Cupping: The Next Big Olympic Sport?

FiveThirtyEight: “For the past two weeks, people at the Olympics have been losing their minds trying to collect yellow and blue plastic souvenir cups that feature the silhouetted athletes of each sport. The cups are sold only with the official Olympics beer — Skol — though many collectors are just dumping out the beer or paying full price (13 reais, or about $4) for an empty cup, several vendors confirmed.”

“But although the cups, which are an advertising product for the beer, have been hugely popular, there is little in the way of official information from the company about the collectibles, which has led to the curious situation of visitors trying to complete a set of some indeterminate number.”

“The confusion comes in part because no official marketing materials were released by Ambev, the South American distributor of Skol, stating the number of cups or how best to collect them. But the mystery has only fueled fascination, making the frenzy around the cups more happy accident than calculated guerrilla marketing.”

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Home Depot: Retail ‘Oasis’ Against Amazon

The Wall Street Journal: “Do-it-yourself chains Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. appear to have built a retail oasis mostly walled off from the reach of online behemoth Amazon.com … Executives from the home improvement chains cite a litany of favorable housing trends for their good fortunes. New households are being formed and housing turnover remains steady. Millennials are even willing to buy homes … All that spurs trips to large chains to pick out appliances and paint colors, and plan projects around the home.”

“But the e-commerce giant doesn’t have a toehold in large parts of the home improvement space, like lumber, paint and gardening supplies. Home Depot says just 25% of its business—smaller, easy-to-ship items like power drills and small hand tools—faces tough online competition.”

“That doesn’t mean either chain is immune to Amazon. A UBS survey in June found that 11% of consumers planning a home improvement project themselves planned to buy something from Amazon. That is far behind the 36% who said they planned to shop at Home Depot and the 21% at Lowe’s, but up from just 7% a few months back.”

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Grocery Spoils Target’s Profits

The Wall Street Journal: “Target Corp. has a problem in its grocery aisles: Shoppers aren’t visiting often enough to buy the retailer’s fresh meat, fruits and vegetables before they spoil … The issue, in part, is that Target’s supply chain wasn’t built to transport items with a short shelf life … Perishable foods, which usually are the big traffic drivers at most grocery stores, have been a drag on Target’s profits.”

“Shifting more control to a third-party vendor would move Target in the opposite direction of its biggest competitors. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which gets more than half of its U.S. revenue from grocery, has invested in infrastructure to transport fresh foods on its own.”

“Target has made an aggressive push to add organic and gluten-free brands … Target also has spent more than $1 million per store to improve the look and inventory management of 25 locations in Los Angeles. The refurbished grocery area features new lighting and signage that highlights the organic and fresh products. The stores now get more frequent deliveries and carry more localized products. But rolling out those changes to all 1,800 Target stores nationwide would require a massive investment, analysts say.”

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Self-Checkout: A Shoplifter’s Dream?

The New York Times: “Self-service checkout technology may offer convenience and speed, but it also helps turn law-abiding shoppers into petty thieves by giving them ‘ready-made excuses’ to take merchandise without paying, two criminologists say.”

“The scanning technology, which grew in popularity about 10 years ago, relies largely on the honor system. Instead of having a cashier ring up and bag a purchase, the shopper is solely responsible for completing the transaction. That lack of human intervention, however, reduces the perception of risk and could make shoplifting more common, the report said.”

“In a behavior known as ‘neutralizing your guilt,’ shoppers may tell themselves that the store is overpriced, so taking an item without scanning is acceptable; or they might blame faulty technology, problems with product bar codes or claim a lack of technical know-how.”

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Simple Products Beget Simple Packages

The Wall Street Journal: “Instead of burying ingredient lists in the fine print on the back of the package, food manufacturers are trumpeting simpler formulas prominently on the label’s front … More people care deeply about what’s in their food and insist on recognizing the ingredients. The litmus test for many consumers is whether those ingredients might appear in their own kitchen cupboards.”

“Simply Tostitos Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips boast only three ingredients: blue corn, organic expeller-pressed sunflower oil and sea salt. This past June, General Mills Inc.’s Larabar snack bar line launched Larabar Bites. The bites—available in flavors such as double chocolate brownie and cherry chocolate chip—resemble truffles and contain few ingredients which are prominently displayed on the front of the package.”

“New ads for Haagen-Dazs ice cream in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles show a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. ‘5 ingredients, one incredible indulgence’ read ads, which also list the recipe of cream, milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla … This fall, ConAgra’s Bertolli Frozen Meals is rolling out a new, reformulated line of meals that feature a shorter ingredient list that reads more like a recipe.”

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Longevity Market: Boomer Brands Booming

The New York Times: Some companies “are plugging into a wealthy slice of the over-50 demographic called the longevity market, whose annual economic activity currently amounts to $7.6 trillion … With an estimated 74.9 million baby boomers … the biggest market opportunity for start-ups is older Americans rather than hip millennials … The staggering size of the total longevity economy — bigger even than Japan’s — has been attracting more entrepreneurs, deep-pocketed financiers and places to pitch new ideas in the past few years.”

