Scared of boarding the Boeing 737 Max? Southwest will allow flyers to switch planes for free

May 28, 2019

Although Boeing may have completed the requisite fixes to its 737 Max by the end of June, many flyers have “reservations” about boarding those flights. Now, Southwest Airlines has announced that they won’t have to fight to switch.

Indeed, Southwest’s Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Green says they shouldn’t have to worry: “If they’re uneasy about flying on a Max aircraft, we’ll be flexible with them,” he told CNBC. “We’ll be understanding of that and allow them to fly on a different flight without paying any difference in fare.”

The Dallas, Texas-based low-cost carrier does not charge passengers a fee to change their tickets, but it does charge customers the difference in airfare. But in the case of concerns around the Max, an exception will be made.

All 371 Boeing 737 Max airliners in service worldwide have been grounded since March 13 following the crashes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 and Lion Air Flight JT610.

Southwest Airlines is the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 737 Max, with a fleet of 34 aircraft. All 34 planes, which are currently in desert storage in Victorville, California, have been pulled from the flight schedule until at least August 5. However, in a recent statement, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said that the company does not have a confirmed timeline for the 737 Max aircraft to return to service.

Kelly said, “We simply don’t have a confirmed timeline to share with regard to when the MAX will return to service. There have been dates ranging from May to July depending on who is commenting. We have our schedule adjusted through August 5th, and if the aircraft are available to fly earlier, we will use them as additional spares to further enhance the reliability of our scheduled service.

“We remain in constant contact with the FAA, Boeing, and industry regulators, as well as our Employee Unions and industry peers, to prepare for implementation of software updates and additional training that Boeing and the FAA will provide to all operators worldwide,” Kelly continued, adding, “These enhancements will further advance the safe operation of the Boeing MAX 8 aircraft and add yet another layer of Safety, and I am incredibly encouraged by the path forward. I have the utmost confidence in our People, procedures, airplanes, training, maintenance, and performance monitoring systems, enhanced by our data-focused Safety Management System.”

However, according to research conducted by Business Insider, many travelers are anxious. . A poll conducted by the news outlet a week after the Ethiopian Airlines crash showed that 53% of American adults surveyed would not want to fly on a Boeing 737 Max—even after the FAA clears the aircraft for service.

Research contact: @SouthwestAir

‘Pretty, pretty good’: Natura Cosmeticos acquires Avon Products

May 24, 2019

The news is “pretty, pretty good,” as comedian Larry David would say: Avon Products—the iconic British company that eliminated the department store beauty counter and sent its vast network of  sales representatives out to market cosmetics and beauty potions person-to-person (and door-to-door)—has been acquired by Natura Cosmeticos, a Brazilian beauty conglomerate, for about US$3.7 billion in stock.

The purchase will create the fourth-largest pure-play beauty group in the world. The combined businesses will have more than 6 million direct sellers, 3,200 stores, and operations in 100 countries, according to the companies.

In 2017, Natura bought The Body Shop, another British beauty company, from L’Oreal.

Avon, which was founded in 1886, had been struggling financially and losing salespeople, according to a report by Fast Company. However, it is still the fifth largest beauty company in the world, with a salesforce of 6.4 million reps worldwide, and generated $5.5 billion globally in 2018.

Part of Avon’s woes had to do with the fact that the company had not kept up with changing consumer behavior, Fast Company notes. At the same time, there have been many beauty startups vying for Avon’s customers.

Among them is Glossier—which launched in 2014 and began targeting Millennials with a strong social media presence. It creates product based on the vast amounts of customer data it gathers and is currently worth about $1 billion, Fast Company says

Another is Beautycounter, launched in 2013, which offers “clean beauty” products—free of 1,300 known toxins or questionable ingredients. It is currently valued at around $400 million.

In the hands of Natura, Avon products could be sold throughout Latin America, Europe, and Asia using the company’s vast distribution channels. In a release, Natura says it expects to generate annual gross revenues of more than $10 billion.

