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  • Posted on: 07/27/2021

    Will the Delta variant keep shoppers and unvaccinated workers at home?

    Working in customer service as I do, and have done all throughout this situation, I feel there is a very easy-but-hard solution to this, albeit interim, stage: allowing the vaccinated to enter your place of business, and unmasked if they so choose, while not allowing the unvaccinated in—either at all or just maybe with masks on. See how easy and clear that is? Oh yes, the (very) hard part: how to enforce such a likely incendiary position. Would a business expect its workers, the low-paid sales staff, to police the incoming? Heck no. That could never work. For most of the unvaccinated are that way deliberately. So, like smokers who decide to smoke where it's forbidden, they will clearly feel they still have their rights. Not only to NOT take the shot(s) but to enter any public space. And woe be the mere peon who tries to stand in their way. Would then the entrances be manned by actual police types? Good luck with companies ponying up enough money to secure something better than just the random security guards. From services which are only marginally able to enforce laws. (Oh, and just how accurate will checking vaccination IDs go—when there are no universal standards in place for them?) No, this "Delta" dilemma is going to get much worse before it gets better; and I don't mean as much in the numbers of physical cases as I do about a rise in physical altercations. Be ready for it, at those front lines, fellow workers.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Macy’s should have stayed local

    There is simply no easy way for Macy's to walk this back, regain its own uniqueness, or the singularity of the localized department stores it (Federated) absorbed. Except for Herald Square, and to a degree, State Street, all Macy's are, more or less, the same shopping experience: of a bit more personality (and softer lighting?)—but not much more than, say, a Target. Meanwhile even if you say and do (try) the more localized route, it will take years for that to be felt by the local buying public. Not without excessive amounts of (add lots of money here) stringent and consistent PR outreach. But even that cant really cut it. Not with the look of all Macy's (logo included) as exquisitely and awfully generic. Remember all, perception is reality. True or not. Until found otherwise. So, will it take something as grotesquely unoriginal and yet still costly as presenting each (area specific) store as a kind of hyphenate hybrid? (Wasn't Jordan Marsh that way?) Does just calling it Macy's-Atlanta or Macy's-Columbus, et al, work? Even with fancy-and-special fonts for each? Hardly! Nope, the only way for Macy's to do this—is by selling off entire locations. Thus, resetting their own business as what they decide will remain of their own chain. And let these other stores restart anew. But no business willingly deflates. So, let's not count on this happening. (Unless a continual hemorrhaging of sales takes the decision out of corporate hands.)
  • Posted on: 07/21/2021

    Have indie bookstores found answers to counter Amazon?

    These "rainy day," "cuddle up" analogies? Sorry, but as sweet as some of these retail spaces may be: rain is what keeps customers away—and then online to shop while the bad weather plays out. No, the ONLY things that will get registers humming at an indie bookstore (or one-off gift shop) are uniquely immersive and experiential. Yes, that means making sure yours is a place with a "personality" (yes, a lone store, likes its proprietor, can be individualistically run), caters to a very specific type of customer/neighborhood, and carries (and showcases) certain authors/artists. Which are precisely things that Amazon cannot do (except through sinisterly impersonal algorithms). These singular brick-and-mortar operations can also have something of an online presence. But it must present its self in very singular — mystery tales or LGBTQ-centric — ways, too. Thus, you may be able to find those looking for something you might have winnowed down for them to easily procure — from farther away than down the street from your front door. Your business will never be "big" in the excessive, impersonal sense. Yet you can seem large in the eyes of a small coterie. Which, hopefully, is why you got into this in the first place.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2021

    Is it time for retailers to reinstate pandemic protocols?

