How Categories Affect Our Perceptions

The New York Times: “What we think we’re looking at can alter what we actually see. More broadly, when we put things into a category, research has found, they actually become more alike in our minds. ‘Similarity serves as a basis for the classification of objects,’ wrote the noted psychologist Amos Tversky, ‘but it is also influenced by the adopted classification.’ The flip side holds: Things we might have viewed as more similar become, when placed into two distinct categories, more different.”

“Categorization affects not just how we perceive things, but how we feel about them. When we like something, we seem to want to break it down into further categories, away from the so-called basic level. Birders do not just see ‘birds,’ gardeners do not just see ‘flowers’; they see specific variations. The more we like something, the more we like to categorize it.”

“When we struggle to categorize something, we like it less … Even if we seem to like easy categorization, we’re not rigid about the categories themselves. A few decades ago, for example, the idea of beer in America meant a pale-colored lager, strongly carbonated, low in alcohol and lacking flavor. Following the craft beer revolution, the very category of beer has expanded enormously, with any number of subcategories … Categories can help us enjoy things for what they are. When existing categories do not suffice, we simply invent new ones … The great peril of this reliance on categorizing is that we could miss something that lies outside our perception.”

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The ‘Perfect’ Ingredient Tells A Story

The Washington Post: “Artisanal beauty products are often built around at least one obscure ingredient, the procurement of which (it’s implied) is really difficult. There’s no distance these brands won’t travel, whether for a body scrub with ‘white sand particles from the shores of Bora Bora,’ or a ‘gel treatment serum’ made from ‘the stem cells of Australian kakadu plums.’ They might need to go back in time to craft skin products made with ‘donkey milk . . . known as a beauty elixir since the ancient ages.’ There’s an emphasis on the rare find from nature, almost but not quite lost to mankind … the fruit from a tree previously known only to peoples of the Amazon.”

“That rare ingredient must be gathered with care, ideally by local villagers, processed in a lab under the most stringent standards, and then placed into a product whose label declares its transparency of its process, its freedom from potentially dangerous chemicals, its fair trade and cruelty-free status, its philanthropic efforts, and the all-around goodness of its intentions.”

“The perfect ingredient doesn’t just moisturize or smell good or look pretty on a label; the perfect ingredient tells a story we all want to hear.”

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‘Millennials’ Are People Too

Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times: “If your management or marketing theories involve collapsing all millennials into a catchall anthropological category — as if you’re dealing with space aliens or some newly discovered aboriginal tribe that’s suddenly invaded modernity — you’re doing it wrong.”

“Sure, the demographic group exists as an amorphous bloc. But you are as likely to come upon an archetypal millennial as you are to run into Joe Sixpack or be invited to a barbecue at the median American household. It’s hard to believe this even needs to be said, yet here we are: Macroscale demographic trends rarely govern most individuals’ life and work decisions. For most practical purposes — hiring and managing, selling to, creating products for — your company may be better off recognizing more discrete and meaningful characteristics in workers and customers than simply the year of their birth.”

“According to Laszlo Bock, who runs human resources at Google, pigeonholing workers into categories is nothing new, and it’s rarely helpful in running a workplace … Google’s human resources department, which the company calls ‘people operations,’ is famous for collecting and analyzing data about its work force to empirically back up its management techniques. Google’s workers range from recent college grads to people in their 80s. And as far as Mr. Bock has been able to tell, millennials, as a broad category, simply aren’t very different from everyone else.”

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Consignment Retail: What’s Old Is New Again

The New York Times: “Clothing resellers like Material Wrld, Crossroads and thredUP propose to make ‘refreshing’ your wardrobe more joyful, with their own trade-in kits and cash incentives to shop their wares to keep the cycle going. Ethical elimination is a theme (a corollary to ethical consumption). The manifesto of Crossroads, a favorite of college students who worry that their Urban Outfitter discards may end up in a landfill, is that ‘fashion shouldn’t come at a cost.’ Material Wrld aims to alleviate ‘fashion guilt’ with its own promise: ‘We’ll handle yesterday’s fashion so you can focus on tomorrow’.”

“Tradesy is like a dating site for your old clothes: You can post a photo, tell its story and the site will price your garment (a button invites online shoppers to ‘love’ your listings). Move Loot will do the same for your furniture; if a piece sells, the company will handle the exchange and arrange for pickup. So will Lofty, Chairish and Viyet, which sell high-end furniture, decorative items and artwork; curators from Lofty and Viyet will vet your items in your home. The luxury site the RealReal, a favorite of fashion-conscious New Yorkers, trades in artwork, designer clothing and jewelry.”

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Manhattan Saddlery: The Past as the Future

The New York Times: “When horseback riding was the dominant mode of transportation, equestrian shops were as common as fresh-pressed juice bars are today. East 24th Street was so populated with places to outfit and care for horses that it came to be known as Old Stable Row. Times have changed. And for the city equestrian, a rare breed in itself, the only remaining shop of its kind on Old Stable Row is Manhattan Saddlery.”

“The smell of leather permeates the sprawling two-story shop, greeting customers who arrive looking for saddles, bridles, halters, crops, stirrups and riding pants … Charlotte Kullen was shopping on a recent Saturday, as she does about once a week. At the shop she finds a receptive audience for her latest stories about Asantro, her horse. ‘It was his birthday yesterday,’ she said, displaying photos on her phone of the Dutch Warmblood, an athletic breed often used in competitions.”

Another shopper, Alex Roy, comments: “It’s funny, like any brick-and-mortar shop, if you think about it, you can buy anything they carry online … But you come here to talk to the people and to see the place.”

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Polaroid Story: The Camera Does The Rest

The Wall Street Journal: As described in The Camera Does The Rest, by Peter Buse: “There aren’t many 3-year-olds who can take credit for inspiring a revolution in the way millions of people view the world … it was engineer Edwin Land’s daughter, Jennifer, who asked one evening in 1943 why it took so long to view the photographs that the family had shot while on vacation … Land set out on a walk to ponder that question and, so the story goes, returned six hours later with an answer that would transform the hidebound practice of photography: the instant snapshot.”

The first Polaroid camera was introduced in 1948: “People loved watching the image emerge on paper—even in bright sunlight. Users of the early cameras waved the picture in the air believing that it would develop faster (it didn’t). Taking a photograph was suddenly fun in itself. You could view the good times while the good times were still going on … ‘One minute’ pictures owed nothing to the past; they celebrated the present.”

“The party might have gone on forever had it not been for … the digital revolution … The corpse of Edwin Land’s company was not yet cold when a wave of nostalgia for the Polaroid look swept over the digital-photo community. Today there are several apps that will duplicate the 70-year-old Polaroid appearance—white borders and all—including one app called ShakeIt Photo. The shooter snaps a photo with a smartphone, then shakes the phone to hasten development of the ‘film.’ And in an instant, like magic, the picture appears.”

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TJ Maxx Defies E-Commerce Trends

The Washington Post: The success of TJ Maxx “offers some insight about what is — and isn’t — proving enticing to customers in the current shopping environment. For starters, TJX’s strength is evidence that the recent woes of traditional retailers can not simply be chalked up to the rise of online shopping. Marshalls has no e-commerce offering at all, nor does HomeGoods, another fast-growing TJX-owned chain … T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods offer hard-to-ignore evidence that customers are still plenty eager to shop in physical stores if the merchandise, price and service are on point.”

“The booming sales at TJX also underscore the extent to which shoppers generally are embracing off-price shopping, with its promise of name brands at low prices and a treasure hunt-like shopping experience … So far, TJX’s strategy is proving quite productive, with research firm eMarketer estimating that its stores generate about $309 in sales per square foot.”

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Half of Americans Fear Shopping Online

Boing Boing: “A study by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration found that half of American Internet users are ‘deterred’ from engaging in online transactions because of fears over privacy and security breaches … The survey’s respondents cited the risk of identity theft as their main source of anxiety, followed by privacy concerns over data collection by online services and the US government.”

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McDonald’s Ritual = Customer Loyalty

The Washington Post: “Surely there are plenty of customers who have traded up from the fast-food standbys for pricier offerings from fast-casual restaurants that they perceive as healthier and fresher. But now that we’re deeper into the fast-casual boom and consumers have adjusted to this new restaurant landscape, it’s worth noting that they tend to stay exclusively in one dining lane.”

“So if Taco Bell, for example, were to slip into a rough patch, it seems more likely that those dollars are being lost to another fast-food player — not Chipotle. And as Chipotle aims to pull out of the sales spiral it has been in since some of its restaurants were closed because of e. coli contamination, it might be better off not trying to emulate Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu, but instead trying to win over the people getting lunch at Panera.”

“McDonald’s still dwarfs the other brands in terms of overall foot traffic, and its customers have very little overlap with other chains … McDonald’s customers also tend to be more loyal than any others in the industry, preferring to stick with the Golden Arches as a ritual instead of bouncing around different chains.”

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Some Men Go Shirtless When Brushing With Crest

The New York Times: “Among the tidbits that Crest, owned by Procter & Gamble, learned from its recent monthlong quest for selfies: There’s a huge spike in brushing from 4 to 6 p.m., probably tied to a desire for happy-hour fresh breath. That knowledge could be useful when Crest decides which times of the day to start future social media campaigns.”

“The selfies are a good way for companies to obtain information that people can’t or don’t articulate in focus groups or other traditional research methods … For example, they could lead to an understanding of which rituals go along with certain types of consumption … About 11 percent of the men in the Crest photos were shirtless, a level of comfort the brand rarely sees when it uses other tools in its research arsenal.”

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