Target Store Tests ‘Connected Living Experience’

Engadget: “Last year Target unveiled its Internet of Things ‘Open House’ experiment in San Francisco. The goal was to create a shopping experience that would help customers figure out how connected devices work with each other … Now it’s moving past the testing phase and opening a ‘connected living experience’ in a suburban Minneapolis store … The Minneapolis setup won’t be as elaborate as Open House in San Francisco with its touchscreen tables. Instead it will have large displays above the products that explain how a gadget interacts with other devices. Target will also make sure the staff is up to speed.”

“The store will be the first in what could be a major change to how the retail chain sells electronics … the company has found that its shoppers are confused not only about how these devices work together, but where they’re actually kept in the store. Would a smart thermostat be in the electronics or home section? Putting all the devices together in one spot and creating scenarios that emphasize how a smart light and a connected garage work together not only highlights what’s possible, it helps sell stuff.”

“Target plans on bringing its connected experience to other stores to see how shoppers react. Cupertino, California, and Tribeca in New York City are the next two locations.”

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Big Beer: Off With Their Heads!

Bob Pease, writing in The New York Times: “Today there are more breweries in this country than at any time in history — some 4,300, with scores coming online every year … But state laws usually don’t allow brewers to sell their products themselves; instead they have to use distributors, which hold enormous sway over which beers end up at which bars, restaurants and stores.”

“The problem is that, along with being the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev is also the biggest beer distributor in the United States. And in several states, the law allows the company to distribute its own beer — and most markets have only one or two distributors. The company has also recently increased its control over the beer-distribution industry by purchasing five independent distributors.”

“Since its merger with SABMiller was announced, the company has bought several well-regarded craft brewers around the country … The enlarged Anheuser-Busch InBev … will have even more power to strong-arm independent distributors not to carry rival brands and exert pressure on retailers to cut back on, or even refuse to carry, competitive brands. And it will have more resources to buy up smaller breweries as they start to feel squeezed out of the marketplace.”

“Recent reports say that antitrust authorities are likely to approve the deal by the end of the month. If they do so without adequate protections, the merger could stifle consumer choice and choke off America’s beer renaissance.”

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Organic Coup: The Costco of Chicken Sandwiches

Business Insider: “The Organic Coup, which is the first USDA-certified organic fast-food chain in the US, just raised $7 million in an initial round of financing led by Costco founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal … The chain, which specializes in fried-chicken sandwiches and chocolate-drizzled caramel popcorn, has two restaurants — one in San Francisco and another in Pleasanton, California.”

One of the restaurant’s co-founders is Erica Welton, a “food buyer for Costco for 14 years before leaving to launch Organic Coup with Dennis Hoover, a 33-year Costco veteran … Welton and Hoover don’t have any prior restaurant experience” but “are modeling the new chain off of Costco in many ways.”

“Organic Coup is paying starting wages of $16 an hour in San Francisco and $14 an hour in Pleasanton. Fast-food workers in the US make $7.98 an hour on average, according to PayScale. The restaurant’s specialty is its spicy fried chicken made from organic, air-chilled chicken breasts fried in coconut oil … The menu is pretty simple. Customers can get the fried chicken with a range of sauces on a bun, in a multigrain wrap, or in a bowl with shredded vegetables … The chain will be adding tator tots to the menu as well.”

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Consignment Retail: What’s Old Is New Again

The New York Times: “Clothing resellers like Material Wrld, Crossroads and thredUP propose to make ‘refreshing’ your wardrobe more joyful, with their own trade-in kits and cash incentives to shop their wares to keep the cycle going. Ethical elimination is a theme (a corollary to ethical consumption). The manifesto of Crossroads, a favorite of college students who worry that their Urban Outfitter discards may end up in a landfill, is that ‘fashion shouldn’t come at a cost.’ Material Wrld aims to alleviate ‘fashion guilt’ with its own promise: ‘We’ll handle yesterday’s fashion so you can focus on tomorrow’.”

“Tradesy is like a dating site for your old clothes: You can post a photo, tell its story and the site will price your garment (a button invites online shoppers to ‘love’ your listings). Move Loot will do the same for your furniture; if a piece sells, the company will handle the exchange and arrange for pickup. So will Lofty, Chairish and Viyet, which sell high-end furniture, decorative items and artwork; curators from Lofty and Viyet will vet your items in your home. The luxury site the RealReal, a favorite of fashion-conscious New Yorkers, trades in artwork, designer clothing and jewelry.”

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Are You Smart Enough for Warby Parker?

The New York Times: “As an aesthetic, antifashion as fashion is annoying and alienating, as many people who are over 40, not particularly slender or less prestigiously schooled can attest when visiting a Warby Parker outlet. There is democracy in a relatively low price, but a sense of exclusion is woven into the gestalt.”

“Are you really smart enough to be shopping at Warby Parker? Have you read even a fraction of the books displayed? It’s dispiriting in a way to see old-fashioned chain stores feel as if they must contort themselves to stay vital in what is becoming an ever more polarized retail culture. A store like Cohen’s never makes you feel like a loser. Maybe it should post that outside of every branch, and declare a social victory.”

