Intuition, Math & The Supermarket Checkout

The Wall Street Journal: “We are used to the standard system of one line for each cashier. But what if there is just one big lane feeding multiple cashiers? … The single queue often snakes around, as lines do at airport security checkpoints. Mathematical queuing theory says that the serpentine system should be faster than separate lines leading to separate cash registers, but only with a condition called ‘no jockeying’—the assumption that people in multiple lines won’t hop over to a different line that has become free.”

“But that isn’t realistic, as we can all attest. If you allow jockeying in multiple lines, the serpentine system is no faster on average. It might intuitively seem faster because you won’t get stuck behind a single person taking a long time, but that same delay is just portioned out among more people, leaving the average wait time the same … In a curious twist, one recent study showed that cashiers work faster when they are serving a dedicated line. Perhaps it instills a sense of pride or connection with the customers waiting for one hardworking cashier.”

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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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Who’s Better Than Trader Joe’s?

Business Insider: “A regional chain that most Americans have never visited was just named the best overall grocery-store chain in the US. Wegmans was the US’s highest-rated grocery chain out of more than 20 that appeared in Market Force Information’s annual survey of the industry … This is the second year in a row in which Wegmans has earned the top spot — though this year, it was forced to share the crown with Publix … With a score of 77% satisfaction, Wegmans and Publix beat out Trader Joe’s, which had 76% satisfaction, and the Texas-based H-E-B, which rounded out the top four with 69% satisfaction.”

“Wegmans stores are larger than the average grocery store, emphasizing variety and fresh products … Many locations have cafés, pizzerias, sushi bars, and buffets, plus seating areas for 100 to 300 people where customers can eat their food … The chain is also known for its extensive beer section, with a large selection of craft brews. Some locations even have walk-in beer lockers. Many customers love Wegmans because of its customer service.”

“Wegmans serves as a superior employer in the grocery industry. The company offers healthcare coverage for workers as well as college scholarships, paying about $4.5 million in tuition assistance to employees each year. All of these factors combine to create an army of Wegmans fans, responsible for the grocery chain’s top ranking. In 2015, the company reported that 7,300 customers contacted Wegmans to report how much they enjoyed their shopping experience or the way employees treated them.”

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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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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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Customer Contempt: It’s Not Just United Airlines

Helaine Olen: “In 2017, it often seems that the customer is the least important part of the transaction — unless he or she is paying top, top dollar. Take medical care. While the wealthy can turn to the growing practice of concierge medicine, where for a fee of over a thousand dollars annually, their personal doctor will always return their calls promptly, the rest of us are ever more likely to be relegated to a narrow insurance network.”

“This great economic sort is on blatant display when we fly. The airlines are seemingly forever coming up with new and innovative ways to coddle an increasingly small group, while treating the majority of fliers with greater and greater contempt. United Airlines is all too typical. The airline recently debuted fold out beds for business travelers, complete with mood lighting, adjustable lumbar supports and bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue.”

“But United’s coach class travelers are subjected to constant nickel and diming. Extra legroom is now an extra charge. So too, for travelers in the airline’s new ‘Basic Economy’ fare class, is the ability to choose one’s seat when booking a flight or the ability to bring more than one small, personal tote or bag on the plane.”

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Emotion Detection: The New Face of Customer Service

Medium: “Companies like Microsoft, Kairos and Affectiva are staking claims in the world of emotion detection. These technologies read faces to detect emotions … Emotion detection will initially be used to measure ad effectiveness and to optimize ads and content. This same emotion detection technology will be able to help customer service agents better manage the their customers’ expectations. Human agents will be able to monitor emotions and mood and make offers to increase satisfaction or cross sell additional products at opportune times.”

Meanwhile: “Imagine that you had a questions that you wanted to ask your doctor, so you launch the HealthTime app and the image of a human agent pops up on your phone asking, ‘How can I help?’ The service always loads instantly, and … you never have to re-explain your issue or question. The agent is consistent — it’s the same human avatar every time — and he/she is non-threatening and even fun to chat with …The avatar is never rude or condescending because the AI literally knows what that experience looks like and can intervene before such behavior appears.”

“HealthTime may take a minute to research or come back to you with more specific questions, but if the service can’t find the answer shortly, then it calls you back at a convenient time. In fact, the service can tell how you are feeling right now, whether you want to be chatty, cheered up, or you just want to cut to the chase; it senses when you start to get irritated and compensates; and it intentionally ends on a high note delivering a shot of satisfying dopamine right at the end of the call.”

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Adidas Pops Up With DIY Design

Reuters: “Adidas has been testing a store where shoppers can design a sweater, have a body scan to determine fit and get it knitted by a state-of-the-art machine within hours, as the German company looks at ways to respond more quickly to customer demands … At a pop-up Adidas store in a mall in Berlin, customers designed their own merino wool sweaters for 200 euros ($215) each and then had them knitted in the store, finished by hand, washed and dried, all within four hours.”

“Shoppers first entered a darkened room where swirling camouflage and spider web patterns were projected onto their chests, with options to shift the light using hand gestures picked up by sensors, like in an interactive video game. Dozens of possible options were recorded and the customers picked their favorite ones on a computer screen, where they could also experiment with different color combinations. Customers chose standard sizes or stripped down to their underwear for laser body scans. Then the personalized pattern was sent to an industrial knitting machines in the store.”

“Adidas wants 50 percent of its products to be made in a faster time frame by 2020, double the rate in 2016, which it expects will increase the proportion of products sold at full price to 70 percent from less than half now.”

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4 Ways Ulta Changed Its Retail Experience

Fast Company: “Ulta’s engaging in-store experience helped boost company revenue by more than 20% last year. Here are four ways the company changed its retail formula.”

1) “Recognizing that salon guests spend almost three times as much as other customers, Dillon moved the Benefit Brow Bar, a station for eyebrow shaping, to the front of some stores so that shoppers see services when they enter. Salon sales were up 15% in the first nine months of 2016.” 2) “In a bid to lure shoppers into stores, Ulta offers samples for a wide range of products, inviting people to try on not just prestige makeup lines such as Estée Lauder and Nars, but also drugstore brands including Maybelline and CoverGirl.”

3) “Many of the electronics the store sells, such as the new Dyson Supersonic hair dryer, are plugged in to encourage play.” 4) “As they browse the store’s seemingly unlimited supply of eye shadows, lotions, and nail polishes, shoppers can use the Ulta app to scan any product’s bar code. From there, they can read customer reviews, see similar merchandise, and save items as favorites.”

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Monarch Airlines: It’s Cool To Be Kind

Quartz: “British budget carrier Monarch Airlines is offering free perks, like early boarding or seats with extra legroom, to travelers who are ‘nice’ to its call center staff. The incentives don’t cost the airline much. Early boarding on Monarch costs £5 ($6) and an extra legroom can cost around £10 ($12).”

“Even if you played well with others at school, don’t get your hopes up for that upgrade. The airline will only offer these politeness perks on a maximum of 10 bookings a week and only if the traveler rings the call center. So it’s tough luck for those who are left to resort to contacting the airline on Twitter because no one is answering.”

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