Research contact: @Naturacosmetica

‘Stranger Things’ have happened: Inside New Coke’s limited-edition comeback

May 22, 2019

The much-ballyhooed New Coke brand only was around for 79 days in 1985. Chances are it won’t last nearly as long in 2019—but for much different reasons, the Atlanta-based company says.

That’s right, the ill-fated brand considered by many to be one of the biggest-ever marketing mishaps is making a brief comeback this summer for a (very) limited promotional run through a first-of-its-kind partnership between Coca-Cola and Netflix’s popular series, Stranger Things. Fans of the series  will travel back to “the summer that changed everything” – 1985 – when season 3 of the show hits the streaming platform on July 4.

And beyond appearing prominently on-screen throughout the season, New Coke will be available in the “real world” beginning Thursday, May 23, at 5 p.m. (ET), when Coca-Cola will release a limited number of 12-oz. cans of New Coke–yes, the same recipe from 1985 –as part of a bundle when shoppers buy at least two limited-edition Stranger Things Coca-Cola or Coke Zero Sugar 8-oz. glass bottles at CokeStore.com/1985.

The idea for the 2019 limited run of New Coke started when Netflix contacted Coca-Cola’s North America marketing team last year with news that the next season of Stranger Things would take place in the summer of 1985, and that they wanted to authentically incorporate New Coke into the storyline.

“When Netflix told us Season 3 was going to be set in the summer of 1985 –with the tagline that ‘one summer could change everything’– that rang so true for us,” said Oana Vlad, director of Coca-Cola Trademark, Coca-Cola North America. “The summer of 1985 did in fact change everything for us with the introduction of New Coke, which was also arguably one of the biggest pop culture moments of that year.”

Coca-Cola invited Netflix to visit the Coca-Cola archives in Atlanta to study New Coke packaging, memorabilia, advertising and more, in order to ensure that the Stranger Things script accurately reflected historical events—and that all props and visuals stayed true to the time period.

As Vlad and her colleagues started to see how prominently the brand would feature in the Stranger Things narrative, they decided to go “all in” and resurrect the dormant drink.

“Ultimately, we looked around the room and said, ‘Why wouldn’t we do this?’” Vlad recalled. “No one would have ever thought we’d produce New Coke again after what happened in 1985, but we all agreed that if we wanted to partner with Netflix and Stranger Things in a truly culturally relevant way that would resonate with our fans – and theirs – then we had to make the New Coke story come to life.”

For the Coca-Cola North America design team, the journey back to 1985 meant exploring the archives for vintage New Coke cans and other analog documentation.

“There were no Adobe Illustrator files back then – and not as much printing standardization – so we had to start the design process from scratch,” recalls Elyse Larouere, senior designer, Coca-Cola Trademark.

Larouere and her team took steps to preserve the original New Coke aesthetic, meticulously recreating the logo and mimicking the slightly different Coke red used more than three decades ago.

“We wanted to honor both our heritage and the Duffer Brothers’ commitment to authenticity,” she added. “Stranger Things fans love the nostalgic vibe of the show, so to be able to bring New Coke back to life in a physical way takes the experience to another level. We hope people who remember New Coke can relive those memories, and those like me who weren’t alive in 1985 can appreciate the fact that a show that honors cultural icons of the time is honoring this one.”

“New Coke taught us that our fans are extremely passionate about our brand and great taste,” Vlad said. “That passion has helped propel Coke to the iconic brand it is today and encourages us to continue to do big things to connect with our fans. It’s not about a ‘mistake’… it’s what we learned and the incredible cultural resonance of Coca-Cola.”

Research contact: @CocaCola

170 footwear firms, including Nike and Adidas, sign letter imploring Trump to halt tariffs

May 21, 2019

More than 170 footwear manufacturers, distributors, and retailers—including Nike, Under Armour, AdidasFoot LockerUgg and Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse—signed and delivered a letter to the White House on May 20, asking President Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to raise tariffs on footwear imported from China, CNBC reported.

