I Would Like 5 Different Flavors and 8 Toppings…

Is that a lot? Too much froyo is never a bad thing–and neither is personalization. Taking your dessert to the next level with sour gummy worms and graham crackers lets people know what you like, and also keeps gummy-haters away from your ice cream. Customizing food choices, apparel, and other products has become a perk of companies that want their customers to express themselves while promoting the brand.

Personalization distributes the creative power between brands and consumers; it has progressed from choosing the contents of a gift basket to creating unique products from start to finish. Depending on the item, consumers can add original designs, photos, names, or combine some of the brand’s choices. Whether it’s a name or flavor, consumers gain power over their product when companies provide creative freedom.

Chocolate utilizes the most high-tech personalization tools–or maybe just the tastiest. Chocoholics can create their own chocolate bars by choosing from over 60 ingredients, or put their names and faces on M&Ms for special events or gag gifts. For customization as extreme as BMX biking, 3-D printing takes control; it enables customers to create a product completely from scratch, based on previous products or original designs.

Boutiques, keepsake stores, and embroidery shops became pros at personalization long before large corporations adopted the practice. Both specialty shops and websites allow groups to design company or club t-shirts, as well as promotional items. If your office plans on participating in a group run, you can order matching t-shirts, a celebratory cake, and personalized wall clocks for the winners. On a mass scale, consumers appreciate being noticed for products that they use every day, like fizzy beverages.

Brands often select the most popular names or features to put on their product, striving to create an intimate yet widespread relationship with consumers (they want everyone named Alex to feel special). Similar to visiting a gift shop and scouring the rotating display of name keychains, consumers search for their name among a collection of mass-produced personalized items. Ugh, it’s always hard to find a kid’s hipster name at gift shops. Do they not understand that Chia will be the #1 baby name in a few months? With Coke’s “Share A Coke With…” campaign, soda-lovers can choose from over 1000 popular names or customize their own label online. The open and endless options let consumers’ imaginations run free. Whether you have an obscure family name or a superhero alias, brands will make sure to include you in the world of personalization.

Though some companies worry about losing their brand image once they offer customization, other brands have incorporated it into their brand’s personality. Converse prides itself on their classic shoe, but their Design-Your-Own sneakers option gives consumers more control. One Boston store gave consumers the power to make sneakers on the spot; thanks for the customization, conversation, and a pair of wicked cool sneakers. Converse cycles through exclusive artist content, but their entire line of options requires a complex algorithm to calculate all of the unique shoe combinations. You would also need a large walk-in closet to store them in.

The only downside to personalizing products like sneakers, clothing, or food is the additional price. Between flat fees for custom items or an added charge for each feature, brands establish a trade-off between price and personalization. The majority of the time, you can’t return personalized items, except for L.L.Bean, who allows returns for mistakes (or perfectly fine monogramed items that you don’t want). They resell those items at a cheaper price, so if you need a cheap canvas bag or an idea for a new last name, L.L. Bean is the place to go.

Brands attempt to develop a close relationship with customers by asking for their creative insight. Every year, Lay’s asks customers to create an original and delicious flavor for their “Do Us A Flavor” campaign. Fellow consumers whittle down the bizarre combinations until one is chosen. Though the customized product becomes available to a mass market, the consumer impact on the product helps Lay’s stand out.

With some products, your opinion does matter and you, as the customer, are always right. Not all companies strive for consumers to serve as walking advertisements–instead they want to promote originality. Depending on your interest in blending in or standing out, you can transform even the dullest items into your favorite things. Corporate-made t-shirts with logos and kittens…bright engraved medals and monogrammed mittens…brown paper packages stamped with your name, these are examples of personalized things.

-Lexy M.


The Secret to Living Past 100 Years Old…

Become a recurring brand character. After a century, Aunt Jemima continues to make Sunday’s pancakes taste even better, and Tony the Tiger never fails to make its part of a complete breakfast grrreeeaaaatttt! At the end of the day, the Keebler Elves give people of all ages warm, fuzzy feelings  as they reach for a handful of tree-baked cookies. Suddenly, everything is right with the world.

These characters exemplify a brand’s main goal: customer engagement. Emotional connections form as customers familiarize themselves with a character and brand: brands can then portray their message and personality through a more relatable form. We trust a strong and dependable man like Mr. Clean to keep our homes tidy, and Billy Mays was better than anyone at showing us how any stain can disappear if you have enough enthusiasm…may he and all former stains rest in peace. With these characters, it’s not just the business that’s advertising to you, it’s also a person.

