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    Published on: April 8, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    There may be fewer tension-inducing moments in a teenaged girl’s life than the weeks leading up to her prom. Getting a date, picking the dress, planning for the big night ... it all seems calculated to both create anxiety and lighten parents’ wallets.

    I know this because I went with my daughter last weekend to help shop for a prom dress. She’d done some reconnoitering on her own, and I was there to to provide half the parental approval needed before an actual purchase could be made.

    Now, I will tell you with total objectivity that she looked spectacular. In fact, that may not be a strong enough adjective. She looked so amazing that I’m considering various forms of advanced surveillance techniques for the actual night of the prom. (The good news along these lines is that she is a strong minded young lady, so much so that she didn’t wait to be invited by just any young man; she decided who she wanted to ask, and did so.)

    What I did not know and had not even considered is the fact that the anxiety surrounding the dress does not end. Once the dress is bought, girls then spend a fair amount of time worrying about whether anyone else at the same prom will be wearing the same dress. (Boys, who wear tuxedos, have it much easier since it is pretty much guaranteed that they’re all going to look alike.)

    This could be considered a problem. But for the retailer specializing in prom dresses that we patronized, it instead was an opportunity to create a differential advantage.

    This store, A Step Ahead, keeps a long of everyone who buys prom dresses from it, and notes which dress they bought and what prom they are attending. And they guarantee that they will not sell duplicate dresses to girls going to the same prom. In doing so, this store has become the go-to store for most of the girls in the area. They love the selection, the service, and the emotional security of getting their prom dress there provides.

    Let me tell you, this matters. The day we were there, the place was mobbed. And I suspect it is going to be that way throughout the spring. (I’m glad it was my last visit. I was the only male in the place, and I felt like an armadillo in the middle of the Westminster dog show.)

    It is a good lesson in smart, relevant customer service.

    There was a story in the Boston Herald the other day about how there is a website out there - - that allows girls to “post images of their chosen frock in the ‘Got Dibs’ section of the fashion advice blog. It merges with users’ high school networks on Facebook to ensure that no two classmates show up to prom in the same gown.” And that also is a smart idea.

    It may not seem like much to those of us for whom the prom is but a distant memory, but to the target customer, this is a big deal. In fact, an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    Advertising Age reports on the appearance of Alex Tosolini, Procter & Gamble’s vice president of e-commerce, at the magazine’s Digital Conference in New York: “He referred to today's emerging generation as ‘Generation C,’ which he described as ‘always connected, always computerized.’ The ‘C’ also describes consumers' desire to have ‘everything happen at the speed of a click’.”

    The story says that Tosolini described the “blurring of the marketing and sales/distribution functions,” noting that “Facebook is both a marketing and a distribution channel as P&G has worked to develop ‘f-commerce’ capabilities on its fan pages, fulfilled by Amazon, which has become a top 10 retail account for Pampers.

    "’All of a sudden the traditional model of marketing does this, sales does this is blurred,’ he said. ‘Think about the implication for big companies on their need to adjust their reward system, their skill development, their training of their people to understand how to cooperate and work in this new environment.’

    “At the same time, he said, ‘the paths to purchase now are completely unlimited.’ Pampers, for example, can be purchased in a bricks-and-mortar store, P&G's e-store, Amazon or Facebook.”

    "We'll do almost anything once," he said, "then see if it works."
    KC's View:
    The key thing here, it seems to me, is that P&G (as well as other manufacturers) wants to lay a stronger claim to its customers ... even to the point where it is willing to disintermediate traditional retailers. That’s something that these retailers need to think very seriously about. There are many “paths to purchase,” and traditional retail is just one of them.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    The Boston Globe reports that Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino is signing an executive order that will expand “his ban on sugar-sweetened drinks in schools to include all city properties and functions, a sweeping restriction that means that calorie-laden soft drinks, juices with added sugar, and sports drinks like Gatorade will no longer be offered in vending machines, concession stands, and city-run meetings, programs and events ... The mayor, who has battled weight issues, said that too many Bostonians are overweight or obese and that he wants to make healthy choices easy for them.”
    KC's View:
    I have no problem with not serving such drinks in schools; I firmly believe that schools should not just try to encourage highest-common-denominator thinking, but also highest-common-denominator living, and that includes good nutrition and adequate exercise.

