The Washington Post: “Coloring books for adults — a genre once considered little more than a novelty — are suddenly a big business, a bright spot in the financial results of publishers and retailers alike. Nielsen Bookscan estimates that some 12 million were sold in 2015, a dramatic jump from the 1 million sold the previous year. The books have “attracted legions of enthusiasts who are looking to de-stress, who see scrawling away at an image of a tree or an animal as a low-key, low-stakes way to channel imagination or to keep their hands busy while they let their minds wander.”
However: “While many find the act of coloring to be a calming distraction from hours spent tapping, swiping and staring at screens, some early adopters aren’t exactly hooked. ‘Most of the pages are full of pictures that are so small I can hardly see the details to color them, which causes more stress than if I hadn’t tried to color in the first place,’ wrote one reviewer of a popular coloring book on Amazon.”
“It’s not clear whether the rise of adult coloring books has come at the expense of sales in other categories, but the impact of the craze can be seen in various corners of the retail industry: Barnes & Noble has said that strong demand for adult coloring books and artist supplies provided a tail wind to the chain’s total sales in the last three quarters. Walmart, meanwhile, moved in November to add a dedicated four-foot section for adult coloring books in 2,000 of its stores. And Target started carrying adult coloring books in 1,300 stores in August and within months rolled them out to the rest of the chain.”
“A bit more than a year after its release, Amazon’s Echo has morphed from a gimmicky experiment into a device that brims with profound possibility,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Here is a small, stationary machine that you set somewhere in your house, which you address as Alexa, which performs a variety of tasks — playing music, reading the news and weather, keeping a shopping list — that you can already do on your phone.”
“But the Echo has a way of sneaking into your routines. When Alexa reorders popcorn for you, or calls an Uber car for you, when your children start asking Alexa to add Popsicles to the grocery list, you start to want pretty much everything else in life to be Alexa-enabled, too. In this way, Amazon has found a surreptitious way to bypass Apple and Google — the reigning monarchs in the smartphone world — with a gadget that has the potential to become a dominant force in the most intimate of environments: our homes.”
“Many in the industry have long looked to the smartphone as the remote control for your world. But the phone has limitations. A lot of times fiddling with a screen is just too much work. By perfecting an interface that is much better suited to home use — the determined yell! — Amazon seems on the verge of building something like Iron Man’s Jarvis, the artificial-intelligence brain at the center of all your household activities.”
“Scot Wingo, the chairman of ChannelAdvisor, an e-commerce consulting firm, said the early signs suggested that the Echo was on a path to become Amazon’s next $1 billion business.”
The Wall Street Journal: “Mattresses were long considered immune to the e-commerce boom. For decades, they have been sold in showrooms full of dozens of styles with dizzying discounts and high-pressure salespeople. But a new breed of upstarts with slick websites has cracked into the $14 billion U.S. mattress industry. The online sellers offer just a few varieties at fixed prices—and ship free to customers’ doors a foam mattress that is compressed into a box the size of a large suitcase.”
“In place of the chance to try out a $5,000 Tempur-Pedic with adjustable base or lie down on a $2,500 Serta iComfort with gel memory foam, they promise free shipping, 100-day guarantees and free returns. It is a process aimed at the often wealthier, younger and busy shoppers who care less about kicking the tires and more about convenience … Compressed mattresses promise high margins because they are cheaper to ship than inner spring mattresses that can’t be compressed … Because of how carriers like FedEx and UPS charge, delivering a 90-pound compressed mattress is less expensive than home delivery with a regular truck.”
“Returns, however, are a challenge.” As Scott Thompson, CEO of Tempur Sealy, explains: “Getting the bed back in the box, that’s a little bit of a problem.” Other online mattress sellers include Casper Sleep, Leesa Sleep and Yogabed.
“The number of ‘bricks and mortar’ entertainment stores has reached a record high – despite rising online sales of music and film,” the BBC reports. There are now some 14,800 shops selling CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray, with supermarkets and high-street chain sales leading to the rise … The number of stores selling music and video has more than doubled since 2009, with DVD and Blu-ray available in 14,852 stores in 2015 and CDs and vinyl in 14,727.
Kim Bayley, CEO of the Entertainment Retailers Association: “Conventional wisdom has always suggested that the internet spelled the end for physical entertainment stores, but these numbers show that traditional retail still has a place, particularly for impulse purchases and gifts. After all, you can’t gift-wrap a download or a stream.”
Bayley adds that “the trend is clear – just as the internet has demonstrated that accessibility and convenience are key to selling entertainment, physical stores are demonstrating that if you put entertainment in front of people, they will buy it.”