The request comes after the White House last week released a new list of about $300 billion in Chinese goods that could get hit with 25% tariffs, if Trump decides to move forward. The list includes footwear, CNBC said— everything from sneakers to sandals, golf shoes, rain boots and ski shoes.

The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, a trade organization for the industry, has estimated the tariffs could cost shoe shoppers more than $7 billion each year.

“There should be no misunderstanding that U.S. consumers pay for tariffs on products that are imported,” the letter said. “As an industry that faces a $3 billion duty bill every year, we can assure you that any increase in the cost of importing shoes has a direct impact on the American footwear consumer. It is an unavoidable fact that as prices go up at the border due to transportation costs, labor rate increases, or additional duties, the consumer pays more for the product.”

Indeed, if the tariffs are enforced, the price of a pair of shoes could hurtle $15 to $20 higher. The shoe companies estimate that a popular type of canvas “skate” sneaker, currently retailing at $49.99, with a 25% tariff, could increase to $65.57. The price of a typical hunting boot would increase from $190 to $248.56. And a popular performance running shoe could jump from $150 to $206.25, FDRA said.

What’s worse, the shoe companies said, “High footwear tariff rates fall disproportionately on working class individuals and families. While U.S. tariffs on all consumer goods average just 1.9 %, they average 11.3% for footwear; and reach rates as high as 67.5%. Adding a 25% tax increase on top of these tariffs would mean some working American families could pay a nearly 100% duty on their shoes. This is unfathomable

The U.S. imported $11.4 billion worth of footwear from China last year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, making it an industry that is strongly reliant on that country for its cheaper yet skilled labor.

The companies implored the president, “On behalf of our hundreds of millions of footwear consumers and hundreds of thousands of employees, we ask that you immediately stop this action to increase their tax burden. Your proposal to add tariffs on all imports from China is asking the American consumer to foot the bill. It is time to bring this trade war to an end.”

Research contact: @FDRA

Skintimate opens pop-up professional leg shave bar in New York City

May 20, 2019

Women spend 72 days shaving their legs over the course of a lifetime—or approximately 1,728 hours, according to findings of a survey conducted by British beauty brand Escentual. What’s more, shaving ranked as women’s most hated beauty ritual, with 35% of respondents saying that they loathed shaving their legs more than any other self-care ritual (for example, doing their hair, or tweezing their brows).

Now, help is on the way. On May 17, the Edgewell brand, Skintimate, opened a pop-up professional leg shave bar in New York City that already is just about fully booked for its three-day event (going through Sunday, May 19).

At The Shave Bar by Skintimate, “consumers are invited to receive complimentary leg shaves by expert estheticians in a colorful, spa-meets-bar environment that is inspired by the brand’s signature shave gels and first collection of disposable razors,” the company says.

The bar is offering a customizable menu of exotic shave gels, scented razor handles— including an unscented razor for sensitive skin– bespoke cocktail pairings, and retro-tropical beats. Drinks and music are being curated by New York City-based  mixologist, Pamela Wiznitzer and DJ Brittany Sky.

Shave Bar treatments include:

  • The Reset: Pair the Skintimate Vanilla Sugar Razor with Skin Therapy Moisturizing Shave Gel to feel relaxed, refreshed, and re-energized for what’s next. Cocktail Pairing: Peachy Kween–Vanilla infused vodka, squeeze of lemon and scoop of peach sorbet.
  • The Escape: The Skintimate Coconut Delight Razor and Shave Gel leaves you oh-so hydrated and ready to sip into vacation mode. Cocktail PairingSmooth Sailing – White rum, coconut water, hint of kiwi and a twist of lime.
  • The Pregame: Fruity and flirty, the Skintimate Sensitive Razor and Strawberry Tangerine Shave Gel sets the mood for date nights, late nights, and everything in between. Cocktail PairingBerry Foam Party – Hibiscus infused tequila and lime juice topped with tangerine foam.