    But adults are capable of making their own decisions. I think some folks over-react to hysteria about the so-called “nanny state,” but this is a case where they would be right. Provide nutritional information all you want, but this is yet another case where “banned in Boston” does not have a good connotation.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “manufacturers have come up with dozens of satchels, bags and even full systems for the growing number of people who are skipping the takeout and bringing a home-packed lunch to work. Many of the new bags are inspired by Japanese bento boxes, the compartmentalized food trays that are traditionally filled with rice, vegetables, pickles and fish.

    “At formal companies, image-conscious managers need a carrying case roomy enough to hold an adult-size meal, functional enough to keep food from getting soggy and cold, and stylish enough to be mistaken for an executive accessory.

    “And no matter where they work, no one really wants to be caught with dirty Tupperware.”

    And these people are anything but blue collar workers: “White-collar professionals, with 45% earning more than $70,000 a year, are most likely to b
    KC's View:
    Supermarkets, which ought to be fighting hard to take business away from restaurants and take-out shops, ought to be finding ways to market and merchandise such carrying cases ... and maybe even offering a rotating menu of products specially designed to put inside them.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    The New York Times reports on retail clutter, and how it works to sell stuff.

    “After the recessionary years of shedding inventory and clearing store lanes for a cleaner, appealing look,” the Times writes, “retailers are reversing course and redesigning their spaces to add clutter.

    “Dollar General is raising the height of its standard shelves to more than six feet; J. C. Penney is turning its empty walls into jewelry and accessory displays; Old Navy is adding lanes lined with items like water bottles, candy and lunchboxes; and Best Buy is testing wheeling in bigger items, like Segways and bicycles, to suck up the space created by thinner TVs and smaller speakers.”

    Walmart is the poster child for re-cluttering stores, “adding back inventory, plopping stacks of stuff into aisles and stacking shelves with a dizzying array of merchandise” after an effort started two years ago to streamline its aisles coincided with a seven-quarter run of stagnant or declining same-store sales.

    “As it turns out, the messier and more confusing a store looks, the better the deals it projects. 

    ‘Historically, the more a store is packed, the more people think of it as value — just as when you walk into a store and there are fewer things on the floor, you tend to think they’re expensive,’ said Paco Underhill, founder and chief executive of Envirosell, who studies shopper behavior.”
    KC's View:
    If “messy” and “confusing” are to be equated with effective, then I must have the most effective office space on the planet.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    The Reputation Institute is out with its annual list of America’s most reputable companies, based on a survey of more than 32,000 consumers. The top 10 are, in order:

    • Kraft
    • Johnson & Johnson
    • 3M
    • Kellogg’s
    • UPS
    • FedEx
    • Sara Lee
    • Google
    • Walt Disney

    The story notes that “Amazon blew everyone else out of the water. The popular retail site's pulse score totaled 82.70, which was 5.76 points higher than last year and 1.30 points higher than Kraft Foods, the second most reputable company. A newcomer to the top 10, Amazon earned its No. 1 rank by providing value to users, staying ahead of the curve in technology and innovation and responding quickly and ethically to scandals.

    “The Seattle-based company flourishes on transparency and trust. It offers customers a dependable online shopping experience with trustworthy third-party vendors. Users trust and value its product recommendation system, which suggests products based on one's purchasing history.”

    And the least respected:

    • Freddie Mac
    • AIG
    • Fannie Mae
    • Goldman Sachs
    • Halliburton
    • ExxonMobil
    • Citigroup
    • Capital One
    • Comcast
    • Bank of America
    KC's View:
    No real surprises here. People hate banks, insurance companies and cable providers. (Comcast can only be expected to be hated more next year, as it becomes responsible for NBC’s largely execrable prime time schedule.) And people love Amazon, which seems to be at the top of every list about any kind of retail attribute.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    Fast Company has an piece about how to design a health maintenance application for smart phones and tablet computers, and in it, Dave Cronin, Smart Design’s new Director of Interaction Design, explains what priorities need to be.

