It is a relatively rare occurrence when we discuss the fairly mundane world of distribution packaging.  Now we are not talking about the package held in a customer’s hand when they pick up a product off the store shelf or the bag pulled out of a box that contains the actual product(see here for more detail on first-level and second-level packaging).  Instead, distribution packaging is what is used to surround products as it is shipped to customers, such as when a manufacturer sends a truckload of can goods to a supermarket or an online retailer mails a book order to a consumer.  Most of the time, the distribution packaging consists of boxes, crates and shipping envelopes.  But contained within these can be other elements of a distribution package, including packing, used to provide additional protection to a product as it moves along the supply chain.

The most recognizable forms of packing include Styrofoam, foam peanuts, straw and even old newspapers.  This story from the Washington Post discusses another widely recognizable form of packing - bubble wrap.  As packaging stories go, this one is quite interesting.  It explains how bubble wrap can now be sent to suppliers without the bubbles.  Instead, bubbles can be bumped into the packing by the company that will ship the product.

Why do this? Because bubbles create a lot of wasted space when the manufacturer of bubble wrap ships it to its customers, thus raising shipping costs.  This extra space means less of the product can be shipped at one time.  Additionally, for purchasers bubble wrap can take up a lot of space in a storage area.

As the story notes, there is one significant drawback of this new bubble wrap; the bubbles it produces are virtually impossible to pop without using a sharp object.  So while this packing may have benefits in terms of shipping and storage, it also appears to eliminate what many feel is a fun activity.

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Back in 1999, the U.S. Department of Commerce began tracking online retail sales.  At that point in time, online shopping was but a blip in the overall retail spending number with only .6 percent of sales being attributed to online purchasing.  Thirteen years later that value has grown by a factor of 10 with online retail sales now representing 6 percent of all retail sales.  If that does not seem like much, then consider that in just the 4th quarter of 2013 online sales in the U.S. reached over $69 billion!

While the percent of all retail sales made up of online purchases continues to grow, the opposite is occurring with consumers’ satisfaction with online buying.  As reported in this NBC News story, consumers’ satisfaction with online purchasing is declining and is now at a 12-year low.  The reasons for this dip can, in part, be tied to delivery issues that occurred during the December 2013 holiday shopping season.  But, this decline may also reflect a rise in customers’ expectations for online sellers.  While in the early years of retail e-commerce customers often viewed Internet purchasing with a curious rather than critical eye, today shoppers have higher expectations for their online purchasing experience.  They expect online sellers to not only make the purchasing process simple and convenient, but also quick.  And for the inconvenience of not receiving a product right away, customers want online sellers to offer special incentives, such as lower prices and an easy returns policy.

However, this report, which rates all type of retailers, suggests store-based retailers are fighting back against online competitors.  Retailers in such categories as specialty stores and supermarkets are seeing their customer ratings improve.  Yet, this may not be all that surprising since, as we posted earlier this month, it appears brick-and-mortar stores are learning how to combat online competitors by offering a shopping experience that is exciting customers.

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Most people do not have much insight on what college business professors do other than teach courses.  However, at leading colleges and universities, in addition to teaching, professors also engage in business research.  But what exactly does that entail?

Well, here is a story from Knowledge @ Wharton that offers some insight on the type of research professors carry out.  In particular, the research explained deals with testing the effectiveness of an increasingly powerful method of promotion called word-of-mouth marketing.  As we note, in the Types of Promotion tutorial, word-of-mouth is becoming an effective form of promotion because, with this method, people communicate directly with others.  For example, word-of-mouth promotion can take place via social media, online comments and even product advocates, who circulate at retail outlets.  This, of course, is much different than non-personal promotion, such as television advertising, where personal relationships are usually not a key element of the message.  

The story discusses the methods these academics utilized to conduct research to measure the effectiveness of word-of-mouth promotion.  Particularly interesting is the conclusions they draw for how the effectiveness of word-of-mouth may vary depending on the type of product and the type of word-of-mouth  method used.

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Here in the northeast U.S., we have been inundated with snow and pretty much confined to the indoors.  In order to pass the time, we try to keep ourselves entertained by gazing into our crystal ball to see how marketing will change in the future.

While our crystal ball is getting a bit old and is in desperate need of calibration, it still occasionally makes entertaining predictions.  For instance, it is predicting that in less than five years, the majority of customers placing fast food restaurant orders will do so before they are near the store.  Why?  Because mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablet computers, Google Glass or whatever mobile has evolved to in five years, will have matured to the point where customers, especially younger ones, will expect to have this ordering option available.

While orders through mobile apps have been used for some time by smaller restaurants, only a handful of the bigger fast food chains offer this option.  But that is soon to change.  As reported in this USA Today story, Taco Bell is now testing order placement via mobile app.  While this app offers many customer-friendly options, such as menus that update depending on the time of day and maps displaying the closest store, this technology also offers a number of appealing features for Taco Bell, including the ability to suggest (i.e., upsell) customers on additional items and the use of GPS tracking that will alert the restaurant when the customer is getting close to the store.

While our crystal ball has a pretty good track record for being wrong, something tells us this prediction may be right on target.

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Well, this story has to rank as one of the more interesting so far in 2014.  It seems wireless provider T-Mobile has trademarked a color that they insist competitors cannot use in any promotional way.  The color in question is a variant of magenta (i.e. plum) and T-Mobile was able to convince a Texas judge the color is so strongly associated with the company that customers would be confused if competitors also used it.

The decision is the result of a lawsuit brought by T-Mobile against Aio Wireless, a subsidiary of AT&T.  The judge sided with T-Mobile, though her arguments seem to do more with how the company has consistently invested in the use of the magenta color in its branding and less to do with whether the use of magenta by competitors may confuse customers.  

Assuming the judge is correct, (and we are certainly not lawyers here at!), the argument for trademark infringement seems to be based not only on possible confusion but also on the investment a company has made in building a brand, including use of certain colors.  

To us non-lawyers it would seem this is a strange decision and that this issue is far from being settled.

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