We Never Close: 24/7 Adventures

The Wall Street Journal: “Apparently short of actual adventures, teens and 20-somethings are sneaking into chain stores and restaurants, including McDonald’s, Walmart , Chuck E. Cheese’s and IKEA, staying all night and posting videos online as evidence. A YouTube search for 24-hour overnight challenges turns up 1.6 million results. A closer examination of the phenomenon reveals something thrill-seekers didn’t expect—spending extended periods inside an empty chain store can be really, really dull.”

“The craze appears to go back to 2016, when Belgian youngsters hid inside an IKEA after it closed and then posted the video online. The fad soon spread to the U.K., where a boy slept overnight in an IKEA furniture store, worrying his family, who didn’t know where he was … Indiana college student Christian Perry said he was determined to finish the challenge at a Walmart Supercenter, however dull things got. Last May, he and a friend decided to spend a full 48 hours in one of the stores in Indianapolis. The Walmart is open around the clock. The pair needed a secret place to slumber and a way to stay sane.”

“Just minutes into the outing, Mr. Perry, who is 21 and studying computer science, realized he couldn’t bear Walmart’s music and needed a distraction. ‘I started reading labels after that,’ he said … The 13-minute video the friends posted on YouTube shows highlights of their itinerary. They looked at fish in the aquarium section. They read magazines, played games at the arcade and dribbled balls in the sports aisle … After hunkering down in the toilet-paper section the second night, the duo quietly slipped home. ‘It was one of the worst experiences of my life,’ Mr. Perry said.”

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Mistaken Identities: Fake Birthdates Foil Facebook

The Wall Street Journal: “A recent survey of U.S., French, German, Italian and British consumers found that 41% had intentionally falsified personal information when signing up for products and services online. Most common was providing a fake phone number … Respondents also said they have provided a false birth date, made up a postal address, lied about a name or selected the wrong gender.”

“All the lying does seem to foil advertisers. It is ‘a much bigger problem than people are aware of,’ says Nick Baker, director of research and consulting of U.K. market research company Verve, which conducted a 2015 survey showing a large amount of fake information on website registrations and the like. Incorrect birth years, he says, are particularly nefarious because advertisers are often trying to match up habits or buying patterns with a specific age group.”

“But some companies that provide data to marketers say they are depending less and less on biographical information. Preethy Vaidyanathan, the chief product officer of New York-based marketing technology company Tapad, says they track much more valuable information from phone and web browser use.”

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Retail Politics: Is Fast Fashion Tone Deaf?

The New York Times: “Every once in a while, tucked into the stream of speedily made garments rushed into stores, designs with shockingly bad taste stand out: a shirt comparing women to dogs at Topman, symbols of the Holocaust on a top at Zara … Retail experts blame a heated competitive environment, where companies, many of them based in Europe, are spread thin trying to cater to a global customer base that is easily bored, is extremely demanding and can buy almost anything via e-commerce. Many brands develop a cavalier attitude: Churn out products now, ask forgiveness later.”

“Earlier this year, H&M, one of the largest clothing retailers in the world … was taken to task over a children’s hoodie emblazoned with the phrase ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ and modeled in marketing materials by a young black boy. The description, which has been used to dehumanize black people, set off protests at South African stores that left mannequins toppled and racks overturned. In the aftermath, H&M chose a lawyer and company insider, Annie Wu, to lead a new four-person team at its Stockholm headquarters focused on global diversity and inclusiveness.” She comments: “We didn’t recognize that in this now new age of transparency, what the brand stands for is super important to people.”

“Fast fashion companies, which specialize in low-priced, quickly produced clothing and have grown faster than the apparel industry as a whole for years, are under pressure to be more prolific and provocative as they sell across more borders. H&M, which added 479 stores last year, now has more than 4,000 stores in dozens of countries … retail experts said that much of the creative process takes place in and around its European home office, far from many of its markets … Fast fashion has produced tone-deaf products for years, passing them off as a rounding error given the enormous volume of items the companies generate each year … Several companies have pledged to diversify hiring, retool corporate guidelines and initiate other measures to prevent mistakes from going out the door.”

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New Media: Think Different & Inky

The New York Times: “At a time when traditional food magazines are shrinking and cutting staff, Dill is part of an unexpected groundswell across the country: a wave of small, sophisticated print magazines, produced on a shoestring by young editors with strong points of view and a passion for their subjects … The last few years have brought new titles like Ambrosia, Compound Butter, Jarry, Kitchen Toke, Peddler and Kitchen Work. Kimberly Chou and Amanda Dell direct the Food Book Fair and Foodieodicals, an annual fair for independent magazines; Ms. Chou said the number of participating titles had increased to 30 last year, from about a dozen in 2012.”

“Despite some off-putting names — like Toothache or Mold — many of these publications are beautiful and inviting, with ink-saturated pages filled with original art, and nuanced, complex stories you want to spend time digesting. Their cover prices are fittingly high, with many around $20, and a few don’t even bother to post their content online, focusing entirely on print … Most of these magazines come together as a labor of love, in chunks of spare time carved out on nights and weekends … small teams with low overheads may be able to pay for the costs of printing and freelance contributors, usually with a mix of sales, brand partnerships and events.”