    Some excerpts:

    • “The starting point for behavior change is good information, which means personally-tracked information about things like diet, exercise, and health data collected at home (e.g. weight, blood sugar, blood pressure), as well as a robust record composed of a wide range of information including data from clinical systems (e.g., hospital electronic medical records). People tend to make good decisions where action and result are closely tied.”

    • “While there’s strong evidence that just tracking personal data can have a significant impact on health-related behavior, what is done with and in response to the data is critically important. Interfaces into this personal health information must help people understand what diseases and conditions they are at risk for based upon clinical and personally tracked information. And of course, the information must be presented in a way that people understand, quite possibly with health literacy assistance.”

    • “One of the most important components of a behavior change program is proper goal setting. Small, achievable steps towards healthy behavior provide more opportunities for rewards and positive feedback than large, difficult-seeming challenges.”

    • “Goal setting and behavior tracking, while critical, are sometimes not enough. People may also benefit from reminders and encouragement along the way to keep them oriented towards their goals. The trick is doing this in a way where it actually has impact.”
    KC's View:
    I think these priorities are not just important for creating online applications, but also can be benchmarks for retailers looking to draw a thick black line between food consumption and health. It is all about information and transparency, and helping people make good decisions, and if retailers can enable some of this information tracking, they can become more critical to the process.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    For Wegmans, Alec Baldwin is the gift that keeps on giving.

    Some months ago, Baldwin told David Letterman that his mom would never move out of western New York because she could bear to leave Wegmans. Afterwards, he did a series of commercials for the supermarket chain.

    Now, News 10NBC reports that “Alec Baldwin is coming to Rochester on Saturday for a gala to benefit Hillside Family of Agencies. It’s the 2011 Hillside Work Scholarship Connection Gala hosted by Danny and Stency Wegman ... The private function will feature Baldwin in three or four original comedy sketches fashioned in the style of Saturday Night Live.

    “Many of the details of the show are being kept under wraps. Sadly, no tickets are available for the general public.”

    “Alec offered to help when he found out about Hillside and this annual event,” said Wegmans spokesperson Jo Natale. “We are thrilled.”
    KC's View:
    Alec Baldwin may be the funniest comic actor on the planet. (Tiny Fey, possibly the funniest woman on the planet, says in her new book that he is the reason for the success of “30 Rock.”)

    Wegmans should ride this horse as long and as far as it can.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that at its Seattle flagship store, Nordstrom has one window with a sign encouraging people to touch the glass: “That’s because hidden inside a certain window display is a Kinect sensor for Xbox 360, a computer and a projector that combine to allow people to draw on the back wall with light.”

    The display is scheduled to be up until April 11.
    KC's View:
    Love this. It is all about seeming current and cool. Nice job.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times reports on the growing competition in Southern California between In-N-Out and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which has begun opening stores in the Los Angeles area.

    According to the story, “Like In-N-Out, Five Guys' menu is focused on single and double hamburgers and cheeseburgers, along with hand-cut fries. And like In-N-Out, Five Guys restaurants are red and white, with perky employees in red-and-white uniforms.

    “And Five Guys is coming on strong.

    “The privately held chain, which has 770 locations in the U.S. and Canada, began moving into California two years ago with a handful of shops in Orange County and the Inland Empire.

    “Now there are 27 locations in the state, but Five Guys has sold the rights to open 200 more in Southern California alone — nearly double the number operated here by In-N-Out. Next up is a Culver City location, set to open in mid-April. But to really make inroads here, Five Guys will have to get past a major hurdle: the intense loyalty of In-N-Out customers.”
    KC's View:
    Of the two, for me, it would be In-N-Out. No question.

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    • The Missourian reports that “after 144 years in business, Droege's Supermarket is turning off the lights.” The downtown Washington, Missouri, store, is closing, the owners say, because ownership “found it increasingly difficult to compete with larger grocery chains and other retailers that stock food items. We believe we have competed admirably, but with continuing changes in the marketplace and consumer buying habits, closing the store now is a prudent decision for our family."

