Tag Archives for Consumers
An MBA grad might look at the retail business and define success as increasing revenue, decreasing overhead, eliminating cost overruns, etc. The casual observer might even look at stories about the decline of retail and make the judgement that online is beating offline to death simply by offering price satisfaction and ease of use.
It turns out that maybe these are not entirely clear lines in the sand. We have had a series of conversations online and offline with some retailers, consumers and analysts, and we have created a collection of interesting perspectives on the jobs that retail (online and offline) get done for people.
It turns out that success will come to retail box stores and even retail online through the practice of relevancy, something that online media does well and that retailers everywhere are learning how to deliver.
In the offline world, relevancy is the emotional core of choice. It’s like content, but it’s normally delivered through people. It’s subtle. It’s based on a gentle push and pull of asking questions and seeking answers.
What relevancy in shopping does is it shifts the job of retail shopping from one of just getting a product to one of resolving an emotional “why.” We found this out by asking people about their experiences.
We asked Quora members following the Jobs-to-Be-Done Approach what was missing in the current retail experience in big box bricks and mortar stores, and we found two great answers. I also talked to Alexandra Mysoor, co-founder and CEO of online retailer Generation Orange, an online-only retail store for natural products.
Jason Calacanis has it right: Amazon Prime is a cult, but it’s a highly efficient cult that is revamping how consumers get the job of retail therapy done.
We need to look at two things here. If we re-visit the blog post from yesterday that said Best Buy is not experiencing impending bankruptcy, we might have to revise our thesis — that Best Buy has a long way to go before the end of retail as we know it knocks them into retail’s version of urban blight.
Calcanis tells us why online retail works so much better. In addition to giving people 250 hours of their life back each year, it also gives them ease of ordering, and a slew of products that stuffy-nosed irascible retail guinea pigs prevent us from seeking.
“Let’s call it four to six hours of retail experiences a week, or 20 to 25 hours a month per household. Including holiday shopping you’re looking at 250 hours a year you’re inside a retail location experiencing some combination of time-regret, stress, boredom and/or annoyance.
Cult members understand there is not only no joy in traditional shopping, but that it’s filled with annoyance and wasted time.
Cult members understand there can be joy, and time savings, associated with intelligent consumption.
Prime gives you the joy of consumption without the pain of acquisition.”
The Pain of Acquisition?
I like this phrase. yes, there is pain there.
The pain comes when consumers, who kind of know what they want are assaulted visually and sensorily by a marauding salesperson disguised as a customer service teenager, or grousing middle-aged resentment-filled employee, who is not careful enough, doesn’t care enough, isn’t well trained enough, or not aware enough and maybe even not experienced enough to look at retail shopping as a optential relationship-building experience.
Of course, how could retail shopping be such a thing?
It’s different than a grocery store. Most people go to grocery stores regularly, they get to know the cashiers and the clerks.
Not in things like electronic goods retail. It’s an in-and-out experience. Drop in, get what you need, sortie back at the house. As Larry Downes showed us yesterday, there is a mismanagement of the customer experience in retail. People are not trained well to help consumer’s discover that which they didn’t know they seek.
Of course, as we also said yesterday, consumers don’t necessarily come into retail with the best of moods. Well, whatever, not much we can do about people’s pouty faces.
But if a cult exists, then that cult must be helping people get a job done — for Calcanis this is the easing of the pain of acquisition.
The problem is there is also a pain of retail trade-offs. If we move to Prime and follow that cult, somebody suffers. It’s not the managerial talent. It’s the retail masses, the people we should be training to be better at customer choice and consumer innovation.
Retail outlets and fast-moving consumer companies should be employing a “jobs to be done” framework to train their staff to be jsut as good in person as semantic search, SEO algorithms, and cataloging of products is on the web.
If not, there’s an economic cataclysm about to happen, much worse than a single Best Buy chain going out of business.
Now, the only downside to Prime’s ascendancy is that it’s going to wipe out tens of thousands of retail jobs that are currently filled by the least employable of our workforce.
It’s not a jump to say that many of these retail jobs are filled by folks who have *already* taken a huge career nosedive from the middle class to the just-above poverty level of retail workers.
