Service of the Difference Between Writing Books for Children and Adults: Author Meadow Rue Merrill Tells All

November 8th, 2018

Categories: Books, Children's Books, Writers, Writing

Meadow Rue Merrill signing the contract with RoseKidz for the Lantern Hill Farm series

Author Meadow Rue Merrill, a 2018 Christopher Award winner for Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, an inspirational memoir, sent me a copy of her new book, The Christmas Cradle, for children 4 to 7. [I promoted the 2018 Christopher Award winning books for adults and young people which is how I met her.]

I took advantage of her generous spirit to ask her questions because of her expertise in so many writing genres.

Speaking of generosity, the mother of six donates 10 percent of her royalties from the Lantern Hill Farm series, [The Christmas Cradle is one], to Compassion International. All of the royalties from Redeeming Ruth support orphans and children with disabilities in Uganda. More about Merrill at the end of–and throughout–the Q & A.

Do you think of different ideas for children’s vs. adult books?

Ironically, I began experimenting with ideas for children’s books long before I sat down to write a book for adults. Writing for children seemed more accessible—not because it is easier but because I strongly connect with my childhood. However, while taking workshops and attending conferences to develop my skills as a writer, my family adopted Ruth, an abandoned baby from Uganda who had multiple disabilities. So many people began asking about Ruth, I started writing her story, which turned into my memoir, Redeeming Ruth. A few months after it was published, I received a contract for a five-part children’s picture book series, Lantern Hill Farm. So you never know where you’re writing journey will take you.

Is your inspiration from a different place?

I’m inspired by events and images and words that touch me deeply—whether something that makes me laugh or cry or makes me question why the world is the way it is and how to make it better. I began writing Ruth’s book as a happily-ever-after adoption story, but when Ruth unexpectedly died from health complications shortly before her eighth birthday, it became both a spiritual lament and a treatise on the power of faith and love.

Many ideas for books come from my life and family, like The Backward Easter Egg Hunt, the first book I wrote for the Lantern Hill Farm series. A friend had asked me to organize an Easter egg hunt for a party. She had a basket full of plastic eggs, but I’d neglected to buy the candy. On the way to the party with my kids, I scratched down some ideas for a scavenger hunt based on the Easter story and gave the kids empty eggs to fill. They liked it so much, I turned it into a book, and my agent suggested a series. Walah! Lantern Hill Farm was born. Each story is designed around an activity to help children share God’s love with their family and friends around holidays.

How complex can you make subject matter for kids?

For the youngest readers, a picture book typically needs to focus on a single issue or problem. But that issue or problem can come from a complex experience. The challenge is writing about that experience in a way that is truthful and compelling but with a very limited number of words. My Lantern Hill Farm books are available in a longer version for older readers and as board books for the youngest readers. Reducing the text of each story from 800 words to about 150 was a real challenge, but I was surprised how many words I could eliminate and still have a complete story. I tend to write a much longer first draft to find my way into each story. Then I reduce, reduce and reduce to make that story stronger.

Are there techniques to simplify a basic story?

Once you know where your story is going, take out everything that isn’t necessary to move the story forward. That goes for writing for children or adults. Since I don’t always know where my story is going, it takes me a lot of extra writing to get there. The more I discover of the story, the more I know what to get rid of.

Because a book for young children is usually much shorter than one for adults, is it easier—and faster—to write? 

Photo: amazon.com

Faster, yes. But only because a picture book contains fewer words to place in order. I suppose that also makes it easier, but I wouldn’t call it easy. Publishing my first picture book came after two decades of reading picture books to my own children. Thankfully I have a houseful! During that time, I was also working on my memoir and a middle-grade novel. For me, writing is a slow journey of discovery. The greater the number of words, the longer that journey takes. While my picture books take less time to write, I’ve been thinking about them ever since having children.

How did you choose your illustrator—or does the publisher select the illustrator?

My publisher, RoseKidz, selected the illustrator for the Lantern Hill Farm series. When the first book in the series, The Christmas Cradle, came out this fall, the characters were different from how I had pictured them, but I love how the artist, Drew Krevi, who has worked for Disney and Marvel Comics, captured the fun and excitement of the story.

