Late & Great: Philip Kives

The Guardian: “The late Philip Kives is “hailed as having invented the infomercial, producing a live, five-minute TV ad for a Teflon non-stick frying pan … the format stood him in good stead when he diversified from homeware and into music in 1966 … At the time, the idea of a multi-artist compilation was a rarity, because record companies were not keen to have their artists on the same LP as artists signed to competitors.”

Few were the households in the 1970s that didn’t have some sort of K-tel release propped up beside the stereo in a manner that makes the supposed ubiquity of an act like Adele today pale in comparison … For Kives … music was just another product like the Patty Stacker, the Bottle Cutter, the Veg-o-Matic food cutter and the Miracle Brush … While artists might bristle at the idea of being sold in the same way as a tool for chopping vegetables or cleaning suede, for Kives it was still the boardwalk and he was gripped by the thrill of sell, sell, sell.”

“Today, marketing executives like to regard themselves as super-sophisticated, guiding what they do with endless data, market research and analysis; but they are still working on many of the same principles that Kives perfected half a century ago. Except he was arguably much closer to the audience, understood them better and respected them more.”

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Tractor Supply: It Has What Amazon Does Not

Forbes: “The typical Tractor Supply customer owns land, keeps pets, raises chickens and drives a pickup … Tractor Supply has approached retail’s cardinal rule of ‘Know Your Customer’ as both mission statement and math problem, and in the process has become an (albeit unlikely) lifestyle brand, famed for an in-store experience so satisfying that its rustic-chic brick-and-mortar operations are well fortified against the onslaught of consumers who want to buy everything on their smartphones.”

“Tractor Supply has 1,500 locations spread across 49 states; the company plans to open around 115 stores in 2016 and about 120 stores per year after that until 2,500 are in operation, mostly in rural or exurban areas … Roughly 15% of store merchandise is tailored to each ‘hyperlocalized’ market: One Kentucky store may cater to equestrians while another mere miles away carries products for life in coal country … the average 16,000-square-foot Tractor Supply store is manned by a team of 12 to 15 local ‘lifestylers’–the type of people who would shop at Tractor Supply even if they didn’t work there.”

The store’s “exclusive lines ensure that customers can’t find an item cheaper on Amazon … Not that Amazon is a big concern. Less than 1% of Tractor Supply’s revenue comes from e-commerce, and increasing that number isn’t a top priority. Physical stores and a deep connection to the countryside remain at the company’s core.”

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Cutting The Cord: Not Just for the Poor Anymore

The Washington Post: “Low-income Americans are still one of the biggest demographics to rely solely on their phones to go online.” However, “even people with higher incomes are ditching their wired Internet access at similar or even faster rates compared with people who don’t earn as much.”

“In 2013, 8 percent of households making $50,000 to $75,000 a year were mobile-only. Fast-forward a couple of years, and that figure now stands at 18 percent. Seventeen percent of households making $75,000 to $100,000 are mobile-only now, compared with 8 percent two years ago. And 15 percent of households earning more than $100,000 are mobile-only, vs. 6 percent in 2013. Stepping back a bit, as many as 1 in 5 U.S. households are now mobile-only, compared with 1 in 10 in 2013. That’s a doubling in just two years.”

“This suggests that having only one form of Internet access instead of two may no longer be explained simply as the result of financial hardship — as might be the case for lower-income Americans — but could be the product of a conscious choice, at least for wealthier people, who are deciding that having both is unnecessary.”

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Conversational Commerce: Meet The Chatbots

The Washington Post: “While a Web browser might once have been our front door to the Internet and apps often play that role today, experts say that bots could soon become our primary digital gateway … The case for a bot-centric future goes like this: Smartphone users have proved they are only willing to download and spend time in a limited number of apps. So companies might be better off trying to connect with consumers in the apps where they are already spending plenty of time. And proponents say that a bot can potentially provide greater convenience than apps and Web searches because it can understand natural speech patterns.”

“Because bots are designed for one-to-one conversation, they may ultimately find their most logical home in messaging apps, which are seeing explosive growth in users and are the digital-communication channel of choice for Generation Z … It is against that backdrop that big retailers and Silicon Valley are racing to develop ways to use bots within messaging apps to deliver customer service or to enable browsing and buying … In retail industry jargon, this is coming to be known as “conversational commerce,” and brands are betting on it because of some distinct advantages it could provide in connecting with shoppers.”

