Archive for the ‘Retail’ Category

Service of Unashamed Theft: Are Perpetrators Bolder Than Before?

Thursday, July 11th, 2019

Photo: teachercreated.com

Thievery is as old as time but are robbers bolder these days?

Busing It

I was on a NYC bus last night. The driver had left open a back door to let passengers out while adjusting a ramp allowing access to the front door for an incoming passenger in a wheelchair. There was a patient line waiting behind the wheelchair.

Photo: nbcnewyork.com

A young woman hopped in the rear door and headed to the back, clearly not walking to the front to pay her fare. The driver saw her, motioned to her to get off, which she did. Two women sitting behind me remarked on the nerve of the sneak who rejoined the line and a friend who was still standing in it. She didn’t seem phased though when another bus pulled up behind ours, she ran to get on.

Spraying It

Photo: pointofsale.com

Last Sunday I saw a well dressed woman in sundress at a chain drugstore on East 34th Street spraying her arms and legs liberally with sunscreen as though she was at the beach. When she was done, she put the used canister back on the shelf and left.

Turnstile Larceny

If you take the subway often enough you’ll see people slip through the turnstiles without paying. I saw a youngster do that a week ago. Whether cheating bus or subway, the public pays the fare.

How come people aren’t embarrassed to steal in public or has it always been so and I didn’t notice? Have you witnessed petty theft lately?

Photo: gothamist.com

 

Service of Mi Casa es Tu Casa–Come on In!

Monday, June 17th, 2019

Photo: tierrafina.com

Daily we hear of hacking that’s happened either to a friend, big corporation or organization. It’s a form of break-in. I think it may have inured the public to the normalcy of loss of privacy that gorges on volunteer personal intrusions. Think such smart speakers like Alexa and Amazon Echo.

Photo: wired.com

Maybe that’s why Walmart and Amazon have or are about to introduce a new wrinkle to their delivery services. In select markets, both will or do arrange for access to a customer’s home to put food in the fridges of the former and leave packages in a home, garage or car trunk in the latter.

Citizens of Kansas City, Mo., Pittsburgh and Vero Beach will be the first to officially invite Walmart delivery staff to put perishables in their refrigerators through a program slated for a fall launch called Walmart InHome. [The system was tested in New Jersey.]

Photo: commons.wikipedia.org

In “Walmart Wants to Put Groceries Into Your Fridge,” Sarah Nassauer wrote “The workers will wear a body cameras [sic] clipped to their chests, allowing customers to watch live streams of deliveries being made while they aren’t home.” She reported in her Wall Street Journal article that they’ll have access to homes via a smart lock that connects to the Internet allowing a door to unlock remotely. Wallmart sells the device.

Delivery staff for the service must have worked for the company for at minimum a year. “Not everyone embraces the concept at first, but just as people have gradually accepted renting out rooms in their homes through services like Airbnb Inc, ‘people are very quickly comfortable with it,’ said Marc Lore, head of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.”

Photo: gate labs

The Amazon service, Key by Amazon, wrote Nassauer, is for Prime members in 50 cities. Fresh groceries aren’t involved. In another program Via Prime Now customers get orders from Amazon’s Whole Foods division on doorsteps.

Not every delivery business received the mega company’s stamp of approval. Sebastian Herrera reported last week in the Journal that Amazon is deep sixing its restaurant delivery service.

Would you be comfortable inviting strangers into your kitchen or your home, garage or car trunk when you’re not home? Do you think comfort level for this kind of trust may be higher in some parts of the country than others? Have privacy-breaking services like Alexa and Amazon Echo paved the way? What if you’re in a meeting or otherwise inaccessible when you need to unlock your front door remotely with no time to watch while the delivery person with body camera drops off your perishables? Do you think that this person—or the staffer who packs the order–will be trained to leave foods like tomatoes and bananas out of the refrigerator and on the counter?

Photo: orchardestates.com

 

Service of Digital Receipts Going Astray: Can Square Fix the Glitch?

Monday, June 10th, 2019

Photo: samsclub.com

It’s bad enough when you’re not paying attention and you email James Doe instead of James Doener because you let auto suggest have its way with you. Most people have done this or received correspondence for someone because of it. I cringe at a few of my bloopers.

Now it turns out that a record of your purchases could possibly be shared with others. Peter Rudegeair wrote about it in “Square Sends Millions of Digital Receipts, Sometimes to the Wrong Person From surprise gifts to pending divorces, misdirected notifications result in spilled secrets.” Square is a service that allows companies to accept mobile credit card payments via a gizmo inserted into the port of a phone.

In one example Rudegeair wrote about a friend who learned that the credit card owner was getting a divorce because she received a copy of a detailed lawyer’s receipt for the retainer.

Photo: westminsterpc.ca

In another a spouse received a detailed digital receipt, before Christmas, of gifts that were supposed to be a surprise. Because she was getting the blame–and had never before had so many complaints for her service–the local retailer asked Square to disable the automated digital receipt function two years ago.

Rudegeair reported that if a spouse signs up for a digital receipt program for a card they share, they both get them. The partner may not realize this. A florist “has gotten calls from spouses who had surprise gifts spoiled by an errant receipt,” he wrote. The florist added “God forbid anyone was having an affair. You’d see everything.”

Photo: posapps.io

Rudegear wrote: “Square has forwarded receipts documenting transactions as mundane as a cup of coffee and as sensitive as an obstetrician’s visit to people who were uninvolved in the purchases, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. In some cases, neither the purchaser nor the recipient could say why Square sent receipts to the people it did.”

According to a Square spokesperson “digital receipts could be received by the wrong person for a variety of reasons, including consumers sharing a credit-card number, accidentally sending the receipt to a recycled phone number or seller or buyer error.”

Customers signing up for digital receipts is a profitable sideline for Square, Rudegear reported: “Square has a window into spending patterns that few other tech companies can match. By supplementing that data with contact details that shoppers provide to Square for the purpose of getting digital receipts, the company is able to assemble expansive profiles of consumer behavior that it can use to run marketing and loyalty programs for its small-business customers.”

Have any of your digital receipts gone rogue? Are you concerned that they might? Now that you know a glitch like this is possible, would you cancel the digital receipt option on your credit card?

Photo: floranext.com

Service of Little Things Mean A Lot

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

Like a paper cut the tiniest thing can irritate big time. The fix is often so simple as to be ridiculous. Yet it can take time to face.

The bathtub in my new apartment needs a stopper. When we first moved in I bought the wrong size and for two months I’ve annoyed myself every day by having to adjust the thing several times to fill one tub. The stopper would slip out of place with the force of the water hitting it so the water leaked out.

For $1.49 at a full-price midtown NYC hardware store two blocks from my office and a proper measurement of the bathtub drain I solved the problem in seconds. Such relief! And it took me weeks to attend to this simple chore.

In another instance I was at CVS Drug Store looking for an item. As I scrunched to the ground and up again several times in front of a brand I heard a voice on the loud speaker: “Customer in the makeup department.” I was the only one there! I wondered if I’d touched a button—I hadn’t.

An employee appeared [spooky] and asked if she could help. I told her what I was looking for. They had split the brand so that half of its products were on one side of the aisle and the other across the aisle! I’d never have figured that out. Amazing! She apologized and admitted that the placement could be confusing.

Are there little things that get on your nerves in your home or office that would take little to fix and would make a big difference? Do you attend to them immediately or drag your feet? Has obscure merchandising in a store tripped you up? Do you think CVS has lost sales by splitting a brand’s beauty products across an aisle?

Photo: cvshealth.com

Service of Tricked Out Chocolate: Strange Concoctions for an Old Favorite

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

The real thing: Some Easter treats I received as gifts.

New things in fashion or interior design have always intrigued me but not tricked out food favorites. I am not a fussy eater but I don’t care for anything I eat or drink that has been fiddled with such as flavored. Take seltzer. If I want a taste of lime I’ll squeeze in juice from fresh citrus. So the likelihood is slim to none that I will want a favorite cookie—Oreos—in any but the time-honored version: two chocolate wafers with a plain cream concoction inside. Add a glass of milk and I’m in heaven.

Photo: pinterest.com

Carol Ryan wrote about the popularity of hot-chicken-wing and wasabi-flavored Oreos in a recent Wall Street Journal article. China and the U.S. are the two biggest markets for this twist.

I also learned in this article, “Chocolate Has a Sweet and Spicy Growth Mix,” that if the FDA approves it, there will be a ruby-pink chocolate in our futures to add to white, milk and dark. Ryan reported that it would be the first new chocolate in eight decades. I’ll give pink a try as long as some poisonous coloring isn’t in the recipe. I remember how Red Dye No. 2 was banned because of a plausible link to cancer.

