Food Halls Fight ‘Decision Fatigue’

The Wall Street Journal: “As ambitious food halls open in more urban buildings, developers are trying to make it easier for visitors to navigate pricey stalls and vendors without feeling paralyzed by all the choices. They’re tweaking food hall layouts to incorporate bar seating overlooking open-concept kitchens, nixing larger food-court-era tables and simplifying hip menus … Some are opting for a calmer look—and sound—to help battle what the trade calls ‘decision fatigue’.”

“When opening St. Roch Market, a New Orleans food hall, in 2015, Will Donaldson insisted the same signage be used for each vendor. Instead of music coming from individual stalls, he keeps a central music playlist to cut down on extra noise. An employee appears at each table to bring water and offer a clipboard with all of the offerings. Then visitors get up to find their food. Without a clear, streamlined guide, ‘people can get confused and subconsciously shut down,’ says Mr. Donaldson.”

“Developers are implementing plans that make turnover simpler, too. At Legacy Hall, vendors aren’t asked to sign a commercial lease. Each side can break off the deal at any time … Operators of Brooklyn’s DeKalb Market realized they needed more ability to switch out underperforming vendors by creating only ‘bare-bones’ design.”

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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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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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Will Mom & Pops Rise Again?

New York Magazine: “What becomes of the ground-floor city when retail mutates into new forms? Some luxury brands might keep their boutiques as indulgences and loss leaders. But as national chains’ contracts give up on physical locations, commercial rents could fall, clearing the way for a resurgence of small stores: designer cookies and pet spas, but also used-book stores and shoe-repair shops. Or maybe only bars and restaurants will survive, and we will repurpose vacant storefronts into living spaces for a housing-strapped city.”

“Amid all these conflicting trends, the architecture of retail is feeling its way, with sometimes-happy results. The new Nike palace by BKSK, on Broadway at Spring Street, is a paradox, a small structure that contains an immense store and looks at first glance like it was always there. The façade, which fades from masonry to glass as it approaches Broadway, turns it into one of the finest commercial buildings in recent years. Inside is a jangling theme park of high-tech comfort and moisture-wicking synthetics. But the sepia exterior looks as though it has just leapt from an old photograph.”

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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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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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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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Tony Chocolonely: Slave-Free Chocolate Bars

Fast Company: “Since hitting U.S. shelves last fall, a new kind of chocolate bar company is trying a different tactic: Making ‘100% slave-free’ its central selling point. Amsterdam-based Tony’s Chocolonely features a wrapper with the brand’s name spelled out in large, cartoonish lettering. Inside, the chunky squares are divided unevenly to represent the inequality within the industry.”

“To meet that promise, company leader Henk Jan Beltman … had to rethink nearly everything about how traditional supply and production works. Rather than contract with international traders, the company deals directly with independent in-country farming cooperatives, which sometimes receive NGO support. All participants not only share practices to grow better crops, but agree to be monitored, ensuring instances of child labor are spotted and addressed.”

Tony’s Chocolonely “was originally started by a Dutch journalist named Teun ‘Tony’ van de Keuken who, after investigating how slave-based beans were mixed up and melted down with everything else, originally decided to make an absurdist documentary about the injustice in 2004. Van de Keuken bought and ate some off-the-shelf bars and then turned himself in to the police, citing his behavior as helping finance criminal operations. Theatric aside, he wasn’t convicted, so he launched a chocolate company to prove there was another way to ethically manufacture.” Says Beltman: “It’s the lonely battle of Tony to change the chocolate industry from the inside out.”

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