Technology Director

Why Amazon Bought Whole Foods

Amazon wants to be the default retailer for everything. This includes groceries. The problem with selling groceries is shelf life. If you don’t turn inventory quickly, you end up throwing away your profit margin.

The grocery business does not lend itself to cross-country shipping due to this perishable factor. In order to sell groceries online, it’s imperative that order fulfillment time be minimized as much as possible so as to reduce waste.

What better way to minimize order fulfillment time than to own local distribution centers in the communities to which you are selling? By buying Whole Foods, Amazon effectively buys local warehouse space. Worth noting also that this warehouse space is located in affluent areas with high real estate costs. Consider the price per square foot of building an Amazon warehouse in Manhattan for example. It would be prohibitive. But it’s all included for Amazon with the Whole Foods acquisition.

Amazon will now be able to operate a delivery business out the backdoor of all these new local warehouses and fulfill customer orders in a matter of hours.

Furthermore, these “warehouses” are also live retail outlets that turn inventory daily (a built-in mechanism for shrink-reduction and branding).

This is why Amazon bought Whole Foods.

Sidenote: I managed at a Whole Foods for several years after college, so this deal is particularly interesting to me. Two of my favorite companies joining up to dominate the grocery industry.

Too Much Customer Service

In the new customer-centric economy, I’ve noticed a trend that is more disturbing than the problem it replaced.  Apparently, it is possible to have too much customer service.

We can no longer run into the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk without being asked by three employees if we’ve “found everything okay.” I understand the sentiment behind it, but the need for businesses to constantly assess our level of satisfaction is beginning to border on harassment.

Take, for example, the rise of the customer survey. Everyone wants us to answer a brief questionnaire about our experience. The survey sometimes takes longer than the initial transaction. I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached peak survey. I can’t do them anymore. I’m surveyed out.

There’s a part of me that longs for the good old days when businesses didn’t need to keep tabs on my every emotion and document the minutiae of all our transactions.

Sometimes a gallon of milk is just a gallon of milk.

One Project Wednesday

Imagine if we dedicated every Wednesday to working on one single project. If we set aside a day each week to pick one item from our to-do list and then refuse to allow any other tasks to creep into our workload.

When was the last time you concentrated on a single project? I’m talking about totally focused energy with no distractions where hours pass before you look up.

I closed my office door today and spent about six straight hours in the code for a web tool we’re currently working on. And it was amazing. I emerged about 3pm, having skipped lunch, but having finally drafted a working CSS file.

Developers seem to have more opportunities to enter the flow state than designers do. It’s rare for us to be able to get lost in code like a programmer can. We often have to switch between mediums and software throughout the day. One hour we’re writing copy, the next we’re editing photos, and the next we’re tweaking CSS.

I enjoy this daily variety in the life of a designer, but it can be harder to get in the zone and really focus. If your work affords the opportunity to withdrawal for four hours tomorrow, do it. Pick a single project and allow nothing to distract you from it during that designated time block. It feels good to actually move the needle on one of the many tasks you’re juggling.

The Empty Promise

Despite the best effort of marketing and sales departments, good design never promises that which it does not intend to deliver. One of the easiest ways to alienate your user base is to overpromise and underdeliver.

Even the best designers will always live with some level of disappointment. You can’t please everyone, nor should you try. But making a conscious decision to sacrifice some features for the sake of others is different than writing a marketing check that your design department can’t cash.

Some will argue that a product launch must be hyped at all costs. Promise everything and ask forgiveness later. This is short-term thinking and fails to consider the long-term effect of brand loyalty that comes from product integrity.

Allowing the marketing department to drive the bus is a mistake that will almost always lead to disillusionment. A good launch strategy involves close collaboration between the hype team and the execution team. Project leads must manage expectations, carefully balancing excitement with realism.

I thought about this last night when I watched the series premiere of Vinyl on HBO. Vinyl has to be one of the most over-hyped television shows of the past decade. They had me convinced that Scorsese and crew had a huge hit on their hands.

The pilot let me down, but don’t take my word for it. The reviews all indicate that HBO overpromised and underdelivered, and their brand will likely take a long-term hit as a result.

Know the limits of your beta. Hype the hell out of it, but don’t promise what you know you can’t deliver.

UX Design for English Majors

As someone who entered the field of User Experience Design via a background in writing and editing, I was pleasantly surprised to find how relevant an English degree is to this growing field. UX is all about having empathy for the user. For understanding the target group and tailoring your message in a way that best addresses that group’s experiences and needs.

In my former life as a writing teacher, this is exactly the lesson I stressed to my students. The most effective writers have a deep understanding of their readers. In composition studies, this is simply known as audience awareness. He who knows what his audience wants is in a much better position to deliver it.

User Experience Design starts with a strong desire to create products that meet needs. As UX designers, we are advocates for the audience. We make sure every decision is made with consideration for the app user or the website visitor or the reader or the viewer or the customer.

Design, by its very nature, exists for an audience. Without an audience, there is no product. Without a reader, there is no book. Without a viewer, there is no film.

Writers, editors, and teachers often possess many of the characteristics that make for a good UX or Information Designer. Once you understand empathy and audience awareness, the hard skills can be learned.