business news in context, analysis with attitude

This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy, coming to you this week from the classroom at Portland State University in Oregon, where I am concluding my annual summer adjunctivity. This is the eighth summer that I’ve spent time here, team-teaching a class with Tom Gillpatrick, and I’ve always found the experience to bed rewarding on a number of levels. I hope my students feel the same way.

One of the things we did recently was have a little experiment. I asked each of the students to go up to the white board and write down three food or beverage items that they’d always like to have in their kitchens; it could be aspirational or actual, but could only be three items.

Being college students, there were a number of people who wrote beer and pizza. Lots of bottled water. Some wine. Eggs. Bread. I wrote: eggs, olive oil and Albariño (a white wine from Spain) … for me, if you can make eggs and wash them down with Albariño, everything is fine.

The point of the exercise was to discuss the power of replenishment models - whether via Amazon’s Subscribe & Save business, or an independent offering like Replenium, which allow retailers and suppliers to provide consumers with a constant stream of the products that they use most often and that are both resonant and relevant to their lives. The students all were enthusiastic about replenishment, saying that they believed such systems will be important to their lives as consumers … retailers not offering replenishment options may find themselves at a disadvantage when seeking their business.

One fellow wrote down bagels, bottled water, and hot dogs, which I thought was interesting. He wrote down bagels but not butter or jelly or cream cheese or lox. He wrote down hot dogs, but didn’t write down hot dog rolls or mustard or ketchup or relish. (Or grilled onions and cream cheese, which go on what is called a Seattle Dog, which is wonderful … I wrote about it here. But I digress…)

I asked him about this, and he replied that I only allowed him to write down three items. Then, I asked him if a retailer, knowing that those are three items he buys a lot of, could use that information to sell him all those other things, and maybe even other stuff that would enhance his bagel-eating and hot dog-eating experiences. Absolutely, he said. He’d love love.

That, I pointed out, is the power of data. Sometimes people think about data in abstract and numerical terms, but data’s real power is in knowing specifically what people buy, and then being able to market to that, up-selling them and expanding their shopping parameters.

So as you go forth in your work lives, I suggested to the students, you should think of data in that way … how much can you collect, and then how can you act on it. And always think about bagels and hot dogs.

We had another discussion during the same class in which the students came up with an interesting idea.

We were talking about Amazon at one point (there was a lot of talk about Amazon - these are people who have no memory of a world without Amazon), and then were talking about Kroger’s decision to start charging a small fee for cash back requested at checkout in its stores. And the students suggested that maybe Amazon could get into the cash-back business. What if you placed an order on Amazon, and along with the products you order, you also could request $100 or $200 in cash back that would be charged to your card? And what if Amazon Prime members could get that cash back without paying a fee?

Now, there probably are all sorts of complications in such an offering. There’s security to think about, and making sure that the cash doesn’t get stolen. There’s the question of who provides that service - would Amazon have to own a bank (the government likely would never allow that), or would it just have to have banking relationships in every market it serves (which it already does)? And it probably would be an offering with an expiration date, since we seem to be moving toward a cashless world.

But … the students didn’t see the problems. They just saw the possibilities, and they thought that this would be a service that would be relevant to how they live their lives.

Which is instructive on all sorts of levels.

I always hope that the students learn something from me … and from the various guests who join us in class each week.

Thanks to Jon Stine of the Open Voice Network … Benjamin Conwell of Cushman Wakefield … Mike Burrington of Ideoclick … Patrick Spear of GMDC and Retail Tomorrow … and Lisa Sedlar of Green Zebra … all of whom enriched our class this summer with their candor and insights. Thanks also to Tom Gillpatrick, who gave me this opportunity years ago … and to the folks at Portland State and the Center for Retail Leadership, who each summer give me a home away from home.

I’m already looking for folks to join us next summer, so let me know if you are interested. I know that we’re always going to learn something from our guests, and we all learn something from our students … they all make me smarter, and keep me young.

That’s what is on my mind this morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: