Novo Oh-No: ‘New & Improved’ Doesn’t Sell

The Wall Street Journal: “Danish drug giant Novo Nordisk is living through a corporate nightmare that any CEO might recognize from business school. After the company concentrated on making essentially one product better and better—and charging more and more—customers have suddenly stopped paying for all that improvement. The established versions are, well, good enough.”

“Doctors, health-plan managers and insurers all have balked at paying for Novo Nordisk’s newest version of its insulin. Clinical trials show it works as promised in controlling diabetes and delivers significant side benefits compared with its predecessors. But for many customers, all that isn’t enough to warrant paying more—because the older drugs on the market already work pretty well, too.”

“Common, deadly ailments, such as asthma, high cholesterol and heart disease, were the focus of the pharmaceutical industry during a golden age of drug launches in the 1990s. Now, building on those advances has proven costlier and more complex, and usually results in smaller gains. Incrementally improved medicines are harder to sell at the prices needed to cover their development costs.”

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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 Secret: 19 Phantom Brands

Quartz: “Amazon is selling products across a wide array of categories, using a host of brands that do not exist outside the confines of amazon.com and do not make it clear that they are Amazon-made products. Trawling through over 800 trademarks that Amazon has either been awarded or applied for through the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Quartz identified 19 brands that are owned by Amazon and sell products or have product pages on amazon.com.”

The Amazon brands include: Arabella (Lingerie); Beauty Bar (Cosmetics); Denali (Tools); Franklin & Freeman (Men’s shoes); Happy Belly (Fresh food); James & Erin (Women’s clothing); Lark & Ro (Women’s clothing); Mae (Underwear); Mama Bear (Baby products); Myhabit (Consumer goods); North Eleven(Women’s clothing); NuPro (Tech accessories); Pike Street (Linen); Scout + Ro (Kid’s clothing); Single Cow Burger (Frozen food); Small Parts (Spare parts); Smart is Beautiful (Clothing); Strathwood (Furniture).

“The only indication that any of these other brands might have an affiliation with Amazon is the fact that their company pages … say that their products are ‘exclusively for Prime members.’ It’s not clear that they’re exclusive because they are Amazon products, rather than products from companies that have struck deals with Amazon … It’s possible Amazon has other brands on its site that it hasn’t yet trademarked.”

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Cut-Throat: Lidl vs. Walmart, Kroger & Aldi

Axios: The German discount grocer Lidl made its United States debut this June, opening 20 stores in the Carolinas and Virginia just weeks after its compatriot Aldi announced its own expansion plans in the U.S. earlier this year … Lidl entered the market aggressively, with prices in its Winston Salem, NC, store that were 9.1% lower than the local Walmart, according to a study conducted in June by Jefferies analyst Christopher Mandeville. Given those results and Lidl’s ‘enjoyable’ shopping experience, he says Lidl could be ‘highly disruptive’ to incumbents like Walmart.”

“But the tide may be shifting, as it appears Walmart has cut the price differential to just 2%, according to a survey by Oppenheimer that looked at prices roughly a month after Jefferies visited the same locations … Oppenheimer analysts Rupesh Parikh and Erica Eiler write, ‘pricing appears dynamic and cut-throat’ at the Walmart and Lidl locations they visited in Winston Salem. ‘During our visit in the afternoon at Walmart, [a gallon of] milk was priced at $2.08. When we went back in the evening, milk dropped to $1.95. Lidl had its own deals, with a carton of eggs on offer for just 52 cents’.”

“Parikh and Eiler think that Kroger (rather than Walmart) is more threatened by German upstarts. Aldi has been in the U.S. longer than Lidl, and has big plans to become the third-largest grocer in America. But Parikh and Eiler were unimpressed, calling Lidl ‘a bigger and nicer Aldi,’ which had ‘wider aisles, enhanced lighting, and a bit more upscale feel,’ they write … No doubt the grocery shoppers of Winston Salem and other markets are enjoying the ongoing price war.”

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‘All You Can Eat’ Buffets Go Upscale

The Wall Street Journal: “Restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat dining are often more about quantity than quality. But a number of higher-end New York City establishments are looking to reverse that trend. Kesté Pizza & Vino, the pizzeria that offers authentic Neapolitan-style pies, has introduced a daily $20 unlimited-slices promotion … In a more extravagant vein, Megu, a modern Japanese restaurant in Chelsea, is rolling out a $300 ‘Imperial Oyster Experience,’ with all-you-can-eat oysters, including some pricier and rarer varieties, for two diners, in addition to a bottle of Champagne.”

“Restaurateurs offer such deals for a variety of reasons. Some say they do it to try to increase business on slower nights. Others say it is just a way to have some fun.
Megu owner Jon Bakhshi says it was the latter that inspired him to come up with his concept. An ‘oyster bar in the middle of summer just had a nice ring to it,’ he said.”

“Restaurant-industry insiders and observers warn, however, there could be consequences to such promotions, particularly in terms of how they affect public perception of the establishments … The other challenge for restaurateurs is making sure they can profit from such deals, given that patrons are naturally inclined to do the math and milk the opportunities for all they are worth.”

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$1,400 iPhone & The Veblen Effect

Christopher Mims: “The launch of a pricey new iPhone has big implications for Apple’s financials, and it also bodes well for Apple’s continued dominance in mobile phones. Here are five reasons for Apple to go big, price-wise:” 1 Halo Effect: “An ultraexpensive edition of the iPhone makes sense as a shot in the arm for the whole brand … 2 Crazy New Tech: A big reason companies have halo products is that they give them a way to test new technologies.” 3 Supply & Demand: “If Apple’s high-end iPhone is aimed at a new segment—people willing to pay more than $1,000 for a phone—Apple can charge whatever it likes to balance supply and demand for the device, rather than worrying about whether increasing the price will hurt its overall market share.”

4 Average Selling Price: “With a phone priced upward of $1,400, Apple would have the opportunity to move the single most important metric on its balance sheet: the average selling price of a new iPhone.” 5 The Veblen Effect: “The final reason a pricey iPhone makes sense is that, paradoxically, the more expensive Apple makes the device, the more people will lust after it. Conspicuous consumption was first described in ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ by the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, who singled out products that, contrary to logic, sold better when their prices went up.”

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Aldi Conquers With Cromwell Gin

Business Insider: “The £9.97 Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin from Aldi won a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) this week. In doing so, the budget retailer’s gin beat bottles costing up to four times the price in the blind taste test.”

“A spokesperson at the International Spirits Challenge said: “The display of awards achieved by Aldi this year at the International Spirits Challenge was fantastic. They consistently showcased high quality products in the blind tastings, which demonstrates that you don’t have to compromise on price to enjoy great tasting drinks.”

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Consumer Culture & The Ikea Catalog

Quartz: “Beginning July 31, IKEA’s highly-anticipated catalogue will appear in millions of mailboxes around the world … This year, it took the Swedish company 18 months and a hundreds-strong army of photographers, art directors, copywriters, proofreaders, prop masters, carpenters, photo retouchers, programmers and CGI specialists to produce the catalog’s 1,400 pieces of art and 24,000 texts. While the text remain basically the same worldwide, IKEA’s team does go the extra mile to swap out subtle, tell-tale details in 72 different region-specific editions.”

“Knowing that kitchens in China are much smaller than the US for example, catalogue designers crop into a photograph and reposition elements in post-production, to illustrate a cozier cooking space … Last February, members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community received a 67-page, all-male product catalogue with challah boards, Shabbat candlesticks, tables set for the Sabbath meal, and Billy bookcases propped with volumes of the Talmud and Bible, the Jerusalem Post reports.”

“The annual catalogue is also a way for IKEA to set prices for their different markets, factoring in the cost of goods, transport, and tariffs and the foreign exchange rate … IKEA works with five paper suppliers and 31 printers around the world to produce the catalogue each year. In choosing the paper … they even consider how different markets perceive quality vis-a-vis the paper’s brightness and sheen. An Ikea exec comments: “People have a ‘magazine moment’ with a cup of tea, at home, touching the paper.”

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Exact Change: The Shekel Effect

Dan Ariely: “People are more inclined to buy items that are priced on the scale of familiar, low-denomination coins. When something costs the same as a coin, we can categorize the purchase as cheap and not think too much about it. But the moment something costs more than a single coin, we start thinking more carefully about whether or not we want to buy it.”

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How Big is the ‘Store Brand’ Threat?

The Wall Street Journal: “Supermarkets’ ‘private label’ goods have historically been less important in the U.S. than in other mature markets … But now the big European discounters are expanding in the U.S.Lidl launched on June 15 with six stores in North Carolina, just a few days after its key rival, Aldi, unveiled a five-year, $5 billion U.S. expansion plan. These expansion efforts themselves don’t need to succeed. The threat alone will hasten the shift of U.S. grocery toward private label.”

“The more upscale team of Amazon and Whole Foods will speed the push into private label. The tech giant has been plowing resources into its AmazonBasics range; the Whole Foods equivalent, 365 Everyday Value, anchors the grocer’s new, compact store format, 365. Ever attuned to millennial trends, Silicon Valley has even thrown up an online retailer called Brandless that sells $3 health-conscious, private-label goods.”

“Some companies look less exposed than others. Those with big overseas operations, such as Nestlé, Unilever UL or Mondelez, or must-have brands, like Kraft Heinz, stand a better chance of seeing off the new competition than those with U.S.-centric portfolios or lots of third or fourth-placed brands. Bernstein thinks Campbell’s, Conagra, General Mills, Kellogg and Smucker’s are all at risk.”

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