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    Limitations of Selection

    September 3rd, 2016

    Giving people options is one of those seemingly straightforward ideas that is fraught with an inordinate amount of traps that would rival an Indiana Jones movie.  You see, when the world of online shopping was just in its infancy, a real-world study on choice was released.  The findings, summarized here, essentially show that while a huge selection can draw more attention, the actual sales of a smaller selection can be higher (due to a higher conversion rate).

    That experiment, and the hypothesis it created – that more choice isn’t good – has had a meaningful impact in the retail world around us. For example, how many times have you heard that companies are simplifying their menu? This can mean everything from reduced items on the menu – something McDonalds has talked a lot about – to ingredients customers “can understand“, to simplified pricing like Subway. All of these companies want to close the sale, and do it as quickly as possible.

    I can see the logic of their actions. Sure, it’s pretty annoying when your favorite item is no longer on the menu even if all the ingredients are still behind the counter. And when you ask people if they want optionality, of course they say yes.

    But, for me, I have to say that I think certain companies are missing the boat on this. Specifically, I’m thinking about the entertainment space. And even more specifically about online rentals. You see, from my experience, the online selection of movies included in Netflix or Prime can be pretty terrible. No wonder Netflix started making their own content. When I am browsing their online catalogs it feels like I have to search through some pretty terrible stuff to find the few good movies. If only their were data-oriented companies who could help me programmatically figure out what I might like to watch…

    Oh, right, that’s basically what those companies are built on. I’m sure they do a great job with it. They know how to limit the selection the the categories that I might find most relevant. I get that Netflix doesn’t want me to see all the crazy categories they have (however you can search for them). What irritates me is that in these buckets of recommended movies (or apps, etc.) the companies put a finite amount of options.

    When I see a section called “Recommended for you” I want to be able to scroll for days and days. Instead, it seems like they have some sort of random cap and I can reach the end of the list. Same thing for “Top rated movies”. The list comes to an end. Sorry guys, but there is absolutely no reason to do this. Or, if there is, could you make some sort of link so I can keep on scrolling. By definition you’ve scored (or viewers have rated) all the movies considered. There is, in fact, a next best fit or next highest rated movie beyond the end of that list.

    My ask to these companies is basic. Allow limits to be removed on what is, at it’s core, a browsing activity. It should feel like the selection is limitless. Instead, if feels like it only serves to highlight the terrible, and overly finite, selection these services contain.

    This has been a Thought from the Cake Scraps.



    The Economics of Hot Food

    September 24th, 2010

    Cook a steak to 130 degrees and it will be a perfect medium rare.  Mhmm, that’s the good stuff.  On the side is a nice helping of mashed potatoes with a nice dose of cheese and garlic.  Perhaps some mixed vegetables on the side or a few asparagus spears laid across the top of the steak.  Unfortunately, that is not the meal that this post is about.  This post is about the economics of hot food, or rather it is about me wondering about the economics of hot food.  Let’s get to it.

    I read that if you put something on your tongue that is 150 degrees and leave it there for 2 seconds you will burn yourself.  If the temperature is 155 degrees or more it is one second or less.  So now we know that it is unwise to attempt to consume something that is at or around 150 degrees.  That means I can dive right into my medium rare steak, but a well done steak will come it at 160 degrees so watch out.  So a steak may or may not be fine to eat right off the grill but a fresh brewed cup of coffee typically clocks in at 200 degrees!  It takes more than a second or two for that to cool down to a drinkable temp, doesn’t it.  And that brings me to the point of this post.  Does a company figure out what is the ideal temperature to serve food at that maximizes customer satisfaction while minimizing additional food and/or beverage they will need to serve?

    Take, for example, the Red Lobster special of Endless Shrimp.  While not excessively expensive themselves, the shrimp do cost more than, say, beans.  Additionally, it takes prep time to prepare them (no matter how fast your people are it takes time).  It is also true that a person will feel full after they stop eating because it takes the body a while to realize that it is full.  Surprisingly, it may be as long as 20 minutes after you stop eating!  Therefore, if Red Lobster keeps the shrimp coming as fast as they can, not only will you overeat but they will erode their profit margin (and make it back on that beer you had).

    Interestingly then, it makes the most sense for everybody to have you consume the shrimp  at a slower pace.  One way to do this is to serve you slowly.  While that is effective, you might tell your friends about how you felt ripped off at Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster due to their slow service.  But if Red Lobster just serves you food that is simply too hot for you to eat you don’t really have a story (so long as it is not excessively hot).  This same concept can be applied to many places.  I remember first having this thought years ago in college when I ate at a Red Robin because of the “endless steak fries” but the things came out so hot that I only got one serving.  I didn’t want to have to wait around for the next serving to cool off so I didn’t get one.  Not only did they not spend money on the food, but the server can serve more tables because they are not dealing with refills.

    On a one-off basis the concept may seem silly, but when multiplied by thousands or millions of people being served, there could be a huge cost savings here.  And then of course there is the flip side.  If you serve something, like a coffee at a coffee shop, and it is a cool enough temperature that the individual can consume it quickly (but not so cool as to make it cold), perhaps people would finish their drink more quickly and it would increase coffee sales.  Again, on a large scale this could be big money.

    I wonder if food companies take any of this into consideration when making and serving food.

    What do you think?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.