Bad Apples Spoil Bean’s Return Policy

Business Wire: “It used to be that customers could bring back items bought at L.L. Bean’s stores and online any time they felt it didn’t live up to their expectations. The guarantee covered the item’s full lifetime. Now, the policy extends for one year only. After that, customers can only return an item if it proves defective. In another change to the policy, customers will also now need to provide a proof of purchase for a return or exchange.”

“L.L. Bean relayed the news to customers in the form of an emailed letter from Shawn O. Gorman, the company’s executive chairman and great-grandson of founder L.L. Bean. In the letter, Gorman wrote that it was people who took advantage of the generous return policy that forced the company’s hand.”

He wrote: “Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales. Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy.”

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How IKEA changed the shopping experience

The Washington Post: IKEA, “which has 412 locations in more than 40 countries, has become an international empire. Its sprawling stores with their tortuously winding routes have continued to thrive in an era of hurried online shopping. Analysts say Ikea has been successful in not only getting shoppers to linger for hours, but also getting them to come back, over and over, whether for mattresses or meatballs.”

Warren Shoulberg, a consultant, comments: “Before Ikea came along, furniture shopping was a laborious task that a lot of people dreaded because they felt like they were making a decision they had to live with for 30 years. Then Ikea showed up and said, you can buy something and use it for a couple of years — or you can keep it longer — but this isn’t necessarily something you’re going to pass down to your kids or your grandkids. That was a remarkable transition.”

“The retailer has also been successful, he added, in creating a shopping destination. Traditional furniture stores may line up all of their sofas in one section and beds in another, but Ikea displays items by room, so shoppers can see how different pieces might look together … Its success has also given way to a cottage industry of businesses that specialize in assembling Ikea furniture. Ikea itself has gotten into the fray: In September, it purchased TaskRabbit, a start-up that providers contractors for odd jobs, to appeal to a generation of time-strapped consumers who want Ikea furniture without the hassle of assembling it.”

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‘Stealing’ at the Amazon Go

Nick Wingfield: “There were a little over 3.5 million cashiers in the United States in 2016 — and some of their jobs may be in jeopardy if the technology behind Amazon Go eventually spreads. For now, Amazon says its technology simply changes the role of employees — the same way it describes the impact of automation on its warehouse workers … Store employees mill about ready to help customers find items, and there is a kitchen next door with chefs preparing meals for sale in the store. Because there are no cashiers, an employee sits in the wine and beer section of the store, checking I.D.s before customers can take alcohol off the shelves.”

“At Amazon Go, checking out feels like — there’s no other way to put it — shoplifting. It is only a few minutes after walking out of the store, when Amazon sends an electronic receipt for purchases, that the feeling goes away.”

“A big unanswered question is where Amazon plans to take the technology. It won’t say whether it plans to open more Amazon Go stores, or leave this as a one-of-a-kind novelty. A more intriguing possibility is that it could use the technology inside Whole Foods stores … There’s even speculation that Amazon could sell the system to other retailers, much as it sells its cloud computing services to other companies. For now, visitors to Amazon Go may want to watch their purchases: Without a register staring them in the face at checkout, it’s easy to overspend.”

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Late & Great: Fred Bass

Quartz: “Fred Bass, co-owner of New York’s massive used bookstore, fondly known as the Strand, died of heart failure Jan. 3 at 89. Bass transformed his father’s modest store into the four-story bookshop immediately recognizable to New Yorkers and tourists today: The store on Broadway, with its red-and-white awning over $1-book carts lining the southern-facing exterior.”

“There are two basic things a good bookstore can provide: The delightful maze of human-curated shelves, or the satisfaction of efficiently getting the book you’re looking for. Amazon has done its part in taking away business from the bookstore chains that have excelled at the latter, like Borders and Barnes & Noble. The now Everything Store once sold nothing but books, and one way it’s done so successfully is by offering deep discounts. The Strand, though nowhere near as ubiquitous as Amazon.com, has been able to tout dizzying volume at the same time it’s maintained a beloved shopping experience.”

“What Amazon has done well—sell its vast inventory to you for super cheap—Bass did first. And with tote bags. Nearly all the store’s books are sold at a discount, ranging anywhere from a couple dollars off a new title to less than a $1 for a classic or a book that’s run its course … Today clutching one of Strand’s 100 or so bag designs is a proud display of reader identity.”

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How CVS & Aetna Could Change Healthcare

Business Insider: “CVS Pharmacy’s $69 billion deal to acquire the health insurer Aetna — the second-biggest deal of the year — is different. It could actually make treatment simpler and easier for Americans, and it catches a bunch of trends in the market that push costs down. There are two big streamlining ideas at work here. First … Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are the gatekeepers between insurers and a patient’s medical treatment, and CVS already has one. Ideally it ensures that the PBM is incentivized to keep costs for the insurer as low as possible.”

“For the most part, though, this doesn’t fundamentally change Americans’ experience when they get sick. PBMs are faceless entities, and insurance is a foreign language to a lot of people. This is where the second streamlining idea in this CVS acquisition comes into play … the company will be ‘promoting lower-cost sites of care’ after this acquisition. That means turning brick-and-mortar stores into treatment centers and hiring medical staff. That’s expensive, but it will keep sick people out of more expensive hospitals, which keeps costs down for insurers and ultimately customers.”

“And unlike a lot of new urgent-care facilities hitting the market to do this very thing (keep people out of hospitals), CVS comes with a ton of brand familiarity. Plus, quarter after quarter CVS has seen that its other businesses are outperforming sales in its retail channel. Turning brick-and-mortar stores into healthcare facilities is one way to make good use of them.”

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Real-Time Retail: Fanatics Seizes Micro-Moments

The New York Times: Micro-moments “happen all the time in sports: A player reaches a milestone, has a breakout performance or is traded to a new team. Apparel companies have traditionally been poorly positioned to meet the accompanying fan demand as it surges. Fanatics … a sports merchandise company … is changing that and, in the process, carving out a lucrative niche in a fiercely competitive online-retail industry largely dominated by Amazon.”

“The company is similar to fast-fashion retailers like H&M, Uniqlo and Zara, integrating design and manufacturing with distribution to fulfill orders within hours. After the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, Fanatics used Uber to deliver championship gear to some fans within minutes … As a result, Fanatics has more than doubled its revenue in just a few years.”

“Among the micro-moments that highlighted the new need for speed was Jeremy Lin’s emergence as a sudden star for the New York Knicks in 2012 amid the so-called Linsanity phenomenon.” Fanatics chairman Michael Rubin comments: “When Linsanity happened, within 12 hours to 24 hours, there were no jerseys to get. So you had this huge demand, and there’s no jerseys available. Then you order them like crazy, and by the time they get in, the moment’s over.”

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Retail Medicine: Is Aetna The Next Apple?

Axios: “Aetna’s Mark Bertolini has been talking with retail giants and the architect behind the Apple and Tesla retail stores about ways to make visiting the doctor more like going to the mall … Bertolini says health care should take a lot of cues from Apple, noting people are already willing to make appointments at the Genius Bar. Not only that, but they willingly pay money.” Bertolini comments: “They don’t sell anything at the Apple Store. People buy stuff at the Apple Store.”

He also says: “It has to be a place that’s not linoleum floors and formica counters. It needs to be a place where people want to go and it doesn’t need to be as expensive as the marble on the Apple floors and the glass staircase, but it can be a better experience.”

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Threesome Tollbooth: Seclusion as Luxury

The New York Times: Threesome Tollbooth, in Brooklyn, caters “to patrons who prefer to take their cocktails in extreme seclusion. About as wide as the average human arm span, it sits inside the supply closet of a shuttered Italian restaurant. Capacity is limited to three: the bartender, you and your date.”

“’You own the space,’ said the artist N.D. Austin who opened the tiny tavern … After making a reservation, guests are asked by email to meet him — or his partner, Jesse Sheidlower, a lexicographer — outside a graffitied metal door in Bushwick. A brief walk through that door and down an alley leads inside to the supply closet. The closet, one discovers, has been transformed into a small, wood-paneled chamber — the sort of place to which a professor emeritus of English might retire to sip his Scotch and page through Keats.”

“The evening isn’t cheap: The going rate is $100 to $120 a head for about an hour of service. For that you get a menu of five or six 3-ounce mini-cocktails, bearing names like Johann Goes to Mexico; you also get the close-quarter company of your partner and your host. Mr. Sheidlower said the tightness of the Tollbooth has had interesting effects on the clientele … His favorite customers, however, are those who walk in and spontaneously burst into laughter.”

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Richie’s Guitar Shop: (212-253-7643)

The New York Times: “Got a gig downtown in two hours and there’s no sound coming from your ’68 Stratocaster? Action need adjustment? Are you afraid your bass is possibly haunted? ‘Call Richie’ is the mantra — if you’re connected enough in the music world to have the business card with the phone number for Richie’s Guitar Shop, which has been promoted solely through word of mouth since Mr. Baxt started teaching himself to fix guitars in 1978. Upon calling (212-253-7643), Richard Baxt will tell you where to go — to a modest one-bedroom apartment on East 11th Street.”

“If you are a new customer, you will be handed a single-spaced, double-sided sheet of paper titled ‘The Richie’s Guitar Shop Philosophy.’ These are the rules of engagement, which include both the practical and unexpected — from the importance of appointments, to the $15 surcharge if Mr. Baxt has to clean ‘blood or other bodily fluids’ off the instrument.”

Mr. Baxt says big retailers “‘charge you $100 just to change the strings and make a few adjustments. To me, that’s unconscionable. I try to charge as little as possible’ … Customers’ needs vary. Mr. Baxt recalled a job he performed for a man convinced that there were demons inside his guitar. The man asked Mr. Baxt to carve the outline of a swastika into his pick guard, which he hoped would scare them out. ‘I did it,’ said Mr. Baxt, who is Jewish, with a laugh … The man called several weeks later, swearing that the demons had been exorcised. As it says on the guitar shop business card, ‘Psychotherapy extra’.”

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