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    Shrinkflation Redux

    August 25th, 2023

    When times get tough there is always much coverage of the interesting concept of shrinkflation – where consumers get less for the same price. This can take many forms, such as fewer ounces in a similar size box or a lower count of items – all without changing the price. They count on the consumer not noticing, often with great effect.

    But there is another type of shrinkflation that has been slowly seeping into the veins and that is the shrinkflation of benefits of rewards programs. These, often small, changes slowly erode the value proposition to the consumer through sneaky tactics like increasing ‘breakage’ – or the chance a consumer fails to qualify/earn rewards.

    There are many examples of this, but Starbucks is perhaps the most egregious. It has been a multi-step, multi-year process which is slowly eroded away value from their starts program.

    Example 1: Several years ago, you used to be able to redeem your birthday drink perk anytime in your birthday month. Then they changed it to the week of your birthday. And now it is only available literally on your birthday- no grace period.

    Example 2: Over the same time Starbucks has increased the cost, and therefore decreased the value of the Stars, reward points, which you earn through spending. They didn’t adjust historical balances, so hard-earned points simply changed value overnight.

    Example 3: Star expiration is another small feature that was added – 1 year from the date you earned them. The only reason to do this is to pull more value away from a consumer who might be saving up. The whole point is to encourage frequent visits and spending and to eliminate anything ‘owed’ to lower-value or less frequent customers.

    Example 4: There used to be other ways to earn Stars – codes on retail bags of coffee. This was from when they first started selling beans at non-Starbucks stores. They’ve phased those out and now at-home stars are a thing of the past.

    Example 5: They now offer Double star days – or even triple! However, these used to be automatic for anybody who visited. They have now changed it so that you have to opt in or else you don’t get the benefit. It’s about as pure of a “how can we get less consumers to redeem” play as you can get.

    Example 6: Starbucks runs sweepstakes and games where they give away things (usually Stars) for playing. Typically, you earn plays via purchases, but you can also (by law) register without a purchase. Starbucks has slowly made these entries harder as well – going from requiring a simple entry form, to requiring answers to a multiple-choice question, to having several questions, to – most recently – requiring you to watch a 30-second Starbucks ad. 

    Update: November 2023 – The Starbucks for Life game is back, and they have now increased the required video view length to 2 minutes and 18 seconds. Additionally the questions went from multiple choice to open ended, such as “What does the ethical sourcing stamp mean?”. Check back next year for how else they are building walls.

    I’m sure there are other’s I’m missing – the list of ways to take advantage of loyalty is nearly endless.

    But this is not just a move that has been happening for large corporate brands. Unfortunately, it has also started infecting smaller businesses but that’s a post for a different time.

    Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that none of these businesses must have a loyalty program. However, the decision to be loyal to a program or a store is at least partially dependent on the value that store brings to me as a consumer. And the changing of the value of those rewards, slowly reducing their value, is a particularly insidious move by the company.

    I believe this hit particularly hard because, unlike typical ‘shrinkflation’ items where I can just buy a different brand, loyalty points have no such fungibility. The points are captive, with little recourse for me as an individual.

    I can take business elsewhere in the future, which I do, but that the earned value is eroded is completely out of my control. And this change, this decrease of consumer value without consumer consent, is an unfortunate development to witness.

    So, I encourage you to realize that while loyalty can pay, it might pay less than you think. Or even less than what was promised.

    This has been another Thought From the Cake Scraps

    Happiness: In Money and Life

    October 8th, 2013

    You may have read the article which reports that Gallop found 70% of Americans are disengaged from their job. That’s too bad. But I would challenge the conclusion of the article which is essentially to do what you love and the money will follow or, to quote them:

    “The best performers do so much extra study and work that they become experts, and often becomes wealthy as a result”

    I think the key here is the under-emphasized “often”. Without any hard data, I would argue that while people that have earned their wealth are generally passionate about what they do, the inverse is not true. The article even vaguely hints at it when it says

    “Start by identifying your natural talents, abilities and interests; develop them; and use them to solve problems that people are willing to pay you for.”

