Customer Service Declines When The Economy Improves

Quartz: “Consumers are more unhappy with customer service at department and discount stores than ever. According to the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, satisfaction is at its lowest level since 2008, falling during the last year by 3.8%. Consumers are griping about store cleanliness and slow checkout lines, specifically.”

“Of the bigger companies, the steepest decline in satisfaction—an 8% drop—went to Macy’s … While an improving housing market increased competition between Lowe’s and Home Depot, both groups saw drops of 9% and 4%, respectively. Among supermarkets, Whole Foods took a 10% hit, knocking its ranking below Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Meijer.”

“The relatively buoyant economy is partly to blame. After 2008, competition for consumer dollars intensified, prompting discounts and better service. Employees fearful of losing their jobs stayed motivated to work hard pleasing shoppers. Then, things got better.”

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Samsung: Retail as a ‘Cultural Center’

Samsung’s NYC flagship store — Samsung 837 — is a “cultural center” that is designed “to build experiences rather than push product,” reports Engadget. “Across three floors you’ll find a 75-seat amphitheater, a full working kitchen and plenty of bench space for tech support and workshops. The amphitheater hosts a three-story interactive screen that was used for an art installation this week, but will be repurposed for screenings and presentations as well.”

“The ground level art gallery showcases works that use technology in a major way. The current exhibition, ‘Social Galaxy’ by Black Egg, contains a mirrored tunnel lined with Samsung devices. Users input their Instagram handle at the entrance and then, within seconds, the displays pull in images and comments from their accounts, creating a rapid cacophony of sound and color.”

“A set of chairs in the front of the store offer up a ‘4D’ virtual reality experience, by having you strap a Gear VR to your face as you sit in a chair that bobs in time whatever you’re looking at … Samsung 837 sourced a lot of its style locally as well. The employee uniforms came from designer line Rag & Bone, which has a location right across the street. The store also has a partnership with the nearby Standard hotel. Samsung 837 considers itself part of the Meatpacking District community, as well as a destination for both tourists and locals.”

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Main & Vine: New Kroger Format Emphasizes ‘Community’

Seattle Times: A new, small-format Kroger store in Gig Harbor, WA, combines quality produce (like Whole Foods) and lower prices (like Trader Joe’s) but most of all is positioned as “not just as a grocery store but as a community hub, where local products are prominently displayed, community involvement is highlighted and people can hang out in the store’s two-level cafe area.”

“In the ‘brew and blend’ cafe area, beers including those from Gig Harbor’s 7 Seas Brewing are on tap, and coffee from Gig Harbor’s Cutters Point Coffee is served. Customers can eat sitting at tables and chairs or can people watch from lounge chairs on the upper level.”

“Local and regional wines and beers are arrayed prominently in the adult-beverage section, Gig Harbor’s Artondale Farm has its own stand for soaps and lotions, local artists painted the murals on the walls, and a product display features a small wooden boat built by Gig Harbor BoatShop … The name came from what the company wanted the brand to represent, with ‘Main’ evoking the Main Street of a community and ‘Vine’ conveying green and fresh.”

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Relativity is a Poor Theory at Retail

The New York Times: “In some ways, what we experience as consumers is like what we experience when we listen to music or lift a heavy object. For example, we are more likely to notice that a drumbeat is loud if we have been listening to, say, a gentle violin. And we will notice that we are lifting extra pounds if they are added to a lightly packed suitcase. The same additional weight is barely noticeable in a heavy one. Vision, heat perception, smell and taste all obey a similar law: Perception is largely a relative mechanism.”

This dynamic manifests itself when we compare prices: “We tend to focus on the percentage rather than the amount we save, and fall prey to a mental illusion. After all, when your shopping is done, it is dollars — not percentages — that will be in your bank account … Ofer H. Azar, an economist at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, asked consumers in the United States how much they needed to save to justify spending an extra 20 minutes … When shopping for a $10 pen, they required only a $3.75 savings, on average. For a $30,000 car, though, they needed $277.83 for that 20 minutes.”

Less affluent shoppers are less likely to fall prey to the illusion: “Poorer people tend to value a dollar more consistently, irrespective of the context. It is not simply that those with less money pinch more pennies; it is that they are compelled to value those pennies in absolute rather than relative terms … To them, a dollar has real tangible value. A dollar saved is a dollar to be spent elsewhere, not merely a piece of token accounting.”

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Quote of the Day: Ildiko Szalai

“Traditionally, men’s path to purchase has been more linear than women’s, adopting a more utilitarian approach, considering all options rationally and weighing up alternatives based on price and quality. As men become more concerned about how they look, what they wear and products they use, their decision-making is beginning to imitate women’s.” ~ Ildiko Szalai, senior analyst of Beauty and Personal Care, Euromonitor, quoted in The Wall Street Journal.

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Quote of the Day: Benjamin Friedman

“On the whole, the problem with new books is that there’s a list price set by the publisher and a discount price that’s also set by the publisher. So, as a new bookseller, you have no control over what the book sells for or what you pay for it. With used books, if you’re smart, you find ways to get them cheap, and you decide what you price them at.”

“As a general rule, on any book, a used bookseller is probably making twice as much profit as a new bookseller. And that’s the difference between making it and not making it, because the profit margins on new books are razor-thin. At a used bookstore, no one is getting rich, but you can make enough to stay alive.” – Benjamin Friedman, co-founder, Topos Bookstore Café, as quoted by The Awl.

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The Future of Shopping May Be Underground

Tech Insider: Garden Santa Fe, a 7-story-deep underground shopping mall in Mexico City, is a peculiar hybrid of basic infrastructure needs and a re-envisioning of contemporary retail. At a time when urban real estate is a precious commodity, going underground might just be the future of shopping … The Garden Santa Fe Mall has … circular courtyards, complete with live trees at the bottom and second level of the mall, providing a release from what would otherwise be a claustrophobic environment.”

“The presence of three full story glass atriums essentially brings the outdoors to the underground … The entire building is buried 7 stories deep, making heating and cooling much more energy efficient. Overall, the mall uses 60% of the energy of a comparable retail space. An extensive rain collection system and onsite grey water treatment and water reuse system make a similar impact in water consumption.”

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Ikea Reinvents Its Dining Experience

The Washington Post: “While for decades it has been part of the Ikea experience to get your new couch with a side of Swedish meatballs, Ikea’s U.S. president Lars Petersson said in a recent interview that ‘Ikea food is becoming a core business’ for the privately-held, Sweden-based company.”

“That’s why all 41 of its stateside stores are getting restaurant makeover in the next several months … the goal is to create three zones for different types of diners. One area will be outfitted with high tables and barstools suited for scarfing down a quick bite. A second will aim to be family-friendly, with activities for kids and tables for their parents to dine nearby. The third area they call ‘Fika,’ which is a Swedish word for a coffee break that involves socializing.”

“It makes sense that Ikea is investing in its food business at this particular moment: In 2015, the Commerce Department reported that restaurants saw 8.1 percent sales growth, even as the broader retail industry saw an increase of just 2.1 percent and as home furnishings stores posted a 5.8 percent increase. There’s clearly momentum in the dining category, and perhaps a fresher look and menu can help Ikea get a piece of that.”

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Working on the (Supply) Chain Gang

“For many companies, competing both online and at the mall can mean trading fat profit margins for more customers—at least for now,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Fashion retailer DSW Inc. has given shoppers the option of placing online orders for out-of-stock items without leaving its stores. And, the chain is both fulfilling online orders and accepting returns at its growing number of locations.”

“The company is betting those efforts will pay off by increasing customer loyalty even though they aren’t adding to profits in the near term, said Roger Rawlins, who oversaw DSW’s omnichannel strategy before recently becoming CEO. He said customers who buy DSW products through multiple channels spend two or three times as much as those who shop exclusively in its stores or online only.”

“The strategy ‘ultimately allows you to grab additional market share, and then as we learn through using all these capabilities, we hopefully should be tweaking to be able to generate incremental profitability,’ Mr. Rawlins said.”

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Shipping Is Never Fast (or Cheap) Enough

The Wall Street Journal: “More than nine of 10 shoppers said they considered ‘same day,’ ‘next day’ and ‘two day’ delivery to be ‘fast,’ according to consulting firm Deloitte’s 2015 holiday survey of some 4,000 shoppers. At three to four days, only 63% called it ‘fast,’ and just 18% of shoppers considered five to seven days ‘fast’.”

“And customers for the most part are no longer willing to pay extra for expedited delivery. Shoppers on average said they would pay at most just $5.10 for same-day service, in the Deloitte survey. A quarter of shoppers said they wouldn’t expect to pay anything at all.”

However, absorbing the shipping may be worth it to some online retailers because it can reduce the return rate: “When you go to a store, you have that wonderful delight of carrying the bag down the street,” says David Maddocks, chief marketing officer of Cole Haan. “Online, after you click, you have to wait. And during that time you can fall out of love.”

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