User experiences fall short when they are inordinately focused on transactions, says Michael Schrage of MIT and author, most recently, of The Innovator’s Hypotheses. In a talk entitled, Why UX SUX, at Columbia University’s Brite ’16 conference, Schrage said the emphasis should be on how interactions with the brand measurably transform customer perceptions and expectations.
The question, then, is which transformations are best for both customers and brands? The challenge, in that sense, is to re-design customers for the trajectory of their sense of themselves and who they want to be. Schrage cited Chik-fil-A and its offer of a free dessert to families who put away their cell phones during dinnertime, and Lego, with its focus not so much on its plastic bricks but rather the future of play itself. He also mentioned Netflix’s re-inventing its customers as binge viewers.
Tracking trajectories and transforming expectations requires integrating innovation with the experience and expectations, Schrage says. Achieving this is less about having a strategy than it is a culture that’s open to transcending the transactional experience, and transforming experiences in tandem with the customer trajectory.
Speaking at Brite ’16, Daniel Lubetsky, founder of Kind, says that 90 percent or more of those who buy the snack bars are unaware of its social mission, which, naturally, is to promote kindness. The priority is that they buy into the brand as a quality product. That said, a community of kindness is promoted in at least three ways:
1) Kindawesome Cards. When someone is kind to you, visit howkindofyou.com and have a kindawsome card, good for two Kind bars, sent to him or her. It’s on the honor system. 2) Kind Causes. A website where you can nominate causes. Each month the “community” votes for a favorite, which gets $10,000. 3) Kind Foundation. A celebration of “kind” people who are making a difference in their communities, with a total of one million dollars in awards.
“Once about speed—sloshed into a paper cup and gulped on the ride to work—quick coffee now signals cheap coffee and not what customers want,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “More coffee shops are betting that a wait of four minutes or more is desirable … Coffee shops are weighing costs and revenues of slower service by evaluating employees behind the counter, longer brew times, and how that effects prices and lines.”
“Consumers in their 20s and 30s who grew up around Starbucks and coffee culture’s bolder flavors are helping drive the slower service, says Spencer Turer, vice president of Coffee Analysts, a coffee consulting firm in Burlington, Vt.” He comments: “That conversation with the barista is a key part of the experience.”
“The extra minutes also provide time for the smell and sounds of coffee which add to how consumers perceive their coffee, says Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, who also researches consumers’ sensory perceptions for food companies … The complex aroma and flavor of coffee comes from about 40 individual chemical compounds, he says.”
“’The sounds of grinding, dripping, spluttering, those are all meaningful,’ he says, and play a role in how the consumer perceives both the flavor and quality.”
What defines loyalty in the customer-brand relationship? Until this week, Starbucks defined it as the number of times the customer bought a cup of coffee; buy 12 cups and you get one for free. The retailer has now re-defined loyalty as the amount of money spent. This has caused upset among some of its “loyal” customers, who now must purchase 32 cups of coffee to get that free cup. Starbucks apparently was inspired by certain airlines — Delta and United — that now award loyalty points based on the amount of dollars spent, and not on the number of miles traveled. This might telegraph as: We want your money but we don’t want you.
The Starbucks switch was at least partly motivated by profits; obviously it is more profitable to motivate its most profitable customers. However, it also suggests a change in culture. As reported in The New York Times, the Starbucks loyalty program previously was premised on a warmer, fuzzier idea, as articulated by a Starbucks marketing manager in a 2012 blog post: “At Starbucks, our rewards program comes from a different philosophy. At its simplest, we like seeing you, regardless of whether your purchase is a short-brewed coffee or four Venti White Chocolate Mochas. My Starbucks Rewards is designed to show our appreciation simply for stopping by.”
This would be consistent with the way Starbucks famously welcomes everyone to hang out as long as they like at their stores, even if they buy nothing at all. Sadly, such “customers” are the poor cousins of those who gamed the Starbucks loyalty program by asking cashiers to ring up each item separately to artificially inflate their number of visits. This subterfuge also caused lines to slow, making the Starbucks experience worse for everyone else.
The Starbucks-customer relationship in total calls into question the very meaning of “loyalty,” and whether it even exists in a commercial context. As the Times article notes: “Starbucks fell into a trap that is common with loyalty programs: establishing not just an exchange relationship with its customers based on mutual benefit, but a communal relationship based on mutual caring and support … If customers are going to take a ‘hey, it’s just business’ approach to their relationship with Starbucks, they should expect the company to do the same — and it has.”