Category Archives: Huh?

Not Delivering At All

If it’s Friday, the topic is food here on the screed. This week, it’s the food delivery services I suspect many of you have been using to support your favorite restaurants during the time we’re supposed to stay at home. Food delivery is not a new phenomenon. I know a lot of folks, myself included, who used it before all of this when they had nothing planned or bought for dinner and couldn’t bear the thought of pulling themselves together to go out.

What’s different with these services is that they’re third parties. One of my first jobs back in the day was as a food delivery guy (before I graduated to cook) for a local pizza place. Who hasn’t ordered Chinese food and had it delivered? But I worked for the pizza place and the kid making the Chinese food delivery was generally the owner’s son from the place I frequented. These services – Grubhub, Seamless, and others – are a relatively new business. For restaurants that didn’t do a large enough takeout business to hire a delivery person, they opened up new revenue streams. Of course, they come with a cost.

First, there is a human cost. These services pay very low wages and don’t make tipping mandatory (don’t be that guy – tip well, ok?). Then they charge exorbitant, often hidden fees to the restaurants. You might have read about one restaurant owner’s experience. In March, she got 93 orders through Grubhub, totaling to $6,626 in revenue. From that, GrubHub took $1,208 in commission, a $592 delivery fee, and $230 in processing fees, totaling to over 30% of the revenue. In an industry where margins are often low double digits, that’s not sustainable.

We could continue the discussion beginning with why restaurants don’t hire their own delivery people but the point I want to make today which might just apply to your business is about using third parties, especially third parties who end up owning the customer relationship. What is to stop Grubhub from promoting another restaurant to someone who is looking at your menu? Do a search on Yelp for a specific restaurant and you’ll usually see a couple of other promoted alternatives first in the listings. I don’t know what data the restaurant sees when an order comes in via one of these services but at a minimum someone else is privy to a portion of your customer base, their preferences, addresses, etc.

You might have heard of third-party cookies. Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one you are visiting directly, hence the name third-party. They are used for cross-site tracking, retargeting, and ad-serving. They’re what makes it possible for you to see an Amazon ad for a product you just searched Amazon for on another, unrelated website. They’re going away, in part because of privacy concerns and, I believe, in part because marketers are waking up to the fact that having someone else own data that you help to generate so that they can sell it back to you as well as to your competition is silly.

Industries outsource all the time. Generally, this is because they don’t want to deal with solving a particular problem themselves for whatever reason and it becomes easier to let someone else deal with it. That’s often shortsighted, particularly when it ends up with someone else owning the customer relationship. After all, in business, that’s probably the most important relationship you have, right?

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Vividly Dumb

Last week I wrote about my feeling that companies should quit selling as we all deal with the fallout from the Corona Virus. This morning I received an email from Vivid Seats, a ticket reseller. They apparently purchased another reseller from which I’d bought tickets. Here is part of the text:

As a welcome to Vivid Seats, we are giving you $30 off your next purchase!* Grab tickets to your next heart-racing concert or edge-of-your-seat game. Either way, here’s $30 to get you started — let’s get you cheering again!

Notice the asterisk. The offer expires next Tuesday. So where to begin?

First, can any of you say with any certainty when, or if, concerts, shows, or sporting events will resume? Why in the world would you go out and buy tickets to anything at this point? Vivid has a full refund policy if the show or event is canceled, but with this much uncertainty, are you seriously going to lock up your money until that happens? And what if the date changes and you can’t go? Of course, they’ll help you sell your seats, but is that without the 10% fee normally charged to sell? That’s not stated anywhere.

Second, it’s highly unlikely the situation will have changed a heck of a lot by next Tuesday. If you really want my business, why not make it open-ended?

Third, how freaking tone-deaf. We’re all being urged to stay home. Tours are being canceled. I’ve already had two shows for which I have tickets postponed and I’ve got more shows coming up in May that I’m thinking won’t happen. This is a reminder that our lives are different now. Hopefully, not for long, but there are no sports or shows or concerts happening. Why rub it in?

Ok, I believe in giving people hope and this WILL end. That said, it has just as much a chance to crush spirits if the events don’t happen and you bought tickets. This is why these different times call for different approaches, don’t you think?

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South Bye Bye

These are odd times indeed and it’s when we’re under stress that our true nature often shows. That same is true of organizations and that’s often to their detriment because that true nature is often anti-customer. There is an excellent example of this in what’s going on with the SXSW Festival.

If you’re unfamiliar with the South By Southwest festival, or South By as it’s commonly known, this is how it describes itself:

The event has changed in many surprising and meaningful ways since 1987, but at its core, SXSW remains a tool for creative people to develop their careers by bringing together people from around the globe to meet, learn and share ideas.

It’s sort of a spring break for the tech, marketing, film, and music communities and it attracts thousands of people who attend for the connections they might make, for the music they’ll hear, and for the learnings they’ll take away. It’s become a huge deal and passes to the event cost about $1,400 per person for mid-priced interactive badges that last the length of the 9-day festival. It’s an investment, obviously, and that doesn’t include all the spending by agencies and sponsors.

Here is the problem. They canceled the festival over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus and won’t refund attendees and vendors. They’re offering to defer your ticket to 2021, 2022, or 2023, but they won’t give you back the money. Is this in accordance with their stated policies? Yes, it is, but as we began the piece, these are odd times and maybe, just maybe, it’s time for this business to have another think about alienating their customers.

Many agencies have been cutting back their spending as the festival has become too big and unwieldy. I suspect this might anger those who haven’t been cutting back. Airlines have been refunding tickets and Airbnb recently announced that some coronavirus-related cancellations will qualify for refunds under its “extenuating circumstances” policy.  Many of the attendees are small business people looking to promote themselves or artists they represent. Tying up this money for at least a year can be a big hit, one that just might put them out of business by the next festival.

On top of all this, the festival company fired 30% of its employees. Insurance won’t cover enough to maintain the full-time staff where it was.

Should a cancellation something that should have been in the disaster plan? You would think so. This didn’t happen overnight. Companies and artists began pulling out of the festival weeks ago. Should the decisions that seem to have been taken about how to handle the aftermath of a cancellation been more consumer and business partner-friendly? Based on the extreme negative responses in both sectors, definitely so. Will SXSW ever recover from this? Time will tell, but the lessons we can learn will be the same. Be customer-centric. The short-term pain leads to long-term gain most of the time.

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?, What's Going On