Ordering Anxiety: The High Stress of Fast Food

The Wall Street Journal: “As menu choices multiply—and multiply and multiply—diners are suffering from option paralysis. Especially troublesome are assembly-line-style chains in “fast casual” restaurants where diners have just seconds to answer rapid-fire questions such as whether they want tahini or aioli sauce on their chicken shawarma, or prefer the turmeric almonds or pickled ginger on their beet falafel bowl.”

“People who get nervous at the counter say they worry about being judged for stumbling through their order, or feel pressured by having customers waiting behind them in line. They fret that their food will come out wrong, or that if they try something new they won’t like it. Others simply buckle under the pressure of too many choices. Sarah Anderson hates it when she gets to a restaurant counter thinking she knows what she wants, only to be asked ‘like 20 questions’ … Restaurant executives know this. They feel it themselves, sometimes.” Scott Gladstone, vice president of strategy at Applebee’s, admits: “I usually end up finding one thing on the menu I like and order it every time, because of the anxiety of the ordering process.”

“So, why do restaurant chains offer so many choices? Tom Ryan, the founder and chief executive of Smashburger, says if he didn’t, he would lose customers who yearn for new experiences.”

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H&M Stores Buy Into Big Data

The Wall Street Journal: “H&M, like most retailers, relies on a team of designers to figure out what shoppers want to buy. Now, it’s using algorithms to analyze store receipts, returns and loyalty-card data to better align supply and demand, with the goal of reducing markdowns. As a result, some stores have started carrying more fashion and fewer basics such as T-shirts and leggings … H&M’s strategy of using granular data to tailor merchandise in each store to local tastes, rather than take a cookie-cutter approach that groups stores by location or size, is largely untested in the retail industry, consultants say.”

“The H&M store in Stockholm’s swanky residential Östermalm neighborhood hints at how data can help. The store used to focus on basics for men, women and children, with managers assuming that was what local customers wanted. But by analyzing purchases and returns in a more granular way, H&M found most of the store’s customers were women, and fashion-focused items like floral skirts in pastel colors for spring, along with higher-priced items, sold unexpectedly well.”

“With the help of about 200 data scientists, analysts and engineers—internal staff and external contractors—H&M also is using analytics to look back on purchasing patterns for every item in each of its stores. The data pool includes information collected from five billion visits last year to its stores and websites, along with what it buys or scrapes from external sources … The chain uses algorithms to take into account factors such as currency fluctuations and the cost of raw materials, to ensure goods are priced right when they arrive in stores.” Nils Vinge of H&M comments: “The algorithms work around the clock and adjust continuously to the customers’ ever-changing behavior and expectations.”

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Are Shoppers ‘Primed’ For Price Hikes?

The Washington Post: “Hard-wired into the DNA of companies of all kinds is a fear of losing customers with even the slightest uptick in prices. Netflix watchers and McDonald’s eaters appeared undeterred by the rise in subscription and menu costs over the past seven months, with both companies reporting strong sales growth in the first quarter … Amazon may be the next big test of whether consumers who are already stretching their pocketbooks will open them even wider.”

“The retail giant announced … that the price of a Prime membership will increase 20 percent, to $119 per year.” Ryan Hamilton, an associate professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, comments: “In general, people are sensitive to losses, and price increases count as losses psychologically. The broader perspective, though, is that people tend to be willing to pay for what they perceive as value.”

“Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, noted that in deciding when to raise prices, companies have to time the rollout carefully. Make the announcement too abruptly and viral anxiety might cause customers to drop off. A safer bet is often to announce weeks ahead of when the change will go into effect. At that point, customers are less likely to fixate on a hit to the wallet that’s still weeks away.” He elaborates: “But if it’s [done] the day it happens, there’s this huge outcry. It can start framing in their minds that they are getting ripped off. The outcry is not going to happen if the soft launch in done months ahead of time.”

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Jif Jaf: Zen & The Art of Oreos

Quartz: “When Oreos came to China in 1996, consumers were nonplussed. The chocolate sandwich cookies … were far too sweet for the Chinese palate. By 2005, Kraft Foods was losing money on every Oreo sold. The company regrouped, introducing a lighter Oreo, a rectangular Oreo, and chocolate-covered wafer sticks. At the Kraft Foods biscuit research lab in Suzhou, food scientists experimented with dozens of other varieties, among them an Oreo that replaced the traditional filling with a glob of gum. (That version never made it to shelves).”

“Kraft spun off Oreo and other snacks brands into a new company, Mondelez International, in 2012, and itself merged with Heinz in 2015. Now, Kraft Heinz is taking the lessons learned from 1990s Oreos to Jif Jaf, a chocolate-sandwich cookie the company is releasing in China. Filling flavors include a traditional chocolate, but also matcha tea, chili, and cheese.”

“Unlike Oreo, each Jif Jaf character has its own personality, part of a brand-development effort led by creative agency Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR). The matcha character is calm and zen-like, chili is a thrill-seeker, and cheese is a ladies’ man.”

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Waiting in Line: There’s No App For That

The Wall Street Journal: “Every day, Mitchell Burton orders and pays for an Italian B.M.T. sandwich on his Subway mobile app, so the sandwich is waiting at the counter. When he arrives, the 32-year-old Baton Rouge, La., parks and recreation worker frequently heads to the back of the line, to avoid seeming rude to less tech-savvy fellow customers. Line skippers sometimes ‘get the stink eye,’ he says, because fellow patrons don’t understand that there’s an app to order ahead.”

“Various ways to skip lines have gained momentum in recent years, as businesses ranging from retailers to movie theaters have come up with ways for customers to avoid a wait, often with mobile apps and ordering kiosks … In theory, order-ahead technology should appeal to everyone.” But: “Some line lovers say technology gets in the way of the personal touch. That’s why Al DiSalvatore sometimes puts his phone down and lines up the old fashioned way at coffee shops in Philadelphia. He likes when the baristas remember his name and order—something that reminds him of his time living in smaller cities.”

“Lining up is part of a gauzy nostalgia for the days before smartphones, which also includes professors banning laptops in class, people stopping at the register to write checks and shoppers skipping shopping online … Erik Fairleigh, 38, who works in communications at Amazon, also has a simple reason for sometimes joining the line. ‘I like to pay in cash,’ he says … Ashleigh Azzaria, a 34-year-old Palo Alto, Calif., event designer, typically chooses to wait in line for coffee at Starbucks, even though she has the mobile app installed and skips the line for bigger orders. ‘It’s my break,’ she says. ‘It’s my time to just kind of decompress, to not be on the phone’.”

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Micromerch: Statements for Daily Life

The New York Times: Here comes micromerch:”personal merchandise for niche public figures and celebrities (or even not-yet celebrities) made possible by innovations in manufacturing and distribution, and with mechanisms greased by the ease of the internet. Consider it the modern-day equivalent of the private-press LP or the small-batch zine, amplified for social media and very late capitalism … small-batch merch — a couple dozen to a couple thousand items — can be made available for almost anyone, from emergent social media or reality TV demicelebrities to casual dadaists who toy with the dissemination of ideas in the modern marketplace. In an era when personal branding is presumed, no following is too small to monetize.”

“Want to show support for Sean Bryan, a.k.a. the Papal Ninja, an American Ninja Warrior contestant and lay minister? There’s a shirt (and laptop case) for that. Enthralled by the 1980s sunglasses worn by the rubber-legged teen social media star Roy Purdy in his absurdist dance videos? For a while, he sold them, too. Obsessed with Gordie, the French bulldog owned by Alex Tumay, who engineers Young Thug’s records? Buy a shirt.”

“Peloton, the home indoor cycling business, has a stable of a dozen instructors, and sells merch inspired by each. Jill Foley, Peloton’s director of boutique apparel, said the company has sold hundreds of T-shirts and tank tops with instructor catchphrases like ‘It’s Not That Deep’ (Cody Rigsby) and ‘Sweat Sing Repeat’ (Jenn Sherman).” She comments: “We’re getting messages to people in this micro way. We’re in people’s homes in their daily life.”

