Quote of the Day: Ralph Pini

Inside Blackberry: “Sometimes it can be very tough to let go. For BlackBerry, and more importantly for our customers, the hardest part in letting go is accepting that change makes way for new and better experiences.” – Ralph Pini, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager for Devices at BlackBerry, on the company’s decision to discontinue the Blackberry Classic and its tactile keyboard.

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Amazon Is Dropping List Prices

The New York Times: Amazon “built a reputation and hit $100 billion in annual revenue by offering deals. The first thing a potential customer saw was a bargain: how much an item was reduced from its list price. Now, in many cases, Amazon has dropped any mention of a list price. There is just one price. Take it or leave it.”

Larry Compeau, of Clarkson University comments: “They are trying to figure out what product categories have customers who are so tied into the Amazon ecosystem that list prices are no longer necessary.”

“In some categories, like groceries, Amazon seems to be using just one price, the buy-it-now price. If Amazon brings the milk and music into your house, not to mention videos and e-books and the devices to consume them on, as well as a hot dinner and just about any other object you could want, that presents a pricing challenge of a different sort. Untangling what those deals are worth — as opposed to what they cost — is probably impossible.”

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Helpline Hell: Bad Service on Purpose

The New York Times: “Getting caught in a tech support loop — waiting on hold, interacting with automated systems, talking to people reading from unhelpful scripts and then finding yourself on hold yet again — is a peculiar kind of aggravation that mental health experts say can provoke rage in even the most mild-mannered person. Worse, just as you suspected, companies are aware of the torture they are putting you through.”

Justin Robbins of the International Customer Management Institute comments: “Don’t think companies haven’t studied how far they can take things in providing the minimal level of service. Some organizations have even monetized it by intentionally engineering it so you have to wait an hour at least to speak to someone in support, and while you are on hold, you’re hearing messages like, ‘If you’d like premium support, call this number and for a fee, we will get to you immediately.’”

“Customer support experts recommended using social media, like tweeting or sending a Facebook message, to contact a company instead of calling … You can also consult websites like DialAHuman.com and GetHuman.com for phone numbers and directions on what digits to press to bypass the automated system and get a live person. Failing that, apps like Lucy Phone and Fast Customer will wait on hold for you and call you when an actual person picks up.”

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When Payless Means ‘Pay More’

The New York Times: “Rummage around on the Payless site and you will find little about refueling rules. But two weeks ago, another of the company’s livid customers — and there are many on sites like Consumer Affairs — said she was charged $79 for a fill-up, although she returned the car with the tank full. Why? She was told that she did not meet two criteria: ■ She failed to fill up within five miles of the airport. ■ She failed to fill the tank within half an hour of returning the car.”

It obviously doesn’t matter when you refill a gas tank. A full tank on Wednesday is a full tank the next Tuesday. But even the five-mile rule is a gotcha. A Nissan Versa, part of Payless’s compact fleet, gets 31 miles per gallon in the city, 40 on the highway. So let’s say that on average it gets 35 miles per gallon. That makes five miles one-seventh of a gallon. A gallon of gas now costs about $2.30, according to AAA. So five miles of gas costs about 33 cents. Payless, in other words, will charge drivers for a full tank — in this case nearly $40 — if the company spends more than 33 cents to top off the tank of a Nissan Versa.”

The five-mile rule “does not apply at Avis or Budget, which are part of the same company, the Avis Budget Group, that owns Payless. (Come out and wave to the people, Chairman Ronald Nelson.) Asked why Avis and Budget don’t use such a draconian standard, the spokeswoman explained it is because ‘Payless is a low-cost provider’.”

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The Bestseller Code: Algorithmic Hits

The Bookseller: “Jodie Archer, a former publisher and consultant, and Matthew Jockers, co-founder of Stanford University’s Literary Lab, have built an algorithm aimed at proving that mega-hits are predictable. The system, which analyses theme, plot, style and character to predict whether a manuscript will be a bestseller, has looked at 20,000 novels using “cutting-edge text-mining techniques”. The duo’s efforts are charted in a new book, The Bestseller Code to be published by Allen Lane in September.”

“The authors claims that it is correct ‘over eighty percent of the time.’ However the selection of The Circle, which according to Nielsen BookScan in the UK, has sold 43,638 copies in paperback since spring 2014, and never appeared in the Top 50 or any of The Bookseller’s fiction charts, could prove controversial. The Eggers book—the novel which scored 100% on the algorithm—is described as ‘the single most paradigmatic bestseller of the past 30 years’.”

Jodi Archer comments: “The maverick editor that wants to do something new, to start a new trend, that’s not going to happen using technology.” Yet she says that the algorithm will
“actually be very good” at identifying likely best-sellers.

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Is Bud ‘Light’ on Women’s Pay?

The Washington Post: “In its newest national TV ad, the world’s biggest brewer portrays itself as a staunch defender of paying women as much as men … But the ads highlight an awkward reality for the beer giant — and the rest of corporate America.”

“In the Bud Light ad, (Seth) Rogen and (Amy) Schumer discuss how women must often pay more for the same things, a problem consumer advocates call the ‘gender tax.’ When Schumer says women are charged more for cars, dry cleaning and shampoo (among other things), Rogen says, ‘You pay more but get paid less? That is double wrong!’ Shumer says: “That’s why Bud Light costs the same, no matter if you’re a dude or a lady.”

So, The Washington Post asked “Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgian beer conglomerate that brews Bud Light, whether it pays the thousands of men and women in its workforce equally … The company won’t say. It declined to provide data on how many women it employs, how much those women are paid, and how that pay compares to their male colleagues.”

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Spirit Airlines: Operations = The Experience

The New York Times: “Spirit Airlines is ready to shake off its bad-boy streak and grow up a little … the new chief executive, Robert Fornaro, six months into his job, says he is ready to put a new face on Spirit and a new emphasis on customer service. The makeover also includes toning down the frat-boy image, cleaning up the cabins and maybe even getting more of the planes to arrive on time.”

He comments: “There is a big change in terms of focusing on our operations. This is how we want to be viewed: on time, friendly, clean and efficient.”

“Mr. Fornaro … argues that he can improve on-time and complaint ratings without incurring higher costs … By paying to improve operations, he said, the airline would cut down on expenses in other areas, like fees it incurs when it has to reimburse passengers for canceled flights. It would also cut down on overtime needed to pay staff who work longer hours because of delays. ‘If we run a better operation, we’ll have lower recovery costs,’ he said.”

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Made By Cow: Introducing Cold-Pressure Milk

Gizmag: “Made by Cow (MBC) says its alternative cold-pressure approach is a world first, with the milk going from cow to bottle within a matter of hours. The company explains that it is then put under intense ‘isostatic cold water pressure.’ Here, cold water is used to compress both the bottle, which is plastic so as to flex, and the milk inside … MBC reports that ‘bacteria can’t withstand the pressure we subject them to’ and so are eliminated, while the cold temperature of the water reportedly ensures that the process is gentler on the milk’s nutritional profile.”

“MBC claims that the resulting produce is creamier and more vitamin-rich than conventionally processed milk and that it will actually last slightly longer, too, though specifics are not yet available.”

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PS: Ikea Beyond The Basics

Fast Company: “Every few years, Ikea releases its limited-edition PS Collection—a series of experimental products that aren’t intended to supplant its perennial offerings, but rather to add a jolt of energy into its stores … For its 2017 PS Collection, Ikea’s designers chose a theme they call Young Urban Life, delving into new material research, fabrication techniques, and product types.”

“Some of the more idiosyncratic products include a seating piece that looks like the love child of a Papasan chair and a rocker, a sofa that looks like it’s composed of pillows, and a throw blanket that can be worn like a jacket … For the practicality-minded set, there are still a few space-efficient pieces, like stackable storage bins, collapsible side tables that fold away when not in use, and arm chairs that join to become a love seat.”

Henrik Most Nielsen of Ikea: “Ikea is for the many, but the many are different. We’re trying to attract customers who think Ikea isn’t at the front of design. We’re moving from basics to embodying a strong personality and style.”

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Vegan Seats: What’s Next In Luxury Cars?

The Wall Street Journal: “Interior styling, of which seating is the cornerstone, is the second most cited reason why a shopper won’t buy a car—beating out a vehicle’s dependability rating … with rising consumer expectations and auto-maker competition, the once lowly seat is now getting some much needed attention … Some seats offer “lane-departure warning systems that shake a corner of the seat, heating and cooling options, and, in some cases, a massage feature.”

“Cars 20 years ago were all about horsepower, tire width or how fast you could go from zero to 60,” says Ray Scott, of Lear Corp., a seat designer. “Now it’s all about the driving experience, and seats are where the person is spending most of the time.”

“Lear has developed technology that turns the seat into a biometrics scanner with the ability to monitor the occupant’s heart rate and display it on the center entertainment screen.” Tesla “is offering vegan-style seating in its Model X and the new Model 3 SUV due out next year. The option involves seats covered with synthetic leather.”

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