    Marketing Daily reports that Walgreen is “launching Walk With Walgreens, and will sponsor 5,000 community walking events around the country.

    “Consumers sign up and then log in their steps on Walgreens' dedicated website, earning rewards from such brands as Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson, as well as gym chain Lifetime Fitness and Famous Footwear. Those who participate in live events get a pedometer and logbook; others can download digital tools on its Web site.”

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that CVS Caremark is partnering with the largest provider of medical care in Illinois, hoping to address some concerns about in-store medical clinics.

    According to the story, “Advocate Health Care's doctor group will be made available to serve as medical directors at CVS' 23 MinuteClinics in the Chicago area and Bloomington. Advocate has a network of 10 hospitals and more than 250 sites of urgent and outpatient medical care throughout the state. Financial terms were not disclosed.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    Lots of reaction to the piece yesterday about self-checkout.

    To recap...Oakland Tribune by Drew Voros wrote a piece about the new Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores opening in Northern California, and took a highly critical view of the self-service checkouts used by the chain, saying that they require too much work on the part of shoppers and would eventually hurt the company.

    I responded:

    Listen, I’ve always felt that retailers ought not use self-checkout just as a cost-savings measure, that they ought to take some of those checkout people and deploy them throughout the aisles. (And BTW...fewer labor costs can translate into lower prices. And that’s what Fresh & Easy is trying to sell.)

    But rather than being so against the technology, maybe the columnist should have recognized that not every retail experience is for everyone...that Fresh & Easy is trying to carve out a distinctive niche, rather than doing what everybody else is doing...and that a lot of young people find self-checkout to be immensely appealing because it makes them feel empowered.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I read your article today about the writer who thinks self-checkouts are unpleasant.  I am young (25 female), technology savvy and I completely agree with him and obviously am passionate enough about not liking them to write in.  When I am in a regular grocery store and there is only one cashier and 4 self checkouts, I will stand in the cashier line and wait. Doesn't matter if I have a full cartload or 5 items.  It doesn't make me happy to wait for 10 minutes in line, but I would rather wait than do the self-checkout.  In all of my experiences with self-checkout, the machine has always locked on me anyways, demanding that an attendant come and assist.  Sometimes even having to wait as the attendant assists every other person using self checkout before it is my turn.  Maybe if these "self-checkouts" were actually self sufficient it would be better, but I would prefer the store to still have the original option available.  It is usually the only interaction I have with anyone when going to the grocery store...

    MNB user Jeff Gartner wrote:

    Perhaps I'm getting cranky, but it seems that my years of conducting research studies related to the customer experience, store design, etc and via old-fashioned observation have led me to believe that self-checkout seems to be at stores that often have more difficulty hiring, training and retaining good employees. A good employee, btw, is a person who personally adds value to the customer's experience and to her/his staff colleagues -- and perceived as a genuine asset, not just another cost.

    I have rarely heard in focus groups or in verbatim comments to surveys from customers requesting that their favorite store with good cashiers to replace a couple of them with self checkout. 

    Our neighborhood food store (Forest Hills Foods) is a wonderful store for many reasons, including having outstanding customer service with great cashiers -- and no self-checkout. I'd rather spend my time conversing with a neighbor or friend who is also shopping there (another reason why the store is great, it's a community place) than dealing with self-checkout. I can handle the self-checkout technology; I'd rather just take it easy and converse with someone I know.

    MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

    I go through the self checkout not because it makes me feel empowered or because it reminds me of the old days when I was a checker ( in the late 70’s).  I use it to avoid the young checker who’s paying no attention to me, the customer and is instead talking to the package clerk about what they will be doing that night after work.  When I was doing that job I had a store director who would let go of employees for constantly ignoring their customers, but he was one of the few store directors that when it came to customer service walked the walk,  as well as talked the talk.

