Is “web-lash” a thing?

“Web-lash” :a mashup of “backlash” and the web. WHAT? I’ll explain. It’s a concept introduced to me by Gary Ambrosino of Time Trade, in his article on WWD. Gary explains web-lash as “a backlash on online shopping and an increased focus on the store,” which, when I read it, hit a note for me. I’ve gotten into discussions with several people who opine that pretty soon, all shopping will be done digitally. There are many exhibits in modern culture that could seemingly support that: Amazon PrimeNow and their drones; Instacart, Target.com subscription services, and clothing subscription services like Le Tote. That’s where the future of retail is heading, but is that where the end is?

Retailers are currently going crazy about the huge increases (like even some 200% increases) in mobile and digital purchases during Holiday 2015. “Everyone’s buying online; let’s focus on online” seems to be the general sentiment. Why the web-lash and imminent refocus on brick-and-mortar?  To summarize Gary’s points, it’s due to the lackluster shortcomings of online shopping that leave consumers returning to physical stores. “Physical interaction with products is impossible, pages can be difficult to navigate, there is no instant gratification, and there is a distinct lack of knowledgeable assistance available,” he declares of digital shopping. Soon enough, retailers who currently have their eyes on the shiny e-commerce thing will realize that it will never replace the ironic comfort and convenience of physically going into a store and browsing for your purchases. Millennials, for one, are increasingly demanding more personalized service and “artisanal” experiences, and the current state of most shopping websites don’t allow for much more than a generic and mediocre experience for all.

Arguably, there are some things that are better suited to thrive on e-commerce while some categories will always perform best in brick-and-mortar. For example, a simple item that can be judged by reading a few reviews and the specifications section (like a phone case, or USB cord) will continue to be predominantly transacted on the internet, but others (like cashmere scarfs and engagement rings) will continue to be sought after in traditional stores. The main gap between online and brick-and-mortar shopping (and thus the web-lash) is due to the experience. To finish off, here are some steps (some Gary’s, some mine) that retailers can take to ensure that their response to the web-lash is ready:

  1. Reduce waiting time and get closer to instant gratification by making sure employees are at the ready to checkout customers or answer questions. Gary suggests to allow customers to make their shopping appointments ahead of time so that they can have a seamless shopping experience.
  2. Train store associates to offer personalized service to customers.
  3. Educate associates on the products (“Is this lipstick cruelty-free?”) and the store’s policies so that questions like “Do you price match Amazon?” can be easily (and hopefully happily) answered without the customer having to sort through your Site Map on his/her cell phone.
  4. Celebrate the omnichannel experience of today’s shopping environment by providing free WiFi to your customers without them having to check a bunch of boxes.
  5. Lastly, invest in your in-store experience and ensure that your website is a seamless part of your service.

 

Localization: what others can learn from HEB

Ask any big box retailer or grocer and they will tell you that localization is on their 2015 strategy handout. Even Target has been pushing this buzzword around and rallying up its employees to get on the “local” train. But why is localization so important? What is the benefit that this brings? Besides increased sales, localization contributes directly to brand equity and customer loyalty, and if you’re really good, acceptance into your customers’ community.

When I think of a company that does localization right, I instantly think of HEB. Being homegrown in Texas, HEB has been a part of my life, but to everyone that lives in ain’t-Texas, this comparison goes over their head. So let me tell you specific examples of how HEB’s localization makes its customers feel it’s a part of their neighborhood.

The HEB by my parents’ house is in a neighborhood with a higher density of Muslims. How do you think a grocer can relate to its Muslim shopper? Halal meat options? Ok, that’s a good start. But HEB didn’t stop there: for Ramadan, HEB put out huge crates of figs (the traditional fast-breaker eaten after sunset) and bottles of Rooh Afza (rose syrup that is a really popular summer drink ingredient in the Middle East and Pakistan). Those are the kinds of things that Indo-Paki Muslims don’t expect westerners to “get” and when they do, much appreciation and loyalty is earned in return. (Also, this is a good example of how not every Texan is Islamophobic, but let’s keep that conversation aside).

In Austin, there’s an HEB by the University of Texas at Austin campus and that location embraces the fact that most of its customers are college kids. Result? It’s open 24 hours a day! Besides that, the snack aisle has been expanded to include more rows of Chewy bars and the Pastaroni section nods to its collegiate guest. Ramadan didn’t see any figs or rose syrup, but the beginning of the semester does introduce a small section of red Solo cups and ping pong balls (wonder what the relation between those two products is?!).

While other retailers and grocers are relying on complex loyalty cards and credit cards (ahem, Target) to gather shopper information, HEB relies instead on qualitative neighborhood studies to drive its hyper-localized approach. Ask any Texan, and they won’t stop affirming their love for their HEB!

Recipe: Easy Breezy Brussels Sprouts

I made brussels sprouts for the first time ever the other day, and you wouldn’t guess where I got the recipe inspiration from – the back of the package. I bought Archer Farms fresh Brussels Sprouts and I had half a red onion left over from another recipe. Brussels sprouts are high in vitamin C and vitamin K!

This recipe is super easy breezy!

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut each of the fresh brussels sprouts in half. Also cut into thin strips one-fourth of a large red onion. I also ended up cutting 2 Thai peppers for kick, but that is optional.

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Second, gather your cut brussels sprouts and onion strips (and peppers) into a mixing bowl. Drizzle in some olive oil, sprinkle in a little bit of salt, and shake in some black pepper. Toss this mixture around until everything is mostly coated (thinly) with the olive oil.

Spread the mixture onto a baking pan. When your oven is heated to 400 degrees, place the tray on the top rack. Set your timer to 10 minutes. When the timer dings, take out your tray and rotate the brussels sprouts so that they get evenly roasted. Put the tray back in and set the timer for another 8 minutes.

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When that 8 minutes is up, turn the oven off, but leave the tray in the oven for another minute or two. Finally, take the tray out and let your roasted brussels cool (be sure to protect your counter with a potholder!).

And, you’re done! This makes an excellent side dish or a part of a meal of fluffy quinoa and soup 🙂 Enjoy!

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Review: Que Bella Beauty Mask

Ciao, que bella! That was a quick nostalgia trip to Italian class last semester. What I’m reviewing this time is a beauty mask from a product line sold exclusively at Target (of course). The company Que Bella uses natural ingredients and inspiration to create affordable yet indulgent skincare products. The mask I am reviewing today is their Que Bella Purifying Tea Tree & Witch Hazel Mud Mask.

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I bought the mask for $1.97 for a packet at Target. I’m gonna be honest with you – I know each packet is intended to be single-use but I have been getting two full-face uses out of each one! So for about a dollar a pop, this mask has already got me on that affordability factor.

The mask claims to treat inflammations and acne while eliminating excess oil and impurities. Applying of the clay-like mask was easy: it’s very smooth and its scent is faintly herby.

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After leaving it on your skin for a couple of minutes, a slight tingling cool feeling with occur – that’s the tea tree, I believe. I read in Allure that you aren’t supposed to keep a clay mask on until it flakes and it super dry, but rather wash it off before it completely dries. I washed the mask off with warm water when I felt that it was heading towards the “dry” stage but still sticky to the touch. After patting dry, I could feel that my skin was cleaner. Unlike when I use other clay masks, I didn’t have to apply moisturizer on my face after washing it off, meaning that the mask didn’t completely get rid of my natural oils – which is a great thing!

I’d definitely recommend this product to others who have normal/oily combination skin and enjoy looking like a blue-faced freak once in a while.

I adopted a Tillandsia

Succulents are all the rage right now, especially in rubber dinosaur holders. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a picture of what I’m referring to: cacti and other low-maintenance plants that people have been “adopting” and using as decor.

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Generally, these neat little nods to nature are found in small local shops or Urban Outfitters, the crazy mogul who pretends to be a small-business hipster boutique. Knowing me, I am always seeking out what’s new, and once these succulents became too mainstream for me, I knew I couldn’t rock one in my cube anymore. Behold, I encounter a lady selling the next big thing at a booth at the Made Here market today: tillandsias!

Tillandsia is a genus referring to air plants – meaning they don’t have roots – native to the Americas. Not having roots is the main thing here; that means you can pick up your tillandsia plant and hold it in your hand or even arrange it with a group of rocks and not need soil! How does it gather nutrients? Through the air, with its nifty structures called trichomes (which also give the plant a nice silvery finish). Cutest thing? New, baby tillandsias are called “pups”! Currently, the Wikipedia page doesn’t have a section about them being used as house plants yet so I feel pretty hipster, no lie.

Here’s my new tillandsia!

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26 ways to instantly feel happier

Did she write this to me? Weekly reminder to self!

a bit coquettish

oscar wilde happiness quote

  1. Call up your best friend.
  2. Listen to your favorite songs from what feels like a lifetime ago (my feel-good playlist features all the songs I loved during my senior year of high school and freshman year of college; ah, a throwback to when I was young and naive).
  3. Curl up by a window with a cup of tea + a new book.
  4. Binge-watch a TV series (my guilty pleasure is SATC, predictably).
  5. Get a new bathrobe (the plusher the better), brew tea with lemon + ginger, start a DIY at-home facial. Light candles, steam your face, apply a mask to your hair + face, and marinate in yourself in an extravagant bath.
  6. Sleep.
  7. Clean + re-organize the room where you spend the majority of your time.
  8. Change your alarm to “Good Morning” by John Legend. Trust—it’ll make waking up easier and early mornings sweeter.
  9. Disconnect from social media…

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Package Design: Triscuit

I am an avid muncher of all things in the cookie/cracker aisle. As I’ve been trying to shift my lifestyle from “college” to “grown-up,” I find myself shifting from Oreos and Cheezits to Triscuits and Belvita. My favorite flavor of the wonderfully satisfying Triscuit crackers is the Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil one. It tastes great alone and it leaves a gritty residue on your fingertips, reminiscent of Cheetohs. I also enjoy eating them with a small dollop of cream cheese or slices of american or cheddar cheese. This past grocery trip, I noticed that my beloved Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuit crackers and all her cousins had gotten a makeover! The one on the right is the original and the one on the left is the NEW one:

New Triscuit Package Design

Let’s discuss, from the perspective of a Millennial (as brands love to call those in my age group), what the differences are in the packaging and their implications. The latest info I can find on Triscuit’s target audience is back from 2010 and 2011 when they ran their Home Farming campaign, and it was targeting the extremely health-conscious consumers who like to grow their own veggies (though I doubt the expansiveness of that market in relation to Triscuit’s widespread distribution).

The product, at its core, is made of three ingredients: wheat, oil, and salt. Lately, all the big brands are targeting Millennials because we are a growing segment and will soon outnumber all the other segments (your reign is over, Baby Boomers). If you are unfamiliar with the Millennial segment and our unique characteristics, I’d say this Forbes article gets it pretty right.

Millennials are more health-conscious than the last generation, and my friends and I are adopting “healthy snacks” much earlier than my parents’ generation did. Often in class, I see my classmates munching on apples and strawberries instead of Famous Amos cookies, and sipping on an iced green tea rather than a Coke. I think that Millennials might be a huge chunk of the new target market that Triscuit is aiming at – I don’t  know, I just have a hunch based on the little Pinterest shoutout on the back of the box. Before we get to the back though, let’s start with the front of the box.

Old box - front

Old box – front

The front of the old package design was a yellow background, with the brand name the biggest, and the flavor right under it in a brown box. The picture illustrates the flavor: we have a bowl of black peppercorns (I had to look up what they were called, I was gonna say “seeds”) and some the peppercorns have spilled over and are resting in large drops of olive oil. Next to that, there is a lone Triscuit cracker posing and showing off its back pepper flakes. Above the Triscuit brand logo, we see a darker yellow font with a wheat illustration that says “Baked with 100% Whole Grain Wheat.”

New box - front

New box – front

The front of the new package’s background has been muted to a more neutral beige, and a yellow, tilted square is layered beneath the rest of the elements of the design. The Triscuit font logo has been increased in size and the shaping of the letters has been altered (you can see it most in the i’s and the c). The most drastic difference is the photo. Now, we have a stack of the crackers topped with, as it explains in the blurb text next to it, “yogurt, fresh grapes & almonds.” A few scattered peppercorns are placed around the crackers. The flavor is in a box which mimics the shape of the yellow square which is in the background. The flavor text box has retained its original brown color, but now it is in the foreground of the design. The words “Cracked Pepper” are bigger than the words “Olive Oil,” probably to differentiate this flavor since a lot of the Triscuit flavors contain olive oil.

One striking motif that is so different on the new packaging is the focus on toppings. The old package showed the Triscuit cracker as a one-man show, but the new package highlights all the “recipes” you can make your Triscuit cracker a part of. In the front, we already see the yogurt, grapes, and almonds idea, but the sides and back of the new package can’t wait either to tell you more toppings you can decorate your crackers with:

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another topping idea!

another topping idea!

It’s interesting and pretty ironic if you consider the fact that back in 2012, Triscuit apologized for always emphasizing toppings on its crackers and so launched a campaign that showed that Triscuits taste good on their own too, without toppings. Hm.. so why the push back to focusing on toppings? Maybe consumers got bored of eating their Triscuits alone!

Overall, I really like the packaging update that Tricots have undergone. The beige is much more Archer Farms-esque and by that I mean, more aligned with the image that Triscuits really should be promoting to Millennials – a healthy, wholesome snack made from natural ingredients and “foodie-friendly” flavors. The focus on the flavor is important to Millenials who aren’t just happy with plain Mac n’ Cheese anymore (seriously, there’s chain restaurants popping up that serve Mac n Cheese or Ramen dressed up with different toppings and Millennials are diggin’ it!). The photo update is definitely more appealing than the old box photo. The photographer captured the crackers with interesting camera angles and the arrangement of the toppings looks delicious and something akin to an appetizer at a fancy bistro. Good job, Triscuit!

Essie: not the same everywhere

I love Essie nail polish. I jumped on the Essie bandwagon a bit late – I got my first Essie polish this past November, but their colors and the longevity of the color instantly made me a fan. Today, in my Marketing capstone class, we were discussing distribution strategies and someone mentioned Essie’s strategy:

Essie distributes different polishes to its different categories of retailers. Get this- salons and beauty supply stores like ULTA and Sally Beauty Supply get the “real” salon-quality Essie, while the likes of CVS and Walmart get “inferior” Essie products. Both products are sold as the same line with the same color names, but the quality (and price points) are different. The story goes as so: Target asked to sell Essie nail polish but they wanted to be able to sell it at a lower price point. Essie had been acquired by L’Oreal then, and L’Oreal saw a huge potential market share gain for its new nail polish brand if it sold at mass retailers. To acquiesce with Target’s choice, Essie updated its formula so that it would cost less. In addition, Essie updated the packaging to a more economical one.

What’s the difference between the two, and how can you tell them apart?

The salon-quality Essie is the one that salons use, and it boasts a longer-lasting formula and better quality product. Both categories of Essie are still, of course, “Essie.” The “lesser” Essie comes in a cheaper glass bottle with a clear sticker which spells “Essie” on it in white. The more “expensive” Essie comes in a higher-quality glass bottle and the brand’s name is embossed into the thicker glass bottle.

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How to Dress Like an Italian Girl

  • Italian women are envied worldwide for their style and iconic fashion. There’s just something sexy about Italian girls and their classy way of dressing.  What can the non-Italian learn about what Italian women look for when arranging outfits and about their style?

    Italian girls value clean lines, solid colors, and simple patterns. Edgy is cool, but worn naturally.

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    Generally, an edgy outfit is paired with simple makeup and simple boots and red lipstick. Clothes are generally more refined and sophisticated than the average American girl’s style. Even ripped jeans are worn with kitten heels and a sleek hair, never a baggy t-shirt.

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    An Italian girl is always mindful of her accessories as well, so a purse or sunglasses are never an afterthought but rather a deliberate decision.

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    Leather? Classy, not gothic.

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    These pictures from Milan Fashion Week illustrate the Italian ladies’ heavy emphasis on looking good and dressing well.

    This post was originally published on keepaustinitalian.tumblr.com as part of Aditi’s Italian Culture blog.

I’m going completely (hazel)NUTS!

About a month ago, something devastating happened. I went into a Starbucks and asked for my regular drink.. and.. and they said… and they said they didn’t have it. It was discontinued, they said. “Why?!” I demanded. They didn’t know, they said, the Starbucks god must have not been happy with its sales or something, they said. (Before I go on, I’d like to admit that I know I sound like I have a pH level of 14, okay).

And that marked the death of our beloved hazelnut macchiato. I went into different Starbucks, asking if anyone had that coveted hazelnut syrup still in stock. I was out of luck. I asked baristas if they could replicate a hazelnut macchiato using other ingredients. “Yes I can do a caramel macchiato with hazelnut syrup.” “YES!” ….No; this was not the same thing. At all. I tried so many barista’s recreations of what they thought would resemble the extinct hazelnut macchiato, but this hazelnut macchiato connoisseur could sniff out inconsistency and flaws within one sip. I tweeted Starbucks to no replies. I pretty much gave up my Starbucks hazelnut macchiato search…

Until today. I was walking by a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and mused to myself, hm, I should try that place. Starbucks never replied to my desperate needs – they don’t care about me. I will turn to the other side and see what they have to offer. I walked up to the counter inside Coffee Bean and explained my dissonant state (I hadn’t had a hazelnut macchiato in about 3 weeks!). Immediately, the friendly hipster at the counter suggested I try their hazelnut latte. “Ok.. I guess” I said as a I prepared my taste buds for the worst.

But then my drink came out. It looked cheerful and happy to see me (I was getting delusional by this point). I asked the coffee-guy (are they still called baristas at non-Starbucks?) for a stopper so that I could save the heat of the drink until I got inside. After a short walk back to campus, I sat down with my hazelnut LATTE in one hand (not a macchiato) and stared at the sleeve of the cup for about a minute, silently apologizing to Starbucks in my head. Then I took a sip. IT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR. (Cue Rihanna lyrics: “where have you been all my l-i-i-i-fe?”).

Thank you Coffee Bean, thank you.