Airport Malls: The Call of Duty-Free

The Wall Street Journal: “In the age of online shopping, retailers are finding that airports can take some of the sting out of declining mall traffic. Travelers have time to kill and money to spend when they’re captive inside airport security. Major airports around the world, from Singapore to Dubai, London to Beijing, have essentially become shopping malls with gates.”

“And the U.S. is finally starting to catch up. Just as they have upgraded restaurants and basic amenities like power outlets, U.S. airports are finding they need to improve duty-free stores, which have become a necessity for many world travelers who routinely stock up on perfume, cosmetics, alcohol and chocolate coming home from trips … Airports like duty-free shops because they get a cut of the revenue; luxury-goods makers like the chance to interact in person with shoppers; and customers like the convenience, savings and opportunity for capricious purchases.”

“Moët Hennessy, the Paris-based maker of Champagne and cognac, has a boutique in the Dallas duty-free store where it does tastings of rare editions—a spot of cognac before boarding. The unit of luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH sees airport retail as a chance to educate consumers about its brand … The store has no doors; travelers just wander through. Brands have their own areas, creating a boutique feel. There is some seating upstairs on an open, second level designed for events such as tastings, entertainment and parties that will lure curious passengers.”


Kochhaus: Grocery Store as Cookbook

Kochhaus: “Kochhaus is the first grocery store that is not sorted by product groups, but by creative recipes … As a walk-in recipe book, the Kochhaus offers a constantly changing range of 18 different recipes worldwide. At free-standing tables full of fresh ingredients you will find everything you need for a particular dish – for two, four or more people. At any time there is a selection of appetizers, salads and soups. With creative pasta, fish and meat dishes. And of course some tempting desserts.”

“The recipe tables with large colored plates show at a glance which ingredients are needed for a dish. With the step-by-step cooking instructions in pictures, the perfect dinner is guaranteed to succeed. Delicious delicacies and clever kitchen helpers complete the concept.”


Apple Stores: The DMV of Retail?

Business Insider: “Apple Stores have become an almost mythical part of the tech giant’s brand. Now, they could be killing it … if you’ve visited an Apple Store recently, you may have found that you weren’t visiting a magical tech utopia after all. Many customers are now comparing their Apple Store experiences to those they’ve had at a different place: the dreaded DMV.”

“Customers’ top complaints are focused on crowds and wait times, which can last for hours. Simply put, too many people need assistance at Apple Stores — and employees don’t have the time to help everyone immediately … Irritated customers tired of waiting for simple assistance tend to be less than impressed by Apple Stores’ unique design. Some say they feel Apple has prioritized artistry over customers’ needs.”

“In 2016, Apple retail boss Angela Ahrendts told Business Insider that the company needed ‘to open incredible places that almost behave like a town square, like a gathering place’ … For some, Apple Stores have become a site of frustration, not community mingling. However, the company is renovating dozens of stores across the US in an effort to better achieve its ‘town square’ goals. These revamped stores are larger, which could help with concerns of overcrowding. They also feature a new approach to the Genius Bar with the ‘Genius Grove,’ which allows a section of the store to be focused on repairs and assistance without involving lines.”


Goody Gumdrop: Blue Sole Shoes

Fast Company: “The blue soles of a new brand of shoes are made from an unlikely source: recycled chewing gum. The shoes, which are expected to launch later this year, are the latest project from a U.K. designer who has spent nearly a decade working on ways to turn discarded gum from sticky sidewalk blight into something useful.”

“Anna Bullus was in design school when she started thinking about the problem … She created a pink, bubble-shaped bin–itself made from recycled gum, blended with other recycled materials–to begin to collect the gum on central city streets, train stations, and other places with heavy foot traffic. When the bin is full, the whole container goes to a recycled facility, where any trash or cigarette butts are sorted out. The gum and bin are then recycled together … and made into pellets that can be used in the same type of manufacturing equipment that usually works with regular plastic.”

“Bullus says that her company, Gumdrop, is learning where to best position the bins to have the greatest chance of intersecting with someone at the moment that they want to get rid of gum … Turning gum into new products, she hopes, will give consumers more incentive not to litter old gum on the streets–and potentially begin recycling other trash as well.”


Fake Discounts: The Price You Pay

The Washington Post: “Washington Consumers’ Checkbook’s researchers tracked prices of big-ticket items sold at major retailers for 10 months and found disturbing pricing practices at 17 of the 19 studied. At these stores, many sale prices — even those that advertise big savings — are in place more than half the time. And at some stores, the ‘sales’ never end: For several chains, Checkbook found that most items it tracked were offered at a discount every week or almost every week.”

“Although Checkbook found that almost all the stores it checked often advertise misleading sales, some have more egregious pricing practices than others. For J.C. Penney, Kmart, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Sears, the items tracked were offered at sale prices more than 75 percent of the time. For example, at Neiman Marcus and Sears, 10 of the items tracked at both retailers were on sale every week for 10 months.”

