Here’s something else Amazon could sell me

Amazon sells me a lot of stuff.  I read somewhere that you can pull a report of everything you have bought from Amazon, so I did, but I’m afraid to look at it.  In a given week, I probably place 4-6 orders, not counting my standing monthly “Subscribe and Save” orders, or the ones mrDiva places. Now we also have an Amazon Echo so we can just ask “Alexa” to order things for us from Amazon.

Here’s a list of what I’ve ordered from Amazon in the past week, and here’s where I would have bought it pre-Amazon:

  • Sneakers for my daughter (Stride Rite)
  • Water shoes for my daughter (Target)
  • Duplo (Lego) set (Toys R Us)
  • Measuring cup (Target)
  • Humidifier cleaner (Supermarket)
  • Book (Barnes and Noble)
  • Diapers for my daughter (Target)
  • Diapers for my son (Target)
  • Wipes (Target)
  • Birthday gift for friend (Toys R Us)

Needless to say, Amazon has captured a huge share of wallet in our household.

We know that Amazon plays games with prices – and that “list price” is a construct whose time may be over.  Of course Amazon offers me products they think I’ll like and follows me around the internet offering me items I’ve looked at.

But I think Amazon could be even smarter with their Big Data.

One way is with Amazon Pantry.  Pantry is for household and supermarket items, and you basically fill a box of a certain size, then pay flat rate shipping.

The thing is, I’m a great candidate for Pantry.  In fact, I make a monthly grocery store run to the “big” grocery store to get cereal, granola bars, microwave popcorn, cookies, chips, and all the things my local market charges through the nose for, and that my organic market doesn’t carry.  (I mean, it would kill them to stock Oreos?)  I’ve bought some of these items from Amazon in the past.

So I’ve looked at Pantry a few times.  I’ve even loaded up a box to see what it would cost.  But I feel like it’s hard to compare prices with what I typically pay, so I haven’t pulled the trigger.

And Amazon knows all this.  They know that I’ve put things in a Pantry box, that I’ve tried to search for the same items on both Pantry and non-Pantry pricing, and that I’ve given up with a half-full box several times.  So you know what would be compelling? Something like this:

“Hey Sheryl, we noticed you were looking at Pantry.  We combed through your orders in the past, and noticed that if you had bought these things in a Pantry box instead of a la carte, you would have saved $20!”

But that’s not my real idea for Amazon.  My real idea is around budgeting.  Personal finance is a huge online business.  Mint, Wave, and numerous others all have healthy businesses helping people budget. The thing is this: a HUGE portion of my budget is spent through Amazon.  They have a ton of data about my spending habits in different categories and my purchasing patterns.

There are also some things I don’t buy on Amazon.  But Amazon Payments could cover that. Theoretically, any online purchase I make could be tracked by Amazon.  And I would love to get that info – to know, where was I spending money, and what were the trends.  Were diapers really costing me as much as I thought?  How much did I spend on clothing last summer?

Not only that, but once Amazon started offering me financial information, I might be inclined to see what Amazon recommended for things like car insurance, or mortgage rates.  And they wouldn’t have to even sell that to me, but they could offer it as a referral.  I can already buy a cell phone plan, magazine subscription, and software contract from Amazon.  Why not insurance?  Why not my kid’s 529?

The point being, as I said earlier: Amazon has a huge share of our household wallet.  Their ability to provide information to me about my own spending habits would be valuable – valuable enough that I could turn to them for other purchases as well.  At this point, if Amazon doesn’t sell it, I probably don’t buy it.

How we (don’t) talk about maternity leave in the tech industry

This morning, Business Insider pointed me to a Medium post by Peretz Partensky, whose co-founder Na’ama Moran is pregnant while raising another round of VC funding for their startup.

It’s a great post, and if you’re interested in this topic at all – by which I mean, if you work in tech you should be – it’s an important read.  It also links to several other thoughtful pieces by women reflecting on pregnancy and work in high tech.

When talking about venture capitalists, Patensky says,

“But just because they aren’t asking, it doesn’t mean the pregnancy isn’t foremost in their minds. It is almost worse left unaddressed.”

This is an incredibly important point, and one that is relevant in general, not just in the venture world.  Somehow, the anti-discrimination laws introduced to protect women during pregnancy have instead created an environment where people are afraid to talk about pregnancy.

I’m lucky, and I know it – during both of my pregnancies and subsequent maternity leaves I worked for people who were open and invested in my successful departure and return.  Most recently, at my current company Infinio, where we’re very direct and everything is discussed openly, and before that at Dell, where I had great management who were somewhat stifled by corporate guidelines.  And that put me in a situation where I find the anti-discrimination laws, at least as they were enforced, a hindrance to figuring out exactly how I would manage being out.

I get it – first and foremost there should be laws that protect women from discrimination while they are pregnant and when they have children.  But right now this is coming at a cost of better – actually, any – dialogue about pregnancy and children in the workplace. People are afraid to say the word “pregnant.”  Afraid to ask about a woman’s plans. Trained not to push a woman to commit to plans after maternity leave.  And thus relegated to making assumptions about women’s preferences and choices that may be completely incorrect.

Like I said, I was lucky.  Before I went on my first maternity leave, my Director asked me if I thought I wanted to come back to the same level of responsibility or something that was less taxing.  (Legally, they had to hold my role at my level for 12 weeks, but he was asking something subtler than that.)   Knowing I wanted my old job back but being open to the idea that once I had the baby I’d feel different, I said, “I think full force, but I won’t know until it happens.”  I will always remember what he said, “No, if you think you want to come back full force, you probably will.”

It was great advice, and he was right.  It is also a great example of the kind of direct conversation that is usually missing in planning for maternity leave.

I’ve written about this before.  Here are my comments on maternity leave, and here are my thoughts on Marissa Meyer.  I also found this post on someone else’s experience being the first pregnant woman at her startup very helpful.

Twitter’s impact on public and private

I’ve been reading a lot about Twitter today, being its 10 year anniversary.  I joined Twitter just tweetover 5 years ago – so halfway through, although I’d argue it’s not the more interesting half.

One thing I read this morning was Om Malik‘s original critique of “twittr” from GigaOm.  Most notable was this comment: “The annoying SMS messages from nocturnal friends is not the only thing which bothers me about this service, but also the fact, that the texting a message(reply) to twttr ends up on their website.”

How far we have come that we don’t even think about that any more – or we do, and we want it to be on the website.

The thing I’ve noticed is this: we’re being really careless – liberal maybe? – about what’s public and what’s private online these days.  I started to notice this on Facebook first.  I’d comment on someone’s post, and someone would reply to my comment, but really be starting a 1:1 conversation with me.  Say the original post was about common core math.  I’d write something like “I don’t think it’s that bad – that’s how we make change from a $20.”  Then suddenly someone is saying to me, “Sheryl, hey, how’s your baby doing?”

At first I avoided these conversations, feeling like out in public on Facebook was like talking (too) loudly in a cafe. But over time it’s become somewhat a new norm and I have to admit to participating in it.

Another example is group text messaging.  I’m in several group chats for text messaging.  And eventually they all evolve into 1:1 conversations that everyone else is just a part of.

Another example is that I’m part of a ListServe (yes I live in 1992) for moms in the Boston area. Over 10,000 people are members.  The freedom with which we casually post questions and advice to an audience of 10,000 is stunning.

None of these is a bad thing, but I’m noticing that this blurring between what’s a private conversation and what’s a public conversation is getting greater.  It’s not public/private like people divulging secrets (although social media seems to be ripe for that too).  More what I’m getting at is that everything has become, by default, public, rather than by default things being private.

And I see that as Twitter’s influence.  The “Twitter Effect” if you will.  None of this is news, but think about it in the context of public and private.  Facebook is based on reciprocal relationships – you decide who is in your circle, and when you share, it is with those people. Twitter, conversely, is about showing up and talking, and anyone who is interested can listen to what you have to say. (OK, face it, they are both about selling your information and preferences, but this is about how you interact with the other users, not the advertisers.)

There are benefits to this – the impact of transparency on businesses, for example, is often positive.  And many people have cited social media as a simple and inexpensive way to alleviate loneliness, to connect people, and to provide access to resources not otherwise available in a traditional network.  But there are drawbacks, too – like oversharing, information overload, and a loss of the intimacy that comes from 1:1 sharing between friends.

The world we live in gets stranger by the day.  And it’s good to take a minute to reflect on where we are with social media – and where we’re going.

An idea for Uber

I’m an Uber fan.  And I’ve enjoyed following them from the start – from taxi hailing to private car service, surge pricing, the transition to delivery, and now to pooled rides.  I’m fascinated that a huge percentage of their fundraising goes towards legal battles.

And I’m also a customer.  As such, I talk to my drivers incessantly and ask them a lot of questions.  I sometimes take Lyft (if Uber is in surge and Lyft isn’t) but usually I use Uber.

Recently, I had a thought.  Sometimes I look at Uber and if it is in surge I take the T instead. Getting from work to home costs about $13 for UberX, $7 for UberPool, and is effectively free with a monthly T pass that’s already paid for.

I started to wonder – isn’t the market symmetric?  That is, just like putting Uber into surge is supposed to attract more drivers, wouldn’t there be an equivalent “under-surge” that would attract more passengers?

A lot has been written about whether Uber drivers really make the kind of money Uber claims they do.  It’s hard to determine whether it’s true or not.  But most of the drivers I talk to would rather have a fare than not, even if it’s a short one, or one that gives them an empty car back to the city.  It would seem to me that they wouldn’t mind fares where they just broke even, if it put more riders on the road.

The thing is, if there were an “under-surge” that enticed more riders to take Uber when there were a lot of empty cars driving around, it might create new rider habits.  If I took Uber home from work more often because I could take advantage of under-surge, perhaps I’d get used to taking Uber home and do it even when there wasn’t an under-surge.

Habits are powerful.  And the economics of Uber provide fascinating examples of all kids of market dynamics.

An untapped resource for the new on-demand economy

I love the on-demand economy.  Among my favorite apps are Favor, Uber, and Amazon Prime.  I was an early adopter of the ill-fated  And I eagerly follow the market.  There’s Washio for dry cleaning, Instacart for groceries, and even VetPronto for a veterinarian!

When Amazon started to offer “same-day shipping” I was really interested to understand how they were able to offer that.  Then came Google Express and Prime Now.

If you were to set up a new on-demand economy company, what would you want?  Perhaps a network of people who knew different neighborhoods really well; small, local warehouses for products; a fleet of transportation vessels to transport people and things around; and an incentive to succeed.

You know, like the U.S. Postal Service.

It’s amazing really, how much infrastructure the government already has that could compete with or fuel this new economy.  Let’s say you wanted to start a company that delivered freshly ground coffee beans, or fresh produce.  Wouldn’t it be convenient to have local warehouses that are uniformly distributed throughout neighborhoods?

The post office is in trouble if they don’t come up with something.  Their taking over Amazon’s Sunday deliveries indicates that they’re eager for new opportunities, but I think they should be thinking bigger.


Reliability of finding a taxi vs Uber

It used to be hard to get a taxi.

No, seriously.  I’ve lived in Boston for over 15 years now, and I have memories of calling cabs who never came, waiting on corners for the sight of one to flag down, calling the dispatcher back to ask where they are, and generally hating the whole process.  It always seemed like no matter which taxi number you called, you got the same harried dispatcher who was not thrilled that you were calling to request a cab.

When Uber came along, it was relieving.  I could use my app to request a taxi, I could at least know for sure that one was assigned to me, and see its progress towards me.  It might still take some time to reach me, but I felt like I had more control.

Now with Uber-X I can request someone to arrive at my door within minutes, even on off-hours. (Like today, at 4:30am.)  There are usually plenty of drivers on the road.  My entire routine of getting to the airport has changed, because I can rely on a car arriving when I want it, rather than factoring in time for wrangling a cab.

What’s most interesting to me (and this is where that PhD my mother wanted me to get in math would come in handy) is that in a pretty random system, this can be true.  That is, some number of people got up this morning, decided, “I’ll drive for Uber today” and enough of them ended up in my neighborhood at the right time so that when I needed a car, I could get one quickly.

Mass transit isn’t that efficient.  The taxi system isn’t that efficient.

I know that Uber does some amount of controlling the number of cars on the road with their surge pricing.  But Uber doesn’t assign territories or control whether cars are moving around or sitting still, or where they are.  Plus, there was no surge this morning.

It makes me wonder what other kinds of systems can be efficient in a purely random way.  I’m reading Who Gets What and Why about market design, and it’s got me thinking a lot about this.  But the experience I had this morning is more than just market design, I think.  It’s also about “randomness in a densely populated system”?

Stay tuned.


A lesson in content marketing from the boxed-meal industry

Like most families with two working parents and multiple little kids, dinner is a nightmare at our house.  Before kids, and then again before miniDivo, we did enjoy subscribing to those dinner boxes, like Plated and Blue Apron.  Sometimes it felt like there was a lot of prep/chopping, but the food was pretty good.  And I liked not having half a bulb of ginger left over and nothing to do with it.

The other day I idly checked their websites out to see what was new.  I was hoping that maybe they had a new service where for $8/plate, someone showed up at my house with a hot dinner that was already cooked.  Just kidding.  But I wanted to see what was new, and I thought maybe I’d get a few kits for some weekend cooking.

What I found was a near-perfect lesson in content marketing.

Content marketing is closely related to “inbound” marketing; the idea that you put good content out there to attract an audience that is looking for those things.  Since you provide valuable information to that audience, they respect you as an expert and look to you when they are ready to purchase.

