It’s All In The Delivery

The ways we eat meals continuously evolve as our lifestyles, social dynamics and workloads change. The frozen TV dinner changed the landscape of meals in the 1950s, streamlining meal prep with readily portioned trays that could be popped in the oven for easy weeknight meals. Tupperware enabled make-ahead meal prep possible, as well as proper storage of leftovers for reheating later. The mainstream introduction of the microwave in the 1980s, lead to more adaptations of ready-to-eat meals (and of course, the HotPocket).

Take out and delivery used to only be synonymous with pizza and Chinese food; fast food was burgers and fries (itself an evolution from street food vendors and bar food). Now we have apps that will coordinate pick up and delivery from just about any restaurant you could possibly want, at the touch of your finger tips; we gleefully hunt down specialty food trucks or trek down to the food truck lot, serving as our modern day, anywhere food court. Our busy schedules may not even lend themselves for meals, which has lead to a rise in snacking, a whole different conversation but one that I wanted to at least acknowledge.

So, while all this should beg the question Does anyone really cook anymore? Quite a contrary movement has taken place. Instead, there is appreciation for the home-cooked meal. The traditional route still involves grocery shopping for items needed for recipes, cooking the recipes at home; the routine is broken up by inspiration found on recipe sites, blogs, Pinterest and those droolworthy videos popping up in your feed that make all cooking look easy. According to Joe Scartz, TPN’s Managing Director of Digital Commerce and Integration, “Grocers have seen the trend move toward simple prepared meals now for years and they have tried to fight back with white label brands and grab and go meals.”

Retailers are also offering up opportunities to streamline the traditional process through omni-channel retailing of buy online, pick up in store: Walmart grocery is available in limited areas; CVS is testing CVS Express for a rollout later in 2016; Harris Teeter Express Lane has been around for awhile, also offering home delivery; Ahold’s Peapod is a online grocery service delivering orders and providing them for pickup; Amazon Prime Pantry is gaining speed as well, just to name a few. Inspiration becoming a final product precipitates social sharing of successes or pride in fails.

Meal delivery services, for those who can afford it, offer an alternate route with the modern convenience of having everything you need boxed up for you, ready to assemble/cook, so you can post it to your social media, aka humble brag “I made this.” What was once relegated to weight loss programs like Jenny Craig, these meal services now embolden people to be their own top chefs in the kitchen, with recipes that range from updated American traditions to ethnic fusions with unusual ingredients, previously found only in restaurants. The types of services available seem to only be limited by an entrepreneur’s imagination: local farm-to-table services, gluten-free services, food allergy services, high-end, unique services, etc.

A natural fit for its brand, Weight Watchers has partnered with meal service Chef’d to provide points-approved options that work well with their diet plan. Blue Apron has taken the lead of the services, with a somewhat customize-able recipe offering and subscriptions with meals for 2 and larger families as well; their price range is roughly $60 to $140 per week, depending on the number of meals delivered. Blue Apron also offers wine solutions as well, to partner with the meals. The convenience takes away all guess work and is winning with folks who alternatively, ate out or brought home meals on a regular basis.

We’re seeing how retailers are adapting to our ever changing foodie landscape, what can brands do to adapt? “Brands should be doing more to partner with the home delivery meal services if they want to attract this type of consumer. That being said, while consumers “barely” have to go to the store, 97ish% of all of grocery shopping is still done in-stores of various formats. It’s one of the slower ecommerce categories to catch on but that is changing, slowly,” says Scartz. To that point, “Brands need to worry less about the fresh food meal delivery service and need to worry more about being shut out of impulse purchase as grocery ecommerce does grow. For example, once a consumer creates a list for Amazon.com, they are apt to reorder the same products. Same goes for Instacart or Peapod or whatever. Brands need to market and merchandise on those platforms with an eye toward subscription, especially as omni-channel retailing becomes more the norm.”