They’re going to get fracked twice in 20 years: first getting knocked from the white collar or blue collar middle class to the retail working-class jobs, and then to no jobs.
I guess you can’t get massive efficiency like Amazon is building without wiping out massive amounts of jobs.
And I think Amazon’s massive growth will actually crater the real estate business as malls and main streets are faced with unfillable retail spaces. What do we do with the malls, turn them into office and loft spaces? university space?
Playing out the scenario, does this new flood of new office and living space put downward pressure on traditional office space?
The Re-Wired Group helps companies and, by extension, these employees, out of the rut of consumer choice gone unadressed.
Take a look at some of the writing from the Re-Wired Group, which could guide you through this kind of thinking. Also, remember Clayton Christensen, the father of this movement. His work on consumer innovation is eye-opening, to say the least.
The clumsy salesperson is someone who has bothered all of us, I would bet. He’s bothered me before, when the customer service rep helping me with a billing problem with Time Warner Cable in New York unveiled himself as a stealth salesperson who tried to sell me on a data package, a cable tv package (even though I don’t own a TV), and, I don’t know, maybe even dentistry services. I stopped listening and ended the call.
The clumsy salesperson really pissed off this Forbes writer, who uses his friend’s interaction with a young sales pup trying to sell a TV services package into one of the reasons he thinks Best Buy is going out of business.
What happens when one bad experience, and a bunch of data that are really not about the shopping experience lead a blogger to forecast the downfall of a retail electronics giant?
What you get is a revelation that is certainly very true — the pivot from offline only selling to online selling, and all the engineered components of making that work well, is jarring and hard to manage.
But, are we seeing Best Buy go bankrupt? Or are we seeing not just a switch in Best Buy, but a pivot of the entire market?
I found a very interesting answer to a question on Quora. It was, “Why do some people feel awkward when shopping?” The answer reveals something about the shopping experience that I wish most sales people understood. I will cut and paste the answer to the question and then bold the parts that provoke a visceral reaction in me.
But first, why I think the question and the answer are interesting.
1. They are both interesting because this question and the revelatory answer show how shopping is not really ever a transactional process, so our ideas of “value” for the consumer are really off. The process is really more like a negotiation: Person A brings into the store and the shopping experience a set of unspoken and non-linear values about himself or herself.
2. The answer reveals the rich context of this particular consumer, but it goes a far way to show how often the information a sales person has is admittedly way off when it comes to “why” the person is actually shopping. The sales person is getting all of his ideas about value and need not from the consumer, but from a training manual and the store’s quota system.
3. All that being said, there is a non-social element to shopping, in that nobody in this experience actually knows or cares to intimate what is actually going on in the other person’s head — either the shopper or the sales person.
The answer comes from Quora user Marcus Geduld. He answers the question about awkwardness by saying that people feel awkward because they are introverts. The shopping experience, he says, brings smoething too social into an experience that should be made to be singular and for one person only. Check it out:
Another note: though, as I’ve said, I like socializing, to do it well I have to “go into social mode.” My wife is already in that mode as soon as she enters a room full of people. But it’s like I have to pull a computer chip out of my brain and put another one in.
(I’ve learned to not focus on something really “interior” before going to a party. If I read a programming book or a chapter of a novel and then immediately walk into a party, it will be very hard of me to switch from “thoughtful” mode to social mode. I am much better off if I spend some time chatting with my wife or even “talking” to people on Facebook before going to the party.)
When I am shopping, I have a goal. My goal is to examine all the printers and buy the one that exists in the perfect nexus of cost-effective and feature-rich. That’s a somewhat interior task. I can’t easily do that AND socialize at the same time.
You may not think of making eye-contact and saying “Have a nice day” to the cashier as socializing, but to me it is. I’ve literally been thrown for a loop by a clerk asking me “can I help you find something?” while I was focused on examining merchandise.
Here’s a slow-motion look at what goes on inside my brain:
1. Let’s see. The Canon printer is $199, and it gets good ratings, but the ink is expendive. On the other hand, the H.P. model is…
2. Nssd. Rrr-rr. Clb ap zelp oo?
3. I am totally befuddled by the above. What is it? What does it mean? Where is it coming from? What does it have to do with H.P. Printers?
