LaCroix: Seltzer as Lifestyle Brand

Vox: “LaCroix isn’t the only brand to benefit from the sparkling water boom. But it’s the one that’s risen to the coveted status of lifestyle brand … The secret behind LaCroix’s rise is a mix of old-fashioned business strategy and cutting-edge social marketing. When Americans wanted carbonated water, LaCroix was positioned to give them them fizzy water. Then, sometimes by accident, LaCroix developed fans among mommy bloggers, Paleo eaters, and Los Angeles writers who together pushed LaCroix into the zeitgeist.”

“About five years ago, LaCroix spotted an opportunity. The downfall of soda was creating a craving for sparkling water … Dieters kicking soda and alcohol were among the first LaCroix devotees, happy to find something with a little more flavor … First came coconut, followed apricot, mango, and tangerine … Offering 20 flavors gives LaCroix the ability to profit from ubiquity while keeping the cachet of scarcity. Most stores don’t carry every flavor, so stocking up on a favorite can require some persistence.”

“LaCroix has become more than just a popular sparkling water. It’s become part of the story people tell about who they are. The internet bursts with ways for LaCroix devotees … to declare their loyalty. You can buy a T-shirt for $25 that says … LACROIXS OVER BOYS … This is the crux of LaCroix’s success: People will spend far more than a case of its cans cost to tell the world how much they love LaCroix … LaCroix has populated its own Instagram with photos taken by its followers — a cascade of pretty, laughing people; stacks of pastel LaCroix cases; and gorgeous, minimalist still lifes with artfully placed seltzer cans.”

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The Swiffer Effect: Walmart & Procter Butt Heads

“Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, and P&G, the world’s biggest consumer-goods company, are increasingly butting heads as both try to wring more revenue out of their slow-growing businesses, The Wall Street Journal reports … A battle last year over the popular Swiffer mop suggests the tensions aren’t likely to abate soon. P&G’s consumer research revealed that existing packages weren’t large enough to prompt repeat purchases, and so it upped the number of wipes in a pack, improved the handle and increased the price … Around the same time, Wal-Mart introduced a less expensive store brand, irking P&G.”

“To settle the matter, P&G had to offer a temporary discount on the company’s Swiffer products. Not only did P&G employees worry about lost sales, they believed the store-brand refills were of a lower quality and would stop first-time Swiffer users from sticking with the habit. ‘They sell crappy private label, so you buy Swiffer with a crappy refill,’ said one of the people familiar with the product changes. ‘And then you don’t buy again’.” A Walmart spokesman said: “Our Great Value products provide a quality alternative for customers looking to save money.”

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The Future of Grocery: Yoga & Bike Repair

The Wall Street Journal: Shoppers looking to pick up milk and eggs may have other reasons to spend time at their local supermarket: yoga classes or a spa treatment, perhaps. Under growing pressure from discounters and online rivals, supermarkets are trying to transform themselves into places where customers might want to hang out rather than just grabbing groceries and heading home.”

“In Phoenix, a Fry’s Food Stores, part of a chain owned by Kroger Co., features a culinary school and a lounge with leather couches perched next to a wine bar. A Kroger store in Hilton Head Island, S.C., offers a cigar section to complement its wine cellar that stocks $600 bottles. Whole Foods Market Inc. has a putting green outside its Augusta, Ga., location and a spa offering peppermint foot scrubs and facial waxing in a Boston store. Elsewhere, it has bike-repair stations. A ShopRite store here in Hanover Township, near New York, runs a fitness studio with yoga, barre and Zumba classes and has a cosmetologist on weekends.”

“Most of these enhanced stores appear to be located in affluent suburbs and city neighborhoods—places where shoppers are more inclined to order groceries from e-commerce sites or meals from services such as Blue Apron … Some concepts have fizzled. The Fry’s in Phoenix made its debut in 2010 with a car wash but discontinued that after it didn’t catch on, a Kroger’s spokesman said. The cooking classes, by contrast, have doubled in size since the school opened, and the store offers at least a dozen sessions a week, he said.”