    The key from this quote is “people are willing to pay you for”. The fact is: what you are passionate about might be something nobody wants to hear about, much less pay you for. Or it might be so specific that there is simply not enough people out there to actually pay you.

    Now, you might launch into a counter argument about how money isn’t everything, and I would agree with that. Money isn’t everything, but money is a component of happiness and that cannot be overlooked. People will often make the comparison that people go to a job they hate just to make ends meet (which is a whole different issue that when you have a family you can’t just go off and do what you’re passionate about and hope money will come in – your family needs to eat tonight), but people often fail to make the very reasonable reverse argument. People will go to a job they love and come home to a place they hate.

    Whenever people ask for my advice about what to do and how to balance their passion with work I tell them to pick their life goal. Don’t go after a career that will be perfect for you, but won’t pay the bills. Don’t take a job just for the money and hate your work. Do pick a job that you can reasonably enjoy and which provides for a life at home which makes you happy.

    There is no single formula that works. For instance, if you are all about deferred gratification and can work a job you hate but retire at 40, and that’s how you’re going to be happy with your life. Go for it. If you are an optimist and think your passion will make you money no matter what, and trying and failing would be better than not trying at all – a la Gary Vaynerchuk – do it.

    Ultimately, either is consistent with my philosophy to pick the life you want and go for it. So if you’re part of the 70% that are disengaged with your job, but consider that a fair trade-off for the stability and lifestyle it provides, I’m happy for you. Follow your life goal, with laser focus, readjust when necessary, and be happy.

    How happy are you?

    This has been a Thought From the Cake Scraps.


    How Himpmunk Can Solve the Google + and Facebook Problem

    August 24th, 2011

    Circles are all the rage with Google Plus but, as any usability person will tell you, they are a pain to manage.  That is why the Groups option in Facebook never got much traction.  You have to be dedicated to keeping the lists current and managing the settings on the pages.  Google tried to address this issue by forcing you to add people to a circle, but it is still a pain and still rather confusing.  Facebook just took another stab at it.

    I say just look at how people currently use social services and make a solution that solves this issue.  Hint: it is not this silly all-in-one view that both Facebook and Google Plus have taken.  The answer is right in from of them and the interfaces solution lies with Hipmunk.

    In Hipmunk you can create several searches in a tabbed view while remaining in the same browser tab.  The searches may be similar, but obviously different as well.  The key is that you have a central place to manage multiple threads, each thread in a unique tab.

    When you look at the social landscape there are clear breaks.  Facebook is for family and friends.  Twitter is for the masses.  LinkedIn is for work.  All are social; all are distinct.  The answer is one interface that blends all of it together in a central place with unique tabs.

    Circles and groups fail because you manage where you share it at the end of the sharing process, right before you click share.  Think about how much easier it would be to share to “Google+Professionals”, “Google+Friends”, “Google+World”.  Sure, have the concept of Circles live within this interface.  Make it so you can share on +Friends and add the +Work circle to the “Share With” list.  Have a Limited Profile list etc.  The point is that by creating an interface that makes is unmistakably clear where you are sharing people can effectively manage their online presence.

    Then bring it all together by having a central stream where the content flows into and make it clear (w/ an icon) where the post was originally shared from (+P, +F, +W or something cool).  Or, maybe you don’t need a central stream.  Maybe that’s what people say they want, but they don’t actually want it.  Maybe the solution is that people naturally silo themselves into distinct groups and providing a central tool that allows them to select the silo they wish to view is the answer.

    Google Plus is so close to this with the mandated Circles concept but still falls short.  Get people to a central place to manage these different aspects of their life first (look at the success of TweetDeck).  Then focus on how people would like to see them integrated, if at all.  Right now I see these companies trying to solve for a problem (a central place for everything) which doesn’t seem to have much demand while they ignore that people want – to separate certain aspects of their life into silos.

    Hipmunk has it right – give us tabs.  One place, many views, and a central place to manage to distinct aspects of my social presence.