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Short Edition: The Literary Vending Macine

The New York Times: “Short Edition, a French community publisher of short-form literature, has installed more than 30 story dispensers in the United States in the past year to deliver fiction at the push of a button at restaurants and universities, government offices and transportation hubs. Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and winemaker, liked the idea so much that he invested in the company and placed a dispenser at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Last month public libraries in four cities — Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; and Columbia, S.C. — announced they would be installing them too. There is one on the campus at Penn State. A few can be found in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla. And Short Edition plans to announce more, including at Los Angeles International Airport.”

“Here’s how a dispenser works: It is shaped like a cylinder with three buttons on top indicating a “one minute,” “three minute” or “five minute” story. (That’s how long it takes to read.) When a button is pushed, a short story is printed, unfurled on a long strip of paper. The stories are free. They are retrieved from a computer catalog of more than 100,000 original submissions by writers whose work has been evaluated by Short Edition’s judges, and transmitted over a mobile network. Offerings can be tailored to specific interests: children’s fiction, romance, even holiday-themed tales.”

“Short Edition, which is based in Grenoble and was founded by publishing executives, set up its first kiosk in 2016 and has 150 machines worldwide … The dispensers cost $9,200 plus an additional $190 per month for content and software. The only thing that needs to be replaced is paper. The printed stories have a double life, shared an average of 2.1 times.” Kristan Leroy of Short Edition comments: “The idea is to make people happy. There is too much doom and gloom today.”

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Dept. of Social: Community Shopping

The Wall Street Journal: “Going to a department store might seem like simply shopping, but it’s also a chance to practice civil behavior, to appreciate beautiful things, to feel a connection to others. In the 1970s, Bloomingdale’s was considered a New York City attraction on par with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which, according to Robert Hendrickson, author of ‘The Grand Emporiums,’ was Bloomie’s only real competition when it came to meeting a possible romantic partner.”

“Last spring, inspired by memories of the excitement of shopping in New York in the 1980s, Bergdorf Goodman’s fashion director Linda Fargo opened Linda’s at BG, an in-store boutique stocked with her personal picks in everything from high heels to Squirrel nuts. ‘Online is efficient,’ Ms. Fargo said, ‘but nothing can replace touching things, looking in people’s faces. Sensuality—that’s what we can offer people’ … Nordstrom executives appeared to be thinking along similar lines in 2013 when they hired Olivia Kim, formerly of New York-based Opening Ceremony, to make the store more relevant to younger customers.”

“As Nordstrom’s vice president of creative projects, Ms. Kim has initiated a series of pop-up boutiques and brought in buzzy, Instagram-friendly designers like Marine Serre and Jacquemus. But her proudest achievement, she said, is seeing Nordstrom used as a hangout space by customers: ‘Not everything needs to be transactional. I’m more interested in that they’ve learned something, that they feel energized and excited’ … As Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of Selfridges, once said, ‘a store should be a social center.’ Department stores are taking note.”

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Fonts of Success: How Typeface Builds Brands

The New York Times: “When ads for the Netflix show ‘Stranger Things’ first appeared in 2016, the glowing, blood-red, unevenly shaded font that spelled out the title told viewers exactly what they could expect. The retro typeface — and a haunting, one-minute title video — became synonymous with the supernatural thriller series and, as the show gained in popularity, memes centered largely around its instantly recognizable title have become plentiful … Hollywood has long known this marketing trick, with movie studios strategically choosing fonts, colors and lighting for a film title that will reflect its tone and genre.”

“When Southwest Airlines revamped its brand in 2014, it overhauled its font and logo as part of the upgrade. It wanted to create the image of an airline that cared about customer loyalty — one that had heart. So, Southwest changed its all-caps Helvetica font to a thicker, custom-made Southwest Sans font that included lowercase letters — changes meant to convey a softer, friendlier tone.” Southwest communications director Helen Limpitlaw comments: “We’ve definitely seen an increase in revenue, an increase in bookings and brand momentum.”

“In 2002, Monster Beverage rolled out its Monster Energy drink logo, which featured three neon-green claw-marks in the shape of an ‘M’ on a black background, with ‘Monster’ in white Gothic-like lettering under it. The eye-catching logo and colors exuded energy and youth and connected with fans of sports like snowboarding and Formula One racing, who were its target customers … Now, 16 years later, Monster’s logo remains valuable and recognizable.”

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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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