Amazon and the Handmade Frontier

Today, Amazon launched a new marketplace called Handmade at Amazon, which takes competitor Etsy head on. This new arts-and-crafts bazaar hosts over 80,000 items from about 5,000 sellers in 60 countries, moves Amazon into new territory and positions it to take lead in the every growing, home-grown artisan market.

What’s in it for shoppers?

Amazon shoppers will already feel at home browsing around the 6 handmade categories—home, jewelry, artwork, stationery and party supplies, kitchen and dining, and baby—through a familiar interface and cart process. Each product’s detail page prominently displays the Handmade logo and features a picture of the artisan behind the work, with links for specific inquiries. So, they get to know the person a little more, and make a connection. While being able to request custom products, shoppers can also easily automate the made-to-order purchase process without directly contacting the seller through Amazon’s options.

Shoppers are also assured that these products are in fact, handmade (not just made to look handmade). Amazon has been vetting artisans since May for their marketplace, and has strict guidelines for what constitutes handmade:

All products available in your Handmade at Amazon store must be made entirely by hand, hand-altered, or hand assembled (not from a kit). Products must be handmade by you (the artisan), by one of your employees (if your company has 20 or fewer employees), or a member of your collective with less than 100 people. Mass-produced products or products handmade by a different artisan are not eligible to sell in Handmade.

While this may seem like a trivial distinction to make, it’s one that Etsy has skirted since changing it’s vendor rules, allowing for outside manufacturing. Etsy’s controversial decision has lead to an expansion of what vendors offer, but there has also been a rise in counterfeit items and a perception of moving away from their handmade roots.

Prime shoppers may also find free expedited shipping through Handmade at Amazon for select products.

What’s in it for vendors?

Well, Amazon has 285 million active account shopper base, so that’s a ton more eyeballs on your wares than Etsy’s 22 million active accounts. Amazon is also offering sellers logistical benefits as well, such as lot shipping through their fulfillment centers across the country, enabling Amazon to ship the goods as part of the Prime program. On the site, sellers can develop a profile page to introduce themselves and their passion for their product, and also promote their goods through Amazon’s Sponsored Products advertising program.

Greater traffic and exposure, along with shipping, are certainly beneficial, but at what cost. According the NY Times:

Most sellers are likely to give Amazon a bigger cut of their sales for that reach, however. Etsy charges a 20-cent fee for each item a seller lists on its site and takes a 3.5 percent cut of the sales. For now, Amazon will charge no listing fee but take 12 percent of sales, which it says covers all costs, including payment processing, marketing and fraud protection.

Given that most of the vendors behind handcrafted goods are small, independent outfits, some still hobby enterprises, the addition of Amazon as another avenue for selling may add a layer of complication for folks already selling on Etsy or EBay. However, with increased traffic could come more consistent sales and more stability, and they may be better off opting out of their former markets.

What’s in it for Amazon?

Moving into the handmade market place isn’t a huge stretch. Amazon already has a general marketplace open to vendors. But it’s clear, Amazon is spreading its capabilities and diversifying offerings. While it has done this for years through products, some with more success than others, the company is geared up to take on services like grocery delivery and home repairs. So why not get a stake in the ever-trending artisan market, in this day and age of pinspiration? Why not put a different face on what IS Amazon? Through the handmade marketplace, Amazon becomes a supporter of the little guy, the independent, not just a big company pushing mainstream products like it’s big box competitors. It’s another feather in the hat for Amazon, so let’s see how this goes.

Minority Report Style Advertising One Step Closer To Reality

We all remember that cool scene in Steven Spielberg’s movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise is walking through a mall and all of the ads he sees are customized for him only. Ever since its release in 2002, this futuristic scene has been the gold standard to strive toward for advertisers with an eye on where digital is taking shopper marketing.

And although technology manufacturers have taken baby steps toward this in the past, Panasonic has announced that it is partnering up with Photon Interactive to deliver a much closer representation of what the movie promised:

The goal is to combine Photon’s software with Panasonic displays, so that those displays will know more about the customer. That information can be used to deliver targeted offers, as well as check in, make purchases, and more.

