There’s Nothing ‘Illegal’ About Retail Subscriptions

Bloomberg: “Adore Me is among a group of buzzy Internet retailers accused of sometimes placing customers into unwanted and hard-to-cancel retail subscriptions. Several of these companies have been hit with lawsuits alleging unfair business practices, including JustFab (apparel), Blue Apron (food delivery), and Birchbox (beauty samples). Adore Me is currently facing a lawsuit from a disgruntled subscriber.”

“There’s nothing illegal about retail subscriptions, of course, and many businesses with automatic renewals make the billing process crystal clear. Some services are transparent in their mission and describe themselves primarily as pay-each-month subscriptions, like razor seller Dollar Shave Club.”

“But weak and misleading disclosures are pervasive among subscription e-commerce businesses, says Francisca Allen, the deputy district attorney of California’s Santa Clara County. Allen pursued the JustFab and Stamps.com settlements, both of which included reforms to the companies’ websites. Consumers are losing tens or even hundreds of millions per year on unwanted automatic-renewal subscriptions, she says, and there’s not enough regulatory muscle to monitor and stop unfair practices.”

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Late & Great: Philip Kives

The Guardian: “The late Philip Kives is “hailed as having invented the infomercial, producing a live, five-minute TV ad for a Teflon non-stick frying pan … the format stood him in good stead when he diversified from homeware and into music in 1966 … At the time, the idea of a multi-artist compilation was a rarity, because record companies were not keen to have their artists on the same LP as artists signed to competitors.”

Few were the households in the 1970s that didn’t have some sort of K-tel release propped up beside the stereo in a manner that makes the supposed ubiquity of an act like Adele today pale in comparison … For Kives … music was just another product like the Patty Stacker, the Bottle Cutter, the Veg-o-Matic food cutter and the Miracle Brush … While artists might bristle at the idea of being sold in the same way as a tool for chopping vegetables or cleaning suede, for Kives it was still the boardwalk and he was gripped by the thrill of sell, sell, sell.”

“Today, marketing executives like to regard themselves as super-sophisticated, guiding what they do with endless data, market research and analysis; but they are still working on many of the same principles that Kives perfected half a century ago. Except he was arguably much closer to the audience, understood them better and respected them more.”

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The Future is Platforms, Not Products

Quartz: “A trait shared by the fastest growing and most disruptive companies in history—Google, Amazon, Uber, AirBnb, and eBay—is that they aren’t focused on selling products, they are building platforms … A platform isn’t a new concept, it is simply a way of building something that is open, inclusive, and has a strategic focus.”

“Think of the difference between a roadside store and a shopping center. The mall has many advantages in size and scale and every store benefits from the marketing and promotion done by others. They share infrastructure and costs. The mall owner could have tried to have it all by building one big store, but it would have missed out on the opportunities to collect rent from everyone and benefit from the diverse crowds that the tenants attract.”

“What has changed is that technology has reduced the need to own infrastructure and assets and made it significantly cheaper to build and scale digital platforms … Companies such as Walmart, Nike, John Deere, and GE are working towards building platforms in their industries. John Deere, for example wants to be a hub for agricultural products … Building platforms requires a vision, but does not require predicting the future. What you need is to understand the opportunity to build the mall instead of the store and be flexible in how you get there.”

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The Storefront Index

City Observatory: “The Storefront Index “measures the number and concentration of customer-facing businesses in the nation’s large metropolitan areas … by mapping the locations of hundreds of thousands of everyday businesses … and then identifying significant clusters of these businesses—places where each storefront business is no more than 100 meters from the next storefront.”

“The result is a series of maps, available for the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas, that show the location, size, and intensity of neighborhood business clusters down to the street level … The Storefront Index helps illuminate the differences in the vibrancy of the urban core in different metropolitan areas.”

For example: “In Portland, there are about 1,700 storefront businesses in a three-mile circle—with substantial concentrations downtown, and in the close-in residential neighborhoods nearby … New York and San Francisco have the densest concentrations of storefront businesses in their urban cores … Maps of the Storefront Index for the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas are available online here. You can drill down to specific neighborhoods to examine the pattern of commercial clustering at the street level.”

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Chipotle ‘Loyalists’ Are Most Unforgiving

The Wall Street Journal: “Foursquare Inc. analyzed traffic data from its location-sharing mobile apps and found that Chipotle’s most loyal customers have been less forgiving of the chain than infrequent visitors. Last summer, 20% of Chipotle customers made up about half of foot-traffic visits.”

Says Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck: “Interestingly, it’s this group of faithful customers that have changed their Chipotle eating habits most dramatically … These once-reliable visitors were actually 50% more likely to stay away in the fall during the outbreak, and they have been even harder to lure back in … Losing 2–3 loyal customers is the equivalent of losing about 10 other customers.”

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The Domino’s Effect & The Brand Experience

From a Wall Street Journal review of Door to Door by Edward Humes: “Domino’s Pizza … is really in the logistics business, funneling inputs—pineapple from Thailand, boxes from Georgia, salt from Minnesota—through 16 distribution points in the U.S. … one such ‘commissary’ … mixes enough dough, day in and day out, for 100,000 pizzas. Refrigerated big-rigs full of ingredients depart at 8 p.m. and make deliveries while the stores are closed.”