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Technology Puts Retailers on the ‘Map’

The Wall Street Journal: “Making technology investments to improve customer experiences has traditionally been the domain of retailers, which have introduced robots, touch-screen mirrors and virtual-reality goggles to attract shoppers to their stores in recent years. But as pressure from store closures continues to mount, some mall landlords also are … investing in mapping functions to help shoppers find parking spaces, navigate mall corridors or check out a flash sale at a store one floor above. The goal: to better connect with shoppers in hopes of sparking more activity.”

“Jibestream, a firm that creates interactive mall maps to guide customers from store to store on their mobile phones as well as help them find parking, has rolled out its technology to hundreds of malls … Other vendors are offering ways for landlords to better analyze foot traffic in malls, a key metric cited by landlords and retailers as online shopping continues to gain traction and pose greater challenges to bricks-and-mortar stores.”

“By tracking the cellphone signals in a mall, companies can study the paths visitors take as well as how effective display windows and in-mall advertising are in drawing customers. This is similar to how Amazon.com is able to measure user engagement by how long cursors hover over a certain part of a webpage.”

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The Netflix ‘Binge Scale’: Savor or Devour?

The Guardian: “Netflix said customers who chose to watch an entire TV season finished it on average in just one week, watching a little over two hours a day. It said viewers typically binged on thrillers such as Breaking Bad and The Killing, but were more likely to take their time over the more political narratives of House of Cards or Homeland.”

“According to something Netflix calls the ‘binge scale,’ ranging from ‘savor’ at one end to ‘devour’ at the other, its original drama Narcos, about the rise to power of Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, was the platform’s slowest-burning hit in the UK, with viewers ‘savoring’ it over six days.”

“Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said the company would use the findings to make ‘subtle improvements in helping people choose what kind of programmes they want to watch, depending on what mood they’re in’.”

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Treasure Hunt: The Joy is in the Journey

The Wall Street Journal: “The internet isn’t just a way to speed up the shopping experience; it is a tool to draw it out. Consumers enjoy the anticipation of a big-ticket item, in contrast to the quick fix that comes from an impulse purchase at an inexpensive, of-the-moment fashion chain … The result of all this due diligence: Shoppers are feeling much more satisfied with their purchases.”

“Stylitics, a fashion technology and analytics company, partnered with market research firm NPD Group to look at this behavior. Handbags are a natural fit for this thoughtful approach, as women seek to combine fashion with function. The study found roughly four in 10 women ages 18 to 34 said they started thinking about their most recent handbag purchase more than a month in advance. Six in 10 said browsing online stores was a major influencer in their handbag shopping.”

“Once shoppers go through the drawn-out process and make up their minds, they are happier. Handbag return rates at luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter are among the lowest across the site.”

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The Art of Hospitality Goes Local

The New York Times: “Seeking to appeal to guests’ desire for new experiences and stand out in a competitive market, hotel brand managers are mining their local art communities for everything from inspiration to installations … The evolution in how managers view hotel artwork is similar to the shift toward showcasing more local ingredients in hotel restaurants.”

“Experts say the roots of the trend — a preference for experiences over objects, a penchant for tagging and bragging on social media — started with millennials. But travelers of all generations are taking note and boasting online to their friends.”

“While many prominent examples of hotels’ investing in local art are at the high end of the spectrum, lower-priced chains are not ignoring the trend. Graduate Hotels, a six-hotel chain that started in 2014 whose target market is college towns, uses local art to help it stand out from comparably priced competitors like Best Western and Quality Inn.”

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Loyalty Cards Pivot: From Discounts to ‘Experience’

The New York Times: “Research … shows that while people say discounts are important, they also ‘overwhelmingly say they want special treatment and offers not available to others in a loyalty program’, says Emily Collins of Forrester Research. ‘They come for the perks, but they stay for the experience’ … Sephora’s rewards program offers free samples and tutorials to loyal customers. It has three tiers, and the top spenders are invited to free closed-door events like Beauty Before Brunch, where they receive makeup lessons, discounts and a goody bag.”

“The samples don’t cost much, but are of great value to customers who want the newest makeup and hair products … and store loyalists often share these discoveries on social media, which draws in more customers. And that’s a crucial part of the equation: making sure customers aren’t just loyal, but also loud. Brands rely on them to spread the word far and wide about great loyalty programs.”

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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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