    Does that sound like something you’d use?

    This has been a thought from The Cake Scraps.

    You Need Smart Lazy People

    April 20th, 2011

    Smart lazy people are the lifeblood of any company, big or small.  They are the people that are in the trenches, doing the work, getting things done, and contributing real value by approaching problems with a sharp mind.  But most of all, they are a little lazy.

    A friend of mine coined this term when we were hunting for the ideal candidate to add value to the marketing analytics team.  Now, he was speaking tongue-in-cheek, as he often did, but the underlying idea is actually quite valid.

    An individual who is ‘smart’ will really contribute in the trenches by understanding what the end goal truly is and distilling all of the input into a focused and actionable output.  But they may be so focused on the end result they will do whatever it takes to get there, no matter the effort required.  While this can be awesome, it can also be a waste of time.

    A ‘lazy’ person is someone who hates repetitive tasks; they just want to get the task done so they can go grab a snack or another cup of coffee or (better yet) go and dig in the data because it is just fun.  But, while focused on automation of reports or dashboards, they fail to understand what is really being asked and only deliver to specifications.  Delivering only what is asked instead of what is needed is an easy pit to fall into.

    Combined you get a smart lazy person – an individual who approaches a problem and understands what it takes to solve it and then goes and finds a way to automate it so they can move onto the next task in the list.  They don’t want to spend their time doing mindless repetitive tasks.  They want free time so they can take on additional responsibilities and projects.

    In reality, these people are not actually ‘lazy’, rather, they are in love with optimization and hate to see waste.  They care about the larger picture and realize “How do we get there?” is just as important as “Why are we trying to get there?”

    Take a moment and think about your own approach to issues.  Is there an opportunity for you to be a little smarter or a little ‘lazier’?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    The 8 of 10 Paradox

    March 31st, 2011

    An eight – above average but falling short of the best. This is what I find when I ask people about their Excel skills.  In fact I would wager that this is what most people would say about their skills with any tool provided one thing.  The sole criteria for being an 8 is that they have used the tool enough such that their usage would be self-defined as frequent or occasionally (as opposed to used once or once a year).  The problem is, of course, that we don’t live in Lake Wobegon.  But if you ask people, person after person will tell you an 8.

    I am not immune to this.  In fact, I claim to be an 8 of 10 in the business non-statistical application of Excel.  To me this means that I am not responsible for knowing the advanced mathematical and statistical formulas used in Excel, nor do I know how to write advanced VBA code from scratch.  What it does mean is that I know my way around PivotTables (and getpivot – both syntax options), am well versed in formatting data/graphs, can use a variety of text formulas (len, mid, right, left, proper, etc.), lookup formulas (vlookup, hlookup, index, etc.) and other advanced worksheet formulas (indirect, match, find, search, sumif, etc.), know how to create a dynamic named range, write basic VBA code, and create basic custom number formats (including if/then logic).

    I know that I have shortcomings as well.  I don’t have the syntax for custom number formats memorized, array formulas still take a bit to figure out (and I don’t often think to use them), my VBA skills could use some polish, there are a bunch of keyboard shortcuts I don’t have memorized, and I don’t use many advanced Excel Add-Ins that turn it up another notch.  I’m sure there are others, but the point is that I know I have room for improvement and see examples of really talented individuals when I read blogs or when I am searching for an answer to an issue.

    The point is that I feel like I am a well informed 8.  I am not saying I am an 8 because it just feels right.  I’m saying I’m an 8 because I put in time to learn what I don’t know.  I have been in rooms where I’m not the best, but clearly quite a bit more advanced than a large percentage of the room. And yes, I would wager money that I am not so smart that I can escape the unknown unknowns.  So I am an 8 and I know it for a fact.

