The Stitch Fix Secret: Make Shopping Easy

The New York Times: Stitch Fix is a mail-order clothing service that offers customers little choice in what garments they receive, and shies away from discounts for brand name dresses, pants and accessories. Despite a business model that seems to defy conventional wisdom, Stitch Fix continues to grow … To the company’s founder, Katrina Lake, success comes down to delivering what consumers want: making it easier to shop … In her view, what was important was helping customers find clothing they liked without taking lengthy shopping trips and returning dozens of items.”

“At the company’s warehouse, Eric Colson, formerly a top data scientist at Netflix, spoke to the role that data science — once the province of high-tech giants — plays in nearly every aspect of the Stitch Fix business. Mr. Colson excitedly illustrated on whiteboards how the company’s systems can narrow down a broad range of women’s pants to a relative few that each individual customer is statistically likely to keep … Algorithms have even cut the number of steps needed for workers to pick out clothes for individual clients.”

“Yet the question remains whether customers who are initially thrilled by receiving a customized box of clothing will remain customers for months or even years … Stitch Fix executives declined to share their retention statistics, but claim that they are above industry averages.”

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Artists & Fleas: The New Retail Acrobats

The Wall Street Journal: “These are tough times for brick-and-mortar retail. Stores are closing locations at a record pace, while chains including the Limited and American Apparel are going belly-up. New York City’s flea markets, holiday markets, farmers markets, night bazaars and art fairs, however, continue to draw big crowds. If it’s sold from a stall or a folding table, it seems, shoppers can’t get enough of it.”

“Artists & Fleas … is opening a new, 5,000 square-foot market on Friday at the prime retail intersection of Prince Street and Broadway in SoHo, the former home of an Armani Exchange. Co-founders Ronen Glimer and Amy Abrams say artisan markets are thriving because shoppers are hungry for unique goods, not to mention connection. They choose their merchants based not just on their wares, but personality. A key question: ‘Is this a fun person?’ On peak days, their Chelsea location attracts up to 10,000 shoppers. That in turn draws merchants willing to pay $65,000 a year for a 50-square-foot booth.”

Cynthia Rybakoff, a jewelry maker, comments: “We might as well be baleen whales scooping up krill. We don’t have to work that hard to bring people in … There is no advantage to having a storefront other than vanity.”

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Shopping-Cart Psychology: To Return or Not?

Scientific American: “It seems like a basic courtesy to others: you get a cart at the supermarket, you use it to get your groceries and bring them to your vehicle, and then you return it for others to use. And yet, it’s not uncommon for many people to ignore the cart receptacle entirely and leave their carts next to their cars or parked haphazardly on medians. During peak hours, it can mean bedlam. Where does this disregard come from?”

“Social norms fall into two general categories. There are injunctive norms, which drive our responses based on our perception of how others will interpret our actions. This means that we’re inclined to act in certain ways if we think people will think well or think poorly of us. And there are descriptive norms, where our responses are driven by contextual clues. This means we’re apt to mimic behaviors of others—so what we see or hear or smell suggests the appropriate/accepted response or behavior that we should display.”

“The world will likely not end because we aren’t returning our shopping carts—that would be an amazing butterfly effect—but it’s an example of a quality of life issue we can control. That guy who didn’t return his cart may not be a complete jerk. He may just be using the example set by others so he can get home a little more quickly. But if everyone does that, then we’re shifting the balance of what is acceptable, which may have greater ramifications to the social order. We have a greater influence over seemingly mundane situations than we realize.”

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IKEA Asks: Do You Speak Human?

The Verge: ‘If you put an AI in charge of your house — letting it control the lights, the alarms, the temperature, and so on — how would you want it to act? Should it be ‘autonomous and challenging’ or ‘obedient and assisting’? Would you prefer if it sounded male, female, or if it was gender neutral? Should it be religious? These are just some of the questions Ikea is asking its customers in a new survey titled: Do you speak human?”

“With this new survey, Ikea is focused on computer personality, looking to find out what sort of AI people would be happiest to interact with. This is a question that preoccupies the big tech companies, too — that’s why they’re hiring novelists and comedians to finesse the personality of their digital assistants.”

“Ikea is updating the results of the survey as it goes; so far it’s saying that 41 percent of people want their AI to be ‘obedient and assisting,’ 42 percent want it to be ‘gender neutral’ (as opposed to 35 percent for male, 24 percent for female), and 87 percent say they want their AI to ‘detect and react to emotions.’ There’s bound to be some self-selecting bias at work here, as the people who answer this survey are more likely to be interested in technology in general, but it’s still a very intriguing project.”

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Insight Alert: Yes You Are Being Watched

Erica J. Boothby: “Most of the time, when you’re minding your own business and feeling relatively inconspicuous, you’re being watched much more than you realize. My colleagues and I demonstrated this in several studies … Although people surreptitiously noticed all kinds of details about each other — clothing, personality, mood — we found that people were convinced that the other person wasn’t watching them much, if at all.”