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Manhattan Saddlery: The Past as the Future

The New York Times: “When horseback riding was the dominant mode of transportation, equestrian shops were as common as fresh-pressed juice bars are today. East 24th Street was so populated with places to outfit and care for horses that it came to be known as Old Stable Row. Times have changed. And for the city equestrian, a rare breed in itself, the only remaining shop of its kind on Old Stable Row is Manhattan Saddlery.”

“The smell of leather permeates the sprawling two-story shop, greeting customers who arrive looking for saddles, bridles, halters, crops, stirrups and riding pants … Charlotte Kullen was shopping on a recent Saturday, as she does about once a week. At the shop she finds a receptive audience for her latest stories about Asantro, her horse. ‘It was his birthday yesterday,’ she said, displaying photos on her phone of the Dutch Warmblood, an athletic breed often used in competitions.”

Another shopper, Alex Roy, comments: “It’s funny, like any brick-and-mortar shop, if you think about it, you can buy anything they carry online … But you come here to talk to the people and to see the place.”

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New Apple Store: ‘Hanging Out’ vs. Shopping

USA Today: “Apple opened the 42-by-40-foot sliding glass doors to its new flagship store … throwing the curtain back on a design that puts a premium on hanging out over shopping. Roughly 20% of the new store’s space is dedicated to an open Forum area where visitors can learn about the company’s various software and hardware offerings.”

“Among the other big changes in evidence is morphing Apple’s Genius Bar to Genius Grove; the addition of a new Boardroom area dedicated to small business customers; and the advent of a new staff position, Apple Creative Pro, tasked with helping consumers with specific questions on music, photography, videos and the like. In addition, some of Apple’s most significant store locations … will feature a public Plaza that will be open 24/7 and feature free WiFi as well as occasional concerts and other performances.”

“Some analysts suggest that Apple could once again revolutionize the retail space with an approach that encourages consumers to hang out as they might in a coffee shop, where interacting is perhaps more valued than buying.”

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Dead Writers Perfume: Oh, That ‘Old Book’ Smell!

Quartz: “Book smell is now a thing in the perfume world, like vanilla or sandalwood. In the last few years, dozens of products have appeared on the market to give your home or person the earthy scent of a rare book collection. Sweet Tea Apothecaries sells Dead Writers Perfume, which promises to evoke the aroma of books old enough for their authors to have passed to the great writers’ retreat in the sky. Perfumer Christopher Brosius’s ‘In the Library’ product line makes your home and body smell just like that. The high-end fragrance Paper Passion claims to capture the ‘unique olfactory pleasures of the freshly printed book,’ though for roughly $200 per bottle it’s a lot cheaper to just buy a freshly printed book.”

The appeal of old books’ smell has been studied in depth. Wood-based paper contains lignin, a chemical closely related to vanillin, the compound that gives vanilla its fragrance. As the pages age and the compounds break down, they release that signature scent … Furthermore, scent is strongly tied to memory … for the bookish among us the scent of old manuscripts recalls pleasures like reading an old classic … There’s also the nostalgia element. The paper used for books today contains much less lignin than that of old volumes. That reissue of Hemingway is never going to smell as nice as a first edition, no matter how long it stays on your shelf.”

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TJ Maxx Defies E-Commerce Trends

The Washington Post: The success of TJ Maxx “offers some insight about what is — and isn’t — proving enticing to customers in the current shopping environment. For starters, TJX’s strength is evidence that the recent woes of traditional retailers can not simply be chalked up to the rise of online shopping. Marshalls has no e-commerce offering at all, nor does HomeGoods, another fast-growing TJX-owned chain … T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods offer hard-to-ignore evidence that customers are still plenty eager to shop in physical stores if the merchandise, price and service are on point.”

“The booming sales at TJX also underscore the extent to which shoppers generally are embracing off-price shopping, with its promise of name brands at low prices and a treasure hunt-like shopping experience … So far, TJX’s strategy is proving quite productive, with research firm eMarketer estimating that its stores generate about $309 in sales per square foot.”

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Cadillac House: The Car as a Retail Experience

Bloomberg: “Cadillac House is a coffee shop/retail boutique with an art gallery twist and even a bespoke scent … The 12,000-square-foot space is located on the ground floor of the company’s New York office and will open to the public on June 2 … the point of this new space is not to sell cars … No, this time Caddy has convinced some well-respected fashion-y names to make it more of a destination: Visionaire, the creative firm and magazine, will curate an exhibit at Cadillac House each quarter; the fashion brand Timo Weiland will sell clothing in a pop-up shop; 12.29, which scented shows for Rodarte and Lady Gaga, is concocting a signature ‘Cadillac’ fragrance for the room. New York’s Joe Coffee is providing the beans.”

“We have tried to tell people what you’re supposed to feel from the Cadillac brand,” said Melody Lee, who is Cadillac’s brand director. “But what we hadn’t quite fully established was an environment that you could walk into.”

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