Mike’s Buzz

Stuff I've Picked up Recently...

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Here are some observations from articles hither and yon that I came across over the past few weeks that have some interest (and perhaps application) for FM readers…

• First up, from Forbes magazine in an article titled "How the Apple Store Seduces You With the Tilt of Its Laptops." It seems that even in death, Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs continues to influence business far beyond the technology sector because of the incredible success his company has enjoyed with practices attributed to Jobs' influence. The most recent example is detailed in this piece, which talks about how Apple Store associates each morning set the screens on the display laptops to a specific angle (there's actually an app for that) that forces customers to readjust them to get a better view. The idea is to compel tactile interaction with the devices because the company believes that the more customers touch their products, the more they will fall in love with them and want to own them. It's such a little thing, but it is an excellent illustration of the notion that great ideas don't have to be expensive. Once you develop an effective operating philosophy, that is…

• Then there's this review of four recent foodie books from the Wall Street Journal"You Say Tomato, They Say Brandywine"—by food writer Steven Budiansky that begins with this delicious sentence: "If you want to keep abreast of America's evolving food obsession, there is no more reliable guide than the phrases that appear after that ominous word 'preferably' in the recipes printed in the New York Times." How can you not keep reading after that? The gist of the article is that political correctness has overtaken the art of dining: "Recipe readers now find themselves routinely hectored, before they've even gotten through the list of ingredients, to treat animals humanely, avoid exploiting indigenous peoples, re-imagine the local economics of food production and eschew harmful chemicals: '½ cup brown sugar, preferably fair-trade organic,' instructs one recent recipe; another goes so far as to exhort, '¾ pound skinless, boneless chicken breast or tenders, preferably from a small producer of free-range chickens.'" Hey, I just wanted dinner, not a resetting of my moral compass...

• More recently, in the Atlantic there was an article about "The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math." That hopelessness is the retailer's opportunity and onsite operators who manage retail operations should make sure they are up on all 11, though some are more pertinent than others. To pick one at random, here's No. 4, which is titled "We're in love with stories": "In his book Priceless, William Poundstone explains what happened when Williams-Sonoma added a $429 breadmaker next to their $279 model: Sales of the cheaper model doubled even though practically nobody bought the $429 machine. Lesson: If you can't sell a product, try putting something nearly identical, but twice as expensive, next to it. It'll make the first product look like a gotta-have-it bargain. One explanation for why this tactic works is that people like stories or justifications. Since it's terribly hard to know the true value of things, we need narratives to explain our decisions to ourselves. Price differences give us a story and a motive: The $279 breadmaker was, like, 40 percent cheaper than the other model—we got a great deal! Good story."

• And finally, we have something from the deep recesses of the cyberworld, from a site called mashable.com. The provocative title is "Why Supermarkets Are So 20th Century," which discusses the online grocery shopping industry. What caught my eye was the opening anecdote about a pilot program initiated in South Korea: "Last August, British grocer Tesco opened a 'Homeplus' division in Seoul, Korea, after research showed that Koreans admire efficiency and despise spending time grocery shopping. In an effort to accomodate the culture and boost revenues in Korea, Tesco Homeplus installed virtual 'aisles' at train stations that let people buy groceries via their smartphones while they waited for the train. The 'aisles' featured images of food and were designed to look like grocery store shelves. Each item had a corresponding QR code that could be scanned in the Tesco Homeplus’ smartphone app to add a product to the commuter’s shopping cart. Items would be delivered later that day, potentially arriving at home just as the commuter does. The app is now the most downloaded shopping app in South Korea, with 900,000 downloads since it launched in April 2011." Naturally, the service is being expanded to other bus stops in the country, while here in the U.S., online grocer Peapod rolled out the concept in 15 transit stations in Philadelphia. Is this an early iteration of a new way to promote advance ordering in onsite environments? Doesn't seem to me that it would be that hard to adapt the technology to pre-ordering prepared foods.

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Mike Buzalka

Mike Buzalka is executive features editor of Food Management and has served the magazine in this capacity since 1998. Before that, he was executive editor of The Foodservice..
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