    And hence the 8 of 10 Paradox.  Or, rather, the Downing Effect wherein “people with a below average IQ to overestimate their IQ, and of people with an above average IQ to underestimate their IQ” and “the ability to accurately estimate others’ IQ [is] proportional to one’s own IQ”.  Applied more broadly it is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    So remember, as you go through life, people will always be comparing themselves to others.  Knowing your results in comparison to the average just makes us feel better.  But there will be times when there is not quick test score to compare; no easy benchmark to measure against.  There will only be an opinion.  At that moment you should really stop, be honest with yourself, and consider which side of the Dunning-Kruger effect you are on.

    I give this post an 8/10.  What would you give it?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    Small Things Yield Big Rewards

    January 18th, 2011

    I once read in a book that an individual is less likely to sue a doctor if the individual likes the doctor. That makes sense, as people give a larger amount of room for error, in general, for people they like compared to people they do not like.  The element that makes this possible is trust.  One trusts a doctor that they like whereas if one does not like a doctor they are more likely to be skeptical of answers, treatments, and suggestions.

    The one thing that I feel like people fail to realize is what builds this sense of trust, in particular in the work environment.  Building that trust with people is a critical life skill because you can more often pick your friends than you can pick your coworkers or clients.  And this is not about a fake trust or a fake relationship.  This skill is about truly adding value to a conversation, project, or company.  When a person can do that out of genuine interest for the people they are interacting with they ensure that their friends, not coworkers, are there when they slip up.

    So how does one build that trust?  The answer is that the biggest differences between people are the smallest of things.  This is because it is the smallest of things that can really make a difference.  They all add up and most people only pay attention to the overall feeling of ‘nice’ or ‘not nice’, not realizing or even being able to articulate why they feel that way (“he’s just a good guy”).  The memory that most demonstrates this and sticks in my mind was right after I got my new (used) car.  I was pumped.  It was my first ‘nice’ car; a slight splurge because I enjoy driving.  I couldn’t wait to take my coworkers for a ride in it.  I tried to think of what they would notice first.  The all-wheel drive?  The jump from the twin turbo engine? The leather seats?  Any of the obvious ‘nice’ things?  But then my friend got in the car and started fidgeting around with stuff.  Pressing buttons and testing the hanger-hooks and handles above the door.

    I thought to myself “What is he doing?  Look at all the obvious nice stuff!”  And then he looked at me with this smile and said “the buttons have that satisfying click when you press them and your door handles have an elegant slow-retract to them.  Nice.”  Now, he was being a bit sarcastic with his remark, but it stuck with me.  Those are the sorts of things that, while largely ‘unnecessary’ are the exact things that make the car ‘nice’.  The engine, leather seats, nice rims…these are all things that could be put on or in virtually any car without thought.  But the satisfying, tactile *click* when I press a button or the softness of the cup holder opening up.  These are things that are small, one could say insignificant, but simultaneously the fine touches that truly make the car ‘nice’.  Things that are not obvious, not hard, but take a definite thought to put them in place

    Likewise, it is the small things that make the person, even in the business world.

    • If someone starts a thought and gets cut off by another, remember and ask what they were going to say
    • Listen for bits of personal details during a conversation and remember to follow up on it later
    • Set up a .cal list in Outlook for your company holidays (google it) and send it out to your coworkers
    • Make sure to have lunch with different groups of people to learn more about them
    • Sort the pages that are sitting on the printer
    • Make the coffee when the pot is about empty, even if you didn’t have any
    • Have that homemade treat if the person doesn’t often bring treats in
    • Stop by and thank that person for bringing it in, even if it was not homemade
    • Pass along an article you read to show that you’re thinking beyond your own position
    • Ask about a specific item in a person’s desk/cube/office (you’d be surprised how little people do this)
    • Say that you will get back to a person, even if you don’t have the time to fully answer now

    This is just a short list of small things one could do at the office.  They are all small, but they all take effort.  And don’t be fooled, they take lots of effort to do all of these things all of the time.  But as my dad likes to say “the only difference between work and play is your definition.”  So work to redefine your view and these small things that take lots of effort will become natural and maybe the next time you sit down in someone’s new car you’ll notice the satisfying *click* their buttons make.