Do you think today’s children’s book authors have different challenges than those writing before the Internet, smartphones, electronic games and gizmos existed?

I’m not sure if the authors have greater challenges or if the children do. Maybe it is a little of both. But certainly, technology has a way of disrupting attention spans of writers and readers alike. In my own home, I limit how much tech my kids (and I) have access to. For instance, we don’t have Wi-Fi. We run our Internet through a cord in the wall, so it is only available in a single spot. That opens up the rest of the house for reading—and we keep plenty of books.

What were your favorite children’s picture books when you were a child?

Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, by Bill Peet, about a misunderstood sea monster, any and everything by Beatrix Potter and a children’s picture Bible that I carried around my childhood farm while my mother took care of her sheep and chickens. Regrettably, I had few picture books as a child and was rarely able to go to the library because my single mom was in college and had a farm to run. But the books I did have, I clung to like keys to a magical kingdom. They opened my mind to a world where things weren’t always what they seemed, where animals talked and life was ordered by something beyond what I could see. Perhaps because books were somewhat rare, I valued those I did have all the more.

Do you have other questions to ask this prolific writer? What were your favorite books when you were young?

Photo taken at The Christmas Cradle launch party in the 200-year-old barn of the real-life Jenny, whose generosity and love for others inspired the character in the book. Merrill reads to Ezra, her youngest child.

former journalist, Merrill was a correspondent for The Boston Globe, wrote parenting essays for The New York Times, was a contributing editor to Down East magazine and co-wrote a history for Harvard University–all while raising six children. She currently writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine, where she lives with her family, one pig, an all-kinds-of-cute rescue puppy and a flock of mischievous chickens.

Service of the Custom of Traveling with the Goods

November 5th, 2018

Categories: Custom Duties, Customs, E-Commerce, Internet, Travel, Trust

Photo: travelpulse.com

I was 15 the first time I traveled alone internationally and my parents warned me to never accept a package or letter from a stranger who’d ask me to pop the missive in the mail when I got to my destination. Fast forward and airline agents for years now ask whether you packed your suitcase and if anyone has given you anything to take with you.

Photo: dissolve.com

This custom has changed dramatically with the advent of Grabr, an online company that introduces travelers to shoppers in foreign countries who count on them to carry purchases. Customs charges are the responsibility of the traveler who is supposed to ask enough of the shopper to cover them. They negotiate the amount before the trip.

Wrote Andrea Fuller in The Wall Street Journal, “Grabr works like this: A shopper posts on Grabr’s platform that they’d like to buy an item, such as a new smartphone. A traveler who plans on visiting the shopper’s country then agrees to transport the phone for a delivery fee negotiated with the shopper. The traveler then buys the phone, packs it, and gives it to the shopper, who pays them back via Grabr’s system. The company earns a commission on each transaction.”

Bangkok Airport. Photo: youtube.com

Some travelers pay for their trips. Grabr pays for others “in lieu of per-item rewards.” They “transport suitcases full of goods assembled by Grabr staff.” [The company says it is phasing out this part of the business.]

Duty free limits range from $300 in Argentina to $500, in Brazil, for example. “Travelers to those countries should owe customs 50% of the portion of the value of items over the duty-free limit,” wrote Fuller.

Kevin Hartz, whose company invested $250,000 in Grabr–it attracted $14 million in all–who had also invested in Airbnb which, in its infancy, faced doubts about the legality of home sharing, said about the concept: “This is just a matter of sentiment change.”

Grabr’s co-founders Artem Fedyaev and Darla Rebenok say the company’s terms of service require users to comply with customs.

In my experience, customs officers are smart. They know that a Gucci handbag costs many multiples of $450, should a traveler try to get away with the smaller amount on a customs document, and that people don’t travel with three smartphones and four laptops for personal use. If they don’t already know about Grabr, they soon will so there won’t be any savings at the customs counter for travelers-with-the-goods. I wouldn’t be surprised if customs duties in certain countries increase.

If you’re planning a trip to a country where electronics and other items are pricey, would you be interested to give Grabr a whirl? Do you believe a stranger will pay for the items you give them? Can you predict the success of the business model? Has customs ever stopped you—and have you had to pay up–in this or another country?