Hot-chicken-wing and wasabi-flavored Oreos Photo: delish.com

According to Ryan the chocolate industry is bracing for trouble here because impulse purchases at endangered cash registers impact sales. Should “New retail formats like Amazon Go’s cashierless shops” take off, she predicted that a cash cow for chocolate will run dry. In cashierless shops customers walk in and out passing neither registers nor checkout counters, hence no waiting in line by merchandisers filled with tempting treats. [I wrote previously about cashless retail in Service of the Honor System.]

I understand the need for an industry to innovate to keep dollars flowing as traditional shopping patterns change. And clearly there’s a hearty market for unusual versions of old favorites. But I’m not tempted by most, especially where chocolate is concerned. Are you? Are there unusual taste sensations that appeal to you?

Ruby chocolate Photo: craftsense.co

Service of Untrained Staff and Insufficient Inventory Messing Up Food Orders

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

Photo: medium.com

When you order food and don’t get what you want it can be hard to tell if it’s due to a lack of staff training or insufficient inventory. This is nothing new even though the millions who order all sorts of food online these days may think it is.

I ran into untrained staff causing stress when buying a bunch of sandwiches for office colleagues at a then novel Au Bon Pain years ago. It was so bad I eventually no longer asked “Can I get someone anything at Au Bon Pain?” when leaving the office to pick up lunch for myself. The takeout offered a choice of bread, meat and cheese for freshly made sandwiches. Inevitably I’d return with ham and brie on a roll when my colleague wanted ham and Swiss on a baguette as one example. Of some five orders three would be wrong. Drove me nuts. It happened because the staff didn’t know the difference between cheeses and breads and clearly the choices weren’t well marked and/or the staff wasn’t trained to ID the options.

Heather Haddon’s Wall Street Journal article rang bells. “Amazon to Whole Foods Online Delivery Customers: We’re Out of Celery, How’s Kale? Companies offering online grocery ordering and delivery struggle with services’ logistics” described customer experience with the online grocery and delivery system for select Amazon Prime members.

Photo: LLamasoft.com

She wrote about what happened to Kelly Hills. The Massachusetts-based bioethicist  “ordered a sourdough loaf from Whole Foods recently but was offered a jalapeño cheese bread instead. Her so-called ‘shopper’—either a contract worker employed by Amazon or a Whole Foods staff member tasked with compiling delivery orders—had opted to put decaf coffee in her bag instead of whole roasted coffee beans, celery instead of celery root and a single seltzer flavor rather than a variety. ‘The substitutions are downright bizarre. It’s frustrating,'” Think of all the time wasted to return this stuff or the money lost to accept what you won’t use.

Haddon added that problems “are often amplified because daily operations at the two companies are still largely separate. Whole Foods employees said Amazon workers routinely ask for help finding items on shelves or elsewhere, distracting them from their own duties. Technology that tracks Whole Foods’s inventory is old, and officials have discussed updating it for years.”

Have you been impacted by poorly trained staff, insufficient inventory or other issues when buying food–or anything else–either in person or online? Why do you think the glitches happen? Do you usually accept the mistakes or do you take time to return or report them?

Photo en.wikipedia.com

Service of Refills: Do Consumers Have the Time & Money?

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Photo: pinterest.com

I found fault with the hullabaloo over the so called huge benefits to the environment when businesses announced they were banning  plastic straws in the post “Service of the Last Straw,”—literally too little in the plastic litter wars.

I perked up reading Saabira Chaudhuri’s article “The World’s Biggest Brands Want You to Refill Your Orange Juice and Deodorant–P&G, Nestlé and others try to curb plastic waste; Tropicana in glass bottles, Tide in metal cans.”

Chaudhuri reported: “Refillables once dominated industries such as beer and soft drinks but lost out to convenient, affordable single-use containers. In 1947, refillables made up 100% of soft-drink containers by volume and 86% of beer containers, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit. By 1998 those figures dropped to 0.4% and 3.3%, respectively.”

She added that the refill business exists but is niche, done by some grocery stores and entrepreneurs largely

Statewide Refillable Bottles Photo: kcts9.org

in shampoo and detergent businesses.

The trial will include PepsiCo’s Tropicana OJ in a glass bottle and Quaker Chocolate Cruesli cereal in stainless steel. Some of P&G’s 10 participating brands include Pantene shampoo in aluminum and Tide in stainless-steel.

In addition, Chaudhuri wrote: “Shoppers who the companies select for the trial will be able to order hundreds of products—including Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs ice cream and Clorox Co.’s wet wipes—from a website for home delivery. Products arrive in a reusable tote with no extra packaging. Once finished, users schedule a pickup for empty containers to be cleaned and refilled. They can sign up for a subscription-based service that replenishes products once empty containers are returned. TerraCycle will handle delivery, returns and cleaning.