Unless it’s not a person–animals can promote brands, too. We may make fun of the GEICO gecko that has outlived the lifespan of an ordinary lizard, but the infamous British reptile beats the idea of saving 15% into our brains. Even if customers begin to dislike the character or the commercial, the recurring appearance maintains buzz for the brand. Sometimes, there’s no escaping a brand mascot. Brands like Chef Boyardee, Green Giant, and Cap’n Crunch have their mascot right in the brand name. It would be hard to escape the connection between Chef Boyardee’s mustache and quality pasta products if the brand changed its name.

Changing a brand’s character can impact consumers, especially when they’ve developed a strong relationship. When a fictional consumer visits Flo for insurance help, a real consumer interacts in two ways: by picturing themself in the same situation on screen and by remembering a familiar, trustworthy character. According to the advertisements, Flo will always be there for you–even when you wake up to watch reruns at 3 in the morning. It’s hard to stay asleep when all you can think about is a moderately attractive man wearing khakis. Apparently that brand character (along with our BFF, Flo) has become quite the celebrity.

Celebrity brand ambassadors boost a brand’s image, depending on their level of fame and scandal. Imagine Ryan Gosling staring at you in the bathroom window as he shaves his perfectly sculpted face. You start to drool, and hope that you end up with him someday…but you’ll settle for someone who uses the same razor as Ryan Gosling. On another commercial, beautiful stars splash water on their faces with their eyes wide open, leading you to believe that washing your face will transform you into a gorgeous celebrity. After trial and error, it’s clear that the open-eyed, water-splashing scene is impossible to recreate–there’s a reason that celebrities get paid the big bucks.

Some companies use celebrities to tie everything together: they connect the consumer to the celebrity, who interacts with the mascot, who represents the brand. On the other hand, you can also connect to a brand without putting a face to the name. Apple, Google, and Facebook have no character tie-ins, but each company has a unique personality. They connect to their consumers by being a familiar brand due to success and fame. Sugary cereals are just as famous with kids as iPhones are with Millennials, but without brand mascots would kids still want to eat them? The jury is still out, but mascots certainly have an impact on buying habits–just like attractive TV models.

Though we love to stare at alluring, soft-skinned people who have their lives together, those beautifully generic faces are surprisingly forgettable. A recurring character or celebrity promoting a product helps consumers remember and make a connection to the brand. Even though nine out of ten dentists recommend one toothpaste, you might consider another if Jake from State Farm uses it. Or, better still, Jake Gyllenhaal.

–Lexy M.


Winner, Winner, Pizza Dinner

You’re watching a movie and the pizza delivery guy rings the doorbell. Your stomach screams, “I want pizza!” When the main character opens the door and takes the box–by holding it in screen view for 3 seconds–you either think: “Let’s order a pizza from there,” or “Why is there so much advertising in movies?” Welcome to the world of product placement. Not necessarily a welcome as much as a reminder that we’re living in a world where it’s difficult to watch a movie or TV show without being bombarded with brand names. You might also wonder why the pizza delivery guy’s level of attractiveness varies so much between movies and real-life.

We are consumers, pizza lovers, and movie fanatics, not sponges for latent ads.

When you watch an animated or dystopian movie, there’s no need to worry about embedded marketing…right? Princesses and animals in faraway lands don’t drink out of branded soda cans or drive expensive cars. Those most likely aren’t sold in the kingdom. Also, how could someone fighting to save the planet take a break to tie their iconic sneakers? Oh wait…Will Smith made sure to feature his beloved Converse as he prepared to save the world from a robot attack. Movies usually find a way to feature brands that are willing to fund part of the movie, no matter what the setting or scenario it. Fortunately for those who appreciate entertainment set at least 100 years ago, brands weren’t begging for a close-up yet.

When you get into modern action, romance, or comedy films, product placement starts to take over the screen. Every other scene is like a celebrity magazine saying, “Superheroes: They’re Just Like Us. They like ice cream, drive cars, and fight dinosaurs.” Maybe not that last one. Wayne’s World captured viewers’ attention when Wayne made it clear that no brand can control him (until these 2 minutes mocking product placement). Today’s movies incorporate as many brand names as possible and then extend the relationship outside of the movie. When a character steps off of the movie screen and walks into a partnership with brands, they gain the attention of viewers and customers loyal to the products. Whether you’re engaged in the new movie or a fan of the product, both parties will profit off of your attention.

