Real-Time Retail: Fanatics Seizes Micro-Moments

The New York Times: Micro-moments “happen all the time in sports: A player reaches a milestone, has a breakout performance or is traded to a new team. Apparel companies have traditionally been poorly positioned to meet the accompanying fan demand as it surges. Fanatics … a sports merchandise company … is changing that and, in the process, carving out a lucrative niche in a fiercely competitive online-retail industry largely dominated by Amazon.”

“The company is similar to fast-fashion retailers like H&M, Uniqlo and Zara, integrating design and manufacturing with distribution to fulfill orders within hours. After the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, Fanatics used Uber to deliver championship gear to some fans within minutes … As a result, Fanatics has more than doubled its revenue in just a few years.”

“Among the micro-moments that highlighted the new need for speed was Jeremy Lin’s emergence as a sudden star for the New York Knicks in 2012 amid the so-called Linsanity phenomenon.” Fanatics chairman Michael Rubin comments: “When Linsanity happened, within 12 hours to 24 hours, there were no jerseys to get. So you had this huge demand, and there’s no jerseys available. Then you order them like crazy, and by the time they get in, the moment’s over.”

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Wegmansmania: Bigger than the Beatles?

The Wall Street Journal: “Across the U.S., grand openings of specialty grocery chains such as Whole Foods Market, Stew Leonard’s and Wegmans Food Markets Inc. are attracting customer hordes … By 7 a.m., roughly 2,000 people had swarmed a shopping center in Hanover, N.J., to mark the arrival one Sunday this summer of a Wegmans and its exotic cheeses and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.” Robin W. Dente, community-affairs coordinator for the township comments: “It reminded me of when the Beatles came to America.”

“Wegmans, which has drawn lines of loyal ‘Wegmaniacs’ to opening days since at least the 1950s, doesn’t give out freebies to woo shoppers at dawn, according to the company.” However: “As part of its multibillion-dollar expansion, the German discount grocer Aldi Inc. is running multiday openings with tastings of chocolate truffles and imported brie—and a chance to win produce for a year.” Meanwhile: Stew Leonard’s, a Connecticut-based chain known for holding Christie Brinkley wine tastings and other celebrity events, has dialed down a bit.”

“Before it entered Long Island last year, it hit local media and attended a village pumpkin festival and other events, handing out 100,000 $5-off coupons. Then, more than 20,000 people showed up at its Farmingdale store the first day, and the crush clogged the aisles … The company reassessed its approach. For the debut of a second Long Island store in August, it invited local politicians for a party but kept the grand opening pared down, said Stew Leonard Jr., the chain’s CEO,” who says: “We’ve gone from a thunder to a rain philosophy.”

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Start-ups Bring Novelty to Shopping Malls

The Wall Street Journal: “Landlords of top U.S. malls used to rent most of their space to the biggest national retailers, which boasted the best credit and the most desirable selection of goods. Now they are looking beyond big chains and toward lesser-known retailers and startups that started online but have amassed customers and brand recognition.”

“The reason: such retailers tend to offer novel products that resonate with web-savvy customers, particularly millennials, a massive group of potential customers landlords are eager to cultivate.”

“Some of these stores are showrooms and don’t carry inventory so customers will have their purchases delivered to them or they could pick up their purchases at the store at a later time. Such stores take up less square footage since they have don’t need to hold inventory at the back of the store.”

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Outside the Box: Walmart Podcasts its Values

Fast Company: “Walmart has a podcast called Outside the Box that “looks at business issues like sustainability, American manufacturing, the workforce of the future, and more through a collection of entrepreneurs, innovators, and thought leaders. Senior Walmart staffers are seamlessly woven in among them … Outside the Box is an interesting and engaging podcast, even when it does have company folks involved because they include those we’d actually want to hear from, like chief sustainability officer Kathleen McLaughlin. It’s about as far from a sales pitch as possible.”

“Walmart says the podcast is about stories that align with the brand’s values, and so far, discussions have unfolded from a business perspective, not a Saturday shopper’s. Walmart’s senior director of digital communications Chad Mitchell comments: “A key tenet of our strategy is reaching people where they’re naturally consuming content, and all signs point to podcasts these days.”

“Mitchell says the idea was to give people a better sense of what was happening within the walls of Walmart today and what Walmart stands for.”

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Tiffany’s & The ‘Tin Can’ Gambit

The New York Times: “Since joining Tiffany & Co. in January as chief artistic officer, Reed Krakoff has undertaken to freshen the image of the 180-year-old jewelry company. His first major footprint is on the fourth-floor home and accessories floor of Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship, where the sacred and the profane are now commingling cheerfully … Which is how the world came to know the Tiffany Tin Can (actually sterling silver and vermeil, $1,000) … (‘When panhandling before the big riot, don’t be caught without this stunning $1,000 tin can from Tiffany’s.’)”

“Mr. Krakoff’s injection of levity is not an unwelcome twist on the usual gilded or silvered theme … Old luxury: Founder’s portrait. New luxury: Founder’s portrait in Sheetrock screws and plywood … Tiffany’s entry-level dog bowls read, merely, ‘dog.’ — bone china, $125 for a small version and $175 for a large — but on display is a sterling silver option that Joan Rivers had engraved for her dog, Spike, for those inspired to go bigger ($1,800 for a small version, $2,500 for a large) … Not recommended for cat play: Tiffany’s sterling silver ball of yarn, $9,000.”