Photo: pinterest.com

“The products will cost roughly the same as the versions in single-use containers, but users will also have to pay a deposit of $1-$10 per container. Shipping charges start at roughly $20, decreasing with every item added.

“Susan Collins, head of the Container Recycling Institute, said high deposit fees could be a barrier to entry for many consumers. ‘It sounds like it’s only meant to attract the most green, virtuous shoppers,’ she said.

I’d add that customers who look for sales are also out of the loop.

“TerraCycle hopes to bring big retailers on board so that customers eventually buy and return most of the products in store or online via retailers, lowering the project’s costs and expanding its reach,” Chaudhuri concluded.

If shoppers don’t have a doorman or house staff or if they aren’t retired, who will accept the packages and what about ice cream sales shipped in summer? Will the shipping and container costs impact the success of these initiatives? Can we go home again, to the middle of last century, when refills in certain product categories were standard? Will a sufficient number of customers, spoiled by taking three seconds to toss out a bottle or container, make the time to wash out each container and prepare the package to ship it back?

Photo: etsy.com

Service of Elegant Negotiating & Winning: Conversation is Mightier than Email

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Photo: growthcoachingonline.com

A friend—I’ll call her Abigail–consigned two new black steel Alessi trays in original packaging to the online luxury consignment sales company, RealReal. A rep picked them up from her office, where they disappeared in one of two oversized bags.

The rep refused Hermès catalogs and design magazines that were  also scheduled for pickup, saying that RealReal didn’t sell them. This proved untrue.

“The rep raved about the professional, corporate nature of the company and about RealReal’s elite clients,” said Abigail. She said she would ship the trays to headquarters by FedEx.

The trays never went live on the RealReal website and nobody followed up with Abigail. There had been no communication about the sales price of the trays, which was at the discretion of the consignment sales company.

Photo: cheatsheet.com

Initially, Abigail asked about the delay in the items’ appearance online. She was told that it was due to the large backlog of merchandise to be processed and there was no cause for concern. The only correspondence she subsequently received from the company was a customer service evaluation form, so she called customer service several times and was assured that an explanation would be forthcoming.

In a phone conversation she learned that the items, which were incorrectly recorded as a set of plates and priced as a pair, had simply vanished. Despite a FedEx shipment record the trays were nowhere to be found.

An excerpt from a RealReal email went like this: “I want to confirm with you that we’ve reached out to our warehouse team, and they confirmed that the Alessi pair of plates could not be located. Since they cannot be located, we’ve contacted our Merchandising team with the plates’ information and photo, and they confirmed we could have listed the set at $65.00 maximum list price.”

Remember: Abigail consigned trays, not plates, that were not a set or a pair.

Photo: yutube.com

She suspected that someone had made off with her trays but kept that to herself. Not wanting to spend more time writing, she picked up the phone again and calmly reiterated a description of her consignment. Speaking quietly she mentioned her disappointment in the service; how she felt taken advantage of—and who likes to put up with that? She also confided that she had never heard back from the specialist who picked up the trays from her office. She was supposed to follow up.

She gently asked: “Isn’t interstate commerce involved in your business?”  She also coolly observed that she didn’t think her Senators Warren and Markey would be happy with a business that conducted itself in this way.

RealReal’s initial offer was to “generously reimburse” her $65.00 for the “pair of plates.” She said: “Without an argument or one raised voice, or language favored by our president, in the end the company awarded me $130.”

Abigail said: “Although the experience was unpleasant and time-consuming, maintaining a civilized, albeit formal, manner seemed both more comfortable and persuasive.” As for creating a written record, Abigail added: “My grandfather always recommended not putting anything in writing you wouldn’t want the Tsar to read!”

When wronged have you won your case because you kept your cool and proffered valid arguments?  Do you think telephone negotiations can be more effective than written ones? What have your experiences been selling your belongings or work via online consignment resources?

Photo: jeffmowatt.com

Service of Where’s the Milk? Confusion When Grocery Stores Move Things Around

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Photo: aldridgeonline.com

If you routinely visit a grocery store that’s being remodeled, you know your shopping expedition will take longer than usual while you search for the milk, favorite cookies or pasta. One of my favorite stores also keeps switching things in the meat department even though its renovations are over. There must be a good reason, other than to hope I become tempted by other items while looking for what’s on my list.