A character’s connection to the product has a large impact on the level of a viewer’s interaction. When a character uses a product or says its name out loud, viewers take note. Movies set in major metropolitan areas feature characters at restaurants or stores, including Katz’s Deli in “When Harry Met Sally,” FAO Schwarz from various films, and a plethora of NYC establishments highlighted in Seinfeld. Though viewers sometimes overlook product placement, a quick shot of a location can transform it from obscure to iconic. On the other hand, a deserted island seems to be the perfect setting for FedEx to make an impact on consumers.

Though some companies pay big bucks to get our attention, parody brands and product displacement catch viewers’ attention by steering them away from common brand names. Nickelodeon’s fruit-centric technology company poked fun at Apple by creating iPear products, whose pear-shaped products proved much more innovative than the squares and rectangles that Apple uses. Reality TV and movie producers erase logos to keep viewers’ attention on the film rather than the objects on set; this type of product displacement puts your erasable pen to shame (#upstaged). However, they might decide to promote a brand if the company gives them money.

One company seems to keep a lot of advertising money in their pockets thanks to free advertising (a.k.a. the infamously profitable Apple). Laptops, iPads, and iPhones clutter the screens of movies as producers attempt to appeal to Apple’s loyal user base. However, detectives and spies continue to swipe their hands across holographic screens that Apple has yet to create. We know who the real cool kids are.

Movies and TV bombard us with products and brand names, and it’s important to realize that advertising and entertainment are beginning to blend together. As product placement becomes more threatening than a potential zombie apocalypse, some viewers attempt to stand firm with their preferences and refuse to bow down to brands.

-Lexy M.



Suddenly A Cat Runs By in a Dog Costume…

It’s not always what it seems: customer reviews online may mislead you. Whether it’s an employee boasting about a retailer’s products in order to boost sales or a customer out for some extra benefits, online reviews aren’t as honest as we wish they were. On the other hand, reviews help us make better decisions–that’s what online friends are for.

It’s difficult to tell which reviews are authentically written by customers and which are falsified by a company’s employees or PR team. Retailers can write positive reviews for their own establishments or bash their competitors to get ahead. Traveling websites have had issues with boasting about certain accommodations, only for travelers to claim that the hype isn’t warranted. Just like with Amazon, customers and authorities are catching on to bogus review scams…

Companies might sell positive reviews to other retailers to boost a product’s overall ratings, or neglect to monitor possible promoted reviews. Another tactic includes choosing mostly positive reviews to make it seem like the company or product is all good and only a little bad. Though real customers wrote the reviews, honest comments might be left out because they focused on criticism rather than praise. On the bright side, reviews reveal practical details that consumers can’t gather solely from the retailer’s information. Learning about a product’s performance in real life can influence a purchasing decision. If a customer claims that their shirt shrunk 2 sizes after one wash, most people would steer away from buying it–unless they’re against that whole cleanliness idea.

Oftentimes, reviews give shoppers insight as to how the product actually looks, feels, and operates. Retailers use optimal lighting, the most attractive setting, and professional models to showcase their products. Imagine a photographer shouting “Look right! Chin Down! Stand on one foot and lean back as far as you can!” They know their angles. In real life and ordinary circumstances, a product might look and feel differently. That white rain jacket looked great on the model hopping over tiny puddles, but it’s not as pretty when it downpours and you realize it’s not very water or mud resistant. In this case, everyone would appreciate your review: “2 out of 5 stars: Great price and style, but not as practical in abysmal lighting and pouring rain. An umbrella or even a poncho would be better. Yes, I said poncho.” Personal feedback and learning from someone else’s experience with the product can help you imagine how it would work in your life.

Customers that had a drastically negative or positive experience are willing to give feedback without a nudge, but companies want to hear from all of their customers. Stores value customer feedback because they can assess which products are popular, which ones need to be improved, and what necessary changes need to be made to customer service. To incentivize customers to provide feedback, retailers may offer you discounts on your next purchase or enter you in a chance to win a prize. Retailers often include a link to customer surveys with the order confirmation or after the order has been completed. This gives them the opportunity to learn about the shopping and shipping experience. Customers would likely let retailers know if their order of 15 lawn flamingos arrived squished in a few small boxes. Animals deserve comfortable transport.

For clothing, reviews that emphasize fit and wearability give shoppers the most insight, but those shopping for tech products benefit from details and value comparisons. Is it good quality for the price? Does it have everything I’m looking for? You could snag a deal on a highly-rated high-definition TV or buy a classic black and white screen with 5 star reviews from 80 year olds across America. Finally, a companion for your typewriter and record player.

Customer reviews also help others plan ahead. That spontaneous trip to the Mediterranean restaurant downtown was probably a bad idea…let’s just say that every couple who made that mistake tried to warn others with their online reviews. Predicting the outcome of any restaurant is difficult unless you do proper research. When you arrive at a new place and don’t know about the service or food, the only person to ask for recommendations would be the waiter who’s biased because they work there.

A new app called Snagshout offers deals and promotions to reviewers in combination with Amazon. You link up your Amazon account, shop and view deals, and write a review after your purchase. Continuous membership and the guarantee of deals is contingent on you writing reviews after each purchase. Customers let their opinions be known in other ways, too. Some use word of mouth, social media, or YouTube videos explaining or reviewing the product. Teen girls all over YouTube let their peers know about the best makeup and fashion of the season with tutorial or haul videos. Our review of the tutorial life: try it at home. If it doesn’t end up well, no one will see (especially if your makeup turns you into a clown).

Occasionally when you write a review, your voice might not be heard. One loyal reader tried to leave a review on Amazon for a novel in the series she loved. Amazon determined her ineligible because they claimed she knew the author. Is it so wrong to love the way people write? It’s understandable that Amazon is trying to prevent someone from promoting their own product, but this was just a girl who fell in love and wanted to shout it from the keyboard.

Retailers benefit from a presence on all types of media. Whether it’s from movie partnerships or restaurant review sites, reaching the public in an open and honest sense will benefit the retailer. Websites like IMDB give comprehensive reviews of movies, which encompass the ratings of the general public and box office sales. Promoted partnerships between films and other brands only present the characters and plot in a positive light.

After reviewing the impact of reviews, some important takeaways include: contribute if you have advice for the company or your fellow consumers, consider the authenticity of the review, and read some reviews before you buy or do something! It can’t hurt, and you might find out that some people have a lot to say about one size fits all.

–Lexy M.


What’s the Impact of Falling 1,000 Feet Out of an Airplane?

It depends. Was the ground only 999 feet away? Did you have a parachute? Companies want their ads to have a large impact on you, even though they won’t push you out of a plane to get your attention. In order to get you thinking about a product (safely), ads need to be engaging. Meaning, if a jeweler really wants to sell a wedding ring, a video ad would show a man running through mud and fighting off tigers to bring one little ring to his future fiancee. Are you thinking about wedding rings now? When an ad makes you think or is visually appealing, you’ll more likely remember it or take the time to understand it.

Wherever we go, ads are all around us. Bold ads pop up in the middle of the screen making sure you notice them, timid ads sit on the sideline hoping that a word or image will catch your eye, but the worst ads just don’t go away. Examples and comparisons include: sidebar ads that travel with you as you scroll down a page (a common parasite), or ads that you need to wait 30 seconds to skip (the chatty person you try to avoid on your way home from work). When you’re using an app on your phone, an ad for a new game might come up with a tiny little ‘x’ in the corner. It’s a game in itself to hit the ‘x’ at the right spot to avoid getting redirected to the app store. No, I don’t want to download this medieval fight game while I’m in the middle of running my mobile bakery.

Despite any impressive content or persistent ads, we’ve still become experts at skipping them. Advertisers use fancy words like “Impressions” and “Click Through Rates” to measure if consumers see or interact with their ads. They’ve made trackers, timers, and even facial recognition technology to see how you react to ads. The clear goal is higher numbers and a positive reaction, but to get consumers on board with their product, they need to turn the views and clicks into actions.

Celebrity endorsements and ambassadors play a large role in ad engagement. By linking an ad with a celebrity, consumers start to register the product with that celebrity, or vice versa. It’s a win-win for both ends, because both gain popularity. These ads subsequently turn views into actions. When two brands have the same product with the similar qualities, your favorite celebrity might sway your vote. If Katy Perry uses a certain type of tissues, they must be better somehow. Plus, you’ll look just like her next time you have a cold. When David Beckham partnered with H&M for a bodywear line, all of the ladies rushed to buy underwear for their man. Whether consumers swoon over a celebrity or laugh at the promotion, the company still has them thinking and talking about the product. How could we forget about the best yogurt to make you go?

Celebrities aren’t the only thing to draw people in. Consumers themselves serve as ads. Consumer reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations between friends play a large role in purchases. If your best friend bought a $15 chocolate bar and said she just tasted heaven would you be more likely to buy it? The commercials where “real people” are trying a product engage viewers because they can put themselves in the same situation. Being able to relate to someone that’s used the product or put yourself in someone else’s shoes helps you to connect.

Whether consumers view ads or not, the actions will only come from ads that make an impact. Next time you’re watching TV or surfing the web, try to notice if you disregard ads or watch the man fighting off tigers to marry his true love.

-Lexy M


Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

With music streaming websites and apps popping up left and right, music enthusiasts are figuring out which ones they like, and which ones they might only use for a week. Most streaming services offer a 30 million track inventory and a choice between free or paid subscriptions. Free versions tend to have ads and limit the number of song skips to 6 per hour, while paid subscriptions eliminate ads and provide superior features like saving specific songs and accessing playlists whenever or wherever you want. Play That Funky Music.

Google Play Music, released just before Apple Music, makes music emotional in a whole new way. Google bought Songza and adopted their method to create playlists: choose your mood or activity, select a genre, and then receive a playlist. Most of Google’s playlists are designed by real humans, because algorithms–just like our moms during our pubescent stage–don’t always ‘get’ us.

Google wizards know their listeners, though. Whether music lovers are energetic, meditative, or too tired to press more than 3 buttons to get to a suitable playlist, Google will find the right tunes for you. Some of the Google Play Music playlists include: “Barbecuing at a 90’s Frat BBQ,” “Confident: What Would Beyonce Do?,” “Classical for Sobbing,” “In Need of a Hug,” and “Having Fun at Work: Clearing Your Inbox: Pumped up Hits.” These genres–along with the ability to pay for personalization–reign supreme among other genre-using competitors. With a user-friendly and attractive design, Google combines creativity with the same music streaming functions as competitors. You go, Google Play Music.

Spotify–the fan favorite and the big kahuna–uses a clean, attractive, and easy to navigate design to simplify the search for songs, artists, and albums. You can see what’s trending, discover new music, get recommendations, and create playlists. Spotify recently released a feature that links your running pace to the music you’re listening to. Its fitness rivals also match music to exercise speed, but Spotify’s substantial user base will prevent some fitness and music lovers from downloading another app. Similar to Rdio, Spotify offers a social component that lets listeners connect with friends by sharing and commenting on music. Though Spotify lost the Taylor Swift battle, it remains a leader because of its user base and word-of-mouth advertising. Shake It Off and Carry On, Spotify.

Tidal is a company that’s known for its famous co-owners and reason for being (cough, give artists more money, cough). Shout out to Madonna, Queen Bey, and Coldplay for being a part of the team. But wait…there’s more. Tidal also has videos of new songs, exclusive artist content, and the ability to import your own playlists. Though it’s a bit expensive and requires specialized equipment, Tidal has the most original and high quality content that artists are willing to share. That’s big news, because even T-Swift got on board without a problem and Prince is coming to the stage.

Internet radio services like Pandora and iHeartRadio let users create stations based on artists, songs, albums, or genres. Users can vote thumbs up or thumbs down for songs, which will change the frequency of that song playing. BUT, you can’t listen to specific songs whenever you want; you might hear it on your station, but other music will play while you wait. Now you can write your letter saying, (You Drive Me) Crazy. Local radio stations partner with iHeartRadio in an attempt to gain listeners or keep current listeners loyal by making content available around the globe. Rumor Has It that they bring in the most popular artist for their music festival each year.

As all of these streaming sites came out, Apple quietly developed its own project. Cue the delayed debut of Apple Music: a glorified version of every other streaming site. Users can listen to songs, radio stations, or create playlists. The new Beats 1 station has DJs from New York, LA, and London play the newest and most popular music, but it comes with ads and censorship. Apple Music also transfers all of your iTunes songs to the new service and gives Siri the power to play songs. Users can connect to artists in a similar fashion to Tidal, but it isn’t the main feature of Apple Music. A big selling point is that real people are making the playlists–other than Google Play Music, the majority of streaming services don’t do this. Snaps for originality.

Despite these unique features and long wait for Apple Music, it still has some faults. The graphics and layout stray away from one of Apple’s greatest strengths: simplicity. The app is a maze to wander through and the confusing layout prevents users from conveniently listening to their preferred songs. Wait…what was the point of music streaming again? On the contrary, Apple Music excels at music discovery. Though most streaming services offer music discovery, it’s apparently better when Apple does it–mainly because people will jump at anything with the Apple name. Apple Music is free during the first three months, but after that only the radio stations will be free to everyone. For $9.99 a month you’ll be jammin’ to Baby One More Time as you create a 15 hour flashback playlist. Oops, You Did It Again

Though the way we listen to music may change in the next ten years or even the next ten months, competition will always give you more options, better features, and a chance to defend your favorite way to listen. Your grandpa loves his record player, your aunt loves her iPod, you love your music streaming, and your granddaughter will love the ability to play music from her earrings. For now, listen to your new playlist: “Thinking About the Future: Dubstep Lullabies.”

-Lexy M


10 Points to Hufflepuff!

Wait…what? It’s true, virtually anyone can earn rewards points or sign up for a loyalty card. A plethora of stores offer free points and rewards systems, but as your wallet fills up with 7 extra pieces of rectangular plastic, it’s time to determine which are worth it.

Smart shoppers know about loyalty cards, rewards programs, and coupons. No matter the size or store, preparing for a shopping trip entails gathering any pertinent items that will get you a deal. But as technology creeps into our daily lives more than ever, many aspects of shopping are due for an upgrade. You no longer need to worry about forgetting the card at home or accidentally throwing away a coupon; it all comes down to your phone and a couple of loyalty cards.

Loyalty and rewards cards often feel like the equivalent of entering the coolest club around town–or all of them if you’re willing to pay the price (either space in your wallet or data on your phone). Having an ‘in’ with a retailer implies special treatment, so hopefully by adding a new card or entering more information you’ll skip some lines or get a freebie. Useful features like remembering past purchases are helpful for shoppers at Lowes and Sephora, because they can remember the sizes of wood you used or the last type of eyeliner you bought. Nespresso guarantees loyalty as a result of their espresso pods that only fit with their machines. Also, you can create a recurring customized order with your preferred flavors.

What’s the best way to reap these rewards? With barcodes and payment via mobile apps, shoppers can head to the mall with just their phones. Coupons appear on screens instead of paper, you can sum up the extent of your shopping loyalty in a short series of barcodes, and your wallet is still in your pocket…on your phone…in an app.

There are Plenti of other ways to minimize space in your wallet and maximize the savings. The new Plenti rewards program turns 10 different loyalty cards into one card and key tag. You can earn points at all of the retailers, then redeem the rewards of your spending. However, out of all the points you rack up, the rewards only work at four of the retailers. This poses a problem for someone that shops more at AT&T than Rite Aid and Mobil. Luckily, you can always stock up on vitamins and lottery tickets.

Credit cards reward certain spending habits, too. Some offer cash back based on where or how much you spend. Others dole out points towards traveling miles based on your spending. Next time you sign up for a credit card, consider the outcome: do you want to make it rain with $1 bills you earned from cash back or get a “free” flight from your jetsetter lifestyle? You could also join a group of do-gooders that uses points and rewards to benefit the environment and charity.

You could also join the old school gang that deems punch cards to be the most satisfying method of rewards. When you present your paper card and get that 10th punch or stamp along with a free cup of coffee, it will taste much better than any of the 9 before because it was FREE. The corner shop barista knows your name, and you feel like you’ve received a reward for your loyalty. A new app called Punchh partners with big and small businesses to make this process digital and easier for customers. As we catch up with the technology trends, let’s hope that the 10th punch happy dance doesn’t go out of style.

In the present and future, millennials will decide what’s in style and what isn’t. This influential generation proved more likely to pay for rewards programs than others, though not many put up the cash yet. Paid programs offer better perks like free shipping, bigger discounts, and better customer service. Amazon Prime offers free movie streaming, quick and inexpensive shipping, and other rewards that many members aren’t even aware of (music streaming, photo storage, early alerts for deals, and free ebooks). Surprise! Prime membership offers a lot more than free shipping and Amazon has much more to offer than drones. Though consumers are quick to sign up for and become loyal to streaming websites like Netflix, loyalty to other businesses can be much more rewarding than great movies and shows. Just kidding, #netflix for life.

Since the lifelong relationship between customers and retailers depends on benefits and the ability to adapt, retailers are either shaping up or making moves to up their game and gain your trust. Instead of signing up for an email list which you will quickly unsubscribe to, play a game. Grocery stores like Tops and Price Chopper use Monopoly and Horse Racing to engage their customers across the U.S. Not only will customers shop for their favorite products to earn tickets and game pieces, they might also buy featured products to increase their chances to win.

When retailers make their programs more exciting and rewarding, more shoppers will actively participate in the program and continue to be loyal. Rewards, shoppers, and loyalty…time to take your newfound knowledge shopping!

– Lexy M.


Mmm… Beacon

Beacons are small but powerful electronic devices that track your location by connecting to your smartphone via Bluetooth signals. The technology accesses your personal information using store or event-specific apps, location, and Facebook data. Retailers use them to feed you ads and helpful tips throughout your shopping journey, and major cities use them to check the popularity of different restaurants. Basically, beacons act as personal investigators with your best interests in mind.

Though businesses have your best interests in mind, they also have their own. Beacons enable retailers to find out where you are and what you like, then use that information to lure you into the store with promotions. To boost beacon technology, Facebook offers retailers free beacons. In exchange, retailers’ promotions will appear on a user’s Facebook newsfeed, as well as any input that a user’s friends have posted about the retailer. Just like you want that free gift with your purchase, retailers want a free method to achieve more sales.

Festivals and conferences use beacons to provide attendees with real time information on who is speaking or playing at what venue, what events are coming up, and how attendees can interact with people around them. In a business sense, connecting with fellow business people ensures contacts for future jobs or projects. In a strictly festival sense, music lovers can find out where bands are playing and where potential friends might be wandering. Just make sure your phone doesn’t die before your favorite band goes on: you’ll miss out on great Instas and won’t be able to find the nearest bathroom. Then the next band will start playing in a mystical spot on the festival grounds which might as well be in Narnia. Ah…you’ll wish you had some battery and beacons.

Speaking of raging (wait, not all festivals are smooth jazz?), beacons are all the rage in sports. The Super Bowl installed them to let football fans know how long concession lines were, what merchandise you can buy, and where you could charge your phone. Major League Baseball stadiums recently began testing beacons by providing “Welcome” messages, hospitality information and offers, and the option to upgrade seats. In the future they will fully utilize beacons, but they don’t want an advertising overload. Baseball and no annoying ads? And the crowd goes wild!

Just as wild as airport security. The TSA never fails to do a thorough search of you and your belongings. Now, beacons can conduct a thorough search of your personal information–as much as they can get their hands on. For example, beacons can gather that you and your family have an 8-hour layover. The airport may also inform you of surrounding theme parks or day trips you can take. You can decide if you’re dying to go on a roller coaster, willing take a chance at the casino, or want to relax at your gate with magazines and snacks. New alert: travel pillows on sale at the store 50 paces away. As for the essential airport information, you’ll receive alerts such as where your gate is and how long it takes to reach it. Retail and hospitality offers appear on your smartphone, too, so you’ll be fully prepared when boarding starts.

Airports aren’t the only travel hub looking to utilize beacons. The NYC subway also has a beacon system in the works, and apps like Lantern seek to accommodate blind passengers. Beacons and smartphones connect via bluetooth signals to determine the location, then provide navigational information throughout the station, as well as directions to reach a user’s final destination. London initiated testing on this method in March; these audible apps make metropolitan travel much easier for the blind.

Though helpful in most situations, beacons might develop a stalker status. Not many people track your every step or learn about your personal preference in pants–unless you tell them. Beacons help at the airport or in the subway, but as soon as retailers know about your past purchases and present interests, they can influence your future. Then again, you hold the power. Both Bluetooth and the specific apps need to be turned on for the beacons to work. If a store app isn’t running on your phone, the beacon won’t connect.

Next time you’re at a mall, airport, or festival, scope out the beacon scene. If you want to use them, turn on Bluetooth and open up the specific apps. You might get a 20% off coupon, connect with some fellow groupies, or find out the hot dog line is only 2 minutes. You can decide which one you’ll appreciate the most, or have them all.

-Lexy M.


What to Do When You Lose Your Mom in the Grocery Store…

Call for help.

Businesses are calling for help with their online shopping carts–shoppers are abandoning their carts and creating a significant disconnect between browsing and buying. Whether it’s lack of time, shipping costs, or the inability to taste test an online fruit basket, shoppers often revert to buying in person or putting the purchase on hold.

To take a step away from shopping cart abandonment, retailers can send out email reminders. This will either exercise your swift delete button skills or serve as a reminder to visit a retail store while you’re out anyway. There’s a possibility that you’ll return to the website, but studies show it’s slim to none. Because who wants spam? Oh, a 10-pack of compressed ham was in your shopping cart? This is awkward.

If canned meats suit your fancy, be our guest and anonymously buy online. Guest check-outs entice those shoppers who don’t want to release information or just want to get in and get out. If you only want one outfit and spend $50 for free shipping, the last thing you want to do is create a username and password for The Pants Place. Maybe jakefromstatefarm or khakis123? Nevermind, it’s 3 a.m. and ain’t nobody got time for that.

Retailers don’t have time to create convenient shipping, either. Aside from companies like Gap, who offers price transparency, retailers hide shipping costs until the checkout. Thus, shoppers often abandon their shopping carts once they see the total costs of purchase. Often, retailers don’t know specific shipping costs for small, large, or joint orders, so they determine the fees based on location and the amount you spend. You might pay the same amount to ship a tiny $300 necklace or 10 bags of puppy food. Luckily, companies like ShipHawk helps businesses tell you the exact shipping cost of items before you buy them, and lets you track them if you do. We all need a little help from our friends sometimes.

We need answers to some pressing questions, too. How are the three washes of denim different? Are there any upcoming promotions that would sweeten this deal? Sites with 24/7 call or chat lines provide these answers and enable communication between a sales associate and consumer. This convenience parallels the in-store experience, which may draw in more online purchases.

Or maybe you could call an aunt or uncle to help with a purchase–specifically something on your wish list. And in this situation, “help” could also mean “buy.” Aunt Peggy doesn’t make the best fashion choices, but she always remembers your birthday. Though the convenience of wish lists creates potential sales for the retailer, oftentimes the items on wish lists don’t make it into the shopping cart. Whether you leave your items on a wish list, in a shopping cart, or somewhere within your brain, retailers sit on the edge of their seats anticipating a sale. Please do not abandon the rubber ducky waiting in your shopping cart.

To prevent this process, retailers should optimize for mobile platforms. With the evolution of “buy” buttons, users can begin the buying process with one click or tap. It’s uncertain if this will create more revenue for retailers or serve as another place to park empty shopping carts.

Lastly, the statistic heard ‘round the world: abandoned shopping carts represent over $4 trillion in unrealized revenue each year. Nice to know for Bring Your Fact to Work Day. Shopping cart abandonment can be tough on retailers. Imagine reaching out for a candy bar and never being able to grab it. You see it, but it slowly melts away and nobody can enjoy it. Cue crying kid at the grocery store worrying about his mom and melting chocolate.

-Lexy M


Buzz Buzz

Buzzfeed is quickly taking over the young adult market…or maybe it already happened. With their humorous articles and infinite lists, they serve as one of the top distractors and entertainers of the internet for college students looking for a “quick” respite from studying, or office workers taking a “lunch break” at their computer. A.k.a. you get on the site and read 5 articles or hang around for 20 minutes. Whether it’s a quiz, Buzzfeed original video, news, or even a DIY project, you will most likely encounter some cats and lots of gifs.

A modern development, though, are promoted articles. Ranging from Gain Dish Soap to Taco Bell, Buzzfeed teams up with various companies to deliver engaging content that relates to products and services. It’s also non-intrusive. It looks the same as any other Buzzfeed article, but links to the product or company at the end. For example, Buzzfeed and Taco Bell created a string of articles featuring the idea of not sharing: questionable style choices that were better off unshared, or retro toys that were so fun you wouldn’t want to share them. This promoted Taco Bell’s slogan of its food being “Too Good to Share.” As a result, Taco Bell saw an incredible brand lift and increased interest in their Mexican specialties.

Recently, Buzzfeed and Purina pet food created a video called “Puppyhood.” Combining an adorable puppy with the Buzzfeed format proved both emotionally stirring for viewers and prosperous for both companies. A comforting video of snuggle buddies for when you’re in bed putting off that 10-page paper.

Keep in mind that promotions sometimes happen without the company even needing to pay for them. Buzzfeed makes videos along the lines of “(A specific demographic) Tries (a specific food/product) For The First Time.” These may be hilariously vague or specific: “People Try Awesomely Bad Haircuts For The First Time,” or “Men Try ‘90s Bath & Body Works Scents.” Bath & Body Works didn’t pay for this to happen (would they want to?), but Starbucks didn’t have to ask Buzzfeed to share what they thought of the new Frappuccino. McDonald’s didn’t ask to have their breakfast menu featured, either, but they got that advertising for free.

Purposely promoted ads aren’t always bad…sometimes they can make you laugh, smile or open a new tab to check out a new type of laundry detergent. Oh wait…was I sucked into a buying trap induced by humor? “Things That Happen When You’re Putting Off Laundry Day…” “How Not To Remove A Spaghetti Stain.” (Fictional articles coming soon)

-Lexy M.