Holy Hops: Westvleteren Beer in Supermarket Sweep

The New York Times: “Smooth, complex, soft, salty and strong — yet delicate, luscious and elegant. Those are just a few of the adjectives used to describe Westvleteren beer, which is often hailed by aficionados as one of the best in the world … For more than 170 years, the beer has been produced and distributed solely by the Trappist monks of St. Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, a village in western Belgium. But that changed last week when a branch of Jan Linders, a Dutch supermarket chain, sold more than 7,000 bottles without the monks’ permission, and at 10 euros each, almost 10 times higher than the original price.”

“The supermarket sold 300 crates of 24 bottles … but did not make a significant profit despite the markup. The third-party sellers had all wanted to make a profit, too … and that was what had driven up the final sale price. The monks denounced the sale, saying the aim behind their endeavors was not to commercialize their product, but to finance themselves and support those in need. Jan Linders has since apologized for the one-off sale, but added in a statement on its website that it wanted to thank customers for introducing them to ‘this beautiful beer’.”


Take a Chance or Fly Air France

The New York Times: “You open what looks like an in-flight care package to find 50 feet of Sudoku puzzles on a tapelike roll, Champagne-flavored gummy candies and a scratch-and-sniff patch that smells like boeuf bourguignon. In a time of low-cost airlines, where your ticket might not include an edible hot meal or free access to electronic entertainment, the box reminds you of what could be if you shell out a little more on Air France. That’s the idea behind the airline’s new ‘Take a Chance or Fly Air France’ campaign, which will begin showing up in American digital ad space this week.”

Dominique Wood, Air France’s executive vice president of brand and communication, comments: “We want to remind our clients and our future clients that there is another way to travel, even in economy, where everything is included. You’ve got a very comfortable seat, you’ve got a hot meal and a full complement of entertainment, and if you can have it — if you’re the right age — a glass of French Champagne.”

“The Air France campaign will mostly be a digital one, but visitors to the Grove mall in Los Angeles on Saturday can win pairs of round-trip economy tickets. The Sudoku puzzle tape, gummies and scratch-and-sniff patches will also be given away, and will be available in an online sweepstakes.” Henry Harteveldt, the founder of Atmosphere Research Group, comments: “As airlines have unbundled their product, they almost don’t want to remind you of what it’s like to fly them. What Air France is doing is a smart marketing move, but it’s also a brave marketing move.”


Blackberry Keeps Coterie of Devotees

The Wall Street Journal: “The BlackBerry began life as a text pager, created in 1996 by Canadian company Research in Motion Ltd. The founders made technical breakthroughs that popularized world-wide phone texting and mobile email. Its keyboard buttons looked a little like the kernels in a blackberry, hence the name. It transformed the way people worked … But in 2007 Apple Inc. introduced the iPhone, and Android smartphones, also with touch screens, came soon after. Unlike BlackBerry with its office focus, they aimed at the mass market. Today BlackBerry has a global smartphone market share of less than 1%.”

“The diminished band of devotees must suffer for that devotion, as friends brandish other iPhone and Android devices loaded with top-of-the-line cameras and countless apps. At a rugby tournament in Vancouver in early March, Tim Powers, an Ottawa executive, says he was ‘chastised’ for using his BlackBerry. He is willing to bear these slings and arrows. The keyboard suits ‘an old rugby player with some beaten-up hands,’ he says. Also, ‘I am not gentle,’ Mr. Powers says. ‘I almost feel like I could shoot it and it would still work’ … BlackBerrys, says Andrew Stivelman, a technical writer in Toronto, are ‘built like a tank’.”

“Although the company, now named BlackBerry Ltd. , no longer makes the phones, they live on through licensing agreements with companies that make and sell BlackBerry-branded hardware with Android operating systems … Meanwhile, fans of BlackBerrys wax lyrical about features like a curved shape that fits the hand, writing in forums such as There’s magic in BlackBerry 10 on Crackberry.com . A bonus, wrote one person last year, is reduced theft risk, ‘because thieves don’t know what they are’.”