Expecting to pick up a bag of M&Ms at the checkout counter at a grocery chain? Soon some will have freezer cases placed in front instead. Heather Haddon wrote about the motivation behind major product location shuffles as stores prepare for increased orders placed online for in-store customer pickup. They hope these customers, as they wait for their order in the front of the store, will add a few major items–an ice cream cake, a few frozen dinners or bags of fries and veggies–rather than a pack of gum or a candy bar. She wrote about the displacement of impulse items and other anticipated changes in her Wall Street Journal article “E-Commerce Reshapes Grocery Stores.”

Photo: supermarketnews.com

Americans spend $800 billion a year on food and drink, she reported, and supermarket chains don’t want too big a chunk going to Amazon and other giants. Haddon wrote: “E-commerce represents less than 5% of U.S. grocery sales currently, but food and beverage sales are growing far faster online than in traditional supermarkets. Forrester Analytics predicts that by 2022, the U.S. online grocery market will total $36.5 billion, up from an estimated $26.7 billion this year.”

According to Haddon, Walmart and Kroger are “spending tens of millions of dollars to acquire digital-ordering technologies, implement home-delivery systems and build thousands of store pickup points for online orders. Kroger, the U.S.’s largest supermarket chain, has hired or assigned nearly 19,000 workers to run an estimated 1,400 pickup sites for online orders, covering roughly half of the company’s stores.”

Photo: edgylabs.com

Haddon identified risks for the chains from the enormous upfront investment to irritating traditional customers who compete for goods whisked off shelves to fulfill online orders. Currently, supermarkets don’t have warehouses as Amazon does, though they may in future.

Meanwhile, “Clerks fulfilling online orders can clog aisles and checkout lanes or pick over the best produce, customers and grocery consultants say.” Haddon concluded “Through it all, grocers are struggling to find a balance between encouraging customers to place orders online and drawing customers into their stores.”

Do you shop for your groceries online? Are you tempted? It must be a time-saver to simply show up at a store and drive away minutes later with packages of groceries. Does the concept work for cities where people don’t usually own cars? Would you miss seeing what’s new in categories such as ice cream, frozen food, bakery and yogurt? Do you ever pass an aisle, see something like mustard or strawberry jam which reminds you you’re about to run out? How will internet ordering gain such purchases without irritating customers with popup suggestions?

Photo: petco.com

Service of the Honor System

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

Photo: uvamagazine.com

These days you’ll walk out of Drug Store in Tribeca in Manhattan with a pricey health drink without paying–though the drink isn’t free. You’re expected to send a text message to the drink manufacturer, Dirty Lemon, that owns Drug Store, after which you’ll receive a link in which to post your credit card number. That’s the same way customers order cases of the lemon-flavored drink-with-supplements for shipment home.

Dirty Lemon bottles Photo: tribecacitizen

But this isn’t just any old lemon drink. Whatever your inclination, it is purported to have beauty, sleep, anti-aging, detox or other benefits depending on additives of collagen, magnesium, rose water or charcoal for example. On the website, Daily Detox, one of the drinks, costs $45 for six bottles, shipping included, and $65 on Amazon.

Erin Griffith wrote about the store in The New York Times. Dirty Lemon founder Zak Normandin doesn’t anticipate much theft from his largely young female customers, and said he’d allocate losses to his sampling budget.

Dim sum. Photo: cnn.com

And while much of the competition is closing retail outlets and increasing a digital presence, he plans to do the opposite by opening four more stores. In addition, according to Griffith, Normandin “shifted almost all of its $4 million annual digital advertising budget into its retail stores.”

[An exception is Amazon which by 2021 expects to have 3,000 stores without registers. People will pay via their smartphones.]

Photo: retailwire.com

Buying on the honor system is nothing new. Order dim sum in some Chinese restaurants and the waiter will tally the empty little plates on the table when you’re done. Checking yourself out at grocery and other stores similarly counts on customer honesty. Scofflaws could easily hide a few dishes at plate-counting time at the restaurant and pay for every other item in the do-it-yourself checkout line–but most don’t cheat or the system would have already died.

In Vienna, years ago, we were guests of local friends and eight of us sat at a big table. When lunch was over, the host told the waiter what we’d ordered and only then did he write anything down. I wonder if that’s still a custom. In a Scotland Inn if you made yourself a drink or took a soda from an unlocked cabinet in the living room you jotted down your choices. And all over the U.S., especially in rural areas, customers fill cash boxes with money owed for fruits, veggies and flowers at farm stands where nobody is around.

Do you believe that the honor system works equally well in cities as in the country? Can you think of other examples? Will it increasingly be in our purchasing future?

 

Photo: myjournalcourier.com

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