“The Shave Bar by Skintimate is largely inspired by our consumer,” says Jennifer Rogers Sheppeard, Skintimate brand manager at Edgewell Personal Care. “She’s an experience-seeker who makes every moment fun. Shaving is not a mundane chore for her; it’s part of the getting-ready process that we see her embracing with friends and sharing on social media. ”

The Shave Bar by Skintimate is located at 107 Grand Street in New York. People in the metro area are encouraged to walk in and enjoy the scene.

Research contact: @Skintimate

Amazon posts a $7,250 ‘tiny-home kit’ that can be assembled in just eight hours

May 17, 2019

Talk about downsizing! Today, tiny homes—small structures between 180 square feet and 500 square feet in size—have become a housing solution for people who cannot (or don’t want to) pay high rents or mortgage costs, would prefer not to spend their time cleaning large interiors, or would like to take their dwellings with them to their travel destinations. But they also are increasingly in demand by wealthy buyers who want to customize their properties with a yoga studio, a pool house, or a home office, according to a report by Business Insider

And that’s the industry niche being occupied by Allwood, a family company based in  Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The company is marketing a variety of tiny house kits—from 73 square feet to 227 square feet, and in a price range from about $3,000 to $10,000.

They are sold as DIY kits that can be assembled in your backyard (or even on a rooftop). In fact, the site says, the Allwood Claudia—“a high-quality cottage-style wood cabin kit made of solid Nordic spruce”with windows on three walls and 209 square feet of inside floor space—takes just about eight hours to two adults to assemble. Do-it-yourself step-by-step instructions come with the kit. Only minimal tools are needed.

Capitalizing on the trend, Amazon is even selling a $7,250 kit for a tiny studio from the company called the Allwood Solvalla that has a total of 172 square feet of floor space (86 square  of it, covered) and that sells for $7,250 with free shipping. “Ideal home office or guest house,” the description says—but no working bathroom or kitchen is included. Allwood makes other models that include these amenities.

While tiny homes are often mobile, Allwood’s studio is meant to stay firmly rooted outdoors. It can also be taken apart and reassembled in new locations.

What’s more, Business Insider points out, “Those who want to transform it into a fully functioning home or guest house will need to install their own electricity and air conditioning, which could increase the cost by thousands of dollars. Buyers will also need to purchase shingles and a foundation, which cost an extra $320, according to the company.”

After launching the model in 2018, Allwood said its goal was to sell 250 kits by the end of the year. Thus far, the studio has only two customer reviews on Amazon — one praising the price point and another considering it a rip-off.

It all depends on your perspective. If you have the money, it could even be a children’s playhouse.

Research contact: @businessinsider

American Express to acquire Resy, a restaurant reservation platform

May 16, 2019

A scion of an industry that started out in 1950 with the Diners Club charge card has come full circle—linking with a restaurant booking platform to capitalize on the nearly $800 billion in sales that America’s 660,755 restaurants rake in annually, according to Statista.

New York City-based American Express announced on March 15 that the company has signed an agreement to acquire Resy, a digital restaurant reservation booking and management platform founded in 2014.

AmEx comments, “The acquisition will build on the growing suite of digital-first benefits and services from American Express that extend beyond traditional rewards and points, to provide card members with access and experiences across travel and lodging, airport lounges, exclusive events, and dining.”

. Focused primarily in the U.S. but with locations in the UK, Europe, Canada and Australia, Resy currently works with approximately 4,000 restaurants in 154 U.S. cities and ten countries— seating more than 2.6 million diners a week. The acquisition is expected to be completed in summer 2019 and builds on a number of recent acquisitions made by American Express in the dining, travel and lifestyle space that are part of the company’s strategy.

“Resy was created to both connect people who love dining out with new, notable, and hard-to-get-into restaurants across the globe, as well as help restaurants’ businesses grow and thrive. Similarly, American Express has strong relationships with premium dining partners and restaurants across the globe, and provides our card members with access to incredible dining experiences through our exclusive benefits and programs,” said Chris Cracchiolo, SVP, Global Loyalty and Benefits, American Express. “We look forward to working with the Resy team to continue to grow the Resy digital platform, and develop new ways to further connect our Card Members and restaurant partners through unique access and experiences.”

 “There are myriad points of synergy between Resy and American Express that we look forward to pursuing together in the name of creating an end-to-end global dining platform that thrills both diners and restaurants alike. As it does today, Resy will continue to focus on delivering world-class hospitality software to our amazing restaurant partners, connecting diners to insider experiences, and reimagining the future of dining,” said Resy’s co-founder and CEO, Ben Leventhal.

In line with this news, American Express is working with recently acquired companies—personal travel assistant app Mezi, UK dining reservation platform Cake Technologies, airport lounge discovery and booking platform LoungeBuddy, and Japanese premium restaurant reservation platform Pocket Concierge—to develop a suite of new digital capabilities that will provide unique digital services, experiences, and access for American Express customers.

After the acquisition, the Resy brand and digital platform will continue to be led and operated by its co-founder and CEO, Ben Leventhal. Resy’s co-founder and CTO, Michael Montero, also remain in place.

Research contact: @AmerianExpress

Taking your measure: At Redthread, the perfect pair of jeans is just a 3D body scan away

May 15, 2019

For every woman we see on the street, strutting her stuff in a skintight pair of jeans, there’s another in a dressing room somewhere, quietly swearing because she cannot find of pair that fits both her waist and her hips.

In fact, Meghan Litchfield, the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Redthread recently told Wired that she spent years dreading going into a store to shop for jeans.

There were the garden-variety complaints: inconsistent sizing between brands, the way back pockets stretched or sagged, the humiliation of walking into a dressing room with half a dozen options only to walk out empty-handed. Even the best candidates were ill-fitting. Most of the time, she’d buy jeans one size up to fit her hips; then, ask a tailor take them in at the waist.

Litchfield, formerly a vice president at GoPro, figured there must be a way to shop that wasn’t so demoralizing. Instead of taking off-the-rack clothes to the tailor, what if she could buy her clothes tailor-made? And what if she could make that happen for other women, too?

Now, Wired reports, her company creates bespoke clothing for anyone with a smartphone. Customers choose an item from Redthread’s website, fill out a “fit quiz,” and capture a series of full-body photos with their phone. Redthread pulls 3D measurement data from those photos and, combined with a customer’s fit preferences, creates a made-to-order item.

Redthread currently offers an essential ankle pant, essential wide leg pant, a tee, and a snap jacket—fitted to the customer’s personal requirements, hand-sewn in San Francisco, and shipped to the front door in a week for just $4.99. If customers don’t like the results, that $4.99 is quickly refunded; if the patent-pending technology provides the perfect fit, the full price is invoiced ($128 for the ankle pants and $78 for the tee).

The result, Litchfield hopes, will go beyond simply outfitting a more diverse set of body types. It will upend the way clothes are bought, sold, and designed in the future.

Redthread licenses its photographic measurement technology from a company called CALA, which lifts 15 exact measurements from the pictures the customer sends in. The company then uses those measurements to tailor a garment in a dozen or so places before shipping it out.

This kind of customization represents “a huge shift in the industry,” says Sophie Marchessou, a partner at McKinsey who consults on retail brands. A McKinsey report on The State of Fashion in 2019 pointed to personalization as a key trend— especially among younger customers, noting, “They have a desire to individualize products, and they’re often willing to pay a premium for it.”

