Catherine Xu

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On November 20, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on Under Armour: The Business of Sweat Goes Digital :

Fascinating post, Phoebe! I think what Under Armour is doing is extremely powerful, not just because of its noble goal of “making all athletes better,” but for its potential to really improve the lives of people who aren’t avid athletes by building an ecosystem of products that manage fitness, health and wellness. I think of everything Under Armour has built so far as the first step to this larger goal; In order to build an ecosystem for health and wellness management, the company first needs to work on products that allow it to measure indicators of health and wellness. “You can’t improve what you don’t measure,” says Mike Lee, SVP of Connected Fitness at Under Armour. [1]

I also see a huge opportunity for digital marketing or coupon companies like RetailMeNot to collaborate with Under Armour’s suite of connected fitness apps. For example, after tracking a run on MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal could suggest local spots and coupons where other runners enjoy a post-workout snack. The app could also leverage crowd-sourced review sites just as Yelp to help runners find popular courses in the neighborhood, or to set up competition among local users [2].

Thanks again for sharing this, Phoebe. I think Under Armour is really leading the innovation in digital fitness, and I think this will open the door for so much more opportunity in other industries as well.

[2] Ibid.

On November 20, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on Conquer Disney World with a Flick of Your Wrist :

This post brings back so many memories of my childhood! I didn’t know Disney changed its ticketing system to wristbands, and I think it’s a brilliant concept! My concerns will most likely be alleviated as Disney works out the kinks of MyMagic+ and fully integrates the new product into its IT systems, but I’ve been reading a lot about problems with MyMagic+ as experienced by its first users. Specifically, because MyMagic+ is designed to increase the capacity of its theme parks, it has as a result created a new layer of complexity in terms of issues and problems that arise throughout the day, and Disney’s existing IT systems just haven’t been upgraded fast enough to deal with many of these issues [1]. Moreover, as Lynn so eloquently explains above, Disney hasn’t scaled its human capital fast enough to support MyMagic+. Nevertheless, I think the concept behind MyMagic+ has a lot of potential if executed properly and all the supporting systems at Disney are also upgraded appropriately, and I am eager to follow Disney’s progress in this regard.


On November 19, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on From Paper to Clicks: How RetailMeNot Changed How Shoppers Save :

I am an excessive user of RetailMeNot, so naturally I was very intrigued by this post! However, I also do 90% of my shopping online, so I was very surprised to read that 90% of sales are still executed in-store. What concerns me about RetailMeNot’s shift to mobile couponing is the fundamental shift in consumer behavior that would be necessary for this to be successful. Specifically, the current process of using coupons in store requires consumers to find the coupons before entering the store, whereas RetailMeNot’s strategy requires consumers to search for coupons after they enter the store. This seems like a simple and small shift, but as with most things concerning consumer psychology and behavior, it takes times to change the status quo for the masses. Mainly, I think it will take time for consumers to remember and adopt the practice of looking for coupons on their phones while they’re in the checkout line.

One way that RetailMeNot’s competitors have sought to catalyze this shift in consumer behavior is through GPS technology. Instead of requiring consumers to log on and search for coupons through their app, these apps send coupons to consumers via text messages based on their location (ie. The app knows that I am at J. Crew and will send me a coupon while I am shopping so that I have it in my text messages when I go check out). [1] I think this is brilliant, but I can imagine some consumers having privacy concerns around businesses knowing the location of their consumers at all times. However, with other location-based apps like FourSquare becoming increasingly popular, this concern might end up not being an issue at all.


I think the benefits of machine learning and drone technology for disaster relief are enormous, and I’m so glad you shared this, Ana! However, I think there are still quite a few challenges that we need to overcome before we can really consider this technology as part of the solution for disaster relief. First and foremost, commercial drone operations are currently illegal in the United States without an FAA-granted exemption, and rules likely won’t be finalized until 2017. More importantly, because the Red Cross depends so heavily on donations, it will be critical for the organization to tell a cogent story that convinces donors of its plans to digitize disaster relief. I was surprised to find that only 21% of Americans favored commercial use of drones in a 2014 AP poll [1]. Finally, a third concern I have is just regarding the training and managing of drone systems. In order to make this work, the Red Cross not only needs to learn how to implement drones into their systems, but also must essentially create an entirely new airline industry of in-air drone management. With so many other industries and companies also looking at drone technology, I would imagine this might get complicated.


On November 19, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on The Dr. Will See You Now…On the Screen :

Thanks for sharing this post, Taylor! The topic of electronic medical records is near and dear to my heart, as I worked on an extensive deal back in my banking days for a company selling this exact service to hospitals.

While I agree that the benefits of adopting electronic records are enormous, I want to share some of the concerns I heard from hospitals when I was researching this topic. Other than the most prevalent concern of cost (hospitals were generally all pretty tight on budget and therefore unwilling to overhaul their existing systems), I encountered several doctors who complained about time constraints that electronic records placed on their jobs. Specifically, they said they had trouble demystifying the software and that took away time that they could have spent with additional patients. Hospitals were also concerned with the system’s vulnerability to crashes, which you can imagine could result in extreme consequences if the frequency or duration of incidence are high. My gut reaction to these concerns was to set up backup records systems, but we run into the same problem if the backup systems are also electronic. And if we created traditional paper backup systems instead, then doesn’t that defeat the purpose of implementing an electronic records system in the first place?

I think electronic medical records have made huge progress since I last visited the subject, but my main concern now is centralization. There are so many electronic record systems out there now and most of them are incompatible with each other, rendering the whole purpose of the system useless if patients were to switch hospitals. I am curious to see if there have been any major strides in this area of research.


On November 7, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on H&M: Making Fashion Sustainable and Sustainability Fashionable :

Nancy, I love this idea of capturing sustainability through a subscription model! However, after looking into a bit, I’m not so convinced it would be effective because of additional costs the model would incur. For example, I’m worried about the potentially high transportation cost associated with the subscription model, as well as energy emissions that result from increased transportation. These services also likely utilize high degrees of dry cleaning, which (unless they are committed to using one of the “greener” and more expensive options) we know contributes to environmental damage. H&M estimates that 30% of a garment’s climate footprint occurs post-purchase due to care and disposal [1]. If H&M were to scale the subscription model, it could be adding serious negative impact on climate change through the use of chemicals, production of toxic waste, and energy expended during the process. Moreover, think about all the packing (I’m imagining rooms and rooms of cardboard boxes…) that would be required for this model! If we were to scale this, how would be deal with making sure these materials are recycled properly?

That being said, I still like this model because I think it is innovative and has a lot of potential for success in sustainability if we introduced it with several modifications to the subscription businesses that are currently out there. I’m thinking:

1. Set up local distribution centers to minimize transport
2. Use recyclable packaging wherever possible
3. Invest in cleaning technologies which aren’t environmentally damaging
4. Educate customers on sustainability, especially in garment care

New startup idea, perhaps? Who wants to take FIELD 3? 🙂


On November 7, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on To Shop, or Not to Shop: Depends on the Weather :

Yujie, this reminds me of an article I read a while ago that suggested there was a quantifiable correlation between weather variation and sales in retail stores. I know you’re mostly talking about the effects of weather variability on consumer behavior / willingness to go out and shop (which makes complete sense and I think you conveyed highly effectively), but I think the connection between retail sales and weather could be expanded even further to include buying patterns and inventory management. Specifically, what if Macy’s orders a full season’s supply of Canada Goose coats and then it turns out to be an unusually mild winter? That would certainly have a negative impact on sales, but to what extent?

There was a study that found that each degree below “normal” temperatures in spring costs 3% in sales revenue and each degree above normal in autumn decreases sales revenue by 2%. In fact, abnormal weather correlates with 52% of revenue in spring and 43% of revenue autumn. All of this eventually translates into the fact that weather generally accounts for half of the revenue decline in the textile and clothing sectors. [1]

The study also suggested different correlations between weather variability and types products offered by retailers (women’s vs. men’s clothing, chain vs. boutique, etc.) I would be very interested to see whether Macy’s takes into account this type of data when making buying decisions. In fact, I would be interested to see how Macy’s thinks about climate patterns and variability with regards to inventory management.