“So other people notice our coffee stains less than we think, but they watch us in general more than we think. The problem, in both cases, is that we project the focus of our attention onto others. Because we’re fixated on our coffee stain (or whatever we happen to be self-conscious about), we assume others must be, too. But when nothing in particular draws our attention to ourselves, we neglect the fact that we may nevertheless be an object of other people’s interest.”

“Assuming other people are focused on the same thing we are is at the root of many kinds of miscommunication … We all have a tendency to egocentrically ascribe our own perspective to others. That doesn’t make us selfish or bad. But it’s worth keeping in mind that everyone’s attention illuminates the world in a particular way, and what gets spotlighted differs from person to person.”

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Chop & Shop: Groceries Curate Shopper’s Meals

The Wall Street Journal: “Hy-Vee Inc., a chain of 244 Midwestern supermarkets, has begun a meal-preparation program that runs similarly to a book club. A group of five to 12 customers schedule a time to gather in a separate room in the store that may have large working tables, a stove and a dishwasher. Each group member selects one recipe. The group prepares and divides up the meals for everyone to take home … Store staff does all the chopping and cleanup. Customers can sip wine while assembling ingredients. Cost is about $10 a person plus the grocery bill, divided evenly among participants.”

“Schenectady, N.Y.-based PriceChopper/Market … has launched a choose-your-own-adventure case in the meat department. Customers start with a sauce … and select their meat, which is prepared and cut. Then, they are led to prepared and packaged vegetable mixes … Then, the starch: Packages of lime-cilantro rice or mashed sweet potatoes … Below are recipe cards with preparation suggestions … The recipes take 15 minutes to prepare … serve four and cost $20 to $25.”

“Coborn’s, a Minnesota chain of supermarkets, redesigned certain stores to include a “chop shop” area, where shoppers can bring produce to be chopped for them. It also eliminated long tables of fruits and vegetables in favor of farmers market style food displays. The deli department is now the “kitchen”, and the first thing shoppers see when they enter is employees making brick-oven pizzas.”

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#SecondBreakfast: Multiple Morning Meals

The Wall Street Journal: “Americans in recent years have adopted the practice by eating multiple small meals in the morning … Americans still typically eat around 8 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., but upticks in eating are also happening before and after the traditional breakfast time … The increasing popularity of multiple breakfasts is boosting sales of convenient breakfast foods.”

“Second breakfasts tend to be smaller and slightly more savory than first breakfasts, says Jeanine Bassett, vice president of global consumer insights at General Mills Inc. … This year the company launched Yoplait Dippers, a line of Greek yogurts packaged with snacks for dipping. Vanilla bean yogurt comes with oat crisps; chipotle ranch yogurt with tortilla chips.”

“The Wonderful Co.’s pistachios are usually eaten in the afternoon, but the company aims to expand into what it sees as the fast-growing morning-eating time … To boost easy workplace eating, this month the company is rolling out its first pistachio snack packs, in 1.5 ounce portions, and a new campaign emphasizing the nut’s high protein and fiber content and low calories.”

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How To Kick Out Your Customers

The Wall Street Journal: “Letting guests linger as long they please could cost an extra $30,000 a year. Getting folks out is a tricky task for nearly every type of businesses. Jonathan Greenstein, owner of J. Greenstein & Co., a Cedarhurst, N.Y., auction house for antique Judaica, says some people linger past viewing hours at the pre-auction exhibition, but never appear at the auction itself … Still, it’s impossible to identify the big spenders, so he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

“The bigger the venue, the more massive the operation, of course. At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, an army of guards warn guests 45 minutes before closing, starting in the center of the 52-acre spread to ensure visitors farthest from the exits reach the gates in time. At Macy’s in Manhattan’s Herald Square, about 15 minutes before the posted closing time clerks fan through all 1.2 million square feet of retail space, offering help with final transactions and checking all 850 fitting rooms.”

“Of course, if patrons really want to stay, why not let them? The American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, which warns guests of closing time in several different languages, gave in to demand a few years ago and started offering adult sleepovers. For $350, patrons can camp overnight under the famous blue whale. Such events have sold out within a day, the museum says.”

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Facebook Chatbots Test ‘Conversational Commerce’

The Washington Post: Mastercard “has partnered with Subway and two other major merchants to launch ‘chatbots,’ which are robots that simulate human conversation. The Subway iteration allows you to order a custom sandwich for pickup, something of a digital version of walking down the chain’s sandwich assembly line.” Cheesecake Factory “allows shoppers to purchase and send out gift cards.” FreshDirect lets shoppers “place orders for groceries and meal kits. The bots will be found within Facebook’s popular Messenger app, and will be powered by Masterpass, the credit card giant’s digital wallet.”

“The debut of the bots will provide a fresh test of shoppers’ appetite for what the industry has dubbed ‘conversational commerce,’ the idea of making a purchase or other customer service transaction through A.I.-powered messaging … Consumers are spending more time online, and yet they are concentrating those minutes in a very limited number of apps. Retailers … are realizing that the best way to snare your interest online might not be with a killer app of their own, but by creating bots that live in the apps that you already use.”

“Facebook has said that more than 33,000 bots have been created for its Messenger app so far. This latest batch demonstrates how differently businesses are approaching the technology at this early stage of the game.”

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