For example, the company says that at a brick-and-mortar retailer, a customer might look at the digital signage, view personalized offers, bring up directions to where a product is in the store, and scan bar codes with the mobile app to make purchases. Or in a fast food restaurant, the customer could either order from a kiosk or on their phone, then pick their food and offer feedback through the kiosk.

Although the privacy implications might seem scary (how do you opt out of something that is scanning your biometrics? Can other shoppers see and hear your personalized ads?). But, once in action, it’s hard to not predict that all retailers will be jumping on board with this highly-personalized targeting. Seems like a win compared to a world of static, one-size-fits-all displays.

-via Jalopnik

An Experience Worth Remembering

I recently visited Sloan’s Ice Cream in Florida for the second time in my life. Talk about a childhood fantasy! For those (like myself) who have never heard of or been to Sloan’s, imagine walking into Candy Land or a Willy Wonka factory. From the bright and colorful signage, sugarcoated displays, and fairytale wallpaper, to the (dare I say) breathtaking bathroom (I’m embarrassed to say I took a picture), Sloan’s has drawn upon everything that makes sweet treats magical.

Although Sloan’s has been doing this for a long time, the idea of capitalizing on the retail “experience” has really been a game-changer for others in the past few years. Brands and retailers alike have started to use innovative technology that allows consumers to interact with their products on a more personal level within the retail space.

As an athlete, I’ve always looked at Nike as an inspirational retailer, providing this sort of “experience.” The store doesn’t simply display athletic apparel, but allows consumers to interact with the merchandise in a way that seems to have only been done in the tech space. Images, videos and quotes of some of the greatest sports figures can be found all over the store, making the consumers who enter feel as if they too can be great.

Nike additionally gives consumers the ability to customize their own shoes, as well as help them choose the right style and fit to meet individualized needs, both in-store and online.

Similarly, by playing up the fact that every consumer is different and comes to retailers with different needs, customization has become more and more popular. Sephora has done this in the beauty space with their Color IQ technology by capturing a picture of your skin in order to match the best foundation with your skin tone.

Whether you are selling goods or a service, find a way for consumers to engage with it. Make them leave feeling like they’ve been a part of a great experience.  Regardless of whether they end up making a purchase or not, they will at least walk out with great a story to tell.  Make it a memorable one!

Robot Retail

Kiosks and mobile trucks are popping up everywhere making products even more readily available to consumers. Not only does this phenomenon create a world of opportunity for new businesses to advertise their flagship locations, it also offers small businesses without expensive storefronts the chance to level the playing field.

Have we become too lazy to go out and purchase what we want/need? Are we just too busy to go too far from work or home? The short answer is arguably a little of both—which in turn is a huge advantage to retailers…as long as they can do it right.

With their “Cupcake ATM,” Sprinkles Cupcakes is a great example of a company hitting a home run in convenience and accessibility. Although this “ATM” doesn’t come to you (there are plenty of cupcake food trucks roaming around at all times), it is located right outside the store and dispenses freshly made cupcakes and cookies 24/7. 

At first glance, this idea may not appear to be that revolutionary, but applying this business model to retailers who sell goods and services outside of food/beverage could really change the way retailers operate. Selling food in these types of environments is always questionable, especially because quality and freshness can be easily compromised; but any other type of CPG could really thrive here.

What if no-contract mobile retailers started using this ATM model outside of their stores so customers could pay their bills anytime, as opposed to in-store only during store hours? What if drugstores began to vend diapers, baby products and household items? What about clothing retailers dispensing jewelry, strapless bras and pins for outfit emergencies? Cost and upkeep for these “ATMs” would be minimal in comparison to being a mobile retailer and the convenience and customer satisfaction would be through the roof!