    From another MNB user:

    I have become so enamored of self check out that I will stand in  line behind 4 people (evidently I’m not alone in loving self check out) rather than go into a cashier line w/no waiting.  And, if someone is helping the self checkout lanes, I tell them I don’t’ need help—i.e. that’s why I’m doing self check out.  I control the order of items scanning and then can bag accordingly i.e. all frozen/cold stuff goes in my insulated bag (I take in all the bags I need).  I can actually insure, for my produce bag, that the carrots go on the bottom and the tomatoes on top.  Giant Eagle stops self check out at 10pm.  I used to occasionally shop late.  I now don’t because I am so used to self check out, it’s what I do in the grocery store.  One of the best parts is you can watch the price scanning and then insure your groceries are packed w/care.  You can’t do both in cashier lanes.   What’s not to love?

    MNB user Dan Jones wrote:

    My Fresh & Easy check-out experiences are very different that those expressed by Drew Voros.

    Every time I have been shopping at F&E, there have been staff there that are extremely helpful.  Whether checking ID for wine, redeeming coupons, or just helping me get started with check out process, there was always help nearby.   They were pleasant and fast when I needed them.  And after using the machines a time or two, it really becomes an intuitive process.  I used to shop at a store close to Leisure World (a huge Senior Citizen complex) here in So. Cal., and the seniors did not seem to struggle with the machines either. 

    I will say that F&E is generally skewed to quick trips – great prices on produce, artisan breads, ice cream and wine.  I rarely spent over $100 on a trip so the bagging did not seem cumbersome at all.  However, I would never try to do the weekly shopping for a family of five at this type of outlet. 

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2011

    One of the things about my job is that I spend a lot of time reading newspapers - mostly online - and scanning the headlines. And there have been a few that I’ve seen lately that simply speak for themselves, or make me want to give the headline writers a bit of applause. Let me tell you about three of them:

    PETA Closes Go Daddy Account After CEO Shoots Elephant

    Now there’s a headline that speaks volumes, though I have to admit that it says something about PETA that with all the outrageous advertising that Go Daddy does - much of it criticized as exploiting women - it is a dead elephant that offends PETA.

    Here’s another one:

    Boeing Says It Didn’t Expect Cracks in 737s So Soon


    And, my favorite:

    Maryland Man Superglued to Walmart Toilet

    Seth Godin’s new book, a short and pithy little tome called “Poke The Box,” is more than worth the amount of time it will take to read it.

    His premise is simple, but elegant and relevant - that the most important part of any project, any innovation, is the starting of it. Action - whether it leads to success or failure or some combination of the two - prevents us from being stuck in a rut.

    “Poking the box” is Godin’s metaphor for curiosity put into action, as in, What would happen if we tried this?

    Check it out.

    I loved Source Code, the new science fiction movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright, and directed by Duncan Jones. The premise is something of a puzzle box - after a terrorist attack on a commuter train in Chicago, a military man (Gyllenhaal) is inserted into the body of a man on that train during the last eight minutes of his life - his mission is to find out who did the bombing, so that future attacks can be prevented.

    The science may be hooey, but it doesn’t matter. The film presents it so quickly, so matter-of-factly, that it creates in the audience willing suspension of disbelief. We’re willing to travel with Gyllenhaal as he goes back into the man’s body, again and again, trying to accomplish his mission, and begins to form an emotional attachment to the man’s girlfriend, and starts to define his mission differently. Not only does he want to identify the bomber, but he wants to save the woman’s life - even though he is told that he cannot change history.

    Time-travel paradox movies are a favorite of mine, and Source Code is terrific - fast-paced, exciting, romantic, persuasive and engaging. And Gyllenhaal - who was so good a few months ago in Love And Other Drugs - is becoming a favorite, a kind of younger George Clooney with enormous star appeal.

    See it.

    I have three wines for you this week:

    • 2009 Francis Coppola Director’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which has a just a touch more body than the average Pinot, and is all the better for it.

    • 2008 Line Shack Chardonnay, a slightly tangy wine that is perfect with spicy seafood.

    And then, there was the 2007 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, which I’ve been saving for a special occasion. Good friends were in town visiting this week, so it seemed like the right time to break it out ... and it was creamy and luscious and just wonderful. Expensive, but worth every penny. (It is, for movie fans, a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that was featured in the terrific movie, Bottle Shock.)

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: