In June of 2019, PYMNTS asked a national sample of 1,037 smartphone users about their interest in having a single app that would make their everyday activities easier to access and manage.

The study described the app’s functionality as a more seamless way for consumers to keep tabs on how to plan, manage, spend and send their money, and to receive funds from other sources. The app would include reminders and alerts across a variety of activities — bills to be paid, appointments to be kept, deliveries to be received, important dates to remember, what friends are doing, etc. — so as not to lose track of key dates and deliverables. …

On the same day that COVID-19 cases in the U.S. topped 10 million and hit 50.5 million globally, the world got news that Pfizer and BioNTech had successfully completed Phase 3 trials of a COVID-19 vaccine on 43,000 people — and achieved an astounding 90 percent effectiveness rate.

It was a day that medical scientists and epidemiologists had been awaiting for eight long months, marking a significant scientific breakthrough for the virus that hobbled the world. And it was a stunning result.

Not only had these vaccine trials proven an effectiveness rate of 90 percent — nearly twice the 50 percent threshold the U.S. FDA had set for approval of a COVID vaccine — but it was at nearly the same level of effectiveness as vaccines for smallpox (95 percent) and measles (97 percent), and significantly more effective than vaccines for the flu (40 to 60 percent), shingles (51 percent) and pneumonia (60 to 70 percent). …

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It’s one year from today: Nov. 9, 2021.

It’s been 18 months since the coronavirus swept the world and changed everything about it. But finally, the citizens of the world are ready to re-engage in the physical world the way they did in January 2020.

A widely available vaccine and FDA-approved therapeutics have given consumers the confidence that sitting together indoors, in a crowded restaurant, carries little to no risk. Neither does cheering on their favorite sports teams in a crowded stadium or booking that long-awaited vacation with family to a faraway destination.

And, boy, after 18 months of so little human contact, are they ever ready. …

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Membership has its privileges” was the nine-year ad campaign launched by American Express in 1987 to persuade consumers that it was worth it to pay an annual fee for one of its charge card products. Then, those privileges included travel, dining and hotel benefits, statement credits and spending reward points perks, along with preferred access to concert and theater tickets. As the slogan implied, being an American Express cardmember was the only way to unlock those benefits.

Today, the “membership has its privileges” mantra is at the core of the latest face-off between the two retail behemoths vying for an increasing portion of consumer spend: Walmart and Amazon. …

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“Whose customer am I? And who’s going to take care me?”

Those are the questions I asked myself last week when trying to resolve an online order gone astray.

In my case, the answers were “I don’t really know” and “no one,” as far as I could tell.

As digital platforms decide what to do themselves, what to delegate to others and what businesses to fold in, they should make sure they can give their customers the right answers — which are: “you are my customer” and “I’ll look out for you.”

Won’t You Please, Please Help Me?

I recently made an online purchase from a merchant I shop with infrequently, and used a payments intermediary to complete the transaction. The merchant processed the order efficiently, and within 48 hours I received a notice that the package was on its way. The merchant used a third-party delivery company, and I was provided with a tracking number to keep tabs on its progress. …

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Consumers crave certainty, and they work pretty hard to minimize the risk of making a bad choice. That’s why once consumers find something that works, they stick with it. And it’s why other people’s thoughts and actions factor so heavily into their decision to try something new.

To describe these behaviors, author and behavioral scientist Dr. Robert Cialdini coined the term “social proof” in his landmark book, “,” which was first published in 1984.

According to the theory of social proof, if consumers see enough people doing the same thing, others will feel comfortable following along.

Product recommendations are an example of social proof at work — if other people have good experiences with buying a particular product, that boosts the chances that other consumers will buy it, too. It’s why recommendations are consistently ranked by consumers as one of the most important features a merchant can offer an online shopper, why merchants gladly oblige and why brands strive to make products that are consistently ranked high by consumers. …

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Human beings are creatures of habit.

Take popcorn and going to the movies.

Americans consume roughly 13 billion quarts of popcorn every year, roughly 30 percent of that at the movies. Well, that was back when theatres were open, before COVID, and going to the movies was a regular part of a consumer’s routine.

But in those good old days of 10 months ago, digging into a tub of popcorn while watching a movie on the big screen seemed an inextricable part of the movie-going ritual — and theater owners kept that popular snack at the ready.

And for good reason. Margins on concessions sales, including popcorn, are as high as 85 percent, and can account for as much as 46 percent of theater owners’ profits. …

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Netflix Co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings has written a new book about building the video-streaming powerhouse that now has nearly 200 million subscribers globally, as of the end of July. In the book, he freely admits that his formula might not work for every company.

But the one thing that might work is taking a page from the innovation playbook that Netflix seems to have written and followed over the last 22 years.

It’s the playbook on using technology and a new business model to turn something that consumers didn’t really want to do into something they no longer had to do, while getting the same — or an even better — result. …

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The Commerce Department released July’s retail sales last week, showing an increase in seasonally adjusted retail spending — up 1.2 percent overall last month, but down from the 8.4 percent growth in June. Analysts reported that physical retail sales, seasonally adjusted, were up 2.7 percent overall in a trailing 12-month period, and that businesses had mostly recovered all of the losses that had been incurred in the March-through-May lockdown.

What we see in those numbers are the glimmers of a “V-shaped” recovery in those segments where consumers really value and want to return to the physical retail experience — with restaurants leading every other sector. …

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By now, you’ve no doubt heard the story about how Isaac Newton turned quarantining during London’s outbreak of the Bubonic Plague between 1665 and 1667 into a time of great focus and innovation.

Newton’s sojourn out of Cambridge, England, where he was attending Trinity University, to his family home in Woolsthorpe in order to avoid the risk of infection produced some of the world’s most important scientific and mathematical discoveries.

What’s lost in that story, though, is the more direct application of one of Newton’s quarantine-induced discoveries to the modern world’s reaction to the global pandemic.

Newton’s First Law of Gravity was one of his most important work-from-home discoveries. Although great debate remains about whether the apple that fell out of the infamous tree on his family’s property and inspired his discovery actually landed on his head, there is little debate about the importance of what actually came out of his head. …


Karen Webster

CEO of Market Platform Dynamics &

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