Sunday, October 27, 2019

Recent reading, the You want it, You got it edition.


You want to drink ten gulps of water from a bottle you then throw away, this is what you get. (Hat tip Joe Cap for the astounding graphic story)

You want a $4.99 chicken at Costco, this is the meat industry you get. (More of my posts on animal husbandry.)

You want cheap shrimp, this is the aquaculture you get.

You want to replace walkable NYC stores with Amazon, this is the traffic you get. (More of my posts on online shopping.)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

How Halifax's library deals with rule breakers.

Everyone has a vacation quirk. My family's is to visit libraries wherever we go. Last week we visited Halifax's central library and uncovered this brilliant scheme they have to make peace with rule breakers.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Recent reading

Put a tariff on imported aluminum and Wisconsin dairy farms go belly up. A tale of how tariffs do tricky things. 

More tales of inside an warehouse, where the people begin to imitate the robots.

I don't know why this makes me happy, but it does. And it makes me wonder what we could do with an idea like this at ZMO. (The author often has a perspective I learn from and admire. Worth reading.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What is going on in grocery retail?

Farmhouse Market in particular caught my eye. It's a shop in Minnesota that lets customers use a key code to enter and shop 24/7. You can buy groceries alone. There is no on there to help, no on there to watch you, no one there to check you out. For me it flips the downside of zero staff—the fact that no one can help you—into an upside—you can shop anytime you'd like. Many large grocery stores let you shop 24/7 too, but having the option to shop in a smaller shop close to home with better food and less carting around through endless sounds compelling. It also upends the Amazon Go grocery test where they hung a zillion dollars worth of cameras watching every move in the effort to let you shop without cashiers. That model is crazy expensive and freaks many people out that they are turning the act of buying cereal into Orwell's 1984. Instead, this couple installed a fifty dollar lock. And Big Brother isn't watching.

One emotion that staff-free retail invokes is trust. Do we believe customers will steal if left unattended? I lived in post-communist Slovakia for a year just after the Berlin Wall fell. The way retail worked there was utterly devoid of trust. In many shops you had to wait in a queue and ask for someone to get your item for you. To buy some noodles I would wait, then point at a box of pasta behind a counter and ask for someone to get it for me. Part of the justification for this nonsense was communism's mission to maximize employment. Jobs for everyone, jobs doing everything. A job getting you a box of pasta. A job handing you a piece of toilet paper at the bathroom (I'm not making that up). But another reason was trust. Since everything was owned by the state, people probably felt about as bad stealing as people do cheating on their taxes in America. A little wouldn't hurt, right?

I haven't thought about what that experience meant to me for years. Then I read this article on Chinese ecommerce. It is fascinating. (I'm sorry it's behind the New Yorker's firewall, if you'd like a copy I can send you a PDF.) It had loads of interesting news. For example, if you're like me and thought Amazon's drone special on 60 minutes was a PR stunt intended to deflect holiday attention from the working conditions described in an undercover Mother Jones article, you may be surprised to learn that they were just copying the Chinese who already use delivery drones. Who knew? But it was the author's own experience coming to America that hit home for me. She is a Chinese immigrant and described shopping for the first time in America after, like me in Slovakia, having to queue-and-ask shop in China. Here is her description of the marvel:

I can still remember the first visit my mom and I made to a Stop & Shop in New Haven, Connecticut, soon after we moved to the U.S., in 1992. I interpreted the unguarded aisles of open shelves as a sign that everything was free. I’d never heard the word “supermarket” before, and it seemed likely that “super” indicated a market where no money was necessary. My mother was awed that store employees, instead of trailing our every move as they did in China, seemed indifferent to our presence. How had shoplifting not bankrupted the establishment? What sort of society would allow such a risk? 

I had always thought of the Slovak model as weird. Here was someone describing how she felt the model I grew up with was weird. I took our get-it-yourself shopping for granted. But a hundred or so years ago, we shopped in America like they did in Slovakia, like they did in China. We lined up in a queue and asked. It made me realize that, of course, duh, retail changes. In high school I had a job at a video rental store. (It was there I watched Better off Dead about a hundred times.) That job no longer exists—for anyone. People don't rent videos from stores. Blockbuster used to employ almost 60,000 Americans. Where did they go? What do they do now?

Of course retail is going to change. Here is a mind boggling list of recent grocery innovations alone. How else will it change? Will it go backwards, like it's done recently adding delivery, something our grandparents took for granted? What will it add? What will it eliminate? Will we eliminate  the next queue — lining up to have people take our money? It seems the answer is inevitably Yes. There are many places, like CVS, where we line up and a machine takes our money. Or there are shops like Apple —or Zingerman's Mail Order, during our warehouse sale — where almost anyone walking around can take your money. There's no need for a single queue. Amazon wants their invisible app to take your money at Amazon Go. Surely that's just a stage, too.

But all that payment stuff, in context, seems like small potatoes now that I think about it. That's just the last part of retail. The money. There is so much more. One of the cornerstones of Toyota's lean operation tools, kanbans, came from how American supermarkets replenished shelves. That idea, born in retail, transformed manufacturing around the world. What else will come from retail? What else will come to retail?  How will we react to it? 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Recent reading

California is considering putting cancer warnings on coffee. The reason is that it contains a compound called acrylamide that causes cancer in rats in large doses. The problem is acrylamide is also present in half the foods we eat. An article that makes a good case for the public health risks of over-warning about a problem.

Do you think that online site changed its prices just for you? Maybe it did. How dynamic pricing works.