    As a deeply customer-interactive worker, I can speak more experientially than some others about how mask-wearing effects overall performance, perceptions and moral. And while I'd rather not tell precisely what I do, think of me as being like a makeup artist trying to apply makeup on a customer's face during the past year-plus. Thus, doing my job over this time was totally counter-intuitive to the point of being more detrimental than not. But we did what we were told. Including the consistent wearing of masks. Which helped—but clearly did not end—Covid's spread. Meanwhile, if you want to talk about letting a "genie out of a bottle," mask-wearing unleashed for many an inner phobia of all others' presence. And because there's always a chance to get something, they will never go without wearing one. But how far can some people's fears, founded or not, effect other's freedoms? (Before any of you react, know that I am politically and philosophically left-of-center.) This brings me to the point of: if we are all asked to wear masks again, when will it be okay to not wear them? Science says Covid may never be eradicated. So, at what percentage point above zero is being maskless going to be acceptable? Furthermore, "masking" obscures rather than deals with the problem head on. Whether it is now or somewhere down the line, cases will rise with unmasking. And mostly among the unvaccinated. Who now have either access, information (or disinformation), and have mostly made a decision to get, or not get, shot(s). Methinks that is part of what the CDC had in mind all along. When they made their pronouncements. Which included not just scientific reasoning, but these more subliminal yet still solid ones of: 1) accepting that the vaccines were "nearly" but not "absolutely" perfect; and 2) bringing clear evidence of a sharp increase in cases would compel waning vaccination numbers to rise, and, more bluntly, get those "on the fence" off it. Lastly, with every workplace (mine included) clearly stating that asking customers or questioning coworkers about their status is verboten, how will any unvaccinated (procrastinating person) be compelled to do their civic duty? It won't happen if we all go back being mum behind our masks. The time is here, to unveil the hard truths about all this, and so that we can deal with it now—and not later. (As I anxiously await all the "thumbs down," just know I always follow clear leadership. Alas, for us all, very little of this time has been so ordered.)
  • Posted on: 06/30/2021

    Is fast food going too slow in reopening for dine-in business?

    No (or few) others will like what I am about to write. But that does not negate its truthfulness. Aside from all the overt talk of the better economics of going forward—with just drive-thrus, mobile app ordering, less staff (vs unavailable hires), and closed service areas—lies the covert reality of how dealing with many of these businesses, aside from financial terms, became somewhat more pleasant during lockdowns. Or to put it in blunter terms: that being inside for some became far less unpleasant. For as we all know (but many don't care to openly admit) many of these operations had become havens for a part of society that the majority (of customers and workers) found very difficult to deal with. (Surely my learned colleagues have experienced some form of this desperation in some CBD fast food locale, yes?) But when lockdowns hit, and inside spaces shuttered in favor of takeaway only, that element vanished. And transactions occurred without the culture-class tumult of how it was before. Now, in the "after times," businesses wonder what can bring back the good with less of the, ahem, bad; and if they can slyly choose which locations will fully re-open vs those that may stay (partly) closed for the continued comfort of many. But at a cost to a few who, anyway, couldn't afford to buy anything. So, again, it's a topic no one wants to discuss. Yet it is so obviously "there." Still, like the most uncomfortable things in life, the issue is shunted to the back of the mind (or the back of the place of business). And with the hope the situation will just go away on its own.
  • Posted on: 06/29/2021

    Will baristas crack under Starbucks’ mobile ordering pressure?

    This business model is simply unsustainable. Starbucks is making their baristas into machines. Yes, some staff may find the pace exhilarating. But by and large the vast majority of them just want to do a good job—of servicing customers with a good cup of whatever—and not be turned into dervishes. Also, those walk-in customers, who too often bear witness to the near-calamity of it all as they wait (and wait and wait) hardly appreciate it. However they do, at least the truly conscious ones, while seeing the tumult, feel a certain amount of sympathy for those being put under such distress. 'Bucks could learn something by watching the best and busiest bartenders at work. They're often able to serve the most at-odds patrons with their even odder, ordered concoctions and do so at a maddening pace. But at least the pace is within that bartender's actual purview (and physical grasp). Taking it and making it about orders coming from everywhere at once is surely not about order (or about having "orders" properly placed). Perhaps the bigger strangeness in all this is that Starbucks isn't doing this because its competition is doing the same thing. From Peets to Philz and others, theirs is more a single cup-driven model. So who is Starbucks competing with, themselves? Or is someone at the top obsessed with numbers but totally unaware of the toll it takes on the actual worker? Find that person (or that department) and put them on the front lines, to see how fast they falter.
  • Posted on: 06/24/2021

    Do stores need to take shoppers on an ‘experiential learning’ trip to succeed?

    I agree with the others. This is a "study" in the obvious. Of course, the greater the knowledge of the staff along with showing customers details they will not have seen (or known about before coming in) will lead to greater sales and eventual brand loyalty. (To a point, and then some will just move elsewhere. Which is so "human"). Meanwhile, perhaps the more interesting study would be figuring out how many shoppers do due diligence before going in to certain stores, as between those that are the big (and, bless them, mainstream) stores vs specialty ones. My sense is that the majority of persons who walk into a Target (or Macy's) assume/expect a (brand) item will be there merely to buy—and it's mostly a matter of shopping convenience. But in shops that "specialize" in certain things, the visitor's expectations very often come with some having done a bit of homework prior to their entering them: and they expect it to be acknowledged by staff reinforcing those pre-conceived notions. And for first-timers to those places: exceeding them. Not doing so, and the store (company) risks losing them forever after. And so it is about girding those who work the front line for those places, especially, to completely embody, espouse and extend to customers that company's mission—or else.
  • Posted on: 06/24/2021

    Marc Lore says Walmart can’t connect to customers like Allbirds and Warby Parker do

    The reason(s) why brands like Warby Parker are viewed as authentic and cool is because they are a privately owned brand with an individualistic mindset. This carries through from the specificity of a single-frame look per customer (although it's based on using only a set amount of options) and configuring a customer's visit to the website in immersive, all-about-you ways; to the way each of their stores is made an attraction with their own one-of-a-kind mural. It is also seen in the ways they encourage staff to engage with their immediate community outside of pure business matters. However if (when) they go public, and the mindset is more money over less singularity, those charms (authenticity and coolness) will fall away. On the other end of the scale, a Walmart (or a Target) can sometimes succeed in making customers (whether online or in-store) feel wanted for themselves. But it's merely a general facade the company puts on for their benefit. (And I mean the operations benefit before the customers). Such is the way the game goes: small can be about being special, but big can only assimilate that.
  • Posted on: 06/23/2021

    Is ‘Buy Local’ fatigue setting in?

    Locality, locality, locality. As such, buying local means different things in different places. If one lives in an actual neighborhood with a definable hub — and quite distinctive from, say, a CBD "downtown" where all the big stores are — then, yes, it is quite important to keep as many dollars spent within those confines. That is, if one really wants to keep that center going and defineably unique. However if you live in the 'burbs and shopping is already about you driving for things, or if you transact mostly online, your motivation will automatically default to what is most convenient and cheapest. Human nature is as human nature does. Meanwhile, if you're civic-minded and area-conscious, as opposed to not being so (is that bad? maybe so), you'll hope for as many of your neighbors feeling the same. Otherwise, if not enough people feel it's needed to secure the vitality and specialness of their enclaves, they will assuredly end up little satellites for smaller versions of chain stores. (And those will end up meaningless, as their business itself is absorbed mostly online.) So, be ready for the results of your actions or inactions.
  • Posted on: 06/22/2021

    Does retail have an answer for its jobs problem?

    Oddly, perhaps disturbingly—and to some, this may be a stretch—but I feel this problem is a lot like talking "homelessness" in urban settings. Being without a home is the terrible connection. But there are myriad ways, all difficult to comprehend let alone solve, that lead one to be "here." Working in retail may not be that awful. But it's close; and can be rather soul-crushing. And then there are very different ways retailers view and disseminate their mission: for customers and staff. Sometimes—yes, more often—higher pay helps. (But that's a lot like cities throwing money at a problem, without dealing with the details.) Meanwhile, more pay will assuredly mean the business expects more "business" to compensate. Which is left to staff (and higher item prices) to help increase. This frequently leads to pitting associate against one another (via sales goals). Then there are operations that simply do not want staff as "individuals," but merely as a work force. To protect property—and facilitate transactions not much differently from self-service checkouts. Why be personality driven, when your goods can be digitally monitored and transactions can exist without paid persons to make this happen? The list goes on. Ultimately, this (including my inclusion of the homeless) is always about the haves vs the have nots; and how willing (or forced) are those "with" willing to give or allow the "withouts;" and realizing no big problem has one easy fix.
  • Posted on: 06/22/2021

    What does it take for stores to satisfy their pickiest customers?

    First, you cannot be everything to everyone. Second, a retailer that tries (or implies) that they can satisfy every shopper's desires is misleading. (There's simply no way anyone from a Target to a Macy's to a Best Buy, et al, can offer everything, period.) Third, within the context of a store's actual purview, it is good to make sure associates know about all the ins and outs of the products which are theirs to sell, wisely and, to a point, expeditiously. Four, if a customer comes in asking for, say, a certain shade of green and thoughtful staff knows they simply don't have it (and cant get it) they must simply say: sorry we don't carry that. Five, to allow certain persnickety persons to ask and expect over and over is foolish. Especially when it is clear theirs likely no satisfying them even if you finally find something for them to buy. For theirs is so much more about something psychological and not physical. As even if you eventually find the shade of green they were looking for, it will look different (wrong) to them once they take it into a different light. (Basically, stick with what you know, love, and present it as best and completely as you can. Fini.)
  • Posted on: 06/15/2021

    How will companies manage a staff of vaccinated and unvaccinated workers?

    As one who has often worked as a public-facing, customer service-oriented worker, I believe that, in the interest of assuring the public of the company's safety (for both its workers AND customers), all of this level of worker must be vaccinated. Because yes, it's a public health issue of the highest import. But there is one part of this process we are not talking about. That of still requiring even vaccinated workers to wear masks while working. There are a few reasons given why this is being required, and they make some sense. However there's a downside not being considered: the possibility of this creating a sort of third class of individual. Of the masked worker shown as being "threatened" by visitors or as a "threat" to them. And for a vaccinated worker (aside from those who may work in close contact with foodstuffs), why place them in such a troubling middle ground? And one where, assuredly, visitors see them as masked and separate. Which is remarkably unfair, when one has done the same due diligence as patrons. If (vaxxed) Jane Shopper can breathe freely, so should (vaxxed) Joe Worker.
  • Posted on: 06/02/2021

    Do consumers have a gender preference when it comes to brand names?

    I agree with all the esteemed commentators, in that this particular study seems unnecessary. However, it could be that it's a wrong study, but headed in a more right direction. What I believe is a vastly more interesting and related conversation (and possible survey) is in how so many current companies are having to deal with naming the products they make as "gender neutral," "unisex," and/or "racially sensitive." And at a time when it is still rather obvious that mainstream consumers continue to need verbal as well as visual cues to help them make (better or worse?) choices. Or at least ones they'll feel comfortable making. I say this after having worked (and working) for many makers of goods that do, indeed, have feminine, masculine, and sometimes non-gender-specific aspects which are enhanced (made more alluring) with a well-chosen name. Examples: Cleo for a cat-eye sunglass or stripe-y blouse, and "cherry blossom" pink or "Congo" green for geo-physical references. But are you allowed to do such things, without consequence? Or is it more correct (and the easy way out) to just name things inanely or innocuously—and let the buyer fend/learn for themselves? This is the quizzical conversation we should be having!
  • Posted on: 05/25/2021

    Organized theft is turning San Francisco into retail’s wild west

    I live in San Francisco, and have seen this thievery played out in broad daylight. And, unbelievably, it has been about everything from "grab and go" to actual smashing of windows in parking lots (to obtain a car's backseat contents). Perhaps what is saddest about this is not so much the thefts themselves, as what it says about our city's governing institutions and the general population. Purportedly, San Francisco likes to think of its self as welcoming and sympathetic—to all strata of humankind. Which has, in part, come to be characterized as a place that accepts some actions not as crimes so much as allowable ones. Because, well, how bad can a petty theft be if it's called petty? In a way, there's something to that argument -- if it stayed minor. However, what such allowances have shown is that "to give an inch, they will take a mile," and these seemingly insignificant acts have grown to dangerous proportions. What this really boils down to is not so much retailers working with law enforcement (though that is instrumental in making a change) as it is about the citizenry of the city to more wisely determine where that line -- of criminality and responsibility -- should be drawn. And that if something is determined to be a crime (no matter how great or small), it requires some form of meaningful punishment that will actually dissuade the perpetrator(s) from continuing their illegal ways.
  • Posted on: 05/20/2021

    Will TikTok-driven customer traffic break Starbucks’ baristas?

    What a truly sinister trend. If it were based on anything remotely positive, it would be quite forgivable for Starbucks to work with it. However, these "orders" are founded solely on the nasty notion of one group subtly/overtly trying to over-task another. Truly, it's just about "them" seeing how far they can go. Then, when bored with this, they will be off to another class-conscious conflict. Meanwhile, Starbucks, like all customer-facing/servicing business, "understandably" thinks first (and mostly) about adding transactions over whether the increased work grossly impacts workers' conditions. So, they expect their baristas to deal with it. Period. If Starbucks were truly wise, and had time on their side, they could work with this as others have noted. By: 1) limiting basic, no-added-cost configuration ingredients while adding premium ones for additional costs; 2) train some to be "master" baristas, like craft cocktail bartenders; and 3) ultimately create an entire elevated class of complicated and more costly concoctions. Which would undoubtedly limit their being ordered. (It should also be noted, that if any special orders begin to irreparably damage the frequency of the usual foundational kind, the previous will be always be limited or eliminated.) Ridiculously, by the time Starbucks (or any other enterprise caught up in such hateful hijinks) figures out how best to work this, the Tik-Tokkers will already be "tokking" elsewhere. So, the game continues.
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