Let’s take a look at what each company tells me about the food.

First up, Plated.

Plated wants me to sign up right away.  I don’t have a lot of choices on their website and it seems like to get any information I need to “join” or at least enter my info.







I can see pictures of the weekly options.

Weekly menu






I can see what ingredients are in the weekly recipes.








I can get nutritional info (although that’s in the help section.)

Nutrition Info







But I can’t get an actual recipe.  Unless I am a subscriber.

Lost recipe card




Blue Apron is the opposite of this.  When I get to the site, I am educated about the system and the food.






I can see the menu for the week.

Weekly Menu




And choose a specific dish to learn more about.






But here’s where their online strategies diverge.  Blue Apron is an open book.  Not only can I see the ingredients,


but I can also get the entire recipe – the instructions, help on my technique, advice on how to execute it, and what tools I need in my kitchen.







In short, Blue Apron is making all their recipe information public – I don’t have to sign up for their service or even give them my information to get access to it.  Not only are they going to give me the recipe, but they’re also going to offer me help in how to cook, show me videos on technique, and let me read other users’ comments about how to make each dish.  In contrast, Plated has a completely opposite strategy – I can’t get much information at all without signing up.  I need to be a paying customer to see their recipes.

It’s hard to say if this difference is based on a difference in marketing strategy or a difference in actual company strategy.  That is, do Plated and Blue Apron each think that they have the best way to acquire customers for a similar product?  Or do they each perceive their unique value proposition as something different: For Plated, do they see it as the recipes, while Blue Apron sees it as (for example) their supply chain.

I’m not sure I can answer that as an outsider.

As a customer, it’s a vastly different experience to browse their websites.  Plated (which I have ordered from in the past) feels less friendly.  And there’s more mystery around their product – the recipe itself and the ingredients are the product.  They’re betting that the images of their food, and how they position it (they have gourmet “chef’s table” choices, for example) will make it appealing enough to purchase.

By contrast, Blue Apron feels more accessible – it feels more like they’re there to let me browse a lot more about their products, even what it would be like to use them.  They’re betting, of course, that I eventually decide the recipes, tips, techniques, and suggestions are good enough that I will want to make them at home.  And that I’ll find their delivery of the ingredients appealing.

It’s an interesting twist not just on content marketing, but also on a freemium model.  You could look at it as the recipes being free, but you pay if you want the actual food delivered.

Either way, it’s an great look at content marketing – and the power it can have in customer acquisition.



Experimenting with my “to-do” list

I’m still a fan of the handwritten to-do list.

I know people really like many of the electronic alternatives, like using Google Tasks, or Trello, but I really like handwriting my to-do list.  Somewhat it’s habit, and somewhat it’s because years ago mrDiva took a Franklin Covey class and part of the system is to re-write, by hand, your to-do list each morning.  I don’t do that but I appreciate why it’s advised, so I stick with the handwritten list.

Also, as I go through the week and attend meetings, I take handwritten notes, and then put a circle in the margin next to anything that is a “to-do” for later.  Then when I have downtime, I either do those things, or transfer them to a central task list.

Starting this week, I’m trying two new things.

The first is something that I’ve been thinking is a good idea for a long time, but recently got re-affirmed when I attended Carson Tate’s session at the Mass Conference for Women.  Everything I put on my to-do list is going to start with verb.

No more “2016 budget.”  Now it will be “Draft 2016 budget.”  No more “Blogger strategy,” now it will be “Analyze blogger strategy.”

The reason for this is two fold. One – it’s more obvious how big a task it is if I write it as a verb. Analyzing a strategy is different from creating a strategy which is different from executing a strategy. They take different amounts of effort.  Two – another piece of advice from Tate is to group similar types of tasks together; as such, it is hard to do that if you don’t know what the task actually is.

The other new thing I’m trying with my task list is to keep a yellow post-it on my computer with the tasks that absolutely must get done that day.  I know a lot of people think that it’s a bad idea to keep different to-do lists, but I have had too many time-sensitive things fall through the cracks lately.  I’m hoping this is a good solution to that. Kind of like HSM for tasks.

I’ll let you know how everything goes.

I thought I was a marketer, but I’m a data scientist

Big data has been abstract to me for a long time.  Sure, I understand it in the context of things data science 101010like “genomic research” and applications in Oil and Gas.  But how my own field of Marketing as a discipline is changing because of Big Data – that was not so clear to me until about a week ago.

Using (little-d) data in marketing is nothing new.  Through tools like Hubspot and Salesforce, it’s easy to track things like “ratio of qualified leads to leads for different marketing tactics” and answer questions like “what is the point of diminishing returns for the number of times we call someone?”