Apple Stores: The DMV of Retail?

Business Insider: “Apple Stores have become an almost mythical part of the tech giant’s brand. Now, they could be killing it … if you’ve visited an Apple Store recently, you may have found that you weren’t visiting a magical tech utopia after all. Many customers are now comparing their Apple Store experiences to those they’ve had at a different place: the dreaded DMV.”

“Customers’ top complaints are focused on crowds and wait times, which can last for hours. Simply put, too many people need assistance at Apple Stores — and employees don’t have the time to help everyone immediately … Irritated customers tired of waiting for simple assistance tend to be less than impressed by Apple Stores’ unique design. Some say they feel Apple has prioritized artistry over customers’ needs.”

“In 2016, Apple retail boss Angela Ahrendts told Business Insider that the company needed ‘to open incredible places that almost behave like a town square, like a gathering place’ … For some, Apple Stores have become a site of frustration, not community mingling. However, the company is renovating dozens of stores across the US in an effort to better achieve its ‘town square’ goals. These revamped stores are larger, which could help with concerns of overcrowding. They also feature a new approach to the Genius Bar with the ‘Genius Grove,’ which allows a section of the store to be focused on repairs and assistance without involving lines.”


Goody Gumdrop: Blue Sole Shoes

Fast Company: “The blue soles of a new brand of shoes are made from an unlikely source: recycled chewing gum. The shoes, which are expected to launch later this year, are the latest project from a U.K. designer who has spent nearly a decade working on ways to turn discarded gum from sticky sidewalk blight into something useful.”

“Anna Bullus was in design school when she started thinking about the problem … She created a pink, bubble-shaped bin–itself made from recycled gum, blended with other recycled materials–to begin to collect the gum on central city streets, train stations, and other places with heavy foot traffic. When the bin is full, the whole container goes to a recycled facility, where any trash or cigarette butts are sorted out. The gum and bin are then recycled together … and made into pellets that can be used in the same type of manufacturing equipment that usually works with regular plastic.”

“Bullus says that her company, Gumdrop, is learning where to best position the bins to have the greatest chance of intersecting with someone at the moment that they want to get rid of gum … Turning gum into new products, she hopes, will give consumers more incentive not to litter old gum on the streets–and potentially begin recycling other trash as well.”


Fake Discounts: The Price You Pay

The Washington Post: “Washington Consumers’ Checkbook’s researchers tracked prices of big-ticket items sold at major retailers for 10 months and found disturbing pricing practices at 17 of the 19 studied. At these stores, many sale prices — even those that advertise big savings — are in place more than half the time. And at some stores, the ‘sales’ never end: For several chains, Checkbook found that most items it tracked were offered at a discount every week or almost every week.”

“Although Checkbook found that almost all the stores it checked often advertise misleading sales, some have more egregious pricing practices than others. For J.C. Penney, Kmart, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Sears, the items tracked were offered at sale prices more than 75 percent of the time. For example, at Neiman Marcus and Sears, 10 of the items tracked at both retailers were on sale every week for 10 months.”

“But nearly all the stores at which Checkbook shopped are guilty of some sales-price chicanery — among them, only Costco and Bed Bath & Beyond consistently conducted legitimate sales, meaning any discounts were in place less than half the time. The other 17 retailers as a group marked their items ‘on sale’ 57 percent of the time.”


Retail Equation: Returns from Hell

The Wall Street Journal: “Every time shoppers return purchases to Best Buy Co. they are tracked by a company that has the power to override the store’s touted policy and refuse to refund their money. That is because the electronics giant is one of several chains that have hired a service called Retail Equation to score customers’ shopping behavior and impose limits on the amount of merchandise they can return.”

“When a consumer makes a return, details about his or her identity and shopping visit are transmitted to Retail Equation, which then generates a ‘risk score.’ If the score exceeds the threshold specific to the retailer, a salesperson informs the consumer that future returns will be denied and then directs them to Retail Equation to request a return activity report or file a dispute.”

