Amazongeddon: The New Supermarket Battleground

Quartz: “In southwest Ohio, the prices of staple foods are hitting the floor. A carton of eggs in Cincinnati supermarkets are going for as little as 39 cents. And gallon-sized jugs of milk are selling for less than a dollar. The American grocery store is about to become a battleground—and consumers will love it.”

“Shoppers in the UK certainly did. Established companies such as Tesco forfeited millions in sales to compete on price with German discount grocers Aldi and Lidl, who began opening more and more stores. Now, those discount brands have made it to the US, and have opened hundreds of stores across the country … These telltale signs of a brewing US grocery-store war are happening just as online retailer Amazon has decided it wants to shoehorn itself into the grocery business by acquiring health food grocery chain Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.”

“But disrupting groceries will be a lot different than shaking up publishing, which is how Amazon got its start. Unlike bookstores of the late 1990s, clawing away at market share by driving prices down is a game supermarket companies are already good at playing.”


Ruimilk: Cotton Candy Soft Serve

The New York Times: Marie Sullivan and Burton Eggertsen were walking off a dim sum lunch when they stopped to study the colorful menu in the window of Ruimilk Soft Icecream — a shop in Flushing, Queens, that combines soft-serve ice cream with cotton candy art … Ms. Sullivan, 32, ordered the Miss Kitty — a cup of soft serve enshrouded in a white cotton candy cloud with edible ears, eyes, whiskers and pink bow.”

“At 136-49 Roosevelt Avenue, sandwiched between a video-game store and a bubble tea counter, Ruimilk appears no more than six feet wide. Most customers linger for only a moment by the three small tables, which serve as set furniture for customers as they photograph their confections. Proud parents photograph their children holding the desserts as if they were trophies or straight-A report cards.”

“The engineer behind Ruimilk is Nian Geng Lin, 27, of Fuzhou, China. Inspired by a South Korean trend he noticed — there, street vendors treat cotton-candy-spinning as an art form — Mr. Lin opened the shop about a year ago. His goal was, and still is, to bring ‘happy smiles’ to customers’ faces … Other cotton-candy-and-soft-serve options include the Baymax, a white creature that resembles the Abominable Snowman, and the Air Balloon, a hot-air balloon fashioned with the help of Pocky biscuit sticks.”


Moby Mart: The Supermarket That Comes To You

Fast Company: Moby Mart “is an autonomous, 24-hour convenience store that drives the streets of a city. Stocked with perishables like milk and impulse buys like new shoes, you can spot the nearest one on your mobile app, then grab whatever you need off its shelves. To pay, you scan your purchase with the mobile app. The project is beta testing in Shanghai now, though it’s missing the most aggressive bits of futurism in the first video–the autonomous driving and a fleet of delivery drones designed to launch from the vehicle’s roof … Indeed, the Moby Mart barely feels like sci-fi in the age of Amazon.”

“The Moby Mart is a bridge between the two extremes: lazy and experiential shopping in one. And it also solves what’s often billed “the last mile problem” of delivery: when a customer orders a $5 jar of macadamia nuts, delivering it to their door in just a few hours requires relatively costly, yet oft exploited labor because the margins stink for everyone.”

“So don’t be surprised when you see something like the Moby Mart on streets some day. And don’t be surprised when you see a big Amazon Prime logo on the side. Or Whole Foods. Or Uber Eats. Or . . . well, you get the idea.”


Pop-Ups at Eye-Popping Prices

Anne Kadet: “These days, renting a store is as easy as booking a hotel room. At least, that’s the pitch from Appear Here, an online platform recently launched in New York City. Like its rival, Storefront, Appear Here allows landlords to list vacant stores by the day, week or month. Sites can be viewed in person, but transactions are completed online, typically in three to six days.”

“These platforms make it relatively simple for landlords to fill those vacancies with temporary tenants, and for anyone with an idea and a credit card to test a new business concept. Alas, the only thing more depressing than looking for an affordable New York City apartment is looking for an affordable store. The cheapest listing, at $3,330 a month, was a tiny stall in a Canal Street market.

“A 1,200-square-foot space in Brooklyn looked like a deal at $200 a day until I realized it was a “repurposed” shipping container. Prices on the high end, meanwhile, are truly eye-popping. A 5,000-square-foot showroom in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District fetches $105,000 a week—the price of a small condo in Tampa … The typical rental, paid in advance, costs between $10,000 and $40,000 a month.”


Hollar: The First Online Dollar Store

Fast Company: Hollar is “the first online dollar store … reimagining the physical stores as a digital discount haven where the majority of inventory costs $2 and nothing goes for more than $10. Tens of thousands of products are available, ranging from necessities to impulse buys … Hollar stocks brands you recognize (Huggies, Jergens, Febreze, Pop-Tarts) and ones you probably don’t (Zing, Num Noms, Bolis Ice Pops). Via the site and app, you can buy a $3 cellphone case alongside $1 dishwasher soap and $1.50 baby bibs.”

“Hollar experienced double-digit month-over-month sales in the last year and hit its first million-dollar month in April 2016, just five months after launch, with the average purchase totaling $30 … Hollar’s typical customer is female, a mom between the ages of 25-34. And, unlike the target client of most retail startups, she is not an affluent resident of the country’s coasts. She lives in suburban and rural areas, with a middle-to-low household income.”