At Infinio, we are very data-driven.  We make nearly all our marketing budget decisions based on data.  I’m not sure how you’d do it otherwise. A few of my vendors have recently commented that we have a lot more data and track things a lot more carefully than most of their other customers.  But again, I’m not sure how else you’d do it.

But that’s “little-d” data, now onto Big Data.

In budgeting for 2016, I decided to look at 10 new vendors that are doing innovative things in marketing.  I’m pretty new to demand generation and online marketing (my background is in product marketing) so I thought it would be a good exercise to look at vendors with leading-edge technologies around things like demos, landing pages, retargeting, social advertising, and improving abandon and bounce rate.  I unscientifically picked a handful that looked interesting and started investigating what they do.

Nearly each and every one of them was trying to differentiate their value based on using data to drive decisions and actions.

  • “We use data about the people on your website and where else they go on the web to find other people who go to similar sites and might be interested in your company.”
  • “We track what people are doing on your website and show them content that other visitors who completed similar actions were interested in.”
  • “We look at all the conversion rates for landing pages across all our customers’ sites to dynamically adjust your page design to increase conversion.”

Marketing is not about the “next big thing” right now.  There’s no new way to market, or new medium.  It’s about harnessing the power of data to get better results.  And I sound like an ad for something right there “harnessing the power of data” but it’s true.

It’s been suggested in several places that the CMO is the next CIO, and I think there’s something to that.  That article quotes a recent Gartner report predicting that in 5 years, Marketing will be spending more on technology than IT will.

Our company isn’t an “online” company, we don’t complete transactions online, for example. But the success of our company in the next 5 years is likely going to be attributable somewhat to our ability to leverage data about our customers and prospects and their online activities.

It’s creepy.  Knowing more about what these companies do, every time I hover over my mouse or choose a particular menu item on a website I think about how someone is tracking me. Even incognito browsing isn’t untrackable.  If you haven’t read The Filter Bubble, go read it, then think about these tools in that context – your activities (and various vendors’ budgets) determine what you see on the web.

What it boils down to is that this is the next generation of what marketers are doing. When I started in marketing, “Inbound marketing” (making good content available, becoming thought leaders, and attracting buyers to interact with you) was all the rage. This is what’s next.  It’s still about putting out the right messaging, but it’s doing it using technology and tools to automate finding the right people.

When it’s hard to be a customer

Those of us who sell things like to think it’s easy to buy them.  Meaning, if someone is interestedEscalator and has budget and is motivated, then it’s simple for them to actually make a purchase. Even if it may be a slightly complicated process (Quote-PO-Invoice-Check) it’s not so difficult that someone can’t get through it.

But sometimes it is hard to buy something. Like, there’s an error in your shopping cart checkout process online and you have to re-load your cart up and buy everything again. Or you’re at a tradeshow (as a customer) and all the vendors are on their phones or laptops and you can’t find someone to talk to.  Or you’re at the supermarket and the person in front of you needs a price check on kumquats.  Then on tangerines.

Yesterday I had a hard time shopping – at a shoe store.  I went to a big shoe warehouse downtown that has several floors so it has two pair of escalators.  On the first floor, one escalator was broken, but that ok – I just used the other one to go up.  On the second floor, again, one escalator was broken.  Except the second escalator was going “Down.”

In order to go up to the third floor, you had to leave the store and use a common building elevator or stairs.  Even worse, you couldn’t take your merchandise with you. There was no way to easily compare items from the two floors without leaving items on the second floor, going up to the third, getting other items, and bringing them back to the second.  (And lest you think I am unusual in this regard, the store provides large mesh bags for you to walk around with multiple shoe boxes while shopping.)

I heard at least half a dozen people – clearly regulars, aka shoe addics- exclaim, “this escalator’s down? how do I get up there?”  And I was not the only person who accidentally walked through a theft detector with unpaid merchandise not realizing it couldn’t come with me.

It was hard to get to the product I wanted to buy.

It was hard to shop.

And the solution wasn’t complicated.  Escalators can be set to run in either direction. Frequently, escalators in transit stations change direction based on time of day (much like carpool lanes on highways.)  All this store had to do was reverse the running escalator to carry passengers up, instead of down.

By doing this, it would have been easy to get from the street to the second floor, then the second floor to the third.  There are checkouts on both the second and third floors, so wherever you ended up, you could pay.  And then the hassle would be getting out of the store, not getting to the products.

Either the store needed a creative manager, more autonomy for store personnel, or a way to get in touch with the escalator’s maintenance person.  Because we have *got* to be able to get to the shoes!