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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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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