How Netflix Creates ‘Taste Communities’

Wired: “The Defenders provides Netflix with a unique case study. Instead of merely allowing it to find out if someone who likes, say, House of Cards also will like Daredevil (yes, BTW), it tells them which of the people who landed on Daredevil because of House of Cards will make the jump to The Defenders.”

“Wildly different programs lead people to The Defenders’ standalone shows. The top lead-in show for Luke Cage? Narcos. But for Iron Fist, it’s a Dave Chappelle special. Someone who watches Jones probably will watch Cage, but beyond that the groups of people—Netflix calls them ‘taste communities’—gravitating toward those shows enjoy very different programming.”

“Every Netflix user belongs to three or four taste communities. It’s easy to say that this influences what appears in your recommendations, but it’s not quite that simple. Membership in those communities does more than dictate the top 10 comedies appearing in a row of your queue, it determines whether comedies appear there at all … Each time you open Netflix it exposes you to 40 or 50 titles. Netflix considers it a win if you choose one of them.”

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Pizza Al Taglio Doesn’t Cut Corners

The Wall Street Journal: “A number of New York pizza makers are now offering the classic treat with different geometry: Their ‘pies’ aren’t pie-shaped. Instead, they are based on a rectangular-shaped style, known as pizza al taglio, that is popular in Rome. Further distinguishing this version: Slices are often served at room temperature. And when it comes to cutting the pizza, forget about the traditional wheel-style cutter. This is a pizza best divided with a scissors.”

“To some extent, the interest in pizza al taglio speaks to the appetite New Yorkers have for a broadening array of pizza styles, circular or rectangular-shaped. The city has seen restaurants offering everything including Detroit-style pizza and the classic Chicago deep-dish version. And that is not to mention the Sicilian pie, another rectangular style, that has been a mainstay at New York pizzerias for decades.”

“Moreover, other Roman styles are also finding their way to the city. Pinsa Lab, which opened earlier this year in Brooklyn, specializes in an crispy circular style, known as pinsa, that is said to date back to ancient times … But pizza al taglio has special appeal for a host of reasons, say fans. Some like the fanciful toppings that are often used: At Fornino, for example, the pizza al taglio comes in versions with everything from heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese to radicchio and figs.”

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Brands Go Local To Beat Amazon

The Wall Street Journal: “As Amazon.com Inc.tightens its grip on retail sales, a growing number of brands are pushing back by championing local retailers. Some manufacturers are enforcing minimum advertised prices to make it harder for online sellers to undercut local merchants, while others give local stores first dibs on new products or funnel customers from their own websites to local outlets.” For example: “Luxottica Group SpA last year launched a minimum advertised pricing program that restricts the price at which its Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses can be advertised … The average discount on Ray-Ban sunglasses on Amazon has shrunk to about 3% as of this month from 37% in April 2016, according to Luxottica.”

“Free stroller tuneups are one way UPPAbaby, a Hingham, Mass.-based maker of baby strollers and car seats, draws customers back to local retailers carrying its products after they buy one of its strollers, which cost up to $900 … Running gear maker Brooks is testing a new app that uses an iPad connected to a treadmill to help local retailers determine which Brooks shoe best suits a runner’s biomechanics … Orb has a program designed to encourage local retailers to try out new products without worrying they might be saddled with excess inventory. At the end of each quarter, local stores can donate slow-selling items to a favorite charity. Orb then replaces the donated goods with new items selected by the retailer at no extra charge.”

“Arc’teryx salespeople use e-commerce sales data to help merchants determine which styles of clothing, shoes and backpacks are best sellers in their local market … If Simms Fishing Products had its way, the company’s waders and other fishing gear would never show up on Amazon’s website. The Bozeman, Mont., company doesn’t sell directly to Amazon, and its dealer policy specifically prohibits sales on third-party platforms … Simms employees visit local independent retailers and use computer-assisted design software to create customized Simms shops within each store.”

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Meal-Kit Meltdown: DIY Meals Are Cooked

The Wall Street Journal: “The promise of meal kits was to finally make cooking easy enough that Americans would actually do it. Proponents hoped that a cooking revival also could ease the nation’s obesity crisis—a way to reclaim control of what we eat from the big food manufacturers and restaurant chains … the amount of cooking required has apparently been too much, even for the farm-to-table crowd. (So much chopping!) Industry analysts believe that meal-kit purveyors are having trouble retaining customers.”

“The companies are only now starting to acknowledge the truth about the American home cook. Blue Apron recently introduced recipes that are faster to prepare. Amazon and other more recent entrants such as FreshRealm, Gobble and Terra’s Kitchen are going further, dialing back the prep work to almost zero.”

“Americans talk a good game about the importance of home cooking and family meals, but we still want convenience above all. To succeed, meal kits won’t just have to be easier than starting from scratch; they will have to be as easy as takeout.”

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Cult of Queue: The Thrill of The Wait

The New York Times: “Theolus Jackson slouched against the stanchion separating him from the entrance of Supreme, the streetwear emporium on Lafayette Street in SoHo. He had registered on the company’s website to pick up a ticket assuring him a spot near the head of a line that by 10 a.m. that day spooled around the corner toward Broadway.” He comments: “Most of the time I have my music, so I’m not bothered. I come every week — I like the vibe — and I just chill.”

Jeff Carvalho of Highsnobiety explains: “These kids don’t come to go into the store. They want to be in the line. The line is the new community. When 200 to 300 kids are lining up outside of a store, it’s because they want to be part of something.”

“Today, the queue is partly a resellers’ market: energetic young entrepreneurs snapping up wares in multiples, then flipping them at soaring markups on eBay or selling them for pocket change to finance their own buys … For many others, though, the wait itself is sufficient reward.” Noah Callahan-Bever, the editor of Complex, observes: “The death of the shopping center has created this void in kids’ lives. It’s being filled in part by this society of kids, some known to each other only from the internet, all of them into this niche product that acts as a social identifier. For them, standing in line for a T-shirt or baseball cap is a way of telling the world that you know about something that not everyone is hip to.”

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The Killer Instinct: How Men Shop

The Washington Post: A new survey by Men’s Health magazine “found that 84 percent of men are now the primary grocery shoppers in their households, marking a 19 percent increase from a decade ago … It is worth noting that Men’s Health surveyed only men. Other surveys of both men and women have concluded that women continue to do slightly more of the country’s food-buying: NPD Group, for example, estimates that men are the primary grocery shoppers in 41 percent of U.S. households, while market research firm VideoMining puts that figure at about 49 percent of shoppers.”

“In any case, there is mounting evidence that more men are shopping for groceries than in previous generations. The reasons for those shifts are twofold, experts say. Gender roles are shifting, which means men are taking on more household responsibilities. And Americans are increasingly putting off marriage … And it doesn’t hurt that ‘there’s a younger generation of man who’s actively interested in food,’ said Paco Underhill, chief executive of Envirosell.”

“But there are still pronounced differences in how men and women approach grocery shopping … Case in point: Women are most likely to buy 12-packs of beer, while men typically buy six-packs, according to Underhill.” He comments: “Men tend to be hunters: They want to kill something quickly, drag it out and feel successful. Women, though, they’re thinking ahead and planning accordingly.”

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Surprise #1: Google+ Is Most-Loved Network

The Washington Post: “Google+ has topped the American Consumer Satisfaction Index’s 2017 list evaluating how users feel about Internet social media companies … For those who don’t remember the social network or didn’t think it was still around, Google+ was Google’s largely failed attempt to answer the rise of Facebook and Twitter … It didn’t take off for many reasons, including: its complexity, the fact that people were pretty set in their social media ways and Google’s somewhat ham-handed attempts to require people to use it to comment on YouTube.”

“But Google+ did find footing with groups looking to make community pages, and now has an estimated 111 million users, according to Forbes — about one-third of Twitter, or 1/6 of Facebook. It’s continued to work on the product for those customers. And that, at least in terms of customer satisfaction, seems to have paid off.”

This “could indicate that, the smaller or more specialized an audience, the more you can do to focus your network to fit. The survey credits Pinterest’s high ranking, for example, to ‘increasing site efficiency and search technology’ as well as moves to make it easier to shop directly from the site … For Facebook, the right path may not be as clear when looking for direction from 2 billion users. The upshot of the report seems to be that if you want people to be happy on the Internet, you should go niche and really listen to your community.”

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Exact Change: The Shekel Effect

Dan Ariely: “People are more inclined to buy items that are priced on the scale of familiar, low-denomination coins. When something costs the same as a coin, we can categorize the purchase as cheap and not think too much about it. But the moment something costs more than a single coin, we start thinking more carefully about whether or not we want to buy it.”

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Brick Sh*thouse: It’s not Amazon’s Fault

Business Insider: “Online sales are growing rapidly — up 15% in the most recent quarter compared to 4% for total retail sales. But total e-commerce sales account for just 8.5% of overall retail sales in the US. The other 91.5% of purchases are still made in brick-and-mortar stores, according to the US Census Bureau. So what’s sending mall and store traffic plunging, if most purchases are still made in stores?”

“Retailers expanded rapidly in the 1990s, blanketing the US with hundreds of shopping centers and strip malls under the expectation that demand would follow. Demand never quite caught up and then the recession hit, resulting in a sharp contraction in discretionary spending … Too much excess retail space has led to a drop in retail sales per square foot in the US.”

“Many retailers expected sales to bounce back after the recession. But that never happened for a majority of mall-based stores, primarily because people changed their shopping habits … Specifically, shoppers are buying more experiences than things … this trend, which has been particularly devastating to apparel retailers, is due in part to the rise of social media.” Consultant Doug Stephens comments: “Experiences make a better story on social media than things.”

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New England Scrambles to Save Country Stores

The Wall Street Journal: “For 203 years, the Francestown Village Store served its tiny New Hampshire town, selling everything from fresh-baked bread and live fishing bait to winter hats and groceries while offering a place where residents could gather and gossip. But the institution, formerly known as the Long Store, closed earlier this month … hit by changing consumer habits such as online shopping and residents who increasingly commute out of the town of 1,600 for work and shop at large grocery stores on their way home.”

Designed to provide everything rural residents might need, general stores often are packed to the gills with things ranging from tools and electrical supplies to fly swatters, newspapers, meat and other food, long underwear and maybe even a bottle of champagne. Many offer postal services and function as a town center, where locals debate political issues or find out who in the community needs help.”

“Vermont is losing three or four general stores a year, and is down to about 80 from more than 100 a decade ago … In Putney, Vt., the local historical society raised money to buy the embattled Putney General Store and in May took over the day-to-day operation there. In Bath, N.H., Scott and Becky Mitchell jumped into an auction last year and bought the historic Brick Store, which is so old that the sides of its counter are angled to allow women in hoop skirts to get closer to the merchandise.” Says Becky: “Customers come and say, ‘thank you for saving it.’ The town really needed it.”

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