Retail industry pricing psychological warfare — Ozalp Ozer

MIT Sloan Visiting Professor Ozalp Ozer

From Fortune China

Have you ever been shopping and found a great jacket with a perfect fit? Then you look at the price tag and pause. Should you buy that perfect item now or wait to see if it’s still available during the inevitable end-of-season sale? What if the store told you that it only had a limited number left, or only had two on the rack in your size?

In a recent study I conducted with Prof. Karen Zheng, we found that as consumers have become more strategic about purchases, behavioral motives like regret and availability misperception are significant factors and should play a key role in pricing strategy.

Regret happens when consumers compare the outcome of a chosen action with that of the unchosen one and realize they would have been better off with the latter. In other words, they may regret buying the jacket now at the higher price if it turns out to be available during the sale for 30% off. Similarly, they may regret not buying it now if their size is gone by the time of the sale.

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Why companies that pay above the minimum wage come out ahead — Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

From Forbes 

Nearly one fifth of American workers work in retail and fast food, and they have bad jobs. They earn poverty-level wages, have unpredictable schedules that make it hard to hold on to a second job, and have few opportunities for success and growth. These are not just people who are uneducated or unskilled. In 2010 more than a third of all working adults with jobs that did not pay a living wage had at least some college education or a degree.

The conventional wisdom in business is that bad jobs like this are necessary to keep prices low and profits high. If a low-cost retail chain were to pay its cashiers more, then it would either make less money or have to raise its prices. Implicit in this logic is the seemingly self-evident tradeoff between low prices and good jobs. But that is a false tradeoff. Even in highly competitive industries like low-cost retail, it is possible to pay employees decent wages and treat them well while giving customers the low prices they demand.

I studied four retail chains that manage to do this: Costco, Trader Joe’s, QuikTrip (a U.S. chain of convenience stores with gas stations), and Mercadona (Spain’s largest supermarket chain). They offer their employees much better jobs than their competitors, all the while keeping their prices low and performing well in all the ways that matter to any business. They have high productivity, great customer service, healthy growth, and excellent returns to their investors. They compete head-on with companies that spend far less on their employees, and they win.

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General Motors should expect more failed parts — Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

From USA Today

General Motors CEO Mary Barra appeared before a Senate panel once again Thursday to discuss the company’s flawed ignition switches and vowed that GM will “do all it can to make certain that this does not happen again.”

In terms of damage control, much of what Barra and GM appear to be doing right now is positive: fessing up about product failures, bringing in outside investigators and firing employees that failed to take appropriate measures.

And while these are important steps, they amount only to a good, if somewhat belated, crisis management strategy. In fact, these efforts pale against the very real organizational challenges that lay ahead for GM and Barra. In order make good on her promise to Congress, Barra must prevent the kinds of engineering failures that caused the ignition problems in the first place and the organizational failures that propelled the problem to its current tragic magnitude. And that will mean changing the culture at GM.

Engineers like to be right. They like to prove that they have the correct answer.

Highly trained and highly motivated to solve problems, at the point of releasing a design or demonstrating a model or a prototype, everything in them is wired to prove that they’ve arrived at the right answer. The premium is so high on being “right” that even when data starts proving them wrong, they work to show that they are right somehow. They seek to explain what is happening is an exceptional outlier or an aberration; not that it is a sign of a problem. Read More »

Management Goes Mobile — Carl Stjernfeldt

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Carl Stjernfeldt

It’s an old business rubric:  What gets measured, gets managed.

In the age of big data, the very basic set of measurements that managers used to rely on is expanding to a robust set of 24/7 sensor inputs from factory floors to off-shore petroleum platforms – all of it accessible across a wide variety of mobile devices to employees at many levels.

Management is now able to access data from varied locations, crunch it at headquarters and then return the enhanced data to managers out in the field, on the factory floor or on the oil fields. These new, more robust data sets will allow managers to make better decisions in a shorter amount of time than ever before. For companies in complex industries, such as Shell where I work, the potential for increased performance, efficiency and safety is enormous. Read More »

Partnering with Amazon? Think twice fashion retailers — Sharmila C. Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From Fortune

When I read that Amazon was in talks to partner with big fashion retailers like J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch and Neiman Marcus, it got my attention. Despite Amazon’s leadership position in online retail, you typically don’t associate these higher-end clothing retailers with a mainstream site that targets essentially everyone.

If we were talking about a partnership between Amazon and Wal-Mart  WMT -0.94%  or even Costco, that would be far less surprising because of their parallels in broad customer bases and emphasis on low prices. But rather than partnering, Wal-Mart is making its own investments to level the playing field with Amazon. So why are fancier retailers like Neiman Marcus considering such a partnership? What are the risks? And do these risks outweigh the possible benefits? I think they do.

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