“It isn’t easy for shoppers to learn their standing before receiving a warning. Retailers typically don’t publicize their relationship with Retail Equation. And even if a customer tracks down his or her return report, it doesn’t include purchase history or other information used to generate a score. The report also doesn’t disclose the actual score or the thresholds for getting barred.”


J&J Credo Starts with Price & Value

Business Insider: In 1943, “Robert Wood Johnson, son of the company’s founder … wrote the company’s ‘credo,’ a 309-word mission statement published ahead of Johnson & Johnson’s initial public offering … The credo opens with, ‘We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We must constantly strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain reasonable prices’.”

“It then lists responsibilities the company has to suppliers and distributors, for making a fair profit; to employees, for respecting their dignity and paying fairly; to communities, for supporting charities, paying taxes fairly, respecting the environment, and fostering health education; and to stockholders, for making profits and continually growing the business.”

“The credo is in front of every J&J office in the world. And each year, all 140,000 employees answer a 100-question survey that assesses the leadership team’s performance agains the credo’s values … The resulting ‘credo scores’ then influence individual promotions and the allocation of resources to different teams.” Here’s a link to the Johnson & Johnson credo.


The Beauty of Millennial Fashion

The Wall Street Journal: “Makers of clothes and cosmetics are starting to keep highly sexualized or unrealistic images of women from their advertising in response to pressure from millennial women and their younger counterparts in Generation Z. An ad campaign by New York-based designer Alexander Wang debuting March 5 will show no women’s faces or bodies. Instead, it will display the clothes and what Mr. Wang calls ‘the spirit’ of the women who wear them … Just last fall, his label’s ads included an image of a scantily clad model sprawled atop theater seats with an Alexander Wang handbag between her legs.”

“Even before the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment, many of the millennial and Generation Z women these brands are courting had been protesting the stereotypical, highly sexualized or unrealistic depictions of women in ads.” Rachel Saunders, of research firm Cassandra, comments: “Part of it is the modern push for gender equality, but also because a super sexualized ad is going to make [the brand] seem uncreative and outdated to them. For young women, buying beauty and fashion products today has less to do with attracting a partner than it did with previous generations. They see it as self-care or being my best self.”

“Before, women opposed to such depictions didn’t have the megaphone of social media, she added. They also had fewer alternatives if they decided to give up a particular brand. However, the internet has shifted the balance in the shopper’s favor, giving her more clothing choices and a voice to influence brands.”


1916: When Department Stores Featured Hospitals

The New York Times: “Lord & Taylor, New York’s oldest luxury department store, founded in 1826, boasted ‘one of the most attractive and completely equipped of the small hospitals in New York City,’ according to an article in The Modern Hospital magazine in 1916. The store operated the hospital when it was located on Broadway and East 20th Street before moving to its new building on Fifth Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets in 1914. On Fifth Avenue, the entire 11th floor was devoted to employee health and welfare, from the hospital to various medical and dental clinics, a roof garden, gymnasium, a schoolroom for boys and girls and an employee restaurant.”

“B. Altman, between Fifth and Madison Avenues and 34th and 35th Streets, operated a 12th-floor emergency hospital that by 1916 was handling as many as 18,000 cases a year, according to Hospital Management magazine. A 1914 brochure celebrating the store’s expansion said, ‘The 12th floor of the new addition has been given over in its entirety to the use of the employees.’ Separate dining rooms served men and women, and a physician and two nurses oversaw a large medical suite and surgery. Also, in a sign of those times, there was a men’s smoking room.”

“Welfare services for department store workers began with John Wanamaker … He wanted to keep his workers healthy and happy, and so in an era of rapacious capitalism, child labor and male privilege he introduced half-day-Saturdays off, medical benefits and a retirement system … His competitors soon followed with medical facilities, employee exercise and lunchrooms, educational training, vacation programs and medical clinics. When Macy’s on West 34th Street expanded in 1924, the new 16th floor included an employee dental clinic with chairs for six dentists.”