Sunday, July 31, 2011

Customer (dis)service

Geox makes very good shoes--it is an Italian company, and has managed to prosper through innovation. Last year, my daughter convinced me to buy a pair (even though they are expensive) and they are so comfortable that I wanted to buy another pair for everyday use. I went to a Geox story in Festival Walk today and the store staff said that Geox does not make half sizes. I told them I thought that was impossible: how can a high end shoe company expect half the people to wear poorly fitting shoes? He assured me that was the case. This is astonishing: it means that brand and image are so important that many Hong Kong shoppers are willing to buy poorly fitting shoes! (Hm, I wonder if their customers are largely Mainland tourists on shopping sprees--they do seem to have shops concentrated in TST--4 of them!--and other tourist areas).  Of course, I went to the website to check, and sure enough, they DO have half sizes from US 8 to 11; here is an online chart of their sizes.

I tried to send a complaint email, asking why they do not sell half sizes in Hong Kong; click on "Customer Service" on the global Geox website and you get a screen that says "Coming soon."  Oh well. I guess here is another damaged brand. I need to find another brand of shoe.

PS/Update (10 August 2011): 

A friend has told me that GEOX in HK is sold by an agent, Belle International. They also are the agent for Caterpillar, Merrell,  Royal Elastics Sebago and Gola.  My friend knows the agent, and he says they don’t have half size shoes due to logistics considerations, i.e to reduce each item’s stock.  Less inventory and simpler management reduces costs. The agent argues that they do this to cater to the majority, but I don't think it is a matter of majority or minority.  If one assumes that the "half" sizes (which are whole numbers in the European way of counting, so not just a minor aspect of sizing) are necessary for proper fitting, then they expect that half the people (those who would fit better in the half sizes) will just buy slightly larger or smaller shoes, ie they will buy ill-fitting shoes.  It shows that many people are so brand conscious that they are willing to buy ill-fitting shoes.  I do not think it is a matter of not being interested in a minority, because the range of foot sizes is a continuous curve. They are only interested in fitting half the feet, because they know that many shoppers in the other half will buy the shoes anyway!  I find this amazing, and a sign of very unsophisticated shoppers.  The most demanding shoppers, of course, are having shoes hand made, so that they fit the foot perfectly.  I would expect only full sizes of a cheap brand, but it is surprising that you see this in a middle-high end brand like Geox. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Families

I read transcripts of interviews of six Hong Kong high school students who have returned in the past two years from a year abroad on AFS. Their stories are incredibly moving; they reflect on the cultural differences and how they’ve learned to be more active, to take the initiative, and to adapt to sometimes difficult conditions (e.g. living with 10 people in a small, working class home, in a tropical country with no AC).

Especially interesting is reading that the students say that they find other cultures very family oriented. One student in America commented that his family did not like for him to go to his room upstairs with his laptop. He commented that the family watched TV together every evening on the family sofa. They expected him to work on his laptop at the kitchen table, near where other family members were also doing homework. Of course, not all Americans are so family-oriented, but this is what you’d expect of AFS families. A student who had gone to Italy commented that she, like her classmates, was expected to go home to have lunch and dinner with her (host) family every day, and that they went to visit relatives a lot, “not like in Hong Kong.”

Several interviewees commented on how they really learned to see different meanings of life, that life was not only about work. I especially find it interesting that Chinese students discover other cultures value family, because hearing elite Chinese discourse, sometimes one would think only Confucians had families.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another scam from my (least) favorite company

How is this for misleading advertizing, from my favorite company? (See graphics below). It is not an iPad or iPhone, but and !Pad and !Phone. In other words, not Apple products, but Nokia and HP.  Maybe Hong Kong IS becoming like China. It is hard to believe that Hong Kong's major phone and internet and internet TV provider would stoop so low.  On the other hand, I'm not sure why I'm surprised, after their record for the past decade.  Here is the link to the original online ad, though it may not last long. I've copied the images below, but the layout is not quite right. But you get the idea.

Today's SCMP has an article about a Shenzhen company that has opened four "Apple Store" outlets in Kunming. The stores have the same look, logo, and staff uniforms as the real Apple stores. Apple has been unable to register the trademark "Apple Store" because, authorities say, there are too many other "apple" vendors, including fruit companies. Neither "apple" nor "store" are specific enough. Astonishingly, a lawyer interviewed in the story argues that Apple (the CA company) should not complain because this other company (which sells its own cheaper products, but in the same Apple colors) is actually helping to promote the Apple brand. That may be true, but it is also possible that it is destroying the Apple brand's reputation for high quality, and in any case, only the fake "Apple Store" is benefiting from selling the fakes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Economists discover "No Man Is An Island"!

This is one of NPR's "Most E-Mailed Stories" of a few days ago.
The Key To Disaster Survival? Friends And Neighbors
by Shankar Vedantam
“The problem isn't that experts are dumb. It's that communities are not the sum of their roads, schools and malls. They are the sum of their relationships.
The Japanese government seems to get this. The government there actually funds block parties to bring communities together.”

Those "experts" are economists and political scientists, not anthropologists. This is not new for anthropologists. Notice how the story quotes economists (who begin their theorizing assuming a “rational economic man”) and political scientists (whose work has also been dominated by the rational actor approach) and it becomes “news” that they’ve discovered the importance of relationships. Well, duh!!  This is what anthropologists and sociologists have been saying since Durkheim (1858-1917)! Yan Yunxiang argued in the 1990s that the victims of the Great Leap Forward (1959-61) were those who had no social network (guanxi), many of them cadres who had cut gift-giving ties with relatives in their belief in the universalism and openness of the Party. They had not one to turn to and so starved. That this story is "news" and "most e-mailed" shows how after being thoroughly dominated by models that focus on the individual, economics and maybe the general public are ready to re-discover a more sociological perspective (similar to what David Brooks has done in The Social Animal.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On Tasteless Tomatoes

There is finally a book that explains why our tomatoes are tasteless: Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook, who discussed his book in a very good interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.  It has been my long-running (and not very funny) joke that tasteless tomatoes were a government plot (because of Dept. of Ag funding for transportable varieties), but now I learn that it is actually Florida's fault.  Good news is that more tomatoes are being grown in northern greenhouses, and coming from Mexico, so may be a bit tastier, but consumers need to choose based on taste, which they have not do so far (maybe because there was not much choice!). So, why are Hong Kong tomatoes (and many fruits) tasteless?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Business Anthropology

Another example that some of the best ethnography appears in the business sections of major papers.  This NY Times article by Steven Davidoff contrasts the values and modus operandi of venture capitalists with those of private equity. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, the difference can be important. The VC are Silicon Valley based, and form a community, so share the spoils. The PE are typically NY based and take over companies to restructure them, or make them run better, before they re-sell them. Often they sell them highly leveraged, or the profit comes out of tax breaks and other accounting shenanigans, which is why many are critical of PE. In the case of Silver Lake selling Skype that is discussed in the article, Silver Lake as a PE could not care less whether they are liked or not, so will not spend the $1 million it would take to allow employees who have left Skype to cash in their options.  On a $4 billion deal, they could afford to make this problem go away. But they are PEs, so they don't care; VCs would have, since you never know who you'll have to work with again in Silicon Valley. Great article.