoos. And in some stores, the products will be featured in a shop-in-shop it calls The Birdcage.”

“It’s a major merchandising and marketing effort that executives hope will … telegraph a fresh, contemporary direction … without alienating the loyal shoppers who might fondly remember that the rose was a staple of Lord & Taylor marketing from 1946 until it was phased out over the last 20 years … The idea … to harken back to the company’s heritage … is a tactic retailers across all price points are turning to right now based on the belief that millennials will respond to this kind of storytelling.”

However, “the story of the rose may be so obscure and unfamiliar to young shoppers, it may be hard for them to even understand the collection as an ode to history and heritage.”

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The Rolling Stones, Incorporated

“For the past 50-plus years,” The Rolling Stones have “been among the most dynamic, profitable and durable corporations in the world.” Writing in The New York Times, Rich Cohen, author of The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones, says they have used “strategies that any CEO or entrepreneur should keep in mind while playing the long game.” Among them: “Choose the right name. The band was originally called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys … Know what the market wants from you. Rather than trying to become new Beatles, as many other bands did, the Stones became their opposite.”

“Beg, borrow, steal. At a time when the British pop charts were filled with bubble gum, Brian, Keith and Mick Jagger turned to Chicago blues. Cut the anchor before it drags you down. The Stones were the creation of Brian Jones … But by the late 1960s, Jones was in trouble … He didn’t turn up for sessions, vanished on the road … Mick, Keith and Charlie Watts drove to Brian’s country home and fired him.”

“Never stop reinventing. The Stones have gone through at least five stylistic iterations: cover band, ’60s pop, ’60s acid, ’70s groove, ’80s New Wave. At some point, they lost that elasticity and ability to reinvent—they got old—but the fact that they did it so well for so long explains their inexhaustible relevance.”

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Gendered Shelves & Toy Segregation

The Atlantic: “Today, toys are more divided by gender stereotypes than they were 50 years ago, thanks to broader marketing shifts in the industry and worldwide … According to the sociologist Elizabeth Sweet, toy companies began intensifying their use of color-coded marketing and segregation of toys in the 1980s … Gender-based compartmentalization in stores and online is meant to help customers find what they’re looking for, but according to … Jess Day of the nonprofit Let Toys Be Toys, ‘it’s driven by a massive assumption about what a child might want’.”

“Let Toys Be Toys’s biggest target is segregation by aisle, because it reflects the infrastructure of toy companies, where separate divisions develop products for gendered shelves. The division ends up reinforcing gender stereotypes and making it more difficult for gender-neutral or gender-inclusive toys to find space in stores.”

“Still, many consumers seem happy to shop along gender lines, and gender-inclusive toys tend to be on the higher end of the market and target progressive parents with time and money to spend. But with the Internet encouraging greater awareness and enabling the production of countless new toys, a revolution within the industry could be on the horizon.”

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The Gucci Experience Goes Up In Smoke

The New York Times: “On Java Road in Hong Kong, a new pair of brown leather Gucci loafers, lovingly wrapped in cellophane, hangs from a storefront — the deal of a lifetime at less than $3. Just not this lifetime. The shoes are paper replicas, meant to be burned as offerings to relatives who have died — a modern twist on an old Chinese custom … But the Gucci handbags and shoes that grandmother may have cooed over when she was among the living now appear to be out of her ethereal reach.”

“It seems Gucci’s zeal to protect its brand extends into the hereafter. Last week, its parent company … sent a letter to six local stores that sell the paper offerings, telling them to stop selling replicas of Gucci products because they were using its famous trademark.” However, a Hong Kong law professor “said Gucci would have a difficult time” making its case. “To successfully sue for trademark infringement … a company has to demonstrate that people confuse the cardboard replicas with real Gucci products, which is highly unlikely.”

“The shopkeepers lament what they see as the absurdity of it all. Their target market — the dead — does not appear to intersect with the well-heeled, or aspiring-to-be wealthy, living and breathing Gucci customers who frequent the outlet’s shops in Hong Kong, one of the company’s top markets. ‘Our customers are totally different,’ said one shopkeeper … ‘They burn these things to send to the spirits’ … Jing Zhang, fashion editor for The South China Morning Post, wrote: ‘The symbolism of a global, multibillion-dollar luxury company ‘warning’ perhaps some of the poorest retailers in the city over items that could not ever be taken for the real thing just seems a little bullying’.”

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Air Rage: It’s a First-Class Problem

Quartz: “Researchers from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Harvard Business School showed that incidents of air rage in economy class were significantly higher when planes had a first class cabin.”

“Their models showed that rage was nearly four times as likely on flights with a first class cabin than on those without. Controlling for factors like seat pitch and width, the researchers concluded that having first class increased the odds of passenger problems amounting to an additional 9.5-hour delay.”

“In addition, the researchers showed that when people had to walk through first class to get to their seats, rage among first class passengers themselves was nearly 12 times as likely as when people boarded from the middle. When people in economy class had to walk through first class, rage was about twice as high among the economy class passengers.”

“The study shows correlation, not causation, so the researchers can’t be sure that simply the sight of wealth makes people more irritable. There are other factors that could contribute to air irritability: Larger flights with multiple cabins could correlate with longer board times and more unwieldy carry-on storage, which could both make people more likely to act out.”

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McNugget Reboot Targets Different Crowd

The Atlantic: “The reboot of the Chicken McNugget is a mechanism by which McDonald’s is continuing its effort to present itself as a ‘modern progressive burger company.’ Last year, the company announced the phasing out of chicken raised with antibiotics used in human medicine, said it would stop using palm oil linked to deforestation, and pledged to shift to cage-free eggs.”

“The revamped version of the Happy Meal staple will soon be free of artificial preservatives, instead containing lemon-juice solids and rice starch.”

“Through its rebranding process, McDonald’s has still managed to sell plenty of Chicken McNuggets, particularly to lower- and middle-income consumers who are concerned more about price point than about the impeachability of the company’s food sourcing. Instead, this tentative new McNugget is an effort to reach a different crowd. ‘There’s a smaller amount of consumers who don’t eat them, but might be willing to if they raised the bar on quality,’ said Darren Tristano, the executive vice president of the market-research firm Technomic.”

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There’s Nothing ‘Illegal’ About Retail Subscriptions

Bloomberg: “Adore Me is among a group of buzzy Internet retailers accused of sometimes placing customers into unwanted and hard-to-cancel retail subscriptions. Several of these companies have been hit with lawsuits alleging unfair business practices, including JustFab (apparel), Blue Apron (food delivery), and Birchbox (beauty samples). Adore Me is currently facing a lawsuit from a disgruntled subscriber.”

“There’s nothing illegal about retail subscriptions, of course, and many businesses with automatic renewals make the billing process crystal clear. Some services are transparent in their mission and describe themselves primarily as pay-each-month subscriptions, like razor seller Dollar Shave Club.”

“But weak and misleading disclosures are pervasive among subscription e-commerce businesses, says Francisca Allen, the deputy district attorney of California’s Santa Clara County. Allen pursued the JustFab and Stamps.com settlements, both of which included reforms to the companies’ websites. Consumers are losing tens or even hundreds of millions per year on unwanted automatic-renewal subscriptions, she says, and there’s not enough regulatory muscle to monitor and stop unfair practices.”

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Hardware Gone Soft: Apple Integrates the ‘Experience’

Quartz: “Apple’s big surprise in its quarterly numbers isn’t the end of 13 years of go-go growth but the emergence of Services as a very large revenue category … Services grew 10% in 2015, 15% in the December quarter, and now 20% in the last three months.” Consequently, “many on Wall Street and elsewhere have started to ask if Apple is going to treat Services as a separate business with its own profit & loss statement.”

“For Apple, this would be a momentous cultural shift away from its praised functional structure—one Tim Cook sees as fostering effective collaboration across groups such as operating system software, built-in apps, hardware, developer relations, and retail operations. The idea is for everyone to work together on the customer’s experience, as opposed to concentrating on an isolated goal: hardware revenue, App Store profits, or retail numbers.”

Apple “wins or loses through the experience it delivers to its customers. Once upon a time, revenue came mostly from its personal computers, small, medium, and large. Software and Services had one and only one purpose: pushing up personal computers’ volumes and margins. Hardware, software, and Services coalesced into what we now call an ecosystem. Over time, as a result of the size of the installed base of Apple devices, Services became substantial, the number two revenue category.”

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The Future is Platforms, Not Products

Quartz: “A trait shared by the fastest growing and most disruptive companies in history—Google, Amazon, Uber, AirBnb, and eBay—is that they aren’t focused on selling products, they are building platforms … A platform isn’t a new concept, it is simply a way of building something that is open, inclusive, and has a strategic focus.”

“Think of the difference between a roadside store and a shopping center. The mall has many advantages in size and scale and every store benefits from the marketing and promotion done by others. They share infrastructure and costs. The mall owner could have tried to have it all by building one big store, but it would have missed out on the opportunities to collect rent from everyone and benefit from the diverse crowds that the tenants attract.”

“What has changed is that technology has reduced the need to own infrastructure and assets and made it significantly cheaper to build and scale digital platforms … Companies such as Walmart, Nike, John Deere, and GE are working towards building platforms in their industries. John Deere, for example wants to be a hub for agricultural products … Building platforms requires a vision, but does not require predicting the future. What you need is to understand the opportunity to build the mall instead of the store and be flexible in how you get there.”

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Designing Virtual Assistants: Poetry in Automation

The Washington Post: “As tech behemoths and a wave of start-ups double down on virtual assistants that can chat with human beings, writing for AI is becoming a hot job in Silicon Valley. Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.”

“As in fiction, the AI writers for virtual assistants dream up a life story for their bots. Writers for medical and productivity apps make character decisions such as whether bots should be workaholics, eager beavers or self-effacing … Even mundane tasks demand creative effort, as writers try to build personality quirks into the most rote activities … many developers of artificial intelligence make a point of adding a weird element to their avatar designs — such as an asymetrical face or an odd joke — something that signals that the virtual assistant isn’t human and doesn’t aspire to be … At the same time, the imperfections are meant to be endearing. A robot without such flaws could seem cold and alienating.”

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