Photo: aisino.com

Service of Dodgy Supplement Manufacturers: Know What You’re Swallowing

November 1st, 2018

Categories: Medicine, Over the Counter Meds, Supplements

Photo: self.com

I don’t always read labels and instructions on over the counter remedies. After dousing my poison ivy-inflamed arms and face with the tonic recommended by a pharmacist my husband asked, “Did you read the instructions?” I hadn’t and I was using it incorrectly. I just popped in my mouth an Airborne lozenge that belongs in a cup of water. With my label reading record, lucky I don’t take fancy supplements—just vitamins and calcium.

A surgeon, Sreek Cherukuri, in Sumathi Reddy’s Wall Street Journal article said “Avoid supplements marketed for sexual health, weight loss and muscle building, which are most frequently tainted with illegal ingredients.” He added “The majority of products are unproven. Even if they aren’t dangerous, they could be a waste of money.”

Photo: today.com

Reddy reported findings from JAMA Internal Medicine in “The Illegal Ingredients in Your Dietary Supplements.” Even after the FDA warned about experimental stimulants that increase blood pressure and heart rate that are not approved for use by humans in dietary stimulants, they remain in some. DMAA, oxilofrine, BMPEA and DMBA can cause heart attacks and strokes. “By 2017, researchers found DMAA in two supplements, oxilofrine in nine, BMPEA in one and DMBA, previously found in none, in four.”

Reddy wrote that no manufacturers were identified. “The researchers looked at nine weight-loss supplements, two sports supplements and one cognitive-function one and tested them for the stimulants in 2014 and 2017.”

Photo: nowloss.com

An earlier California Department of Public Health study also published by JAMA analyzed FDA warnings between 2007 and 2016 mostly in sexual enhancement, weight loss and muscle building supplements, wrote Reddy. It “found that prescription-drug ingredients were in 776 dietary supplements, many even after the FDA issued public warnings about the products. There were 157 products containing more than one unapproved ingredient.” Reddy reported that “The analysis found that the FDA recalled the products less than half the time.”

FDA Spokesperson Jeremy Kahn wrote this in an email to Reddy: “The FDA is committed to doing everything within its resources and authorities to identify and remove unsafe products from the market, and we continue to work collaboratively with all of our stakeholders to help ensure that products marketed as dietary supplements are safe, well-manufactured and accurately labeled.” According to Kahn, “Even when the FDA issues a recall or takes enforcement action against a distributor, other distributors often continue to sell the recalled product, or distributors relabel products to evade detection.”

Pieter Cohen, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance told Reddy: “Whatever the FDA is doing to try to eliminate these experimental stimulants from supplements is not working and consumers are going to continue to be exposed to this if the FDA doesn’t step up and become much more aggressive in its enforcement.”

Do you take supplements? Do you know what is in them? Were you aware that they are not vigorously regulated? Do you tell all your doctors about what you take as some might impact surgery and/or interact with prescribed drugs?

Photo: marketwatch.com

Service of Upgrades that Are and Aren’t

October 29th, 2018

Categories: Apps, Automobiles, Mobile Phones, Post Office, Rail Travel, Technology, Upgrades

Photo: pixabay

Shiny Apple

Some upgrades are amazing. Apple gave my iPhone 6 a new lease on life with a recent upgrade that allows it to act pretty much like one of its pricey new phones. I read that this was the latest marketing strategy for the company that formerly encouraged customers to upgrade frequently.

iPhone 6. Photo: gadgets.ndtv.com

Even so, hearing the word “upgrade” these days sends shivers my way and, in my experience, for good reason.

No Service Self Service

Have you tried the new USPS self service mailing machines? They don’t work. I don’t mean they are complicated—they literally don’t function and the old ones worked like a charm.

I tried to use several at the Grand Central post office on different days and at a satellite office with no employees. The former wouldn’t respond to light or heavy finger touches by me and countless others who ended up behind me on line for a clerk; the scale didn’t work in the latter which was problematic because I had a package to mail.

Exploding Devices

Last week almost 3,000 new body cam devices were pulled from use by the NYC police department. Why? One exploded.

Out of Order Train App & Info Man

Photo: play.google.com

The Metro-North app. “TrainTime” has issues. I couldn’t link from the TrainTime app to the specifics about substitute busses for trains I usually take so I stopped in at Grand Central Station’s customer service desk. The link was dead last Friday. The attendant explained that Metro-North needs to upgrade the app. He also misinformed me about the bus situation. Fortunately, another staffer set him—and me—straight. His excuse: “I just got to the desk.”

Not My Car

Photo: gm.com

General Motors emailed to tell me that my 2016 Chevrolet has a soft tire and to bring the car in for service. I knew this had to do with the 2016 we turned in for a 2018 earlier this year because that car always had tire issues. So I informed the dealership, from which we’ve bought and leased cars for 20 years, that GM needs to update its records. When we first dealt with the dealership our salesman took care of everything and there was never a hiccup. Since then it has upgraded with specialists in various areas of the business. This is the second such glitch we’ve encountered since we leased the 2018 model so the specialists aren’t clicking our info in all the right places.

Does the word “upgrade” excite you or make you anxious? Was it always thus? Have you encountered either super or dismal results from a recent upgrade?

Photo: siteuptime.com

Service of Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner?

October 25th, 2018

Categories: Etiquette, Holidays, Manners, Party

Photo: Merriam-Webster.com

I asked our hosts who are giving a Halloween party this weekend whether Frank and Mary [not their real names] were coming. They weren’t invited this year because Frank had been such a pain before last year’s celebration.

Photo: pinterest.com

In addition to decorating their house with fantastic collections of goblins, ghosts and grinning jack- o’-lanterns and treating guests to a delicious dinner, they show a frightening flick in their home’s movie theater. Frank told them that he didn’t like chilling movies and asked if they could show something else. And he didn’t say it once, he kept bringing it up. We all enjoyed the movie and company of good friends last year, and expect to again on Saturday, but without Frank and Mary!

And one of the best reasons for striking someone from your dinner list happened to friend and colleague David Reich. One of his guests sat down and put a loaded gun next to his plate. David quietly asked him to remove the gun.

I had a friend who’d ask what I was serving for a party and would remark, “I don’t care for that, can you make something else?” Irritating.

The first time I invite someone for dinner I ask if they are allergic to or despise anything. There’s no reason to serve a strawberry dessert or a mushroom soufflé if you know that one of your guests will break out in hives or faint simply by sharing a room with the offending food.

Have friends or relatives tried to impose their druthers on you, expecting you to change your tradition or menu when they are your guests? Did they win? Can you share examples?

Photo: justataste.com

Service of Running Late Before and After Mobile Phones

October 22nd, 2018

Categories: Apology, Interviews, Jobs, Kismet, Late, Mobile Phones

Photo: cbn.com

It seems increasingly hard to get to places on time.

A friend takes New Jersey Transit to work in Manhattan. Service has been atrocious and promises to get worse. One morning last week it took cars 90 minutes to cross the George Washington Bridge from N.J to Manhattan. Subway service can be iffy–trains zoom past stops unannounced or are delayed.

George Washington Bridge Photo: en.wikipedia.org

I got an email from another friend this week—I’ll call him Phil. He wrote: “We are interviewing computer color tech people to fill the job of someone who just left. So far, all candidates have been late, one by 45 minutes. Not one called to warn about their travel circumstances nor did they apologize.” Phil remembered that he’d previously fired someone when the man arrived late on his first day.

Long before mobile phones I was almost late my first day on a job at a startup because I’d been sent an address that didn’t exist. The street number would have landed a building in the middle of Madison Avenue. I can still feel that twinge of “Uh-Oh–something’s very wrong!” I found the right building by entering each one on either side of Madison. Lucky the employer got the street right. [The business lasted one year.]

Phil recalled the one time he was [very] late for an interview. He’d left earlier than usual for his commute to NYC and “wouldn’t you know Grand Central Terminal was closed because of a smoky fire. No cell phones. Trains backed up. The prospective employer understood of course.”

His story took a curious turn. He said: “I didn’t take the job. Something didn’t seem right. Two weeks later the entire group was fired. I would have been out of a job.” Kismet.

I hate being late and admit that having a phone takes the pressure off when transportation or other glitches happen so I can alert clients, colleagues and friends. Do most people use theirs for this purpose? Do you have memorable experiences of being late to an appointment before or after cell phones? Can you imagine sailing in late to an interview without a word about the time as the candidates for a job in Phil’s office did?

Photo: rebelcircus.com

Service of Sights, Some Better than Others

October 18th, 2018

Categories: Museums, Photography, Sights

Alistair Steinberg at Museum of Illusions

I’ve always enjoyed historic house tours. How good they are depends partly on the docent but the experience is rewarding regardless for the peek at how people lived in the day, the art they collected or the décor, gardens and architecture they chose.

The other morning, on WOR 710 AM, Len Berman and co-host Michael Riedel mentioned a tour of Madison Square Garden that they thought was a waste of time and money. What’s the point, they said, of visiting an empty arena and seeing a virtual Billy Joel concert for $30+ a ticket? The Expedia description notes, in part: “This exciting 75 minute guided tour celebrates over 130 years of Garden history and gives exclusive access inside this legendary venue.”

Austen and Alistair Steinberg @ Museum of Illusions

Nancie Steinberg recently posted great photos on Facebook taken at the Museum of Illusions in NYC. They made me want to visit. Be sure to bring someone with you to take best advantage of the photo ops–her sons are in photos above and at right and her husband also enjoyed the illusions.

Laura Feasey recently covered some curious museums in “Mood Upswing,” in The Wall Street Journal. Like the Museum of Illusions, they also offer countless opportunities to take fun photos and post them on social media. In fact, that was the approach of her article–they were super Instagram-able. She reported that the cost of each is around $35.

If you’re in LA, you might want to wait in line at the Broad Museum to see Yayoi Kusama’s installation that “features LED lights reflected endlessly in a mirror-lined room.”

In NYC at the Color Factory you’ll see “a dive-in pit filled with 500,000 pastel blue balls. Other top draws: the conveyor belt of pick-your-own macarons and, less delectably, a collection of fake vomit.” Feasley chose to add The Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco for its photogenic pool of sprinkles and giant gummy bear.

Color Factory. Photo: designboom.com

You have only a month to visit The Museum of Pizza at the William Vale hotel in Brooklyn, NY. with its “ ‘cheese cave,’ made of silicone, a ‘pizza beach,’ and a space for ‘pizza meditation.’” The exhibit closes November 18. Opening in LA in December is 29Rooms, a frequent pop-up sight that in the past included “a human snow globe and walk-in womb meant to simulate the in-utero experience.” It arrives in L.A. in December.

Launching museums designed to inspire selfie opportunities where visitors promote it on social media is 2018 marketing-smart. But don’t all the signature sights around the world from the Eiffel Tower to the Empire State Building serve the same purpose? Except for the inspiration what’s the difference? Have you visited some memorable sights—terrific or disappointing? Can any collection of things become a legitimate museum? Have you noticed that traditional museums increasingly offer unorthodox exhibitions that resemble those in Feasey’s aticle?

Museum of Ice Cream

Service of Admiration for a Modest & Successful Fashion Icon: Eileen Fisher

October 15th, 2018

Categories: Business Decisions, Employees, Empowerment, Fashion

Eileen Fisher. Photo: famousfashiondesigners.org

I have always admired fashion designer Eileen Fisher for her simple silhouettes and comfortable clothes and over many years have mentioned to countless other designers the genius of her marketing strategy: In her ads she was the first that I can recall to feature models of all ages, often in one photo.

I didn’t know anything about Ms. Fisher until I read David Gelles’ article in The New York Times, “It Would Be Better Not to Call Eileen Fisher a Boss.” Her business approach is as smart and unusual as her using young, middle aged and old mannequins to show off her clothes and accessories. She sports the same hair color—white—as some of the women dressed in her fashions.

Photo: inhabitat.com

There’s no CEO at her company because of “Ms. Fisher’s belief that consensus is more important than urgency and that collaboration is more effective than hierarchy,” Gelles wrote. And her 30-something year old business is successful. Owned by Ms. Fisher and her employees, annual sales are around $500 million. “And at a moment when many consumers are willing to pay a premium for quality, sustainability and durability, the company’s longstanding values are deeply relevant.”

She lived in a chaotic household as a child with nobody telling the kids what to do so having a boss in her first job at Burger King at 15 was “kind of strange for me” she told Gelles. She said she had an authority problem.

Photo: fashionoverfifty.com

“I wanted to create a place where people weren’t powering over people. Where people were kind and people were together and shared.”

In New York she started in interior design and when she went to Japan with her then Japanese partner and first saw the kimono she was “very intrigued by the way it moved…..I was fascinated by the idea that one design, one shape, could transcend time, and be made new just by different patterns and colors.” Her fashions revolve around eight basic pieces to which she adds or subtracts a few pieces every season. Her customers read The New York Times and The New Yorker, not Vogue.

She started her fashion company with $350 in the bank, going by subway, carrying the pieces she cut on the floor of her loft in garbage bags to a factory in Queens. She sold those clothes–$40,000 worth– at a boutique show.

Photo: wallawallaclothing.com

“I think of myself as leading through the idea, trying to help people understand what I’m trying to do, or what the project is about, and engaging them. I always think about leading through listening. I was a designer, so I didn’t have preconceived ideas of how this business works.”

The company has a leadership group, a board and she’s founder and chairwoman of the board, “but that’s not really what I do.” She thinks “co-creation and collaboration absolutely can work in a big company.”

The company offers generous benefits, Gelles reported, and employees own much of it. Ms. Fisher says she knows that the sense of ownership works when she hears in a meeting, “don’t spend my money on that.” Ms Fisher thinks “corporations should have to share a minimum 10 percent of their profits with the people working. It’s not socialism, it’s good for business.”

Have you worked for an employer like this? Would you have fit in? Are you surprised at how successful this business is especially in the fashion world with a reputation for rough gruff souls and primadonnas galore?

 

Eileen Fisher Photo: shopdropapp.com

 

Service of Leaving Well Enough Alone: Why Change a Good Name?

October 11th, 2018

Categories: Common Sense, Name

Photo:boldmatic.com

I’ve written about name changes before. There have been a bunch of bridges in New York: the 59th Street Bridge aka Queensboro Bridge to Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge; the Triborough Bridge to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and this summer the Tappan Zee Bridge became the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. I wonder if map makers use both old and new names and if there have been so many changes lately because maps are rarely printed these days and digital changes are easy to do.

Ed Koch Bridge. Photo: nyc.gov

I have frequently griped about NY Now because it in no way describes the trade show that was formerly the New York International Gift Fair.

Some years ago Rupert Murdoch considered changing the name of The Wall Street Journal, the paper he’d bought from the Bancrofts, and he wasn’t the first. In the 1940s some names being looked at were World’s Work, The North American Journal, Business Day or Financial America. They all left well enough alone.

This wasn’t the case at the Tribune Publishing Co. that changed its name in 2016 to Tronc. The company owns the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News and sold the LA Times this summer.

This week it’s back to Tribune Publishing Co.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Lukas I. Alpert wrote about it in The Wall Street Journal: “When the new name was announced, the company’s then-nonexecutive chairman and largest shareholder, Michael Ferro, said the phrase was a British term for the box in which tips are collected at a restaurant and are later doled out to staff.” Nice to know—but who but anglophiles here knew the word?

Alpert continued: “The Tronc name soon became the subject of jokes on late-night TV and online. Comedian John Oliver said it sounded like ‘a stack of print newspapers being thrown into a dumpster.’”

Photo: logos.wikia.com

In addition to selling the LA Times, since 2016 Ferro stepped down as chairman just before sexual misconduct charges were made public. In addition, Alpert reported that the Tribune Publishing Co. has put the remaining papers up for sale.

Should well-known companies change their names? What do you think of cutesy names for corporations? What about selecting what amounts to a foreign word for a company that does business largely in the US? What other name changes—or company names, for that matter–make little sense?

Photo: thesellerslawfirm.com

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

October 8th, 2018

Categories: E-Commerce, E-tailing, Food, Instore Pickup, Retail, Supermarket

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

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