“But nearly all the stores at which Checkbook shopped are guilty of some sales-price chicanery — among them, only Costco and Bed Bath & Beyond consistently conducted legitimate sales, meaning any discounts were in place less than half the time. The other 17 retailers as a group marked their items ‘on sale’ 57 percent of the time.”


Retail Equation: Returns from Hell

The Wall Street Journal: “Every time shoppers return purchases to Best Buy Co. they are tracked by a company that has the power to override the store’s touted policy and refuse to refund their money. That is because the electronics giant is one of several chains that have hired a service called Retail Equation to score customers’ shopping behavior and impose limits on the amount of merchandise they can return.”

“When a consumer makes a return, details about his or her identity and shopping visit are transmitted to Retail Equation, which then generates a ‘risk score.’ If the score exceeds the threshold specific to the retailer, a salesperson informs the consumer that future returns will be denied and then directs them to Retail Equation to request a return activity report or file a dispute.”

“It isn’t easy for shoppers to learn their standing before receiving a warning. Retailers typically don’t publicize their relationship with Retail Equation. And even if a customer tracks down his or her return report, it doesn’t include purchase history or other information used to generate a score. The report also doesn’t disclose the actual score or the thresholds for getting barred.”


Supermarkets: A New Social Network?

The Wall Street Journal: “Supermarkets—those havens of the not-so-scintillating chore of scouring numbered aisles, pushing carts and perusing produce—are finding a new identity as a social hub in communities. Parents now bring their children here to play, retirees gather for Bingo, and singles find romance. Grocery stores are fulfilling the new role as traditional gathering spots, from shopping malls to social clubs like Lions Clubs and Rotary International, continue to shrink from decades-earlier peaks.”

“Market of Choice, an Oregon chain of 11 supermarkets, has reduced space for center-store aisles by 22% in recent years and devoted more room to couches, fireplaces with seating areas and restaurant-like services, says owner Rick Wright. Whole Foods says social space is the first thing to get worked into floor plans … Lowes Foods, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based supermarket chain, has recently redesigned its stores into an animated ‘village concept’ of shops around the perimeter with giant birthday-candle lights, moving signs and employees who perform a chicken dance … At the heart of each store is a large rectangular communal table that can seat 10 to 15 people.”

“Bo Sharon, owner of Boulder, Colo.-based Lucky’s Markets, says about 25% of his stores are devoted to nonretail space, whether that’s tables in a cafe, performance areas for local musicians, or a designated community room where neighborhood groups meet. Fostering a sense of community, he says, ultimately helps drive traffic.”


Late & Great: Russ Solomon

The New York Times: “Russ Solomon, who died on Sunday at 92, created what for many music fans was the ultimate music emporium: Tower Records, whose yellow-and-red color scheme, ‘No Music, No Life’ slogan, and wide aisles stocked with LPs and CDs defined the retail music business in the pre-digital era. At its peak, the chain had nearly 200 stores in 15 countries and more than $1 billion in annual sales, before debt and shifting consumer habits forced it to close in 2006.”

“Starting at his father’s drugstore in Sacramento, where he sold used jukebox records as a teenager, Mr. Solomon built a retail empire that became known as much for its selection — vast by brick-and-mortar standards — as for the culture that surrounded it. Employees were opinionated aficionados, and Tower stores, open till midnight, were gathering places for fans. The locations on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and on Broadway in Greenwich Village became tourist meccas.”

“The shops even made devotees of the stars. Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler were regular visitors, but Tower’s most famous patron was Elton John, for whom the Hollywood store would open early … Despite Tower’s disappearance from most of the world, it still has a major presence in Japan; the company sold its Japanese locations in 1999 to raise cash. The flagship store in central Tokyo is like a time warp for travelers, with nine floors of music, in-store performances and, out front, a comforting sign in yellow and red with a familiar message: No music, no life.”


Wasted Food Eats Retailer Profits

The Wall Street Journal: “Grocers, restaurants and food-service companies waste food worth $55 billion a year, according to ReFED, a nonprofit working on food-waste reduction. Food retailers are responsible for food waste worth some $18 billion a year, roughly double the sector’s profit from food sales.”

“More investors are pushing companies to change food-waste and packaging practices that they see as a potential drag on profits in a low-margin business. Many companies are responding. Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., Walmart Inc. and other food retailers are working with shareholders who have raised such concerns. Costco Wholesale Corp., Target Corp. and Chipotle Mexican Grill , Inc. have acknowledged similar investor requests.”

“Amazon has struggled for years to profitably deliver groceries in part due to the logistical complexities of shipping perishable items and low customer density outside big cities. Last year, the company eliminated delivery to some ZIP Codes as it also acquired the urban-focused Whole Foods Market chain.”