On November 7, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on Your Morning Cup o’ Joe: Yesterday’s Luxury? :

I just want to add one more thing that partially answers my own question above. One of the things that Starbucks is doing to engage more of society in this fight against climate change is through financial instruments! Specifically, in May 2016, Starbucks issued $500mm of its first U.S Corporate Sustainability Bond, and it plans to use these proceeds to enhance its sustainability programs around coffee supply chain management. I think this is brilliant! Whether we like it or not, money makes the world go ’round, and engaging the investor landscape in this sustainability initiative is (to me) a great leap forward. [1]


Oh- one more thing! Taylor makes a convincing case about the effects of regulation on refineries to produce more renewable diesel, which is great, but to further her argument I actually found that the customers of refineries are also applying this kind of pressure. Specifically, UPS is planning to increase its use of renewable diesel 15 times over its prior consumption! This results in a whopping 46m gallons! [1]

Hopefully, combined with regulation, these efforts can move the oil industry forward in terms of sustainability.


On November 6, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on Your Morning Cup o’ Joe: Yesterday’s Luxury? :

This post strikes very near and dear to my heart! As someone who has had a grande soy vanilla latte (double espresso on some days…) every day for the last 5 years, I would be devastated and incredibly cranky from withdrawal if I couldn’t get my java exactly how Starbucks makes it for me. This makes climate change, something I’ve always known was a problem but never thought much about because the consequences were so distant and removed from my daily life, an urgent issue for me.

Similar to the luxury goods industry, the coffee industry is struggling to maintain quality and quantity in raw materials due to the effects of climate change. I thought Phoebe’s analysis of Starbucks’ efforts to buffer its supply chain from global warming’s detrimental effects very convincing, but I am wondering what Starbucks is doing to combat climate change. It seems that Starbucks is dedicated for good reason to protect itself and its product from climate change, but what is it doing as a business to educate the world about these problems? How is the business changing its processes to mitigate its own contributions to global warming?

On November 6, 2016, Catherine Xu commented on The Largest Private Real Estate Development in U.S. History Goes Green :

Wow Ana, I had no idea that Hudson Yards was such a sustainability-oriented project! Having been in New York for the last five years, I’ve heard a lot about Hudson Yards, typically around all the new businesses that are opening up or moving over there (I mean, KKR is leaving 9 West to move there… That’s like the end of an era). There is a lot of speculation that Hudson Yards will shift the hustle and bustle of the city out west to an area that is currently very under-developed. Hudson Yards is expected to be the next city center. Given the project’s clout and Related’s prestigious reputation in New York City, I could see this project really spearheading other real estate developers to focus on sustainability. I hope Related uses this project as an opportunity to influence and inspire the real estate development industry to work together towards an eco-friendly urban plan. But… does Related have the responsibility to do this? Just because it has the size and reputation required to influence, does that mean it should be held responsible to do so (especially since doing so would require some sacrifices in short term profitability)? Why aren’t other developers being asked to enact the same changes to the same degree?

Regarding Saurav’s speculation that Related’s sustainability initiatives for Hudson Yards might be due to regulation instead of genuine desire to save the environment, I would go a step further to say that Related is probably garnering significant benefits – monetary and non-monetary—for incorporating so many eco-friendly initiatives into the Hudson Yards project. Given the huge economic benefits that this project will create for the city of New York, I would expect that Related is receiving a host of benefits from the city, from tax breaks to accelerated permit approvals for its other projects. I maintain skeptical of Related’s true motivations for introducing so many sustainability initiatives into its largest development project of the moment.

The Hudson Yards Development Corp. provides an excellent overview of financial incentives that Related is receiving for introducing sustainability into its massive project [1].


[1] Hudson Yards Development Corp., accessed November 2016.

This is a fascinating post! I never knew there was such a thing as renewable diesel. I was particularly struck by the fact that gas stations do not separate petroleum and renewable diesel in tanks – Isn’t there a chemical hazard to doing this? Even if there isn’t a hazard, this process would definitely decrease the purity of gas going into cars, which may spark some disagreement from consumers and automakers. I can imagine a scenario where BMW owners are piling on complaints to BMW headquarters for performance issues of cars that are a result of impure gasoline. I know that when we purchased a new car, my mother always opted for the “super” option because the gasoline was purer and therefore allowed the car to function better.

Moreover, Taylor makes an excellent reference to Alon’s main competitor, Neste. Given that Neste has managed to build such a prominent renewable diesel enterprise amidst the high costs associated with production, I am curious what types of competitive advantages Neste has over Alon. Is it geographical location? Proprietary relationships to important figures who influence the oil industry?