4. Realization! It’s a clerk saying something to me. I can’t parse it, because I’ve turned off my English-language modules so that I can totally focus on printers.
5. Switch on Social Module.
6. “I’m sorry. Did you say something to me?”
7. “Yes. I just asked if I can help you find something.”
8. “No thanks. I’m just looking.”
9. “Okay. You should know that we have a sale on hard drives today. The sale is only today, so you should act fast if you want to…”
10. Realization that the printer information is going to go out of my head if I keep listening. I will have to start examining printers all over again if I keep listening to the clerk. The Social Mode takes a lot of energy — especially since the clerk is a stranger, which means I have to parse unfamiliar facial expressions and vocalizations. That takes up too many resources for me to also keep track of information about 19 models of printers.
11. “Thanks. I’m not interested in hard drives.”
12. “Oh. Okay. Well, can I tell you about our sale on DVDs and…”
13. PRINTER INFORMATION ALMOST GONE!
14. “I’m sorry. I just want to shop by myself!”
15. “Sorry. Sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you.”
16. Oh shit! I was rude. I really need to try to be friendlier.
17. Realization: social mode and guilty feelings have driven out all the printer information. Sigh. I will have to start over. I’d hope no one else tries to talk to me. Okay. the Canon printer is $199, and…
18. Oh no. Here comes a friendly looking old lady, the kind that likes to talk to strangers. Don’t make eye contact! Don’t make eye contact!
Okay, that was bit of a self-parody. I’m not THAT fragile. On the other hand, it’s only a BIT of a parody. Introverts tend to suck at multitasking and I’m no exception. I am very good at doing one thing at a time in a methodical, diligent, often creative way, but I can’t easily do two or more things at once, and
I can’t flip quickly between things. I need to do one task until it’s done or until I get to a natural break. And then do the next task. If I’m switching between two different sorts of tasks, I need time to transition.
Shopping involves too many mixed tasks at once. I try to online-shop as much as possible (BLESS you,Amazon.com!), because it’s 100% about a transaction and 0% about socializing.
Go back up to number nine that I bolded. That’s it. That’s the reveal.
Regardless of what was going on in this shopper’s head, the sales person comes over and pitches a deal and a sale that is not even in the emotional or analytical framework of the shopper.
This portion of the answer sums up a little for me one of the reasons I have never felt comfortable in shopping situations.
It is because they are fundamentally NOT social.
Yes, there is a person talking to me and that person is telling me things in a conversation. I am talking to the salesperson about what I want, or think I want.
But nobody ever asks intimate, real questions about the self. About the why or the how. We are not given the right information to choose to buy or choose to sell. The whole system of shopping is like being in a Sam Shepard play or a Howard Pinter play where all the emotions that anyone watching would recognize as human are cast off, inhibited, or thrown away at the bequest of some absurdist narrative.
Why are we lying to each other, in a sense? Why exists this gap of the social?
It’s because the experience of commerce was never about knowing people. It was always about quickest thoughts to create a market. It was about creating false emotions. It was about creating false needs.
This blog post relates how one American Airlines flight attendant changed my experience of a flight for the better, which led to me enjoying what will likely become my favorite European city, Barcelona, Spain.
American Airlines Flight 66 Will Board in Three Hours
But I’m feeling a little rough.
That brings me to my perception of the business culture and consumer-facing style of American carriers. Compared to the carriers I frequent most — Asian carriers like Cathay, ANA, Jet Airways, American carriers have some annoying consumer-facing habits.
But when one thing happens to change that, it makes a huge difference.
Two days ago, I was standing in Terminal 8 of JFK, speaking on my phone to my father. I was trying to figure out, “Where do I go to check in for my flight?” There were no signs that indicated which flight was which, or where I should queue up to get my boarding pass. Not even on the little digital displays above the ticketing counters. There was one woman facing down a sea of a hoarding mass of people, who were trying to funnel into the one velvet rope line. It was like looking at the scene outside of Tenjeune in New York on a Friday night.
