The Swiffer Effect: Walmart & Procter Butt Heads

“Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, and P&G, the world’s biggest consumer-goods company, are increasingly butting heads as both try to wring more revenue out of their slow-growing businesses, The Wall Street Journal reports … A battle last year over the popular Swiffer mop suggests the tensions aren’t likely to abate soon. P&G’s consumer research revealed that existing packages weren’t large enough to prompt repeat purchases, and so it upped the number of wipes in a pack, improved the handle and increased the price … Around the same time, Wal-Mart introduced a less expensive store brand, irking P&G.”

“To settle the matter, P&G had to offer a temporary discount on the company’s Swiffer products. Not only did P&G employees worry about lost sales, they believed the store-brand refills were of a lower quality and would stop first-time Swiffer users from sticking with the habit. ‘They sell crappy private label, so you buy Swiffer with a crappy refill,’ said one of the people familiar with the product changes. ‘And then you don’t buy again’.” A Walmart spokesman said: “Our Great Value products provide a quality alternative for customers looking to save money.”

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The Future of Grocery: Yoga & Bike Repair

The Wall Street Journal: Shoppers looking to pick up milk and eggs may have other reasons to spend time at their local supermarket: yoga classes or a spa treatment, perhaps. Under growing pressure from discounters and online rivals, supermarkets are trying to transform themselves into places where customers might want to hang out rather than just grabbing groceries and heading home.”

“In Phoenix, a Fry’s Food Stores, part of a chain owned by Kroger Co., features a culinary school and a lounge with leather couches perched next to a wine bar. A Kroger store in Hilton Head Island, S.C., offers a cigar section to complement its wine cellar that stocks $600 bottles. Whole Foods Market Inc. has a putting green outside its Augusta, Ga., location and a spa offering peppermint foot scrubs and facial waxing in a Boston store. Elsewhere, it has bike-repair stations. A ShopRite store here in Hanover Township, near New York, runs a fitness studio with yoga, barre and Zumba classes and has a cosmetologist on weekends.”

“Most of these enhanced stores appear to be located in affluent suburbs and city neighborhoods—places where shoppers are more inclined to order groceries from e-commerce sites or meals from services such as Blue Apron … Some concepts have fizzled. The Fry’s in Phoenix made its debut in 2010 with a car wash but discontinued that after it didn’t catch on, a Kroger’s spokesman said. The cooking classes, by contrast, have doubled in size since the school opened, and the store offers at least a dozen sessions a week, he said.”

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Big ‘G’ Archive: Brand Past as Prologue

The New York Times: “By 1980, General Mills had accumulated so much brand memorabilia that the company established an archive … The archive, which is closed to the public, houses thousands of artifacts in about 3,000 square feet of temperature- and humidity-controlled space.”

“Among the photos, packaging and promotional items are an early rendering of the character Betty Crocker, who was created in 1921 to answer consumers’ baking questions… some of the first clay animation models of Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy; and a box of Cheerioats, the original name of Cheerios … Many artifacts illustrate how marketing and advertising have evolved. Wheaties made its debut as Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes in 1922, only to be renamed two years later in a companywide contest.”

“Through its sponsorship of radio programs like the ‘Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air’ … General Mills introduced its products from coast to coast … General Mills later sponsored cartoons, notably ‘Rocky and His Friends’ and ‘The Bullwinkle Show’ from 1959 to 1964.” Mary Zalla of Landor comments: “You and I watch TV, and every 15 minutes we’re assaulted with commercials … Do you ever associate those brands with the show you’re watching? You don’t … Before, those brands were so closely tied with the TV shows and the talent surrounding them that it gave those brands an incredible start.”

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Technology Puts Retailers on the ‘Map’

The Wall Street Journal: “Making technology investments to improve customer experiences has traditionally been the domain of retailers, which have introduced robots, touch-screen mirrors and virtual-reality goggles to attract shoppers to their stores in recent years. But as pressure from store closures continues to mount, some mall landlords also are … investing in mapping functions to help shoppers find parking spaces, navigate mall corridors or check out a flash sale at a store one floor above. The goal: to better connect with shoppers in hopes of sparking more activity.”

“Jibestream, a firm that creates interactive mall maps to guide customers from store to store on their mobile phones as well as help them find parking, has rolled out its technology to hundreds of malls … Other vendors are offering ways for landlords to better analyze foot traffic in malls, a key metric cited by landlords and retailers as online shopping continues to gain traction and pose greater challenges to bricks-and-mortar stores.”

“By tracking the cellphone signals in a mall, companies can study the paths visitors take as well as how effective display windows and in-mall advertising are in drawing customers. This is similar to how Amazon.com is able to measure user engagement by how long cursors hover over a certain part of a webpage.”

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Price Trap: Beware the Amazon ‘Buy Box’

The Washington Post: “Researchers at Northeastern University tracked pricing of 1,640 of the best-selling products on Amazon’s site over four months. In particular, they were examining what prices were featured in what’s known as the ‘buy box,’ the area on the right side of an Amazon product page that invites you to add an item to your cart … It has been estimated that about 82 percent of sales on Amazon are made through that box.”

“Amazon relies on an algorithm to determine which seller ends up in the buy box for any given product … the process is significantly more likely to give that spot to sellers who use real-time pricing, in which software is used to automatically optimize prices on the fly based on what competitors are charging.”

“Here’s why that matters: Most sellers using that kind of pricing model don’t have the lowest prices on the site. In fact, the researchers found that 60 percent of those that use real-time pricing have higher prices than other sellers of the same item on Amazon. Most of the time, the price difference is about $1, but … researchers found ‘many’ cases where the price difference was in the $20 to $60 range.”

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Amazon Has Bullseye on Target

Quartz: “Target has a supply problem. The discount retailer has too much unsold merchandise on its shelves, and hasn’t figured out how to get all of it to customers quickly. To make matters worse, a new survey shows that two in five Target shoppers are also members of Amazon Prime and among those that aren’t, one in five are considering a membership in the next year.”

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“Target has made some attempts to keep up: Participants in the company’s REDCard credit card program get free shipping on all online orders. ‘I do think we can get more credit for REDCard than we potentially have,’ Target’s chief digital officer told Recode last month.”

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De-Branding: A Shift From Products to Places

Fast Company: “It’s misleading to use a totally different set of qualities—good stories—to sell a product that has intrinsically nothing to do with these qualities. Hiring a top filmmaker won’t improve the quality of your energy drink … You could even say that the better the stories, the more dishonest the companies are being.”

“Here’s where debranding comes into play … the focus will shift … from branded products to branded places: stores and their owners who select and sell the products they like … Back to the traditional shopkeeper responsible for measuring bulk food and acting as an advocate for his products. Back to the real Dr. Browns, Uncle Bens, and Aunt Jemimas. Instead of brands, real people and real tones of voice will become the interface between consumers and products again.”

“And it is totally in line with today’s networked society … increasingly in the Internet age, consumers are comfortable with the idea that everything is interconnected. So what distinguishes brands is less important than what brings things and people together—whether your iPhone can talk to your Prius, for instance, or whether you can read articles from disparate sources in one place, like on Facebook. The brand that screams the loudest no longer commands the most attention; the one that offers something genuinely useful does.”

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The Netflix ‘Binge Scale’: Savor or Devour?

The Guardian: “Netflix said customers who chose to watch an entire TV season finished it on average in just one week, watching a little over two hours a day. It said viewers typically binged on thrillers such as Breaking Bad and The Killing, but were more likely to take their time over the more political narratives of House of Cards or Homeland.”

“According to something Netflix calls the ‘binge scale,’ ranging from ‘savor’ at one end to ‘devour’ at the other, its original drama Narcos, about the rise to power of Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, was the platform’s slowest-burning hit in the UK, with viewers ‘savoring’ it over six days.”

“Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said the company would use the findings to make ‘subtle improvements in helping people choose what kind of programmes they want to watch, depending on what mood they’re in’.”

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