Clarence Saunders & The ‘Piggly Wiggly’ Revolution

Jerry Cianciolo: ” … Self-service was a game-changer when Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tenn., 100 years ago this month … The 35-year-old Saunders set out to ‘ the demon of high prices’ … He reasoned that shoppers would gladly hand-select their own merchandise, and pay upfront, in exchange for lower prices and faster shopping. Coin-operated cafeterias had demonstrated as much with self-service sandwiches and desserts.”

“King Piggly Wiggly … stocked 1,000 products, four times the variety of a typical market. Customers entered through a turnstile and, basket in hand, followed a path through the aisles. Goods were neatly arranged with clearly marked prices, something heretofore unseen. There were even scales for shoppers to weigh sugar and other staples. The grand opening was a spectacle, featuring a beauty contest … Each woman entering the store received a flower and every child a balloon. A brass band played.”

“By 1923 … more than 1,200 Piggly Wiggly stores across dozens of states were doing $100 million annually (about $1.4 billion in today’s dollars). The company hit 2,600 stores by 1932 … Saunders didn’t integrate circuits or sequence the human genome. An observer once noted that coming up with a self-service grocery was ‘as simple as looking out the window or scratching your ear.’ Still, it was Saunders who gambled on the unconventional approach, doggedly spread self-service across the nation and shaped the grocery industry we know today.”

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Shoparazzi & The Kmart Shopping Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “Kmart … recently overhauled one of its stores in a Chicago suburb. The Des Plaines, Ill., outlet introduced a modest grocery section with meat and fresh produce … Lowered aisle heights allow customers to see new department signs from across the store, and the layout was made to look more spacious by widening the aisles. On a recent Saturday, a filled the store to take advantage of giveaways and to admire a face-lift that includes new paint, brighter lights, less clutter and the wider aisles.”

Dan Macaluso, a shopper, comments: “It’s amazing what cleaning the floors and turning the lights on can do … It suddenly looks like they want to be in business.” Kmart CMO Kelly Cook explains: “We’re starting here … In the next couple of weeks we’re really going to drill down to understand every single aspect.”

The branch is testing a free personal shopping program called Shoparazzi. Through it, customers can place an online order for pickup—even asking for items Kmart doesn’t stock but which a personal shopper could acquire … Tricia Perrotti, a Kmart spokeswoman, said the Des Plaines renovation is part of a plan to better align marketing and the store experience.”

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Apple Jack: Force-Fed Innovation

Quartz: “In an era where corporations bend over backward to appear customer-friendly, Apple’s determination to force-feed innovation to buyers is unusual. It’s a stance with roots in the company’s history as an underdog in the cutthroat world of consumer technology … Apple’s most groundbreaking developments came when it trailed larger companies, and needed devices that were radically different to attract notice and help it steal market share from incumbents.”

“Of course Apple is no longer the scrappy young upstart it once was. As the tech behemoth continues to grow and exert its influence, Apple is now the incumbent, fending off challengers. It has fewer opportunities to launch major new or disruptive products, so its best bet to stay ahead of its competitors is innovating within its existing devices. In the case of the new phone, removing the headphone jack makes the device slimmer and more water-resistant. Like it or not, customers will probably buy it. And in time, conventional headphones may seem as quaint as floppy disks and flip phones.”

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Zalando: Fashion, Emotion & Ecommerce

The Economist: “One of Europe’s most interesting technology companies sells shoes and threads … Zalando has a Silicon Valley-inspired work environment, holding “f**k-up nights’ to celebrate failure and ‘hack weeks’ to cook up new ideas. It encourages its employees to abandon hierarchy and structure for what it calls ‘radical agility.’ It has a 1,350-strong, and rapidly growing, technology team. Among its other assets are its software, which it built itself, and its user-friendly apps (two-thirds of all traffic goes through mobile phones).”

“Zalando pays close attention to data. It gleans a wealth of numbers from the more-than-5m daily visits to its site, and some brands and retailers of the bricks-and-mortar sort give it access to their stock counts. Both sets of figures help improve the firm’s forecasting of fickle fashion trends, its use of targeted ads and the speed of its responses to shifts in weather patterns or fashion tastes. Through data-mining it can spot the trendsetters among its customers and stock up on what they buy. In future it wants to sell its insights to the rest of the industry.”

“Amazon is pursuing the more price-conscious shopper, whereas Zalando is after a higher-value, more brand-conscious segment. The company believes that for such customers, shopping for clothes, shoes and accessories is an emotional activity; shopping on Amazon is just a transaction.”

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Abercrombie & The Demographics of Fashion

Business Insider: “Abercrombie has been trying to save itself for a while now, reinventing its image and as a result becoming totally unrecognizable to the generation of kids who grew up shopping there in the late ’90s and early aughts. The goal was to appeal to older shoppers — 18 to 25 year olds, not teens … In theory, this was a smart idea … this would open the gates to a demographic with more spending money. The move would also help Abercrombie set itself apart from its more teen-friendly sister brand, Hollister … But the brand’s attempt to execute a turnaround is proving to be very difficult.”

Eric Beder of Wunderlich Securities comments: “While the shift to an older customer is a strategy for Abercrombie, we see limited reasons for older customers to shift back to a ‘teen’ brand and, frankly, there are better brands and lifestyles for the 20+ customer to focus on.”