I waited in line, oblivious to what else I should do, until my turn came to speak to the woman gatekeeping the teeming mob. I felt like I was in a riot scene in a Thomas Hardy novel. And what did she say when I inquired about which section of the line I should stand in? She said this was the re-booking line, that the line for check in was automated and it was to my left.
I don’t often fly American Airlines internationally, and their setup in Terminal 8 is a little confusing. There are no customer service signs anywhere — that I could discover — indicating what is supposed to happen at this terminal.
It’s an international terminal. I am sure you could bet that most of the passengers are in this terminal preparing to fly back to an international destination. It may be their first time in New York City. No wonder there is a teeming mass of hoarding rioters standing outside of a velvet rope facing down one woman who is EXASPERATED, to say the least.
Is this human? What is the design thinking that goes on here? Is this the culture of command and control? All I know is that no expense is spared to make me feel like a frustrated, stressed out, and discombobulated traveler about ready to spend seven hours on a plane over the Atlantic.
I hate turbulence. It frightens me. It makes me uneasy. It is one of the reasons I cannot sleep on planes. The logical centers of my brain tell me that the plane cannot fall out of the air because of turbulence. Physics tell us that the extraordinary amount of lift generated by the wings sailing through the skies at over 600 mph mean that the plane is basically pinned to the sky.
Except when it isn’t.
So, I am on American Airlines flight 66, an Iberia codeshare to Barcelona, and I am riveted to my seat and sitting straight up, leaning a little forward, kind of in a panic.
The plane is literally rocking and rolling its way past Newfoundland and up towards Iceland, and I cannot move. I hate this feeling! I hate it. Any moment now, my irrational, reptilian brain informs me, this plane is going to flip over and plummet 33,000 feet and leave us sprawled against the Atlantic Ocean like smooshed sea cucumbers.
I met up with Mercury Media CEO Ranee Chung and her partner Julien Hauss on Thursday to talk about the launch of their new app, OpenBar. It’s Hong Kong’s first mobile web app for bars.
You can watch the full interview here, first, or read through this blog post and watch the full interview at the end.
Here is a video of their app, courtesy of www.openbar.hk:
To cut through the clutter of a super dense thicket of bars and restaurants, OpenBar allows bar owners to broadcast happy hour specials and details about the current social environment to app users, hoping to draw them into the crowd.
Like Tokyo, Hong Kong is filled with thousands of hidden bars, restaurants and supper clubs that don’t get a lot of surface attention from flyers or magazine ads. They subsist through word-of-mouth and high levels of late night traffic, often because they are super close to other equally hidden bars.
OpenBar offers a combo of photo-sharing, advertising and couponing to lure the drunk and searching hordes to smaller and less obvious bars. It socializes the experience and makes it easy for people to attract their friends and find others in the spaces.
Chung and Hauss have devised the app to help bar owners attract an instantaneous crowd, and by the looks of it, they might be on to something. Here’s a quick video interview I did with them about the origin of the app.
We also talk about what makes Hong Kong unique in the web apps and social mobile web space.
How did Instagram do it? They are not the only image-sharing app. People with MBA backgrounds are stuck in the dark ages.
Yes, I said it. The MBA, as far as I can tell, is a lot like paper wealth. It looks good when it’s all printed out, and stacked in rows, but the secret to success in business is actually something emotional and more to do with people.
If you want to run a good startup, it’s important to think like a social worker. I don’t mean enforce the laws of a state or a city. I mean, think with empathy. Decide by feeling.
I come to this conclusion after reading about a talk at Le Web led by the founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom.
“In the last 2 months we’ve doubled staff, and will be about 10 people in a month. Even though Odeo didn’t go anywhere, it was clear that Twitter cam about because we learned ‘Team’ was so important.”
He also recalled how another failed project Bourbon failed not because they had a moment of revelation that it wasn’t going to work, but that they didn’t have that moment. “There wasn’t a dark moment with Bourbon. It’s the lack of that dark moment that kills most startups.”