While custom-made clothing might save retailers money on returns and overstock, Marchessou says it’s not yet sustainable for most brands to ship out custom-produced single orders. Technologies like automated sewing and 3D printing for clothes could make it easier to scale up a bespoke garment business (and also drive down costs), but those technologies aren’t widely accessible yet.

Litchfield, for her part, told Wired that she imagines a world “where stacks of apparel inventory and sizes are eliminated, everyone has their measurements in a digital wallet, and all clothing is created on-demand, personalized to each person.” She thinks we’ll get there, eventually—one pair of made-to-measure pants at a time.

Research contact: @WIRED

Supreme Court allows antitrust suit against Apple App Store to proceed

May 13, 2019

A divided Supreme Court voted 5-4  on May 13 to allow an enormous antitrust class action suit against Apple to move forward—ruling that the plaintiffs should be allowed to try to prove that the Cupertino, California-based technology giant has monopolized the market for the sale of iPhone apps, The New York Times reported.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who joined the court in October, wrote the majority opinion in the case, Apple Inc. v. Pepper et. al (No. 17-204)., which also was signed by the court’s four more liberal justices—rejecting a plea from Apple to end the lawsuit. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court in 2017, wrote the dissent.

The syllabus of the case summarized the basis for the suit as follows:

Apple sells iPhone applications, or apps, directly to iPhone owners through its App Store—the only place where iPhone owners may lawfully buy apps. Most of those apps are created by independent developers under contracts with Apple. Apple charges the developers a $99 annual membership fee, allows them to set the retail price of the apps, and charges a 30% commission on every app sale. Respondents, four iPhone owners, sued Apple, alleging that the company has unlawfully monopolized the aftermarket for iPhone apps.

The legal question in the case was whether the suit was barred by a 1977 decision, Illinois Brick Co. V. Illinois, which allowed only direct purchasers of products to bring federal antitrust suits. According to the Times report, Apple argued that it was an intermediary and so not subject to suit.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, earlier had  disagreed. “Apple is a distributor of the iPhone apps, selling them directly to purchasers through its App Store,” Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel of the court.

Research contact: @nytimes

Party pooper: Helium shortage forces Party City to close 45 stores

May 13, 2019

The party’s over. Party City is struggling to find enough helium gas to fill balloons—among the company’s most profitable services—and will, therefore, close 45 of its 900 locations in North America this year to make up for lost earnings, CNN Business reports.

Helium is the second-most abundant element in the galaxy, yet supplies have been running short on Earth. Over the past few years, some drillers have claimed to find troves of helium buried underground, but those haven’t always panned out. Party City said it really started feeling the pinch in August 2018.

The company’s mylar balloon sales fell 8% last quarter, dragging overall sales down 1.4% at Party City stores open at least a year. Sales would have risen if not for the Party City’s balloon problems, the company said on May 9.

Filling balloons with helium is among the company’s most profitable services, Barclays’ Matt McClintock told the cable news network. Helium brings people into the store, and those customers usually buy other items instead of purchasing on Amazon or at another store

The good news for Party City is that the company has signed an agreement with a new helium supplier. Party City believes the new supplier can help it return its balloon business back to normal starting in the summer, and it hopes the supplies will last for the next two-and-a-half years.

“We believe this new source should substantially eliminate the shortfall we are experiencing,” said Party City CEO James Harrison in a statement.

The bad news is Party City said its helium shortage will continue through the spring. That’s bad timing: May is a big month for balloons.

“Obviously graduation is a big season for balloons, no doubt about that,” said Harrison on a conference call with Wall Street analysts on May 9.

And once Party City gets its helium back, its new supplier will charge more than its last provider. So it will have to raise balloon-filling prices, CNN said.

Helium still remains cheap, and Party City doesn’t expect the higher prices to hurt sales in the long-run. It may also be able to eat some of that cost over time, Harrison predicted. But he said higher helium prices may be here to stay.

“Over time, will helium come back down in price? Nobody knows. We’ll see,” Harrison said.

Research contact: @PartyCity