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Robo Ocado: The Grocery Without a Store

Fast Company: “Ocado, a British online-only supermarket that delivers orders to customers straight from its warehouses … sells everything you can find in a brick-and-mortar supermarket–from meat, dairy, and produce to its own brand of home products, third-party goods, and even flowers, toys, and magazines … While other companies rely on human workers to find and buy all of the items on an online customer’s shopping list, Ocado is using a new kind of robot–or, more specifically, a swarm of them.”

“At an Ocado warehouse in the English town of Andover, a swarm of 1,000 robots races over a grid the size of a soccer field, filling orders and replacing stock. The new system, which went live earlier this year, can fulfill a 50-item order in under five minutes–something that used to take about two hours at human-only facilities. It’s been so successful that Ocado is now building a new warehouse that’s three times larger in Erith, southeast of London. When it comes online, it will be the world’s largest automated warehouse for grocery shopping.”

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Amazon-Whole Foods Yields Instacart Boomlet

Forbes: “As the obits piled up, Apoorva Mehta couldn’t help but shake his head. It wasn’t his death that the press was heralding, but that of his startup, Instacart, a five-year-old grocery and retail delivery service valued at $3.4 billion. That morning in mid-June, Amazon stunned the world by announcing its purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. As shares of grocery chains plunged, many in the tech press noted that few had more to lose than Instacart.”

Yes, but: “As Whole Foods executives broke the deal news to Mehta and Instacart’s chief business officer, Nilam Ganenthiran, in a 6 a.m. call, the two messaged each other with thumbs-up emojis. As if on cue, Mehta’s and Ganenthiran’s phones began ringing and lighting up with text messages shortly after–and they didn’t stop all day. It was execs from grocery chains, including some of the ones whose stocks were cratering, calling to talk business.”

“Within months, Costco announced that it was deepening its partnership with Instacart and would offer delivery directly from the Costco.com website. After discussions that spanned four years, grocery giant Kroger inked a deal for Instacart to deliver from its Ralphs subsidiary. Several smaller chains also signed up, bringing Instacart’s partner count to more than 165.” Mehta comments: “It really was like a thermonuclear bomb against the entire grocery industry.When we look back, that may have been a turning point for Instacart.”

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Retail Medicine: Is Aetna The Next Apple?

Axios: “Aetna’s Mark Bertolini has been talking with retail giants and the architect behind the Apple and Tesla retail stores about ways to make visiting the doctor more like going to the mall … Bertolini says health care should take a lot of cues from Apple, noting people are already willing to make appointments at the Genius Bar. Not only that, but they willingly pay money.” Bertolini comments: “They don’t sell anything at the Apple Store. People buy stuff at the Apple Store.”

He also says: “It has to be a place that’s not linoleum floors and formica counters. It needs to be a place where people want to go and it doesn’t need to be as expensive as the marble on the Apple floors and the glass staircase, but it can be a better experience.”

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Ogilvy on Letterman: It’s All in the Eye Patch

Fast Company: “‘What was going through your mind to think that a man missing an eye would be a good way to sell dress shirts?’ That’s what David Letterman once asked David Ogilvy when the legendary ad exec was on Late Night in the early 1980s to promote his book Ogilvy on Advertising. He was referring to a 1951 ad campaign for Hathaway shirts that was the ’50s equivalent of a viral success.”

Ogilvy’s reply: “I’d seen some research which showed that if you can inject into the ad an element of story appeal, you do well, people read the ad. They look at that and say, ‘Who is this man with an eye patch? That takes about a tenth of a second, and their curiosity’s piqued, so then they go under the picture and read the copy, and that’s how you sell the shirts.”

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The Huarache: When Weird is Beautiful

Quartz: “The Nike Huarache almost never existed. The shoe, made of a sock-like bootie encased in a supportive exoskeleton, was definitely unusual when Nike began showing around the prototypes in the early 1990s. Practically nobody placed orders, and Nike seemed to have little choice but to kill the idea. Lucky for Nike, one product manager didn’t listen … the Huarache has become Nike’s top-seller globally.”

“The shoe dispensed with a number of conventional ideas in sneaker design. It had no heel counter—the firm backing of the shoe that wraps around your heel to support it—opting instead for the distinctive, harness-like strap, similar to a sandal. (A ‘huarache’ is a kind of Mexican sandal.) It also used neoprene, which had never before been done in a running shoe … when no one placed orders after seeing the prototypes, Nike decided not to make the shoe for release.”

Tinker Hatfield, who designed the shoe picks up on the rest of the story in his new book, called Sneakers: “But one of our product managers actually thought it was awesome, and without proper authorization, he signed an order to build five thousand pairs even though there were no orders. He stuck his neck way out there. He saw what I saw. And he took those five thousand pairs to the New York Marathon, not a place you typically went to sell shoes, and he sold them all in like three days at the exhibition hall right there near Times Square. Word got out. They went like hotcakes. In a month, we went from zero orders to orders for half a million pairs.”

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