    Do you take time to do the small things?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    Compounding Mistakes

    September 8th, 2010

    As I was driving home from work the other day the only thing that I could think about was how horrible the lights were timed.  I had noticed it before, and I knew it was annoying, but up until today I had never actually thought about how truly wasteful poor timing on traffic lights is.  As I sat at one red light after another I continued thinking about how poorly timed lights really are a big deal.  Like many things, at first pass it seems like a very silly thing to think about but after thinking on it one comes to realize just how impactful correct traffic light timing is.

    There is the clear waste of time.  This is the one that most people think of as the jump from one red light to another.  The second things many people say is that it wastes gas.  A person might even say it wastes the blacktop as the stopping of large vehicles actually gradually creates ruts and bumps from the tires breaking against the blacktop.  All of these are correct, and were the first things that came to my mind.  But at about the 5th red light I began to realize something else was at play.

    I realized that as I got more and more red lights in a row I was getting more and more frustrated.  Frustrated drivers are much worse for gas mileage than calm drivers.  I can imagine that many other drivers are just as frustrated.  All of that causes a more dangerous overall driving situation for everybody in addition to the additional wear and tear on a car from fast starts and abrupt stops.  Of course it is easy to say that a person should just not drive worse, but that indeed ignores the reality of the condition that we are dealing with humans and emotions must be taken into account when assessing the impact of actions.

    So what we have is one mistake (poor traffic light timing) that leads to other mistakes (poor driving) that then take a situation from frustrating to downright dangerous.  One could even say that yet another mistake that is then made is that people want to occupy all of this down time which leads them to text, surf the radio, or look for a song on their music device.  Again, all of this just adds to the danger of the situation.

    The simple moral is that, as often as you can, you should try to find the source of the problem and start there.  A ban on texting in that stretch won’t solve the issue.  Playing happy music won’t solve the issue.  Only looking at the real problem can the issue be fully addressed.  Addressing the source of the problem solves all of the downstream problems.  This is obvious, but I think it is good to have a reminder every now and again to keep it fresh in your mind.

    Do you let the traffic get to you?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    More Web Analytics To Come

    April 29th, 2010

    I think I am going to try to refocus myself a little bit and talk about my life in the world a web analytics a bit more.  This was one of the things that I talked about at the onset of the blog and, while I have made a few posts on WA, I don’t think I did quite enough.  I didn’t publish what I was learning.  I didn’t take time to look back at what I learned in any given week.  Learning happens, often times, in small steps and so if we never take a moment to look back we never realize just how far we have moved.

    Have you looked back on your acquired knowledge recently?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    Homelessness Is A Choice

    February 10th, 2010

    That is quite a bold statement and one that would likely stir up much debate on its own, but I am going to do this with a twist.  I am going to use the homeless as an example of people making a very hard choice for the good.

    Background: I was reading a post on an occupational field that most of us would rather not find ourselves in.  The author was clearly biased and talked at length about how bad of a job it was, how dangerous it was, and how tough it was on a person both physically and mentally.  I didn’t find their arguments all that compelling and commented on the post and told them why.  My basic problem was the author was presenting this occupation as a last resort.  That the workers had to do things that were outside their contractual obligations.  They had to do it without saying anything or they wouldn’t get paid.  These sorts of things – and yes this was a legal occupation in the USA.

    Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have already said that many people would not want to do this job.  But to say that these workers didn’t have a choice…well, I just thought that was dehumanizing in a very substantial way.  They were not forced to work.  They had clear legal recourse if the employer violated the terms of the contract.  They had a choice and the ability to choose what we want to do is a very important part of life.

    Current Topic: Which brings us to why homelessness is a choice.  As I was tossing around the above case in my mind, poking it to see what holes I could make in my own argument, I came to this odd realization.  These workers could have chosen not to work, even if they had a family.  They could have chosen homelessness.  Now, this is where most would stop.  We can debate other contributing factors to homelessness, but I would rather skip debate on that point in favor of more dialogue on my next.  The homeless choose not to do more wrongs simply to escape.

