A brisk and thought-provoking anatomy of shopping in the 21st century.



A study of the fraught world of retail in the age of Amazon.

The latest from Wharton School professor Kahn (Marketing/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Global Power Brand, 2013, etc.) notes the sweeping chaos and disruption among American retailers. Dozens of such name-brand national businesses have either shut down outlets or shut down completely in recent years. She opens her account of this upheaval by identifying what she sees as seven key forces at work, including massive advertising data-collection; vertical integration in order to control all aspects of a brand; an excessive number of brick-and-mortar stores; a younger, less brand-loyal customer base; retail customers moving to cities, away from sprawling suburbs and shopping centers; and a general shift toward online shopping across multiple platforms. But the main focus here, which the author calls “the gorilla in the room,” is the online retailer Amazon.com, with its “fierce understanding of what customers want.” Amazon fills these wants with a seemingly unbeatable combination of basics, she says, including low prices, fast service, responsive returns, and all-inclusive convenience. The company’s model is a familiar one, she points out—it was used, for instance, by Walmart in the 1990s—but the amount of resources that Amazon has put behind it has caused other retailers, big and small, to scramble to adapt. Kahn studies strategies by successful businesses, such as cosmetics retailer Sephora and eyeglasses store Warby Parker, and she offers readers “the Kahn Retailing Success Matrix,” which looks at variances between different aspects of the retail process. Kahn lays this all out with a brevity and clarity that’s extremely effective. She also makes ample use of simple charts, designed to show the different quadrants of her Success Matrix—“Product Benefits,” overall “Customer Experience,” and the specific abilities to “Increase Pleasure” and “Eliminate Pain Points”—as they flow into and sharpen one another. At times, the tenor of the book seems willfully reductionist, as it likely takes more than faithful adherence to a successful matrix to give a small mom-and-pop bookstore, say, a chance against a corporate juggernaut. That said, modern retailers will find the book’s breakdowns of the essentials of retail helpful for widening their perspective and keeping the bigger picture in view. Particularly insightful are her examinations of “Generation Z,” the “digitally native millennials” whose relationship to traditional advertising and retail is very different from those of customers of the past. The author also treats the changing nature of brick-and-mortar buying-and-selling with pleasing nuance. Indeed, she makes a case for the necessity of a brick-and-mortar renaissance, and the urgency of creating “highly compelling in-store customer experiences” to make that happen. It’s also a canny move for Kahn to get into the nitty-gritty of how a handful of companies have maintained their success, as it provides a welcome counterweight to the book’s tendency toward extensive theorizing.

A brisk and thought-provoking anatomy of shopping in the 21st century.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61363-086-0

Page Count: 174

Publisher: Wharton Digital Press

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2018

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.


An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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