Betty Chen, managing director of Mizuho Securities adds: “In the history of retail, it is very difficult when a brand tries to reposition itself anywhere along the age demographic. You can almost predict failure when you’re going older or younger.”

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Amazon: ‘Subscribe & Save’ or ‘Bait & Switch’?

The New York Times: What do subscriptions to a newspaper, magazine or Netflix account have in common? Once you sign up, you expect to pay the same rate every month. Yet that’s not the case at Amazon when you subscribe to its Subscribe & Save program, which automatically refills orders for household staples like instant coffee, napkins or trash bags.”

“Buried in the e-commerce company’s terms and conditions is that the Subscribe & Save discount is applied to the price of the item at the time that the order is placed. And on Amazon, prices change frequently — including sometimes rising.”

“In Amazon’s online forums, dozens of people posted about prices of Subscribe & Save items fluctuating, with some calling the program a ‘bait and switch’ subscription scheme. Amazon declined to comment. The company emails people 10 days before a recurring subscription delivery, when it informs customers of a new price of their item so they can change or skip the order. Any sticker shock, analysts said, may be the result of Amazon’s complex pricing system coming into conflict with consumer expectations of a traditional subscription.”

“Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst for Forrester Research who follows Amazon, said the retailer was probably pushing prices up to test how loyal customers are to products and how much more they are willing to pay for them. Yet the sharp price changes on Subscribe & Save items caught her by surprise.” She comments: “It doesn’t seem as customer-friendly as Amazon typically is. That’s what’s unusual.”

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Lowering The Bar: Soap Loses Lather

The Washington Post: “More than half of consumers — 55 percent — say bar soap is inconvenient when compared to liquid varieties, according to a new report by research firm Mintel. Among their chief complaints: Bar soaps leave residue in the shower, require a dish for storage, and aren’t as long-lasting as liquid options.

“An earlier study by Mintel found millennials are eschewing cereal for similar reasons. Roughly 40 percent of those surveyed by Mintel said ‘cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it,’ according to The New York Times. As a result, cereal sales have slipped by nearly 30 percent since 2000.”

“But when it comes to soap, the perception of cleanliness may also be a factor. Nearly half of those surveyed said they believe bar soaps are often covered in germs, a view that was more widely held among younger consumers than older ones.”

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Luke’s Lobsters: Rolls From ‘Trap to Table’

The New York Times: “Oil companies have long practiced a vertical integration strategy to track and control the flow of petroleum from the oil field to the gas pump … Now the practice is gaining momentum in the food industry.” Among this new breed of restauranteurs is Luke Holden, co-owner of “19 Luke’s Lobster restaurants, two food trucks and a lobster tail cart in the United States, and five shacks in Japan.”

Luke “holds an ownership stake in a co-op of Maine fishermen, which allows him to track where and how the lobsters are caught, and control the quality, freshness and pricing. He also owns the processing plant, Cape Seafood, that packages and prepares the lobsters for his restaurants.” He comments: “We’re able to trace every pound of seafood we serve back to the harbor where it was sustainably caught and to support fishermen we know and trust.”

“When Mr. Holden agreed to buy all of the co-op’s catches for his restaurants, support its sustainability practices and give the co-op 50 percent of the profits from a Luke’s Lobster restaurant that is attached to the wharf, the fishermen agreed … Mr. Holden is projecting sales of $25 million this year and $42 million in 2018. Plans are in the works to open six new restaurants this year and 40 more by 2020.”

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Services: The Killer App of Smart ‘Things’

Christopher Mims: “The killer app of the Internet of Things isn’t a thing at all—it is services … When internet-connected devices are considered a service, consumers don’t have to worry about integrating gadgets. Focusing on services also helps vendors clarify their offerings … In the case of Brita, the service is filtered water. For alarm maker ADT, it is security; for ride-sharing companies, it is transportation.”

“The term Internet of Things is misleading, argues Ljuba Miljkovic, co-founder of Automatic Labs Inc., which makes a device that can turn almost any car into a connected vehicle. More important than simply adding a chip and a wireless connection is ‘why?’ How does the combination of smarts, sensors and connectivity enhance people’s lives?”

“Shifting from describing objects as smart and connected to realizing that they are elements of a service offering allows us to make a prediction: The next breakout Internet-of-Things company will be another services business.”

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British Airways: Beginning its Descent?

The Economist: “Back in the 1990s, British Airways, the nation’s flag-carrier, proclaimed itself to be ‘the world’s favourite airline’ in a long-running and hugely successful advertising campaign … Were British Airways to run the same campaign today, it would probably stir a mixture of derision abroad and embarrassment at home” amid “a relentless dilution of BA’s once-superior customer service and on-board product.”

“Despite notching up five consecutive years in the black, BA is getting even stingier … Without formally announcing any changes, the airline last month stopped providing two meals to Economy passengers on flights under eight-and-a-half hours. In lieu of a complimentary sandwich six hours after their first meal, travellers on the London to New York route are now presented with one—and only one … fun-sized chocolate bar.”

In addition (or subtraction): “bottled water, pretzels, cheese and biscuits will also be removed from Economy cabins … tuck boxes—trolleys filled with free snacks on long-haul flights—will be removed from Economy, while Club passengers will no longer receive a choice of their starter. Next month, the airline will reportedly stop providing free newspapers at the gate for inbound short-haul flights to London … Taken in isolation, these measures are tolerable if not popular. But BA should be careful; reputations are more difficult to win back than to lose.”

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