retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Two interesting stories about companies changing the way they do business have caught my eye ...

The Los Angeles Times reports that Standard International, a boutique hotel chain, "is letting guests schedule when they want to initially arrive and depart." While this does create some issues in terms of housekeeping and room availability, the story says that computerized scheduling software largely can compensate for any inconvenience.

Think of it. Instead of checking in after 3 pm and checking out by noon because that's what the hotel demands, guests can no pretty much pick their own 24-hour window during which they can stay at the hotel ... which makes a lot more sense from the consumer perspective.

The new approach speaks volumes about the hotel chain's guest-driven orientation. “Instead of having guests work around the hotel’s schedule we want the hotel to work around the guest’s schedule,” Amar Lalvani, managing partner of Standard International, tells the Times.

The other story is in the New York Times, and focuses on restaurants that have decided to stop taking cash.

"Although America is far from becoming a cashless society, cash transactions are less frequent than even a few years ago and some restaurant owners are betting that customers will be comfortable doing away with cash for convenience," the Times writes. These establishments "are pushing credit and debit cards and mobile apps for payments. Apps enable restaurants to gather data and feedback, and allow consumers to order ahead and skip long lines."

The restaurants that have made this shift largely say that they've gotten very little pushback from patrons, that the shift has actually sped up the checkout process and even saved money - while they have to pay transaction fees, there is no theft and faster table turnover seems to more than compensate.

Now, that's not to say that this shortly will become a universally accepted phenomenon. Some people can't or won't use credit cards, and the Times notes that a " 2015 study on consumer payment choice from the Federal Reserve found that although credit card use was steadily rising, slightly over 26 percent of purchases were still made in cash." But, at the other end of the ledger, there is a growing percentage of people growing comfortable with using mobile payment apps; the Times writes that "Forrester Research forecasts in-store mobile payments will grow to nearly $34 billion in 2019 from about $4 billion in 2014."

The Eye-Opening part of this, I think, is simply how companies within established industries are choosing to challenge entrenched ways of doing business. That's not to say there won't be bumps in the road or consumer pushback over time, and businesses certainly have to be wary about getting too far ahead of consumers.

But, as I sometimes say, the future is here. The only questions are, now what? And, what's next?
KC's View: