Auto Boutique: Tesla @ Nordstrom

USA Today: “Tesla opened an electric-car boutique in the men’s section of the Nordstrom store that could become the model for others. Tesla has had its own stores in malls, but not one inside of a department store. Not only could it potentially cut the automaker’s real-estate costs, but it could also help Tesla attract more customers who discover the car just by walking by.”

“Reached for comment, the automaker issued a statement stressing that the two companies have a lot in common”: “Tesla and Nordstrom share a relentless drive to engage and delight customers with new and innovative shopping experiences,” it said. “The Nordstrom shopper embodies a lifestyle that parallels that of many Tesla owners –- people who are forward-thinking, savvy, and curious to explore the latest and best trends.”

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Small Bore: Is Apple Thinking ‘Different’ Enough?

“Apple’s view increasingly feels like an outdated way of thinking about tech. Many of its competitors have been moving beyond devices toward experiences that transcend them,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. These new technologies exist not on distinct pieces of hardware, but above and within them … it’s hard to tell if Apple is thinking big enough.”

“Apple still seems to view online services as add-ons to its devices — not as products or platforms that rise above them.” For example: “Siri, as Apple is positioning it, is becoming a better app launcher for your phone … But it’s not clear that it’s becoming a truly intelligent assistant.”

“One problem is that the new Siri will not integrate with all kinds of apps … It’s hard to shake the suspicion that Apple is using Siri to give its own apps a leg up … Another problem is that Siri is still hopelessly tied to each Apple device … If Siri is an intelligent assistant, why … can’t she call Uber from the cloud, regardless of which device you happen to be using?”

“Google, Amazon and several start-ups seem to be rushing headlong to build such a system. But … I’m not sure Apple is,” Manjoo writes. “It’s taking a more moderate app-based, device-centric path. Many of its voice features will be fine — useful, even. But it sure isn’t pushing for a revolution.”

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The Swiffer Effect: Walmart & Procter Butt Heads

“Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, and P&G, the world’s biggest consumer-goods company, are increasingly butting heads as both try to wring more revenue out of their slow-growing businesses, The Wall Street Journal reports … A battle last year over the popular Swiffer mop suggests the tensions aren’t likely to abate soon. P&G’s consumer research revealed that existing packages weren’t large enough to prompt repeat purchases, and so it upped the number of wipes in a pack, improved the handle and increased the price … Around the same time, Wal-Mart introduced a less expensive store brand, irking P&G.”

“To settle the matter, P&G had to offer a temporary discount on the company’s Swiffer products. Not only did P&G employees worry about lost sales, they believed the store-brand refills were of a lower quality and would stop first-time Swiffer users from sticking with the habit. ‘They sell crappy private label, so you buy Swiffer with a crappy refill,’ said one of the people familiar with the product changes. ‘And then you don’t buy again’.” A Walmart spokesman said: “Our Great Value products provide a quality alternative for customers looking to save money.”

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The Future of Grocery: Yoga & Bike Repair

The Wall Street Journal: Shoppers looking to pick up milk and eggs may have other reasons to spend time at their local supermarket: yoga classes or a spa treatment, perhaps. Under growing pressure from discounters and online rivals, supermarkets are trying to transform themselves into places where customers might want to hang out rather than just grabbing groceries and heading home.”

“In Phoenix, a Fry’s Food Stores, part of a chain owned by Kroger Co., features a culinary school and a lounge with leather couches perched next to a wine bar. A Kroger store in Hilton Head Island, S.C., offers a cigar section to complement its wine cellar that stocks $600 bottles. Whole Foods Market Inc. has a putting green outside its Augusta, Ga., location and a spa offering peppermint foot scrubs and facial waxing in a Boston store. Elsewhere, it has bike-repair stations. A ShopRite store here in Hanover Township, near New York, runs a fitness studio with yoga, barre and Zumba classes and has a cosmetologist on weekends.”

“Most of these enhanced stores appear to be located in affluent suburbs and city neighborhoods—places where shoppers are more inclined to order groceries from e-commerce sites or meals from services such as Blue Apron … Some concepts have fizzled. The Fry’s in Phoenix made its debut in 2010 with a car wash but discontinued that after it didn’t catch on, a Kroger’s spokesman said. The cooking classes, by contrast, have doubled in size since the school opened, and the store offers at least a dozen sessions a week, he said.”

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Technology Puts Retailers on the ‘Map’

The Wall Street Journal: “Making technology investments to improve customer experiences has traditionally been the domain of retailers, which have introduced robots, touch-screen mirrors and virtual-reality goggles to attract shoppers to their stores in recent years. But as pressure from store closures continues to mount, some mall landlords also are … investing in mapping functions to help shoppers find parking spaces, navigate mall corridors or check out a flash sale at a store one floor above. The goal: to better connect with shoppers in hopes of sparking more activity.”

“Jibestream, a firm that creates interactive mall maps to guide customers from store to store on their mobile phones as well as help them find parking, has rolled out its technology to hundreds of malls … Other vendors are offering ways for landlords to better analyze foot traffic in malls, a key metric cited by landlords and retailers as online shopping continues to gain traction and pose greater challenges to bricks-and-mortar stores.”

“By tracking the cellphone signals in a mall, companies can study the paths visitors take as well as how effective display windows and in-mall advertising are in drawing customers. This is similar to how Amazon.com is able to measure user engagement by how long cursors hover over a certain part of a webpage.”

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Price Trap: Beware the Amazon ‘Buy Box’

The Washington Post: “Researchers at Northeastern University tracked pricing of 1,640 of the best-selling products on Amazon’s site over four months. In particular, they were examining what prices were featured in what’s known as the ‘buy box,’ the area on the right side of an Amazon product page that invites you to add an item to your cart … It has been estimated that about 82 percent of sales on Amazon are made through that box.”

“Amazon relies on an algorithm to determine which seller ends up in the buy box for any given product … the process is significantly more likely to give that spot to sellers who use real-time pricing, in which software is used to automatically optimize prices on the fly based on what competitors are charging.”

“Here’s why that matters: Most sellers using that kind of pricing model don’t have the lowest prices on the site. In fact, the researchers found that 60 percent of those that use real-time pricing have higher prices than other sellers of the same item on Amazon. Most of the time, the price difference is about $1, but … researchers found ‘many’ cases where the price difference was in the $20 to $60 range.”

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Amazon Has Bullseye on Target

Quartz: “Target has a supply problem. The discount retailer has too much unsold merchandise on its shelves, and hasn’t figured out how to get all of it to customers quickly. To make matters worse, a new survey shows that two in five Target shoppers are also members of Amazon Prime and among those that aren’t, one in five are considering a membership in the next year.”

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“Target has made some attempts to keep up: Participants in the company’s REDCard credit card program get free shipping on all online orders. ‘I do think we can get more credit for REDCard than we potentially have,’ Target’s chief digital officer told Recode last month.”

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Treasure Hunt: The Joy is in the Journey

The Wall Street Journal: “The internet isn’t just a way to speed up the shopping experience; it is a tool to draw it out. Consumers enjoy the anticipation of a big-ticket item, in contrast to the quick fix that comes from an impulse purchase at an inexpensive, of-the-moment fashion chain … The result of all this due diligence: Shoppers are feeling much more satisfied with their purchases.”

“Stylitics, a fashion technology and analytics company, partnered with market research firm NPD Group to look at this behavior. Handbags are a natural fit for this thoughtful approach, as women seek to combine fashion with function. The study found roughly four in 10 women ages 18 to 34 said they started thinking about their most recent handbag purchase more than a month in advance. Six in 10 said browsing online stores was a major influencer in their handbag shopping.”

“Once shoppers go through the drawn-out process and make up their minds, they are happier. Handbag return rates at luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter are among the lowest across the site.”

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The Walmart Goliath

Quartz: “Walmart isn’t a unicorn, and it’s no longer sexy. But it is massive. With $482 billion in revenue, it sells more than Apple, Amazon and Microsoft put together, according to Fortune’s annual ranking of companies by revenue … It’s bigger than the No. 2 company, Exxon Mobil, and No. 3, Apple, combined. Its sales are greater than the GDP of Poland.”

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“The future of shopping may be online, with goods delivered via self-driving cars and drones. But will be a long time before anyone topples the Walmart goliath.”

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