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On November 22, 2015, CEA commented on Blue Apron: Digitizing the Food Chain :

Very interesting post. I’d like to address the point on Blue Apron’s ability to balance supply and demand. Other services like GrubHub or FreshDirect can’t do this as easily (although they could certainly suggest certain foods or prioritize them in search results), but that’s because those services give the customer full choice. It seems to me that Blue Apron is able to balance supply and demand by limiting consumer choice (they choose 3 out of 6 meals). I wonder how much that lack of choice will limit the total subscribers or the number of weeks/year that subscribers choose to receive meals.

On November 22, 2015, CEA commented on Birchbox: using data for personalized discovery :

I initially had the same concern as JG – that introducing their own line of makeup might create a conflict of interest, but I’m actually not sure that’s true. Sephora sells its own line in its stores alongside other brands with great success. Netflix producing its own content is another great example. Instead, the two biggest concerns I have are 1) what is the purpose in opening a brick and mortar store? Does the store collect information on who comes into the store, what they buy, etc., or can people pass in and out anonymously? Unless they manage to sign up / create a profile for everyone who comes through the store, I wonder how they can capture useful data here. 2) I agree that there is some value creation for makeup brands in effective sampling of their product to drive full-size purchases, but I am curious to know what the conversion rate looks like. It seems like some may subscribe to Birchbox for a monthly surprise gift box and may not actually be interested in purchasing full-size items.

On November 22, 2015, CEA commented on How Ibotta Is Changing the Coupon Game :

This was a really interesting post! I’ve actually used Ibotta and do think that the gaming aspect makes it more interesting and potentially more attractive than other digital couponing platforms. That being said, I do feel that awareness is very low, and I wonder how they are going to draw more users. I also have to wonder how well it can really offer targeted advertising with just 2 million users. You really need a much larger user base before you can choose narrow segments to target. Lastly, I didn’t know they were only paid on redeemed coupons. I think that is likely huge in attracting advertisers. Just having customers see their product on the Ibotta platform builds brand awareness (and is largely free if not everyone redeems).

On October 30, 2015, CEA commented on Yelp: An old dog may need a new trick soon :

Great post – the potential “negative direct network effects” for Yelp are a very good point. I agree with most of what was said above but would like to play devil’s advocate and point out a few things that still work in Yelp’s favor.

First, and most importantly, I see huge barriers to entry. Yelp has substantially more reviews than anyone else, and it would take a competitor years to catch up. Although users may not be hugely incentivized to post on Yelp, I think they are more likely to post a review on Yelp than anywhere else, and users are most likely to go searching for reviews on Yelp.

Secondly, I agree that when a certain establishment reaches a critical level of reviews, additional reviews don’t feel as impactful; however Yelp is still useful in these situations as a validation for that establishment. If a restaurant has 3.5 stars or higher and more than a few hundred reviews, I can rest assured that I will at least eat a decent meal. This is valuable to the user, although I agree that there may be a lack of incentive to post additional reviews on these establishments.

Finally, new establishments open all the time, and I would argue that Yelp continues to create value for both users and reviewers with these newer establishments. Reviewers may post because with fewer reviews, they feel they are actually heard. Yelp may also serve as a great way for users to voice complaints with these smaller, less reviewed establishments (complaints on Yelp are almost always addressed by less reviewed business given the reputational risk).

I agree that Yelp will face challenges and stiffer competition and must continue to innovate, but I think company is well-positioned today and still holds great value for businesses and consumers alike.

This was a great post and has made me reconsider my initial impression of Glassdoor, although I still have some concerns. My experience in using Glassdoor is very limited; however, what bothered me most about the site was the fragmented nature of the information. When I search for a company or position, I am given hundreds of search results, all related to various positions within the firm I am searching. The sheer amount of information is overwhelming, and reviews of certain positions within a firm may not be relevant at all – for example, a review of a marketing position within a large firm isn’t very helpful to me if I’m looking at an operations role. That being said, I do see value in Glassdoor and actually think it is quite differentiated from LinkedIn. While LinkedIn seems to be more about connecting people, Glassdoor is more like Yelp and provides reviews of what it is like to work for (or interview with) a company and what one can expect (in terms of pay, culture, etc.). I think that if Glassdoor could simply try to better organize its reviews (by company and then by function) and consolidate a large amount of fragmented information, the site would be greatly improved.

On October 30, 2015, CEA commented on General Mills Crowdsourcing – Will they pull it off? :

This is a very interesting post. Given that General Mills is crowd-sourcing in so many ways, I’m only going to address using G-WIN to source suggestions for products/ingredients/packaging from consumers. On the one hand, this seems to make a lot of sense. Who knows the needs of your customers better than your customers themselves? On the other hand, I have to wonder who submits proposals to G-WIN and if their needs are really representative of the broader customer base. Is there a response bias in that those who submit proposals might be the most extreme users? Nonetheless, I do see value is soliciting proposals from customers, but I would be curious to know how General Mills then proceeds with those suggestions. What is the internal process to evaluate these suggestions, and how does the company gauge whether these new products/ingredients/packaging would resonate with a large portion of customers?

On October 4, 2015, CEA commented on Getting on the Lyst :

I really enjoyed this post but question whether network effects are really very strong here. Yes, you may value the opinion of a few friends, but beyond that, do you derive value from additional users on Lyst? I was curious to see how Lyst worked so I visited the website. I searched for women’s coats and was given 102,948 results. I’m not sure how valuable that is to users. Perhaps if they are searching for a very specific item and would like to search across all vendors, I could see some value. However, once a customer has found the item, what is the catalyst for them to buy it on Lyst? I personally would be more inclined to find the item on Lyst and then navigate to the actual vendor’s website. For this reason, I agree with you that Lyst must offer some kind of customer loyalty program to incentivize users to not just find products on their site, but to actually buy them through their site. It will be interesting to see where the company goes from here, but it certainly does sound like they have a plan!

On October 4, 2015, CEA commented on How AirBnB Might Ultimately Fail :

While I also question the ability of renters to cut out the middleman (there is certainly a small subset of repeat visitors who could subsequently go directly to the owner, but for the majority of visitors, they lack this direct relationship), I completely agree with your point that less sophisticated users dilute the value of the platform. I myself have had an AirBnB reservation cancel on me last minute and have known many friends to have this same thing happen. This is horribly inconvenient, and AirBnb does very little to mitigate the problem. They charge renters a small fee for cancellation, but that fee pales in comparison to the inconvenience caused to the customer. Customers simply cannot afford to show up to another city for their vacation, celebration, etc, only to find that they have no place to stay. This problem has sparked a rather emotional reaction from consumers (just Google negative reviews of AirBnb and there are numerous websites dedicated to the topic). This negative emotional reaction can be very dangerous and I believe can just as quickly result in users defecting from AirBnB’s platform.

I really enjoyed this post and agree that there is absolutely an opportunity for premium, pay-to-play restaurant reservation services. That being said, I would still argue that the majority of restaurant-goers aren’t willing to pay for a reservation and that there remains great value to OpenTable. As you pointed out, one can spend hours calling restaurants to finally find an opening. The ability to search available reservations across all restaurants in a given area at a given time is hugely valuable. Restaurants can easily offer their own reservation services on their websites, but customers don’t have the time to visit each restaurant’s website individually. Additionally, this seems to be a high fixed cost business, which presents a huge barrier to entry. Unless a competitor could replicate OpenTable’s service without needing to install costly ERB’s, I think OpenTable could sustain its grip on restaurant reservations for some time to come.

On September 13, 2015, CEA commented on The New York Times: Outwitted in the Digital Age? :

I really enjoyed this piece and agree that NYT has clearly been losing in the news/publishing industry; however, I wonder how much of this is really due to a failure to innovate and embrace digital. As you mentioned, the NYT has amassed more digital subscribers than any other publication except the WSJ. Moreover, as mentioned in another comment, the NYTNow app offers high quality journalism and curated stories in an easily digestible format. I have to wonder if the NYT is losing simply because it charges for content, unlike its new digital competitors which simply aggregate and repackage content (or produce low quality content) and generate revenues through advertising alone. The level of quality NYT offers in its journalism is likely not sustainable without subscription revenues, so I too wonder who will generate quality content (not just in publishing, but in TV and other media) when the traditional players no longer have the deep pockets to do so.

These are all good points, but as you mentioned, competition in this area is rapidly evolving and Chase will have to continue to innovate to stay ahead of the market. My greatest concern here is that I don’t see strong reasons for customers to stay with Chase. In the past, most customers selected a bank based on proximity, wide availability, and convenience of retail or ATM locations. As you mentioned, with online banking, Chase has been able to drastically reduce its’ physical presence; however, my concern is that this move makes customers less sticky to Chase. Secondly, you mentioned that Chase customers are able to pay each other electronically, but what about payments to non-Chase customers? It seems like Venmo is rapidly taking over this space, making that feature not so important to Chase customers. It sounds like Chase has done a good job of innovating compared to some other banks, but I’d like to know more about their initiatives to retain customers to gain conviction that they’ll really be a winner in the long term.

On September 13, 2015, CEA commented on Nordstrom – Innovating to Stay Relevant :

I really enjoyed this post and agree that Nordstrom’s focus on excellent customer service, as well as its more recent forays into digital offerings, has helped it to stay somewhat relevant. However, I am still concerned by its hybrid digital/brick and mortar strategy. While I see value to having some brick and mortar retail locations, I worry about the higher cost structure of Nordstrom versus online retailers. Without brick and mortar locations, these online retailers can offer discounts that Nordstrom’s cost structure cannot support. Moreover, while I see the value of retail stores in allowing customers to try on clothing, I fear that Nordstrom’s profitability will suffer from “show-rooming”, where customers try on clothes at the store and then find the best deal online. Do you think Nordstrom can offer the most competitive prices while still maintaining this full level of service? Do you think customer loyalty to Nordstrom is so strong that higher prices won’t matter?