In a fast-paced world in which convenience and affordability remain important to consumers, the innovative retailers will stay ahead of the competition. ATMs and vending are a quick solve to help boost sales and awareness…at least in the short run. 

Games, Guardians, and Grumpy Cat @ Toy Fair 2014!

The 112th annual American International Toy Fair came together in New York Feb. 15th – 20th, with more than 1,000 exhibiting manufacturers, distributors, importers and sales agents from around the globe to showcasing their toy and entertainment products. Among the big trends happening in the coming year are hot “mature”  TV shows, such as Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead, supplanting movies as the buzz-worthy toy licenses.

Another ongoing trend is “Boys Toys for Girls”, following the publicity garnered by GoldieBlox last year, many manufacturers are taking traditional boys’ toys such as building blocks and combat weapons and putting a female spin on them to allow your daughters’ entry in the neighborhood Hunger Games reenactments. And we’re always happy to see Grumpy Cat, even if she doesn’t seem particularly thrilled to see us. Check out all this and much more in our recap video tour of Toy Fair 2014!

2013: The Year of Deal-Seeking

Google released its top-searched items of 2013, and Kohl’s, JCPenny and Nordstrom graced the top spots on the apparel brands and retailers list.  Following the top three included Forever 21, Old Navy and Macy’s.

What do these retailers have in common?  All were searched along with terms that indicated shoppers were looking for a deal or price reduction.  For example, Nordstrom shoppers were most likely looking for Nordstrom Rack in their searches.

But this trend of looking for good deals is not exclusive to online retailers.  Shoppers are also more likely to negotiate prices in-store, thanks to multiple resources.

Brick and mortar shoppers now have an arsenal of never-ending resources in the form of smartphones.  Price-checking in-store, or showrooming, has quickly become the norm, and retailers have had no choice but to find creative ways to fight back and ensure in-store sales remain strong.

Best Buy is one of those retailers and is offering a price-match guarantee this year.  What does this mean?  Customers can bargain.  Prices are no longer set in stone.  If a shopper finds a cheaper price online, Best Buy will work with them to keep that sale in-store.

The future of retail is changing rapidly and with each new technological advancement, shoppers get smarter about what they are willing to pay for products and services.  Brands and retailers will also have to continue to get smarter, adopting new technologies and policies that will ensure both in-store and online channels thrive.

Retail and the Weather: An Ice Story

This Fall season has been one to remember. Here in Dallas, like in many parts of the country, we experienced a severe ice storm last week that pretty much put the brakes on everything. Though we’re a big city, we’re not equipped to deal with not only the initial snow/sleet fall but the subsequent refreezing as temperatures stayed in the freezing range for the next week. And as luck would have it, this ice storm occurred during an already shortened Christmas shopping season. All this got me thinking, what are retailers and brands to do when Mother Nature throws a wrench into the busiest shopping season of the year? Here are my top five recommendations to retailers and brands for not getting blindsided by unexpected weather.

Be Prepared (Online)

Weather happens, from snow and ice to unforgiving heat waves and everything in between. In Dallas, it seems like we get one good pummeling snow/ice storm about every three years or so (just my personal estimation). Before this most recent storm, the last one happened the week Dallas was hosting the Super Bowl and that was a doosy. All that to say, weather is bound to happen sometime/somewhere, so retailers and brands should be prepared with how their products can remain strong when it does hit. Like any other day, your website is up, running, easily accessible via mobile and checkout is easy (where applicable). A no-brainer here, but confirm with your providers that weather will not or should not interrupt your web service. Aside from the basics of web site functionality, the easiest thing, in my opinion, is to be prepared with web content, which is especially helpful for all those potential customers stuck at home surfing the web. For example, a home improvement store chain could create self-help videos that instruct the proper method for shoveling snow or for removing fallen tree limbs. A fashion brand could create a pinterest board with the best snow apparel that its target audience could use to feel inspired during a time that normally leaves us all looking like overstuffed marshmallow men. A food brand could post comfort food recipes using ingredients found in the pantry mixed with their products. A major retailer could have a social media weather plan in place to allow it to quickly adapt with a consistent hashtag across messaging and be on the forefront of the conversation. All in all, it’s a way to preemptively think about how your store or brand can still be productive online in spite of the weather.

