Parnassus: A Bookstore As Food Truck

The New York Times: “Nashville’s newest bookstore is an old van. The bright blue bookmobile, which hit the road this week, is a roving offshoot of Parnassus Books, a popular independent bookstore. It will roam around town, stopping at food truck rallies, farmers’ markets and outside restaurants. The arrival of a bookstore on wheels is a fitting evolution for Parnassus, which is co-owned by Karen Hayes and the novelist Ann Patchett.”

“A bookmobile made so much sense, because food trucks work so well in this town,” says Patchett. “It’s a great way to get our name out there, too. It’s a rolling advertisement.”

“It is a logical and efficient way for a small bookstore to expand its footprint, especially as big chains have shuttered locations, leaving a vacuum for enterprising independent stores to fill … The van packs around 1,000 books, mostly new releases and best sellers — a small fraction of Parnassus’s stock of 20,000 books. Its owners have managed to make the cramped space bright and inviting: customers can walk the narrow aisles between the shelves, and can linger and sample books on one of the padded blue benches.”

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Is Mall Shopping Greener Than E-Commerce?

The Wall Street Journal: “Could going to the mall be better for the environment than shopping online? That’s the surprising claim in a new study from Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall landlord. The argument is that mall shoppers often travel in groups and buy more than one item, reducing their environmental impact. Online shoppers, meanwhile, return products more often, and the shipping requires more packaging.”

“Among the factors Simon looked at was how many people went on the trip and ‘the idea that shoppers combine mall shopping trips with other errands.’ The report also examined the impact of product returns both online and in stores … The report found that online shopping had an environmental impact that was 7% greater than mall shopping, if shoppers bought the same number of products both ways.”

“The issue isn’t settled, however. A 2013 master thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Transportation & Logistics, for example, examined various ways consumers could shop in stores or online. ‘Results show that online shopping is the most environmentally friendly option in a wide range of scenarios,’ the thesis concluded. The MIT thesis examined how some shoppers combine the two channels, sometimes researching products both in stores and online, or buying online but picking up or returning in a store. As a result, the thesis also found, ‘as more consumers leverage traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives to their online buying behaviors, some of the environmental savings quickly erode.'”

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MIT & Target Take Aim at Truth in Produce

The Washington Post: Imagine a scanner the size of a grain of rice, built into your phone. You go to the grocery store and point it at something you want to buy. If it’s an apple, the scanner will tell you what variety it is, how much vitamin C it has and how long it has been in cold storage. If it’s a fish, you’ll learn whether it’s really orange roughy or just tilapia being passed off as something more expensive. If it’s a muffin, the device will tell you whether there’s gluten in it.”

“Although you won’t be able to do it tomorrow, this isn’t some kind of distant Jetsonian vision of the future … TellSpec and SCiO, are working on handheld scanners designed for consumer use … Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers, is collaborating with MIT and business design firm Ideo in a venture called Food + Future coLab, based in Cambridge, Mass., which has the broad mission of helping consumers better understand their food.”

Target “is putting industrial-strength scanners in its distribution centers … According to Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer, ‘We’ll deliver better freshness, quality and shelf life,’ because produce that’s old or inferior — or not what the label promises — will never make it to the floor.”

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A.I. Design: ‘The Next Big Thing’

“The tech industry’s new architecture is based not just on the giant public computing clouds of Google, Microsoft and Amazon, but also on their A.I. capabilities,” The New York Times reports.

“There is going to be a boom for design companies, because there’s going to be so much information people have to work through quickly. Just teaching companies how to use A.I. will be a big business,” says Diane B. Greene, the head of Google Compute Engine.

She adds: “We may build an A.I. system to figure out all the ways businesses can use this. The relationship between big companies and deep machine intelligence is just starting.”

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Samsung To Pursue a ‘Start-up’ Culture

Reuters: “Samsung Electronics, the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and memory chips … plans to adopt a corporate culture akin to a startup, seeking to become more nimble as growth slows. Samsung’s executives will sign a pledge to move away from a top-down culture and towards a working environment that fosters open dialogue.”

“Hurt by a rapid decline in smartphone profits and the absence of new businesses to drive growth, Samsung has been under pressure to reform its military-style working culture to foster innovation … Other moves in recent years to ease a rigid corporate culture include flexible working hours, a loosening of dress code requirements for weekend work and less pressure on employees to attend after-work drinking sessions that have long been a staple of Korean corporate life.” Samsung “will also reduce unnecessary overtime and weekend work and push employees to spend time with their families or take advantage of learning opportunities.”

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Aaron Bell: A Company is Like a Human Body

Aaron Bell of AdRoll, describes his company’s culture in a New York Times interview: “I have this overall philosophy that a company is like a human body, which builds up toxins over time. Every company has problems and issues that build up, and you need to find outlets for those things. I think a lot about how you come up with different practices in the company that are a kind of cleanse. So we do a weekly all-hands meeting, and it’s a weekly flush to get the toxins out.

