Brands Go Local To Beat Amazon

The Wall Street Journal: “As Amazon.com Inc.tightens its grip on retail sales, a growing number of brands are pushing back by championing local retailers. Some manufacturers are enforcing minimum advertised prices to make it harder for online sellers to undercut local merchants, while others give local stores first dibs on new products or funnel customers from their own websites to local outlets.” For example: “Luxottica Group SpA last year launched a minimum advertised pricing program that restricts the price at which its Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses can be advertised … The average discount on Ray-Ban sunglasses on Amazon has shrunk to about 3% as of this month from 37% in April 2016, according to Luxottica.”

“Free stroller tuneups are one way UPPAbaby, a Hingham, Mass.-based maker of baby strollers and car seats, draws customers back to local retailers carrying its products after they buy one of its strollers, which cost up to $900 … Running gear maker Brooks is testing a new app that uses an iPad connected to a treadmill to help local retailers determine which Brooks shoe best suits a runner’s biomechanics … Orb has a program designed to encourage local retailers to try out new products without worrying they might be saddled with excess inventory. At the end of each quarter, local stores can donate slow-selling items to a favorite charity. Orb then replaces the donated goods with new items selected by the retailer at no extra charge.”

“Arc’teryx salespeople use e-commerce sales data to help merchants determine which styles of clothing, shoes and backpacks are best sellers in their local market … If Simms Fishing Products had its way, the company’s waders and other fishing gear would never show up on Amazon’s website. The Bozeman, Mont., company doesn’t sell directly to Amazon, and its dealer policy specifically prohibits sales on third-party platforms … Simms employees visit local independent retailers and use computer-assisted design software to create customized Simms shops within each store.”

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Amazon’s Buzz: A Drone Beehive?

Business Insider: “Amazon is heavily investing in drones, and one day hopes to use the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to revolutionise deliveries. Right now, it’s all still early stages — but public patent filings can offer us tantalising glimpses of what Amazon’s engineers are thinking about and experimenting as they develop the tech. For example, a key problem facing any drone deliveries is batteries and maintenance. When your drones are in the shop getting fixed, they’re not helping you make any money — so how do you keep them charged and in the air for as long as possible?”

“Amazon is exploring the idea of building special facilities that can store, repair, and deploy drones, and pre-emptively moving products and drones to areas of anticipated demand (based on seasonal trends, say, or a special event in the area) before launching them … the patent — and others like it — offers us a window into the kind of problems Amazon’s employees are grappling with, and how they might ultimately hope to solve them.”

“For example, Amazon has previously filed for a patent for a beehive-like tower for storing its fleets of drones — or as it calls it, a ‘multi-level fulfillment center for unmanned aerial vehicles’ … Amazon is also thinking about using its drones to scan your house while carrying out deliveries in order to try and sell you more stuff. If it spots one of your trees is dying, it might recommend some fertiliser to you with an advert on its website, for example.”

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Brick Sh*thouse: It’s not Amazon’s Fault

Business Insider: “Online sales are growing rapidly — up 15% in the most recent quarter compared to 4% for total retail sales. But total e-commerce sales account for just 8.5% of overall retail sales in the US. The other 91.5% of purchases are still made in brick-and-mortar stores, according to the US Census Bureau. So what’s sending mall and store traffic plunging, if most purchases are still made in stores?”

“Retailers expanded rapidly in the 1990s, blanketing the US with hundreds of shopping centers and strip malls under the expectation that demand would follow. Demand never quite caught up and then the recession hit, resulting in a sharp contraction in discretionary spending … Too much excess retail space has led to a drop in retail sales per square foot in the US.”

“Many retailers expected sales to bounce back after the recession. But that never happened for a majority of mall-based stores, primarily because people changed their shopping habits … Specifically, shoppers are buying more experiences than things … this trend, which has been particularly devastating to apparel retailers, is due in part to the rise of social media.” Consultant Doug Stephens comments: “Experiences make a better story on social media than things.”

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Sephora Studio: Where Small is Beautiful

Fast Company: Sephora “is tinkering with a new kind of store: an intimate boutique embedded in a neighborhood. The very first of these stores, which will be called the Sephora Studio, is launching on Newbury Street, the charming upmarket shopping street in downtown Boston, full of historic brick and stone buildings … While most Sephora stores make a big statement with their large storefronts, this small store attempts to blend into its locale.”

“At the center of the store, there are eight makeup stations where customers can book personal consultations. The product assortment is much smaller, focused on makeup, although there is a small selection of perfumes and skin care. Staff members will be well-versed in Sephora’s broader product range and may direct customers to products that can be shipped to them for free.”

“There are no cash registers, since staff members can process payments digitally, on their phones. At makeup stations, beauty advisers can take pictures of the client, then note all the products they test together, which is then emailed to the client and added to their online profile.”

“The brand is about to launch other small-format stores in similar shopping streets in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Hoboken in New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. These stores will not replace the bigger store format, but rather complement them.”

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New England Scrambles to Save Country Stores

The Wall Street Journal: “For 203 years, the Francestown Village Store served its tiny New Hampshire town, selling everything from fresh-baked bread and live fishing bait to winter hats and groceries while offering a place where residents could gather and gossip. But the institution, formerly known as the Long Store, closed earlier this month … hit by changing consumer habits such as online shopping and residents who increasingly commute out of the town of 1,600 for work and shop at large grocery stores on their way home.”

Designed to provide everything rural residents might need, general stores often are packed to the gills with things ranging from tools and electrical supplies to fly swatters, newspapers, meat and other food, long underwear and maybe even a bottle of champagne. Many offer postal services and function as a town center, where locals debate political issues or find out who in the community needs help.”

“Vermont is losing three or four general stores a year, and is down to about 80 from more than 100 a decade ago … In Putney, Vt., the local historical society raised money to buy the embattled Putney General Store and in May took over the day-to-day operation there. In Bath, N.H., Scott and Becky Mitchell jumped into an auction last year and bought the historic Brick Store, which is so old that the sides of its counter are angled to allow women in hoop skirts to get closer to the merchandise.” Says Becky: “Customers come and say, ‘thank you for saving it.’ The town really needed it.”

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Web Design: ’90s Style Returns

The New York Times: “Web designs have come a long way in 20 years, but some are taking a step back to evoke a sort of hipster nostalgia for the early days of the internet … Some websites are purposely cumbersome to navigate, with loud, clip-art-filled pages. Others employ a simplistic Craigslist-style utilitarianism that feels like a throwback to an era when web pages were coded by hand.”

“While millennials and members of Generation Z — those born in the years from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s — may not remember what the web looked like in the era of AltaVista and GeoCities, the retro designs tap into the current cultural revival of all things ’90s … For those who are older, these sites recall the improvised internet of their youth, in the days before mobile optimization and beta-tested user interfaces brought a sleek uniformity to modern web design.”

For example, check out: Salazarla. Or: Everything Now. And then: Solange.

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Brandless: When The Brand is No Brand

Quartz: “E-commerce company Brandless launched last week, but it is already billing itself as the ‘Procter and Gamble of millennials.’ The startup sells a variety of Brandless-branded foods and household goods, supplied by its proprietary partner manufacturers, and all priced at $3 … The company promises to keep prices low by eliminating the BrandTax, a phrase it requested a trademark for last November, and which it defines as the ‘hidden costs you pay for a national brand.’ Its simple white labeling was designed by a team of product and marketing experts and food scientists.”

According to CEO Tina Sharkey: “The Brandless movement is the ‘democratization of goodness.’ It’s that everyone ‘deserves better, and better shouldn’t cost more.’ The $3 price point is designed to make it ‘very freeing when you shop on brandless.com.’ Brandless wants people to ‘live more and brand less,’ to ‘tell their own stories,’ and to drop the ‘false narratives’ sold by Madison Avenue. ”

“In the meantime Brandless is crafting its own narrative. On its website, the company claims the average person pays a 40% or greater BrandTax markup on products ‘of comparable quality as ours.’ This seems likely true of Brandless organic extra virgin olive oil ($3 for 8.5 oz, or about 35 cents an ounce) but perhaps less so for its organic taco seasoning mix ($3 for a pair of 1 oz packets).”

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Slow Dollars: Key to Local Grocery Success

Anne Kadet: “It’s a mystery. Local markets clearly are losing business to national outfits such as Whole Foods Market , Trader Joe’s and Target. So why don’t they up their game? To my surprise, Enrico Palazio, who co-owns the Montague Street Key Food with his uncle, says he doesn’t view Trader Joe’s as competition. It doesn’t have a deli, butcher or even a respectable detergent section. ‘This is one-stop shopping,’ he says of his store. The real competition, he notes, is FreshDirect.”

“Mr. Palazio “spent a lot of money on last year’s renovation, aiming to outdo FreshDirect by making his store a pleasant place to shop. His markups reflect that investment, he says, but his prices are still lower than FreshDirect. Because his 10,000 square-foot Key Food is too small to carry products at every price point, Mr. Palazio caters to neighborhood preferences. He doesn’t sell the cheapest ice cream brand, for example, but he does stock McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream.”

“To handle more customers, Mr. Palazio says, he’d have to cram the store with more cashiers, baggers and stock clerks. The busy, hectic atmosphere wouldn’t appeal to his clientele, he believes. Burt Flickinger, managing director of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group, says this strategy is typical of many local supermarkets. ‘It’s the slow dollar versus the fast nickel,’ he says.”

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Is Ecom a Jobs Engine?

The New York Times: Michael Mandel, an economist, “asserts that the move toward e-commerce is creating more jobs than are being lost in the brick-and-mortar retailing industry — and that these new jobs are paying much higher wages than traditional retail jobs … He says that government numbers and conventional industry classifications don’t properly count all the jobs associated with e-commerce — in particular, the numbers miss large parts of the industry like fulfillment centers and distribution warehouses.”

“Mr. Mandel has combed through the job statistics on a county-by-county basis and come to this counterintuitive view: From December 2007 to May 2017, by his count, the e-commerce industry has created 397,000 jobs in the United States, and this compares with the loss of 76,000 jobs in the traditional retail industry. And those jobs related to e-commerce, he says, pay about 30 percent more than the brick-and-mortar ones.”

“To Mr. Mandel, it’s not that e-commerce jobs are directly replacing traditional retail jobs. Rather, he describes a world in which some of what he calls ‘unpaid household labor’ that we all do when we drive to the mall, park, shop and bring the goods home has been transferred into the labor market.” As for automation and robots, he thinks “it will take longer for them to replace humans than we think.”

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