“A similarity to Pinterest has proved appealing to millennial moms, who make up a full 85% of Hollar’s customers and are usually in the market for deals in the top categories of toys and home goods … There’s no question that the country’s widespread move to mobile has added to Hollar’s success. While one in five American households still doesn’t have a home computer, nearly all own a smartphone—and they do everything on it.”


Lunchtime Delivery: The New Food Frontier

The Wall Street Journal: “With online-ordering apps proliferating and many customers cutting down on eating out for lunch, the industry—from fast-food chains to upscale restaurateurs—is looking for ways to bring food to patrons without compromising their eating experience … But enticing customers to order in at lunch, which has been a tough spot for burger chains in particular, remains difficult.”

“The fee that delivery services charge customers often exceeds the cost of the meal at fast-food restaurants … For example, a beef taco, burrito supreme and large fountain drink at a Taco Bell in the Los Angeles area costs $6.39, but with delivery and service fees added on, as well as a 10% tip for the driver, the order totals $15.18, with an estimated delivery time of 33 to 43 minutes.”

“Some restaurant executives say delivery goes against the very purpose of operating a restaurant. ‘We are selling hospitality as much as food,’ said Texas Roadhouse Inc. President Scott Colosi. ‘We are not in the delivery game.’ Yet he concedes that delivery is the future: ‘As driverless cars and drones become the norm I think we’ll all be emailing Amazon and getting a drone delivering a sandwich’.”


Walmart Test: Store Workers Make Home Deliveries

The Wall Street Journal: “Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is testing a program in which store workers deliver some orders placed on or … The test is small, active for just a few weeks in an Arkansas store near Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters and two New Jersey stores near the offices of … A spokesman said only a few hundred packages have been delivered by store workers so far.”

“Wal-Mart store workers who have a car and pass a background check can choose to deliver up to 10 packages a day, using a mobile application that suggests orders that would be convenient for their route home. They are paid for the time spent making deliveries, though Wal-Mart declined to say how much they earn or if they remain on the clock during those times. Shoppers won’t know at the time of purchase who will be delivering their order, the spokesman said.”

“Wal-Mart’s plan could face hurdles. If workers remain on the clock during delivery, some part-timers could become full-time and so qualify for health care, increasing labor expenses. Many workers don’t commute by car, opening the door for discontent among those who can’t make extra money through deliveries. The system could also strain locations already busy with in-store pickup and other e-commerce services linked to stores.”


Visual Noise: The Open-Office Downside

The Wall Street Journal: “After taking down walls to create open offices and foster lots of interaction and collaboration, some companies are finding they’ve done the job too well. All of this social engineering has created endless distractions that draw employees’ eyes away from their own screens. Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee’s field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity.”

“A loss of visual privacy is the No. 2 complaint from employees in offices with low or no partitions between desks, after noise, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology of 42,764 workers in 303 U.S. office buildings.”

“Some employers are dealing with such distractions by giving employees a lot of choices, allowing them to leave their desks and relocate to other kinds of workspaces over the course of a day … AT&T has installed about 20 Steelcase Brody workstations at its San Ramon, Calif., offices. They have privacy screens on three sides to block distractions … The company also has 66 ‘focus rooms,’ small rooms with a single desk. These are popular among employees because they allow them to close the door, turn away from the window and work facing a wall.”


Flowlight: Giving The Busy Signal

The Wall Street Journal: “Interruptions are the bane of workers in open-plan offices, with some resorting to headphones, busy lights and other paraphernalia to ward off chatty co-workers … Academic researchers and collaborators at ABB have developed an automated solution: a light that turns red, green or yellow to indicate when interruptions are OK and when they aren’t. The team says that the system, known as FlowLight, reduced interruptions by 46% for 36 users who reliably logged such intrusions.”

“To avoid making red lights into status symbols, they were at first limited to going on for 18% of the workday … Not all interruptions are bad. Ill-timed or trivial ones tend to hurt productivity, but many interruptions lead to valuable discussions that can benefit a firm … So the idea isn’t to do away with them but to channel them between periods of intense concentration.”

“The researchers were also surprised by the extent to which FlowLight became a useful feedback system to encourage concentration by professionals whose jobs offer considerable opportunities for distraction. One user told the researchers, ‘If I see the red light, I sense I am in the flow, and I keep working’.”


Pueblo Mall: An Outlier in the Amazon Age

The Washington Post: “The Pueblo Mall is an outlier in the age of, when socks and laundry detergent and televisions — nearly anything you can think of — can be delivered to your front stoop within hours … Despite Pueblo’s three Walmarts and the arrival of a Dick’s Sporting Goods and an Ulta Beauty store, the Pueblo Mall is bustling. On weekends, its nearly 3,000 outdoor parking spaces fill up … the mall’s average sales per square foot are healthy, holding at around $400 over the past six months.”

“… When the mall was built, downtown Pueblo suffered and many of its stores closed. The mall became Pueblo’s new town square … Now it’s among the city’s main employers … Civic pride and tradition also play a part. In some markets with older regional malls, people buy from a traditional anchor store such as a Sears because it’s American.”

“Shoppers in southern Colorado are often more willing to drive longer distances for their retail purchases, especially for ­durable goods such as refrigerators and other appliances … Two other factors work in Pueblo’s favor: the distance to other shopping centers and the small-town demographics. Pueblo’s median household income is $36,367, according to the most recent 2015 statistics, compared with the state’s $63,909 … The mall holds community events throughout the year, including a ‘Walk with a Doc’ mall-walking program, health fairs, school concerts and, recently, a Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Day and a ‘Pueblo’s Got Talent’ showcase.”