“Despite all the challenges, some titles persist and grow. Gather Journal, a recipe magazine with high-art styling and photography, has been in print since 2012. And the literary magazine Put a Egg on It, founded by Sarah Keough and Ralph McGinnis, has been printing essays, comics and poetry on its sage-green pages for a decade.”

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Eateries Experiment with Split-Menu Pricing

The Wall Street Journal: “When the Michelin-starred, Paris-based chef Joël Robuchon opened his high-end L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurant in the Meatpacking District last November, he had it share space with his “elegant, yet approachable” Le Grill de Joël Robuchon concept. At the former, a main course can cost as much as $135 and tasting menus run $145 to $265. At the latter, there is a three-course prix-fixe menu for $65. All prices include tipping.”

“Agern, the Nordic-inspired restaurant in Grand Central Terminal that also offers $100-plus tasting menus, has taken another approach to pricing. In recent weeks, it has expanded its a la carte offerings—even going so far as to add a burger and chicken wings, albeit in gourmet-minded versions. The $26 burger, for example, is made with a secret-spice mix, according to chef Gunnar Gíslason, and is served on a bun seasoned with smoked salt and vegetable ‘ash’.”

“Ultimately, each restaurant may have its individual reasons for adopting lower-price models and approaches. But if there is a common thread, it is the increased emphasis on casual dining in our culinary culture, says Arlene Spiegel, a New York-based hospitality consultant. Today’s diner ‘doesn’t want the restaurant to tell them what to wear or how much to spend,’ she says. ‘They want to feel welcome whether they are in jeans or tuxedos’.”

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Scrunchies Make a Comeback

The Wall Street Journal: “Women are wearing scrunchies again—in public, and most notably, to the office, where their presence is producing reactions ranging from unbridled enthusiasm, to jokes that might not be jokes, to silent judgment. Some scrunchie fans wonder if they will be taken seriously while wearing one. For an answer, they can look to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who made a decision long ago to stick to scrunchies: “I have been wearing scrunchies for years. My best scrunchies come from Zurich. Next best, London, and third best, Rome. My scrunchie collection is not as large as my collar and glove collections, but scrunchies are catching up.”

“W Magazine included scrunchies on its trend list for 2018. Scrunchies appeared on the runway at New York Fashion Week in September during the Mansur Gavriel show. Balenciaga included a lambskin scrunchie in its 2018 resort collection (they call it a chouchou bracelet) that retails for $195. And Urban Outfitters said it saw a 170% growth in scrunchie sales in 2017. Some in the pro-scrunchie camp say they’re gentler than elastics and easy, like sweatpants for your hair. Scrunchie haters say…they’re like sweatpants for your hair.”

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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’.”

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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.”

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Supermarkets: A New Social Network?

The Wall Street Journal: “Supermarkets—those havens of the not-so-scintillating chore of scouring numbered aisles, pushing carts and perusing produce—are finding a new identity as a social hub in communities. Parents now bring their children here to play, retirees gather for Bingo, and singles find romance. Grocery stores are fulfilling the new role as traditional gathering spots, from shopping malls to social clubs like Lions Clubs and Rotary International, continue to shrink from decades-earlier peaks.”

“Market of Choice, an Oregon chain of 11 supermarkets, has reduced space for center-store aisles by 22% in recent years and devoted more room to couches, fireplaces with seating areas and restaurant-like services, says owner Rick Wright. Whole Foods says social space is the first thing to get worked into floor plans … Lowes Foods, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based supermarket chain, has recently redesigned its stores into an animated ‘village concept’ of shops around the perimeter with giant birthday-candle lights, moving signs and employees who perform a chicken dance … At the heart of each store is a large rectangular communal table that can seat 10 to 15 people.”

“Bo Sharon, owner of Boulder, Colo.-based Lucky’s Markets, says about 25% of his stores are devoted to nonretail space, whether that’s tables in a cafe, performance areas for local musicians, or a designated community room where neighborhood groups meet. Fostering a sense of community, he says, ultimately helps drive traffic.”

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Late & Great: Russ Solomon

The New York Times: “Russ Solomon, who died on Sunday at 92, created what for many music fans was the ultimate music emporium: Tower Records, whose yellow-and-red color scheme, ‘No Music, No Life’ slogan, and wide aisles stocked with LPs and CDs defined the retail music business in the pre-digital era. At its peak, the chain had nearly 200 stores in 15 countries and more than $1 billion in annual sales, before debt and shifting consumer habits forced it to close in 2006.”

“Starting at his father’s drugstore in Sacramento, where he sold used jukebox records as a teenager, Mr. Solomon built a retail empire that became known as much for its selection — vast by brick-and-mortar standards — as for the culture that surrounded it. Employees were opinionated aficionados, and Tower stores, open till midnight, were gathering places for fans. The locations on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and on Broadway in Greenwich Village became tourist meccas.”

“The shops even made devotees of the stars. Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler were regular visitors, but Tower’s most famous patron was Elton John, for whom the Hollywood store would open early … Despite Tower’s disappearance from most of the world, it still has a major presence in Japan; the company sold its Japanese locations in 1999 to raise cash. The flagship store in central Tokyo is like a time warp for travelers, with nine floors of music, in-store performances and, out front, a comforting sign in yellow and red with a familiar message: No music, no life.”

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