Be Prepared (In Store)

Luckily, with events like snow storms, we usually can see them coming thanks to all of the newfangled meteorological technology at society’s disposal. As such, retailers can be proactive in the ways they react to such news in store. For larger retailers, this may be easier said than done because it takes a lot of energy and time to shift the sails of such a large “ship.” That’s when I say you should empower your boots on the ground to help make the calls for their area. Have a protocol in place for not only taking care of your employees in the area impacted but a plan for how they can keep the lead office informed and adapt the store to the needs of shoppers. Maybe for a grocery chain, it could be switching out a front display containing Christmas day meal solutions to one that’s driven with bread and batteries or push coolers up front for milk.  Or it’s creating an impromptu storm bundle offer that combines necessities like food with fun activities like books and magazines, which not only help shopper Mom feed her family but could keep them entertained, even if they lose power. Perhaps a clothing retailer puts its cold weather clothes, coats and accessories in their strategic selling spots and empowers employees to push these items at checkout as pre-storm basket builders. But again, don’t forget the basics, like having rock salt on hand to put at your store entrance should it ice over and proper mats for wiping off icy boots so as to avoid slip-and-falls.

Be Insightful

Being able to target your shoppers is key at any stage in this retail game, but it can be even more important when you add weather to the mix. This not only means being prepared with content but having the capabilities to push it to the right shoppers and when with geotargeting. I know I’ve been getting anywhere from one to three emails a day from certain retailers keeping me updated on the latest sales in store during this busy shopping season. By adding an additional level of geotargeting to these emails, retailers, large and small, could help to keep their shoppers engaged and informed. Whether it’s pushing an email to promote a pre-storm bundle along with their store hours or sending a text message to shoppers to let them know “We’re Open!”, getting this granular with your shoppers lets them know your store or brand is coping with the weather as well. I saw small businesses doing this really well during our Dallas ice storm, from email to social, by clearly communicating with their shoppers so as to advise as well as to gauge demand. Bigger brands and retailers can do this too, with the help of geotargeting.

Be Aware

This season is not only the busiest for many brands and retailers but for their shipping partners as well, which is why is so important for brands and retailers to be aware of how shipments may be impacted due to the weather. With the possibility of shoppers being stuck at home and doing more shopping online than they had originally planned, the number of shipments required escalates quite rapidly even while shipping centers are dealing with the same undriveable  roads and shortage of staff that everyone else is dealing with. Shipments can ultimately be delayed and perhaps, even lost, in the additional traffic. Shoppers may be lenient to a certain degree, but they still want to receive what they’ve paid for and before Christmas, if it was well within the time period for Christmas shipping. So be aware of regional delays that could ultimately impact your shoppers’ experience and be on top of how this should be managed. While it’s never ideal for a package to be late or never arrive, empower your customer service team to use this “opportunity” to give your shoppers the best experience possible and build loyalty. Have a plan in place for dealing with packages delayed by weather and if time is of the essence for the customer (ex. it’s a gift ordered for a charity that has a deadline for submission), have a protocol in place for either reshipping or refunding their purchase so the shopper can choose the best option for their situation. As a brand or retailer, you can only control so much when it comes to the shipping process, but having the right attitude and approach when shipping mishaps happen due to widespread weather will turn a negative into a positive.