    Think about that for a second.  These are people that may not know where their next meal will come from, when it will come, or if they will even make it to the next meal.  Just think of the terrible weather in Washington D.C. right now.  They may not even have a place to sleep.  It’s tragic.  (Which on a side note is why I’m very happy with the effort my company, Lands’ End, made this past season with the Big Warm Up).  And yet they are still on the street rather than in a job they hate.  They are not committing blatant acts of lawlessness so they can be arrested and have a place to stay and food on their plate.

    So in a very odd way, I am holding them up as a beacon for people that truly hate their jobs.  As I have alluded to in this post, there are many, many other debates that could be had around this topic but I just thought the conclusion that I came to was so peculiar, in a fascinating-thought-experiment sort of way, that I had to share.  I suppose I could have used an argument about the days of yore when honor was king, and death before dishonor, and all that.  This just seemed more interesting.

    What do you think?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    Why I Dislike iTunes And XBox Marketplace

    December 1st, 2009

    It is no secret that virtual goods are a hard sell for me; I need to get something not easily duplicated for my money.  After my first post Fantasy7 made the argument that people buy a Facebook gift for the experience.  They buy it for the joy of giving and for the joy of receiving.  A similar argument was made for in-game items for games such as Word of Warcraft.  Again, I understand this.  Which is why I then wrote a second post to address these issues.

    Again Fantasy7 was back, pushing for virtual goods.  That music and games could be passed on.  That an e-book had just as much value as a book on the shelf you don’t read.  If you don’t intend to resell it they have the same value.  While, for me, this is an argument that is on rather thin ice I at least understand where Fantasy7 is coming from.  But I am not convinced and today I will make another case against virtual goods.

    I believe some of the views toward virtual goods are shortsighted.  In reality, one can never know how long they will want something.  This is why craigslist become a hit quickly and why rummage sales will never go out of style.  At some point in time you will have stuff that is either no longer of value to you either because it is junk or too worn/old for you.  At such a point one could just throw it away.  Or one could gift it.  Or recycle it.

    Lets take one example most people can get on board with, a car.  A car is not something that one generally just throws away.  Nor is it something that is generally just gifted – though I do recognize that children may get one as a gift.  I think everyone can get on board with the idea that trashing or gifting a car is not the most common thing to do with it.  Even though the goal is to get rid of the car, people still sell it because it retains some value in some way, even if it is just for parts.  The physical item has value and always will, if only as scrap metal.  It may have too small of a value for the owner to do anything but trash it, but there is still value, however small.

    Now to my point.  Digital goods only have value to the original seller.  If this is not the case, can someone please show me where I can sell my iTunes songs I don’t want?  Or where to unload my XBox Marketplace download of the original Halo?  Only iTunes and Xbox make money in these spaces.  Not the case with purchased games where I have a physical, non-easily reproducible copy of the game.  Yes it is a copy of some original source code, but there is the case, manual, artwork, etc. that are not easily copied.  If you buy an iTunes song or movie it does not take much to make a copy, copyright protected or not.

    My larger point is that any virtual good that you purchase  is a sunk cost.  End of story.  This is simply not the case with physical goods.  Forget the arguments about worth and experience and all that.  Even Fantasy7 can’t argue with the statement that a virtual game or song is a sunk cost (it may be different for online game merchandise, though as soon as the multi-player server goes offline, the player is left with nothing, no matter how much real money they spent).  It is simply a fact.  And this is why I will always prefer a physical good with any purchase I make.  I cannot predict the future, nor can any of you, so why not keep my options open.  The physical will always retain value.

    So what prompted this post?  I was going to throw away some old XBox games.  But, I checked online to see if they were worth something.  Anything I could get for them would be gravy since the plan was to junk them.  And believe it or not, Amazon is selling WWE Raw 2 for $89.94.  Others list it new at $29.99 and used at $7.76.

    It’s not much but it is a free lunch.  Assume that you have just the download from Xbox Live Marketplace.  Who’s paying for your lunch?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.