Mr. Humes writes: “The average American coffee-drinking household … never has less than 572,000 miles of travel pass through its coffeemaker every year.”

“The more complicated the product, the more tangled the supply chain … the components of an iPhone ‘collectively travel enough miles to circumnavigate the planet at least eight times.’ Assembly takes place in China, but the barometric sensor comes from Germany, the Gorilla Glass from Kentucky, the microprocessor from Taiwan or Texas.”

“We live like no other civilization in history, embedding ever greater amounts of miles within our goods and lives as a means of making everyday products and services seemingly more efficient and affordable,” writes Mr. Humes. “In the past, distance meant the opposite: added cost, added risk, added uncertainty. It’s as if we are defying gravity.”

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Shakespeare & Co: Amazon Isn’t Its Problem

Wall Street Journal: “Soon after Dane Neller bought Manhattan bookseller Shakespeare & Co. last May, he shut the doors and built the bookstore where he wanted to shop … After Mr. Neller got done tinkering … the store, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, had a distinctly different look. Space inside the store dedicated to books has been cut by nearly 40% to 1,200 square feet.”

“Mr. Neller … is also chief executive of a company that makes a desk-sized device called the Espresso Book Machine, which prints new paperbacks in five minutes or less. An $85,000 unit is featured prominently at Shakespeare & Co. ‘It’s the secret sauce,’ says Mr. Neller. ‘The machine enables a bookstore to have a much smaller footprint’.”

He “says book sales from September through the end of March are up 10% compared with the same period when the store was under different ownership” and “attributes the gains to better-chosen titles, increased store traffic attracted by the store’s new cafe and the Espresso machine … ‘Amazon isn’t my problem,’ he says. ‘My customer is here because they care about more than price. They want to be greeted, they want a sense of community, and they have a craving for culture’.”

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Tractor Supply: It Has What Amazon Does Not

Forbes: “The typical Tractor Supply customer owns land, keeps pets, raises chickens and drives a pickup … Tractor Supply has approached retail’s cardinal rule of ‘Know Your Customer’ as both mission statement and math problem, and in the process has become an (albeit unlikely) lifestyle brand, famed for an in-store experience so satisfying that its rustic-chic brick-and-mortar operations are well fortified against the onslaught of consumers who want to buy everything on their smartphones.”

“Tractor Supply has 1,500 locations spread across 49 states; the company plans to open around 115 stores in 2016 and about 120 stores per year after that until 2,500 are in operation, mostly in rural or exurban areas … Roughly 15% of store merchandise is tailored to each ‘hyperlocalized’ market: One Kentucky store may cater to equestrians while another mere miles away carries products for life in coal country … the average 16,000-square-foot Tractor Supply store is manned by a team of 12 to 15 local ‘lifestylers’–the type of people who would shop at Tractor Supply even if they didn’t work there.”

The store’s “exclusive lines ensure that customers can’t find an item cheaper on Amazon … Not that Amazon is a big concern. Less than 1% of Tractor Supply’s revenue comes from e-commerce, and increasing that number isn’t a top priority. Physical stores and a deep connection to the countryside remain at the company’s core.”

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Upgrade Downgrade: Bad News for Apple’s iPhone

The Wall Street Journal: “The death of the two-year cellphone contract has broken many Americans from a habit of routinely upgrading their smartphones … Citigroup estimates the phone-replacement cycle will stretch to 29 months for the first half of 2016, up from 28 months in the fourth quarter of 2015 and the typical range of 24 to 26 months seen during the two prior years.”

“Since the early days of Apple Inc.’s iPhone, most customers have avoided paying for the full price for the latest model. But the success of AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. since 2013 in shifting customers into plans that force them to pay the full price for devices—and separate that cost from monthly service fees—has consumers holding on to their devices longer.”

“Analysts see the longer device life as positive for the carriers because it could lead to fewer service cancellations or defections in the competitive industry … The longer upgrade cycle lowers equipment revenue for the telecom companies, but Verizon’s Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo argued last month that the top-line shift is painless … The shift isn’t as benign for Apple. BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk recently cut 10 million units out of his fiscal 2016 and 2017 iPhone estimates because of shifting upgrade rates in the U.S.”

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Conversational Commerce: Meet The Chatbots

The Washington Post: “While a Web browser might once have been our front door to the Internet and apps often play that role today, experts say that bots could soon become our primary digital gateway … The case for a bot-centric future goes like this: Smartphone users have proved they are only willing to download and spend time in a limited number of apps. So companies might be better off trying to connect with consumers in the apps where they are already spending plenty of time. And proponents say that a bot can potentially provide greater convenience than apps and Web searches because it can understand natural speech patterns.”

“Because bots are designed for one-to-one conversation, they may ultimately find their most logical home in messaging apps, which are seeing explosive growth in users and are the digital-communication channel of choice for Generation Z … It is against that backdrop that big retailers and Silicon Valley are racing to develop ways to use bots within messaging apps to deliver customer service or to enable browsing and buying … In retail industry jargon, this is coming to be known as “conversational commerce,” and brands are betting on it because of some distinct advantages it could provide in connecting with shoppers.”

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