“New business ideas that cater to boomers are nearly endless … and include chefs, online dating sites and yoga instructors for people with health issues … Even businesses with decidedly mundane products are finding ways to capture the longevity niche. Foot care, for example, is a huge market … One of the founders of the Rockport Company, Bruce R. Katz, reinvented himself in 2013 by starting the Samuel Hubbard Shoe Company to sell comfortable footwear to baby boomer men.”

“In a validation of the brand’s appeal to baby boomers, former President Bill Clinton, who turns 70 this month, was even photographed walking a dog, wearing Samuel Hubbard’s sky blue shoes.”

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Brand Promises: Final Sale? Just Kidding!

The Wall Street Journal: “The phrase used to mean a last-ditch promotion, with steep price reductions on end-of-season castoffs and no chance of returns. But lately some brands are using a different sort of ‘final sale,’ strategically discounting slow-moving merchandise in mid-season, even though future discounts may still be possible. The new tactic still means no returns or exchanges … Fickle shoppers, hungry for discounts but accustomed to changing their minds, aren’t pleased.”

“Lauren Taylor Baker, a 31-year-old digital entrepreneur in Atlanta, says she used to get a thrill from finding a great bargain marked final sale … But after several final-sale purchases she regretted, Ms. Baker says she feels burned and no longer believes a final-sale price is the lowest it will go. Now, she says, when shopping for something marked final sale, she ignores the original full price and evaluates it based on quality and fit.”

“Katie Amato, of Buffalo, N.Y., does most of her shopping online. While she likes a sale, she tends to avoid final sale items. ‘Things might not fit, or the quality might not be as expected, and then you are stuck with it,’ says the 30-year-old postdoctoral researcher. Final sales make her feel ‘trapped or manipulated,’ she says.”

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Domino’s Pizza Meter: Slicing Big Data

Slate: “In the 1990s, America believed in the predictive powers of pizza. Online anecdotes abounded … When Operation Desert Storm launched in January 1991, the Chicago Tribune published an account of a D.C. pizzeria owner who was able to predict that military action in the region was imminent, thanks to spikes in his sales.”

“But perhaps the best example of the pizza obsession of the 1990s lay in the existence of the ‘Pizza Meter,’ a short-lived annual report put out by Domino’s … By polling delivery drivers, the report claimed to offer insights into American political and personal attitudes. Real conclusions from the 1995 report include statistics like, ‘People who answered the door while listening to rap music were 45 percent more likely to order a meat-topped pizza than non-rap listeners’. Or, ‘People who answered the door wearing polyester ordered 9 percent more vegetarian pizzas than those sporting natural fibers’.”

“Perhaps pizza-based analysis fell by the wayside thanks to the rise of more serious data-driven journalism. Or perhaps there was a growing cynicism about the blatantly branded marketing ploy that was the Pizza Meter. But in the past 20 years … the internet has made us more accepting of such silliness. We don’t necessarily need to correct the pitfalls of the original surveys—like the horrendously unscientific data collection techniques or the flippant attitude toward causation vs. correlation—to capture that unique excitement that came when previously inaccessible insights were made plain and laid bare.”

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Disney Technology Tracks Guest ‘Footprints’

Orlando Sentinel: “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued Walt Disney Co. a patent for a new type of technology: A system that can track theme-park guests through their feet. The company says that there are no immediate plans to use such a system. This project is part of Disney’s ongoing innovative research process, the company said, and many projects it explores may never actually end up in the parks.”

“According to information supplied to the patent agency, sensors and cameras would help identify particular visitors, and the data ‘can be used to output a customized guest experience’ including photographs. Theme parks could also use such a system to mine data about common paths from ride to ride.”

“Current methods of tracking guests and matching them up ‘are limited to rather invasive methods, such as retinal and fingerprint identification methods,’ the patent information said. These methods are obtrusive and some guests may not feel comfortable providing this type of biometric information to a third party’.”

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Game Changer: In-App Purchases

The Wall Street Journal: “In-app purchases are ‘dramatically changing the mobile-entertainment landscape,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of digital media at Rochester Institute of Technology. They ‘engage people in a longer financial discourse than you would have in an upfront sale’ … The secret sauce behind many in-app purchases is the countdown clock—a frustration tax that forces gamers to idle before they can perform duties such as farming crops or replenishing fuel, unless they pay for more turns or items to speed up the action.”

“Converting players into spenders without turning them off is key; gamers have derided free-to-play games as ‘free to play, pay to win’ for years. Developers, though, have gotten savvier about giving players more free things to do to keep them hooked until they start spending. In ‘Pokémon Go,’ players can go weeks capturing dozens of ‘pocket monsters’ without needing to spend money. After investing so much time, players might be more inclined to dole out cash to upgrade their gear so they can carry more items and creatures, for example.”

“Algorithms are playing an increasing part in nudging players to spend. Based on dozens of data points—how often gamers play, what model mobile device they use, location and gender—developers might raise a game’s difficulty level, making no two players’ experiences exactly alike … Data on players’ behavior also are used to strategically tweak prices for virtual goods in real time … Other tactics: tapping into players’ “fear of missing out” through limited-time events, and cultivating relationships between players.”

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