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Smoke & Mirrors: Online ‘Bargains’ Can Be Illusory

The New York Times: “Boomerang Commerce, a retail analytics firm, compared the list prices of dozens of pet items on Amazon and the specialist pet site Chewy.com. In only a handful of cases did the retailers even agree on what the list price was. So a 22-pound bag of Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Duck and Potato dog food had a list price of $131 on Amazon and $84 on Chewy. Yet the retail price at both sites was the same: $49.49.”

“Some e-commerce experts said nothing needed to be done about illusory discounts, because the merchants needed them so much. The process ‘can seem dishonest to consumers, but let’s consider the retailer’s side,’ said Daniel Green of CamelCamelCamel.com … ‘If they weren’t using the list price as the benchmark, what would they use?’ … A few retailers defended themselves in off-the-record conversations by saying there are no victims here. That view got support from a Massachusetts judge in February, who dismissed a case alleging the use of fictitious prices by Kohl’s.”

The judge said: “’The fact that plaintiff may have been manipulated into purchasing the items because she believed she was getting a bargain does not necessarily mean she suffered economic harm.’ For others, however, e-commerce is not living up to its promise of being transparent and pro-consumer.”

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Fina Finds New Beginning As Dot-Com

The New York Times: “On April 16, Michael C. Fina, which had sales of $16 million last year, will close its sole brick-and-mortar store, laying off about 20 workers and bringing to an end an 81-year run in Manhattan. Instead, the retailer is moving entirely online, including teaming with Amazon.com as part of a planned revamping of the e-commerce giant’s wedding registry service.”

Fina “already operates an e-commerce site, but it can take up to 72 hours for a product to be shipped … Amazon has told him that its fulfillment centers will be able to ship an order in as little as two hours. Mr. Fina also said he expected shipping costs to fall by as much as 50 percent, because of Amazon’s economies of scale.”

The bridal-registry retailer “will also offer its wares on Zola.com … Shan-Lyn Ma, founder of Zola.com, said that because couples in the United States were marrying much later than ever, and because they increasingly lived with their partners before tying the knot, their wedding gift needs had shifted away from the housewares and appliances that traditionally went toward setting up a first home.” She explains: “Couples are really starting to value experiences rather than straight wedding products.”

“On Zola.com, couples can list hiking trips, hot air balloon rides and food delivery subscriptions, as well as funds for puppies, honeymoons and even fertility treatments.” Ms. Ma started Zola in 2013. “But she has since realized that many couples want to add a few traditional items into their wedding registry mix. And a partnership with Michael C. Fina, she said, gave Zola access to brands that the site might have trouble courting.”

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Is Mall Shopping Greener Than E-Commerce?

The Wall Street Journal: “Could going to the mall be better for the environment than shopping online? That’s the surprising claim in a new study from Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall landlord. The argument is that mall shoppers often travel in groups and buy more than one item, reducing their environmental impact. Online shoppers, meanwhile, return products more often, and the shipping requires more packaging.”

“Among the factors Simon looked at was how many people went on the trip and ‘the idea that shoppers combine mall shopping trips with other errands.’ The report also examined the impact of product returns both online and in stores … The report found that online shopping had an environmental impact that was 7% greater than mall shopping, if shoppers bought the same number of products both ways.”

“The issue isn’t settled, however. A 2013 master thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Transportation & Logistics, for example, examined various ways consumers could shop in stores or online. ‘Results show that online shopping is the most environmentally friendly option in a wide range of scenarios,’ the thesis concluded. The MIT thesis examined how some shoppers combine the two channels, sometimes researching products both in stores and online, or buying online but picking up or returning in a store. As a result, the thesis also found, ‘as more consumers leverage traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives to their online buying behaviors, some of the environmental savings quickly erode.'”

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Beds-in-a-Box: The Big Mattress

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.

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UK Record Shops Enjoy Record High

“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.”

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Routehappy Scores Flights on the Experience

Routehappy has found a business in scoring air-travel options when you shop for tickets,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Routehappy’s website ranks flights by specific scores that compare not just prices but onboard amenities. It even compares different flights on the same route offered by the same airline.”

“Routehappy has eight attributes that it tracks for each flight offered for sale by 225 airlines: aircraft, seat, cabin layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, fresh food, power outlets and duration. The criteria weigh basics like legroom and often overlooked but important factors like seat width … seat and duration are the biggest factors in a score.”

“More factors are coming—likely on-time performance will be the next to be included … though finding accurate information about flights is a challenge because airlines routinely change flight numbers. Routehappy also hopes to someday let users pick what’s most important to them and customize scores.”

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