“Before our all-hands meetings, I send out an email with a question-and-answer board and I encourage people to post their questions. You can vote up your favorite questions, and they’re anonymous. If you give someone a mask, they’ll tell you the truth. I also encourage people to post their fears, their uncertainties and doubts. And there’s a guarantee that any question that is asked will get answered or addressed by me, unless they are personal in nature about someone in particular.

“The alternative, if you don’t do that, is that you have people behind closed doors chatting about the company, gossiping, saying negative things. If you address everything, people feel much more trust. They feel like they know what’s happening. And they’re going to make better decisions because they know what’s going on.”

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The Incredibly Shrinking Netflix

Quartz: “No, you haven’t gone crazy. Netflix’s catalog of movies and TV shows really is shrinking. The streaming service’s library for American subscribers has shrunk by a third since 2014, according to a report by AllFlicks, a website that lists and categorizes Netflix content by country … In total, US Netflix has lost 32% of its titles in a little over two years.”

“Netflix may be getting rid of a lot of the older (most of it obscure) content that subscribers weren’t watching in the first place. That doesn’t explain why lots of great movies have left Netflix in the last few years, but it might explain, in sheer, raw numbers, why the US Netflix catalog has dropped a third of its weight since 2014.”

“While US Netflix might be shrinking, it still has a lot more content than the rest of the world … The reason is that securing international streaming rights to shows and movies is exceedingly difficult—laws and regulations differ by country, as does the type of content that people around the world consume.”

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Netflix Throttles Customers For Their Own Good

The Wall Street Journal: “Netflix, a leading proponent of open-Internet rules, has been lowering the quality of its video for customers watching its service on AT&T or Verizon Communications wireless networks” Netflix says the throttling is in the best interests of its customers because it protects them “from exceeding mobile data caps … Watching two hours of HD video on Netflix would consume up to 6 gigabytes of data, Netflix says. That is an entire month’s allowance under an $80 a month Verizon plan.”

“Netflix said it doesn’t limit its video quality at two carriers: T-Mobile and Sprint Corp., because ‘historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies.’ When customers exceed their data plans on Sprint or T-Mobile, the carriers usually slow their network connections, rather than charge overage fees.” Jim Cicconi of AT&T says the carrier is ‘outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent.’ Jan Ozer, a consultant … said Netflix’s strategy is a smart one,” but suggests they should be more “upfront” about it.

“The issue came to light after T-Mobile US Inc.’s chief executive last week said Verizon and AT&T customers were receiving lower-quality Netflix streams. The carriers denied throttling Netflix videos. The fact that Netflix, not the carriers, is responsible for the lower quality illustrates the dilemma mobile-app makers face with data caps.”

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The Uber Model Isn’t Uber Great for Others

“Investors saw Uber’s success as a template for Ubers for everything … But Uber’s success was in many ways unique,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “For one thing, it was attacking a vulnerable market. In many cities, the taxi business was a customer-unfriendly protectionist racket that artificially inflated prices and cared little about customer service.”

“The opportunity for Uber to become a regular part of people’s lives was huge. Many people take cars every day, so hook them once and you have repeat customers. Finally, cars are the second-most-expensive things people buy, and the most frequent thing we do with them is park. That monumental inefficiency left Uber ample room to extract a profit even after undercutting what we now pay for cars.”

“But how many other markets are there like that? Not many. Some services were used frequently by consumers, but weren’t that valuable — things related to food, for instance, offered low margins … Another problem was that funding distorted on-demand businesses. So many start-ups raised so much cash in 2014 and 2015 that they were freed from the pressure of having to make money on each of their orders … The lesson so far in the on-demand world is that Uber is the exception, not the norm. Uber, but for Uber — and not much else.”

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Tory Sport: Retail Store as Marketing Medium

“Tory Burch’s new Tory Sport store shows how selling fashion today isn’t really about advertising. It’s about making a store into the marketing vehicle,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “People are still tactile. They want to feel the product,” Ms. Burch says. “Stores are changing, Ms. Burch says. Their purpose is to engage customers and to build a community. They also can be a place where the online and offline worlds merge.”

“With just one or two sizes of most styles on display, the Tory Sport store isn’t meant to be shopped the way mass-market flagship stores are … Instead, a designer store is a place to immerse and entertain shoppers in the fictitious, tightly controlled world the brand creates. It’s a chance to show and explain all that a brand stands for—and to seduce a shopper into buying something … Both Ms. Burch and Roger Farah, Ms. Burch’s co-chief executive, insist the Tory Sport store remains very much about sales, though.”

“We definitely want it to be profitable but we also want the experience to be one that people really like and get to know,” Ms. Burch says.

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