Be Human

It’s the weather and it’s beyond all of our control. We are all human. When a severe weather situation occurs, a brand or retailer should be showing their shoppers they are human, too. For this to be successful, it all needs to be done genuinely and with absolute authenticity, or else it comes across as opportunist. The success in this again lies with the boots on the ground, your store employees, to know what kind of outreach is appropriate, needed and can be addressed. During this last storm, I saw news stories about employees from a home improvement chain making rounds in neighborhoods helping people take care of fallen trees. A chain movie theater that offers dining and movies, knowing that the neighborhood behind one of its theaters did not have power, offered warm soup, coffee and free movies to those local residents who could walk to the theater. Just simple acts of kindness go a long way. Empower your employees and brand ambassadors to be human during these times, in store, online and out in the community and I have no doubt your shoppers will remember the kindness.

So let’s discuss. What retailers and brands have managed weather snafus really well? Who rose to the occasion?

Photo: Associated Press

Black November: What Are Shoppers Really Feeling & Doing?

Media are invited to register for the retail industry’s first-ever TPN Live Shopper Pulse™, an online dashboard created by dynamic retail marketing agency TPN to monitor real-time consumer sentiment and behaviors during the new Black Friday shopping frontier, which now begins Thanksgiving night.

“TPN designed this retail anthropology study to gain unprecedented access into shoppers’ minds and modes when they are ‘in-the-moment’,” said Sharon Love, TPN’s chief executive officer. “We want to understand what is in the shoppers’ psyches while they are engaged in the sport of holiday shopping, and what spending or social behaviors they exhibit during THE major shopping event of 2013.”

The TPN Live Shopper Pulse aims to measure the pulse of approximately 2,000 “out-and-about” shoppers in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and Miami, capturing the heartbeat of this vital shopping period. Located outside big box stores such as Walmart, Macy’s, Target and Best Buy, pollsters will ask shoppers questions, which will immediately upload to the online dashboard, in five key areas:

PPlanning or spending?  Are shoppers planning to spend more or less this holiday season? Are they prepared with a list of items and the people they’ll buy for?        

UUsing technology or turned-off?  Have shoppers downloaded mobile apps, powered up their device and checked it twice? Once in-store, did their mobile device help or hurt their shopping plans today?

LLooking or buyingAre shoppers braving the crowds simply to browse, or are they on a mission to buy? What are the most popular retail destinations around the country?

SSentiment in the moment?  Are shoppers excited, stressed, or feeling guilty for spending too much? Does this feeling change depending on when they are out? Are they shopping with friends or family as part of a tradition to combine holiday cheer – or is it considered a holiday chore?  

EExpectations being met?  Did Black Friday deals live up to shoppers’ expectations this year?  And did retailers stock what shoppers wanted at the prices they were hoping for?

HOW TPN LIVE SHOPPER PULSE WORKS

TPN’s technology partner, GroundCntrl, is the real-time mobile and data analytics platform that powers TPN’s Live Shopper Pulse Dashboard.

Field teams will be positioned outside stores beginning Thanksgiving night at 6 p.m., through Black Friday. They will use a mobile app to survey shoppers around the country as they leave the stores.  This structured data is gathered in real-time, and aggregated into easy-to-understand charts that will be accessible via an online dashboard.

HOW TO REGISTER FOR TPN LIVE SHOPPER PULSE

TPN is offering special access to the Live Shopper Pulse dashboard so reporters and editors can visit regularly and view how shoppers’ attitudes and behaviors evolve during these two critical shopping days.

To register, send an email request to pr@tpnretail.com. Users will then receive an email with simple instructions on how to log in and access the live dashboards.

LIVE ANALYSIS AVAILABLE VIA @TPNRETAIL & WWW.LOVEOFRETAIL.COM

The real-time data will be complemented by analysis from TPN experts who will provide “in-the-moment” insights live on Twitter (@TPNRetail) and scheduled analysis every two hours via the TPN Love of Retail Blog (www.loveofretail.com).

To schedule interviews with TPN experts for holiday shopping predictions or to analyze Live Shopper Pulse data throughout Thanksgiving evening and Black Friday, please contact Laura Muma at 773.960.3960, pr@tpnretail.com or laura@lmprinc.com.