Decisions and Revisions Which a Minute Will Reverse

Check out this interactive on The Consumer Decision Journey to get a glimpse of McKinsey’s latest findings in Sales & Marketing.  You can’t read the entire article unless you’re a premium subscriber, but the interactive gives you the gist.  All of this should be pretty intuitive for most marketers working with consumer insights, but it’s always nice to see it illustrated and backed up with data because it gives you the tools to better articulate what you’re seeing.  All that research and asking around you do before you make a purchase?  Well here’s a name for it.  OK, so it’s kinda lame and not worth the Prufrockian reference, but it is what it is!

The Consumer Decision Journey from The McKinsey Quarterly (June 09)
The Consumer Decision Journey from The McKinsey Quarterly (June 09)

Can I Get a Coffee With My Phone?

More from the Why Don’t We Have This? Chronicles!  On a recent trip to Bangkok I saw that all the big mobile phone companies operated cafes and lounges in shopping centers where users could top up their phones, charge them, surf the web and basically just hang out.  At the Siam Paragon, there was an entire floor that was devoted almost exclusively to these kinds of mobile phone lounges, some more impressive than the others.  Thai mobile phone network True Move had a huge space where people were just hanging out texting and e-mailing, similar to the Apple stores, only with comfortable seating and nobody trying to sell you anything…well, at least not overtly.

Wouldn’t it be great if for the money you throw at AT&T or Verizon each month you were able to say, run into one of their shops and use the bathroom?  And while you’re at it order an iced latte and wait for your phone to charge?  It’s one thing to complain about Asian phone technology being more advanced than what’s available here in the US, but c’mon…this is just retail!  Setting up brand spaces that invite people to just chill are not new — ING has been serving up Peet’s coffee and financial advice at their branded cafes for years, and seriously, when’s the last time you went into the Apple store to do something other than use the bathroom and check your email?  It’s too bad that for all the hundreds of mobile phone vendors you see lining the streets, there isn’t a single one that you actually want to spend any time in!  Instead of being a place you want to go, it’s a dreaded zone you have to enter only when something bad happens, like you dropped your phone in the toilet or you need a new battery.  In the US we equate these spaces with taking a number and waiting for somebody who has no idea what they are talking about try to sell you something you don’t want.  You’d think you deserve at least a coffee for that!

True Move's Lounge at Siam Paragon
True Move's Lounge at Siam Paragon
Upgrading to AIS Plus means you get to use their Serenade Lounge
AIS Serenade Club Lounge is for members only

Read It & Eat It

Interesting post by Alexandra Vallis on NYMag’s Grub Street blog about the role of menu design in how we order.  It was based on an earlier post on the retail psychology of menus from the Baltimore Sun blog.  According to the multiple snarky comments following the post, apparently this is all stuff they teach you in Restauranting 101 at culinary school.  Well excuuuuse me, but I’ve never been to culinary school.  I have, however, come across a lot of unbelievably crap menus in my time and pondered the role of Papyrus font in making me want to barf up my breakfast, so I very much appreciated this post.  So attention, aspiring restauranteurs!  Drop the dollar signs, put the expensive stuff in the middle, use nice pictures, play around with fonts, and never use the word ‘fried’.  And seriously, if you don’t have an eye for good typeface, please hire someone who does.  There’s nothing more unappetizing than bad font, as I’ve ranted about before, save for maybe dried up ketchup on a greasy plastic menu.  Oh, and speaking of retail psychology, when the hell are we going to start importing those plastic food models from Japan already???

balthazar menu
Balthazar apparently gets the menu right

Rock On, Groupon!

It always takes a while for Asian trends to hit stateside, but here’s one that doesn’t involve anime or video games.  It’s shopmobbing, and Springwise/Trendwatching first wrote about back in the spring of 2007 when they identified team-buying sites taking off in China.  The idea is, if you can get together a lot of people who want the same things you do, then why not demand a steep discount from the retailer in exchange for securing them a massive insta-sale?  Buyers are happy, sellers are happy — it’s a match made in retail heaven.

Thankfully the concept has slowly but surely made its way westward in the form of Groupon, a daily email blast that offers massive discounts for the organized masses.  Groupon was started by the same people who brought us, a fantastic community mobilization site based on that Gladwellian concept you might have heard of called, the tipping point.  When enough people join a group, it tips — meaning that there are enough people who have pledged time or money to an issue that is now worth really activating around, because nobody wants to donate money for a cause only to find out later that the project raised little else and never went anywhere.

Anyway, going back to shopmobbing, Groupon uses the same tipping point concept, only applied to shopping.  In every daily email there is a listed price for a good or service and the minimum number of people required to “tip” the sale.  So if enough people agree to pay upfront for discounted teeth whitening, everyone gets the deal.  If there aren’t enough people, no deal and nobody gets charged.  Groupon’s been up and running since late last year so it’s gotten to the point where so many people know about it that the daily deals tip almost automatically.  That sort of takes the fun out of it because you’re pretty much guaranteed a discount rather than having to wait with bated breath to see if something will tip.  But hey, it’s a great way to get some rock-bottom prices so you won’t hear this recessionista complaining!


A Second Look at Gap

Khaki Cloche by Albertus Swanepoel for Gap

I wandered into the Gap Design Editions store next to the Mega Gap on Fifth Avenue today just to see what Alexander Wang and Vena Cava have managed to do with all that khaki, and promptly broke my multi-year hiatus from buying Gap merchandise by walking out with the above cloche.  As most people even mildly into fashion probably know, the troubled retailer has been trying to “pull a Target” for the past few years by collaborating with the winners of the annual CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which identifies and awards emerging talent.  Last year’s iteration involved lots of variations on the white shirt by the likes of Philip Lim and Band of Outsiders — all great for buzz in the hallways of Parsons, but outside of the major cities, who knows?

In any case, after today’s cloche purchase, I’m forced to concede that these collaborations are, at the very least, effective ways to get former Gap-shoppers like myself to re-enter the store, if not “rediscover the brand.”  Having spent most of the ’90s foraging almost exclusively in their sales racks, it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly made me stop going into the Gap.  All that negative press around sweatshops presumably had something to do with it, but ultimately I think it was just the monolithic anonymity of the brand that I grew tired of.  It’s all fine and dandy if you’re buying underwear and socks but anything remotely designed, anything that may be interpreted as an extension of your personal style — well, this could not come from the Gap.  Even if their stuff was decently designed, functional, affordable and higher quality than anything from H&M, something about the Starbucksian scale of the enterprise (mental picture: endless rows of Gaps in endless rows of strip malls) made it impossible to feel any sense of personal discovery.  Even in the chaotic piles of cheap crap at Forever 21 you can at least pretend to be hunting for a diamond in the rough!  Not so at Gap – everything about shopping there helped reinforce the idea that you and about 50 million similarly sized women were wearing the exact same thing.

Having found a beautiful hat designed by a South African milliner named Albertus Swanepoel at Gap today, that “everyone-and-their-mother-has-this” feeling was suspended just long enough to lead to purchase.  For a brief moment, despite there being about 30 similar hats on the table and probably 500 more in the back, I felt as though I had come across something unique and interesting.  Call it self-delusion, but that is precisely the emotion that Gap needs to continue to work on eliciting if it is to make a genuine comeback.  Gap is arguably positioned to benefit from people seeking bargains during the recession.  It just needs to make sure that they’re pleasantly surprised by new things, not instantly bored and reminded of why they left the brand in the first place.

Cooking + Music = New Music Video Genre

Witness the birth of a new genre: the Cooking Music Video. Freshly uploaded today for your viewing pleasure by Frankie Celenza of The Young & Hungry food blog.  As Frankie says, he loves cooking and he loves music — so he decided to combine the two.  How long do you think it will take before there is a Food MTV network featuring slo-mo footage of eggs being whipped by scantily clad rappers?

Locavore Pioneers

Ryan Tate & Peter Hoffman of Savoy
Ryan Tate & Peter Hoffman of Savoy (Photo by Christopher Smith for the NYT)

A quick shout-out to our favorite foodie, Ryan Tate, for the awesome write-up by Frank Bruni in today’s New York Times. Ryan is the executive chef of Savoy in SoHo, which has been quietly delighting downtown diners with greenmarket goodies since 1990, years before locavorism became hip enough for the Obamas.  We regularly spot Tate at the Union Square farmer’s market snapping up local seasonal ingredients.  Originally hailing from the great state of Michigan, Tate’s laid-back demeanor and midwestern modesty manifests culinarily in the form of well-crafted dishes that are supremely satisfying without screaming for attention.  Or, to quote Bruni, the Savoy experience is “more folksy than glitzy, more bluntly nourishing than madly exhilarating.”  And given the current climate, don’t we all just want to be well-nourished these days?

In Praise of Small Spaces

I recognize that my mild agoraphobia makes me rather biased in matters of space (I have trouble sleeping in big rooms, especially if the door is open) but every time I go back to Japan I am reminded of how much better bars and restaurants are when they are not gargantuan.  It’s rather ironic that in NYC a lot of Japanese eateries are associated with godzilla-sized boxes like Buddakan, Morimoto and Ninja, the latter being an embarrassing recreation of a Disneyfied Seven Samurai village that makes me want to stab my eyes out with ninja stars.

Back in the motherland, most of the best places to go are the size of a bathroom stall in the Olive Garden.  Yes, that means it’s harder to get a seat and you’ll probably end up smashed in some uncomfortable position while sucking in secondhand smoke from the guy at the next table who is, by the way, sitting 5cm away with his shoes off.  All of this may read like a bad Yelp review, but in actual experience these things are inconsequential inconveniences–all necessary parts of creating that most difficult-to-achieve vibe: an authentic sense of intimacy.

Bistro D'Arbre
Attic Floor of Bistro D'Arbre

By intimacy, I’m not necessarily talking about a Cheers-style exclusivity where everybody knows your name and if they don’t, then you’re in the wrong place (though Japan excels in producing those kinds of places as well).  There are many super-intimate places that I’ve been to where despite it being my first time there, I felt immediately comfortable and at home.  Oftentimes the owner may not even be that welcoming (a silent nod is all you really need), but there’s something in the packed-like-sardines feel of a place, the sheer tininess of it, that makes the atmosphere profoundly appealing for the non-claustrophobic.  Perhaps as urban-dwellers we find the proximity to other people comforting, the lack of personal space somehow nostalgic?

During last month’s trip to Tokyo a friend took me to a teeny, wobbling shack of a place on a Shibuya side street where we were seated on the attic floor, just big enough for two.  We ate our baked onion and sipped our French wine in smoke-filled gratification while crouched on the floor with about 6 inches of space above our heads.  Uncomfortable?  Sort of.  Wonderful? YES!

Another time I was invited to dinner at a remarkable little wine bar called the Ahiru Store run by an adorable brother and sister team who bake their own bread behind the counter to serve with their selection of wines.  The place was just big enough to seat about 6 people at the counter, and also had a couple of barrel-tables for people to stand around in the narrow corridor.  As everything happens right behind the counter, you immediately get a feel for the duo’s relaxed sensibilities; from how they languidly yet efficiently managed to cook for a full house and casually chat with their customers without breaking a sweat.  The whole experience was like going to someone’s tiny apartment for dinner, where you get to snoop around the kitchen and covet their collection of Staub and Le Creuset.

Ahiru Store 1ahiru breadAhiru Store 2

There are countless other places that I can spend all day writing about but basically my point is that most of the time, in matters of drinking/dining spaces, smaller is just better!  And all of this kind of tangentially reminds me of Junichiro Tanizaki’s classic, In Praise of Shadows. A must-read for anybody interested in architecture and aesthetics.  Wow, that was a random jump!

Renegade Craft Fair This Weekend


If you’re in the market for cute handmade stuff beyond what’s already available at the Brooklyn Flea, check out the Renegade Craft Fair at McCarren Park in Williamsburg this weekend.  I’ve been to the fair in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, home of where it all began several years ago, and it was pretty awesome.  Sure, a lot of the stuff is predictably twee (ceramic chickadees, needlepoint bunnies, etc.) but c’mon, who doesn’t have a soft spot for fuzzy baby animals?  Some kawaii stuff to watch out for: the knit power cord belt from KnitKnit, Perch! ceramics’ orb-shaped birdfeeder, and Gocco prints by Argyle Whale.

"Sweet Surprise" print from Argyle Whale
"Sweet Surprise" print from Argyle Whale

A Dandy Old Time in Tokyo


Apologies for the long hiatus! I was in Japan (again) doing a project on the evolution of luxury followed by erm…cultural research (read: having fun) in Bangkok.  Posts on that to follow!  Anyway, where to begin?  This time around I met the creators of the Tokyo Dandy blog, Dan and Joe, who were not only super cool (to be expected), but super nice and down to earth (unexpected).  Dan is English and Joe is Japanese — and together they run one of the most buzzed about bilingual fashion/nightlife blogs in Japan.  I was luckily in town for the site’s first anniversary party at the Trump Room in Shibuya, a crazy space decked out in mirrors and red velvet that is hidden inside a random old office building.  The place was so glam-packed that I was feeling incredibly out of place in my super-casual A.P.C. dress until bizarrely enough, a slim-suited frenchman came up and thanked me for wearing the brand.  Turns out he was head of promotions for A.P.C. in Japan.  Only in Tokyo!

So the party was insanely fun and later in the week I met up with Dan to pick his brain about what he saw happening in the Tokyo luxury scene as it pertains to the super-fashionable (but not necessarily super-wealthy) kids he’s friends with and throws events for.  Perhaps the word luxury is a bit confusing here, but it seems to me that in a country where pretty much everyone owns something from LV, lifestyle aspirations for the younger generation have shifted away from brand-affliliated status to something more knowledge and community-based. The inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West that I used to see growing up has totally faded and has been replaced by cultural confidence and a greater desire to play a more integral role in the rest of the world.  As Dan put it, “The (Japanese) kids today know that they’re considered cool. They see pictures of themselves in foreign magazines.”  This generation doesn’t ooh and aah over some impenetrable ‘scene’ populated only by tall Western models — they not only feel included, they feel like they’re creating it themselves.

Furthermore, unlike their parents who worked non-stop in pursuit of the middle-class ideal of being just like everybody else, the people who populate Tokyo Dandy’s world would much rather work a crappy job at a convenience store if it meant they could maintain the freedom to pursue their interests. Dan knew of a number of people who successfully started shops and brands out of the money they scraped together from years of working odd jobs.  It seems that in today’s Japan, the ability to take risks and have the balls to choose freedom over security is turning out to be the ultimate luxury.  It’s also worth noting that the shift from being intimidated by gaijin (foreigners) to being friends with them regardless of what level your english is has done wonders for this growing class of New Cosmopolitans.  A good TOEFL score may get you a higher paying job, but having a network of friends from around the world is way cooler and will probably end up benefiting you more in the end!

Dan & Joe of Tokyo Dandy
Dan & Joe of Tokyo Dandy at Trump Room