Tsotsis pointed out that photo apps and filters existed before Instagram, so how did they get big? Instagram just made it easier to produce beautiful photos, as well as share, said Systrom.
But what if Apple of Facebook did an app with filters?
Instagram is not about filters, said Systrom. “The defensible asset is the community, nowhere else would you find such passionate users.”
TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsotsis gets stuck on just the marketing angle, or the product description, of Instagram. Product descriptions and marketing are just shorthand, they don’t mean anything. That’s why we have to have these founders up on stage explaining themselvse and the product now and again, over and over.
The last time Tsotsis thought that a photo-sharing app was just another photo-sharing app, I had to correct her. This was the case with Hipster. It’s not like there should only be one photo-sharing app, and that one does it better than all the rest. In the apps world, and in social media, startups can’t compete on performance.
Why? Because it always comes down to the consumer. It’s about WHO is using the product, and HOW, not what the product is. I know this is hard to swallow, but it’s the truth. It’s the world we live in.
If you want to run a really great company, spend all of your time, or at least 90% of your time, making relationships work. Be a good person, find the people you share values with, and do not succumb to the thinking that you have to run a tight ship to really run a successful enterprise.
I learned this from traveling. Your best laid plans and expectations can have other plans and expectations for you.
What we really need when buying or hiring a special service or good is a sense that we belong to the same base of people who buy it with us. We want shared values, because our media and our news, for example, don’t provide us such faith anymore.
I have put up a review of the Samsung Focus using Windows 7. I’m taking a stab at examining why I use certain types of smartphones, and why a phone that is new to me actually seems to get something done for me that an iPhone cannot.
If you would like to leave feedback, please do so. Here is a link to the review
An MIT scientist Dr. Deb Roy was charting the “word births” of his first child as he learned to speak. After filming about 90,000 hours of video in each room of his house, Dr. Roy then took the data and funneled it through a whole mess of semantic engines and analytsis tools.
He happened upon an interesting discovery that has prompted him to start a venture capital firm and use his language birth methodology in the advertising industry. The discovery could shape new ways of looking at how people engage in social media, a territory that feels ripe for disruption in how consumers and brands interact. But first, the kid learning how to speak.
The discovery has to do with how both the teacher of the new word and the leaner of the new word change their frequency of speaking as one learns the word being delivered.
First, the video that shows his son learning to speak the word ‘ball’:
The video shows:
“Caregiver speech dipped to a minimum and slowly ascended back out in complexity.” In other words, when mom and dad and nanny first hear a child speaking a word, they unconsciously stress it by repeating it back to him all by itself or in very short sentences. Then as he gets the word, the sentences lengthen again. The infant shapes the caregivers’ behavior, the better to learn.
Dr. Roy thinks something about this process can be deployed in research about consumers, and how people engage with content on TV.
Roy is now taking the amazing research capability and team he’s developed and applying it to commerce. He’s on leave from MIT and has founded a VC-backed company calledBluefin Labs that applies these same high-powered analytics to relate, not the speech of a child to that of a father, but events broadcast on TV to conversations taking place in social media, the better to chart “engagement” with the State of the Union Address or Jersey Shore or a car commercial.
The article doesn’t say exactly what the parallel is between engagement in media and learning how to speak, but there is something there with how the programs Roy used to whittle down thousands of hours to the points of most importance.
Maybe brand managers can utilize this technology to figure out when consumers finally click with a brand. Does it really take constant exposure, and constant interaction, the way a child needs a trainer to take on a new word? Or is branding more about a single moment, or a blending of word, action and emotional energy?
Steve Wozniak, greatest Apple fan on earth, and longtime friend of Steve Jobs, spoke with a TechCrunch reporter outside the Apple store in Los Gatos, California yesterday. In his interview, he reveals an unsettling feeling with how Apple is talking about its products. This caused our ears to prick up at Re-Wired Group, since we remember that what made the Jobs keynotes so remarkable was that he explained what Apple products do with the consumer’s needs in mind.
Wozniak says that consumers don’t want to know about the details of dual core processors and other geekhat mumbo-jumbo. They just want to know what is it, and what does it do? Will it help me connect to the internet and get my email?
Here’s the video: