Sidestepping the App Stores, Monitoring Employees, and Is the Retail Apocalypse Overblown?

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MARKETING

Tinder is sidestepping the “app store tax”: “The online dating site launched a new default payment process that skips Google Play and forces users to enter their credit card details straight into Tinder’s app, according to new research by Macquarie analyst Ben Schachter. Once a user has entered their payment information, the app not only remembers it, but also removes the choice to swap back to Google Play for future purchases, he wrote.”

Now that bankers are wearing Allbirds, are the shoes too popular to be cool: “In recent years, Allbirds has swept the [marketing] agency world offering comfort, minimalist design and an eco-friendly message. The popularity—and now ubiquity among a certain sector of the digital creative class, of which agencies are a part—came as some consumers responded to and championed brands that offer a purpose beyond their product. In fashion, direct-to-consumer brands like Everlane and Allbirds offered transparency into their business practices that appealed to consumers, particularly those that try to wrestle with what fast fashion can do to the planet while still being able to buy the latest trendy piece. 

“At the same time, Silicon Valley set the tone for what’s deemed business casual in recent years and agencies have all but mimicked Silicon Valley’s anti-style approach to style. Silicon Valley made wearing the same T-shirt every day a sign of genius rather than laziness. And in recent years, there’s been another cultural adoption of comfort over fashion—think athleisure—that’s become mainstream. Those movements, together, led to the overwhelming popularity of Allbirds. But as Allbirds has grown its footprint, its cool factor has waned. Silicon Valley has all but moved on. Now, maybe agencies—always a bit slow to catch on—may be doing the same.”

RETAIL

Could the retail apocalypse be overblown? “Preliminary estimates show retail industry sales rose a healthy 4.6 percent last year, and are forecast to grow almost as much this year, according to the National Retail Federation. … Yes, it’s a headline when firms like Nine West and Sears—having ignored the changing metrics of their markets and squandered their brands’ equity—go bankrupt. But the death of a brand is not an apocalypse. It’s just proof that capitalism is, in fact, the ‘gale of creative destruction’ described by economists in the 1950s. Adapt or die.

“And what about that pile of Amazon boxes that greets you on your porch every night when you get home from work? E-retail is killing physical retail, right? Wrong again. E-commerce is growing faster than physical retail right now, but analysts estimate the channel still only represents just under 15 percent of total retail sales. The impact has been varied. Amazon helped wipe out just about all of America’s bookstores, but its impact in other categories has been less dramatic.”

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PRICING

Why is airport food so expensive? “Sarah Imberman first got into the airport retail space in 2011, when she opened Sarah’s Candies, a boutique sweets shop, at Chicago O’Hare. Today, she heads S. Levy Foods, a firm that runs local restaurants and shops at four major airports around the US.

According to Imberman, the higher costs you pay for goods in an airport can be attributed to a minutiae of operating expenses most customers never think about: High rent (airports take a % of total sales); high construction costs; steep security, handling, and logistical costs; costly labor (higher average salaries than traditional retail jobs). ‘There are a lot of misconceptions about airport pricing,’ she says. ‘I’ve operated both in street retail and airports. The cost of doing business in an airport is EXTREMELY higher.’”

HUMAN RESOURCES

The Wall Street Journal demonstrates how larger companies can monitor employee activities in and out of the office: “Chet logs on to the guest Wi-Fi as he waits in line for coffee. Large Company Corp. keeps track of which wireless networks he connects to outside the office. Some employers require additional verification of their workers’ identities when they attempt to access sensitive information from free Wi-Fi networks. … Large Company Corp. is tracking how many emails Chet sends and when he sends them. Employers are increasingly using software to understand whom their workers interact with and how quickly their colleagues reply. It’s meant to uncover which employees are most influential.”

What do you think? Should companies be able to monitor employees’ activities in and outside the office? Send your comments to Matt Gillick at mattg@oxfordcenter.com

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Few Americans realize how quickly Toronto is growing: “Immigrants from countries including China, India and the Philippines have powered the bulk of the boom since the ’90s, said Larry Bourne, a University of Toronto geographer. They’re drawn by Canada’s liberal immigration regime and Toronto’s strong job market. Since then, the city’s growth accelerated with continued immigration and strong employment gains in sectors like finance, tech and medicine. A recent report by the investment firm CBRE ranked Toronto third among North America’s major technology centers. The city is also the planned site for the first ‘smart city’ project by Google sister company Sidewalk Labs.

“Between 2001 and 2011, Toronto grew at an average rate of 13,400 people per year, according to the United Nations Statistics Division. By 2018, that number had ballooned to 77,000 new residents–more than Phoenix, San Antonio and Fort Worth combined, according to Clayton’s analysis. At the area’s current growth rate, University of Toronto researchers predict, Toronto and its suburbs will double their current populations within 50 years. That would rank Toronto behind only New York City and Mexico City in North America …”

STARTUPS

Since its founding in 2016, Hubble has raised more than $70 million to disrupt the contact lens industry with a line of low-cost daily lenses sold through monthly subscriptions: “It’s like Dollar Shave Club—for eyeballs. But Hubble’s early success has been criticized by numerous optometrists and ophthalmologists, who say that its direct-to-consumer model bypasses eye care professionals, that it does not properly vet prescriptions and that it takes advantage of federal regulations to sell customers its own brand of contact lenses. The company, they say, switches people out of their prescribed lens brands and into Hubble’s lenses, sometimes to the detriment of consumers. Those lenses, they say, use a material that some consider to be outdated and can sometimes not fit properly. The company says its sales are legal. And plenty of customers seem happy with the product. But others have developed eye issues after using the lenses.”

Dust Identity is fighting counterfeiters by using diamond dust to attach tracking codes onto tech components: “According to Chris Moran, executive director of Lockheed Martin Ventures, advances in 3-D printing represent a possible future threat to manufacturers of high-tech goods. ‘You can scan a part, and kind of duplicate it,’ he says. … Dust Identity’s solution is strikingly innovative, yet straightforward. Its process embeds tiny diamond fragments in a polymer that’s sprayed on a component. As the polymer dries, those diamond fragments are frozen in place, producing a pattern of scattered light that’s irreproducible, because it’s so random and complex—and at least as unique as a fingerprint.”

Hiki wants to distinguish itself in the crowded dating app field as the destination for individuals with autism as well as have features for those just seeking friendship: “The online dating industry is expected to be worth $12 billion by the year 2020, but Hiki hopes to engage users who are interested in friendship, in addition to love. It is ‘not just specifically a dating app, but a friendship app as well,’ [founder Jamil] Karriem tells Yahoo Finance. ‘Relationships can span the gamut of you know, what it is that you’re looking for.’ In a similar style to the well-known Tinder swipe, the Hiki app allows users to swipe left or right, depending upon what it is they’re looking for—friendship or romance.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEAL OF THE DAY  

IDW Publishing, a publisher of comic books, graphic novels, art books, and comic strip collections has acquired Sunday Press Books, a specialty archive publisher. “IDW is also helping Sunday Press Books with distribution as it seeds a digital publishing program that it hopes will ‘bring SPB’s classic restored works to a new generation of readers’”

VENTURE CAPITAL  

Harlem Capital Partners claim you don’t need a connection to get a deal from them: “The New York-based firm … says it is throwing open the ideas-sourcing process, a radical departure from the norm, where most deals come from referrals and introductions. By contrast, Messrs. Tingle and Pierre-Jacques publish their email addresses on the company website. About half of the 950 companies that have pitched them did so without a previous introduction, resulting in two of the firm’s 12 deals. Their portfolio includes a menstrual-products company, a media platform for black Millennials and a cardiac rehabilitation program.”

Lexion, a developer of a natural language processing system that reads contracts and organizes them, raised $4.2 million in a Seed Round.

VertoFX a developer of currency marketplace intended to buy and sell any currencies and make international payments on the same platform, raised $2.1 million in a Seed Round.

OBITUARY

Arthur Ryan, who founded the low-cost clothing chain Primark, which started in Dublin and went international: “Mr. Ryan placed an emphasis on customer foot traffic throughout his career. While other retailers were lured to shiny malls, he calculated how to position his stores near existing bus stops and car parks without having to pay a high rent. ‘We are very, very good at picking locations,’ he said. 

“Primark stores are particularly popular in main shopping areas across Britain; in London, there are two on Oxford Street alone. Wherever there is a store, people on the streets can be seen toting Primark’s brown paper bags filled with clothing that can cost the equivalent of just a few dollars per item. For some items, the dry-cleaning costs more than the clothing itself, Breege O’Donoghue, a former company executive, told The Irish Times this year.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

Please send comments and suggestions to mattg@oxfordcenter.com and lfeldman@oxfordcenter.com.

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