... in consumerism

What airlines can learn from how casinos are run

18 Nov 2011 | 627 words | consumerism data airtravel

So the latest Planet Money podcast consists of this absolutely fascinating interview with Harvard professor turned casino CEO Gary Loveman. The interview is fascinating on a number of levels, chief among them this detailed look into data-driven behavioral manipulations:

Gary Loveman: Everybody who gambles knows that the house has an advantage. They are not unhappy that they loose any more that one is unhappy that they pay $40 to walk into the magic kingdom at disney. They recognize that there is a fee to provide all this but they get very unhappy if the loss is surprisingly severe – or as a statistician would put it, if they are in the tail of the distribution rather than the mean of the distribution, right?

So we have programs where a customer comes to play, we can observe real-time who in the casino is there on his first visit. It’s all though that [loyalty] card. So if Jude puts that card in and our system recognizes that this is the first time that we met her, a flag goes up to the casino management: New customer, Jude, playing the 25¢ video poker machine number 275 in the front left corner of the casino. And people on our staff will then begin to monitor all such people.

And we focus on those whose gaming results are way out in the negative tail, that is they are playing a slot machine where they should be getting back $94 out of a $100 but they are only getting back 50 out of $100. I know that this is a bad experience for Jude and she is going to feel that this was a very poor first visit. So the question is then: what are you going to do about this?

And you can imagine a couple of answers: one is ‘nothing’ which is the normal answer in consumer life. The other is that someone comes out, introduces themselves to Jude and says: ‘welcome to – lets say – Harrah’s St.Louis‘. Now the first thing that Jude is going to say is: ‘Hi, this place sucks! i am having a lousy day, i can’t win anything’.

Then the question is what do you do then? first of all you apologize, you say ‘Gee i am sorry to hear this, we do not like our customers to have a bad experience, how can i help?’ and you can help by buying Jude dinner, by giving her additional coin to play in the slot machines because at some point the law of large numbers will bring Jude back to the mean. You could offer her a room in the hotel or a ride home in the limo or any number of different things.

We do these kinds of interventions and then we run tests and control against it to see whether of all the people having a bad first experience, those who have a visit from one of our staff are more inclined to come back for the second visit. And not surprisingly they are dramatically more likely to come back.


Gary Loveman: Now when i was an academic i did this with airline data. So imagine through frequent flyer data that we observe that Jude has a visit on an airline, the flight was delayed and her bag was lost. Is it any mystery that she hates the airline? No, she hates the airline, you know that. So if you want her to visit the airline again the next time, how would you treat her? You would want to acknowledge that the last trip was a bad one and you would want to try to do something to make it up. It is exactly the same idea. But the airlines never do that.

Kabul tourist guide

The city of Kabul (and Afghanistan in general) is still pretty high on my list of places i want to visit. Unfortunately, the closest place to Kabul that i got to so far is Delhi. Fortunately, however, there is the fabulous internet where Safi Airways ‘the international airline of Afghanistan’ is publishing PDF versions of it’s fabulous in-flight magazine. Browsing through the three available issues only reinforces my desire to go and visit the place.

As far as the standards of such publications are concerned the Safi Airways in-flight magazine boasts a number of rather unconventional topics (dog fighting, opium addiction) and a somewhat chaotic layout (a story about ‘man eating lions’ is run right next to an article about Kabul’s christian cemetery). Among the quirky stories and hidden in-between a fair amount of ads for armored cars are some real gems like this one about a olympic-size swimming pool on a hill overlooking Kabul that was never filled with water ‘due to the difficulties of pumping water uphill’:

Some of the parts of the magazine are outright amusing. This is especially true for the section of the publication that serves as a city guide for Kabul. The (apparently expat) copywriters seem to have inherited a certain casualness from their work in Kabul which readily expresses itself in the descriptions given in shopping section that covers everything from shopping malls:

Kabul city center is Afghanistan’s first modern style indoor shopping mall that opened in 2005. it is approximately 9 stories tall and is located in downtown Kabul

… to open air bazars offering counterfeit entertainment products …

Chicken street is famed for it’s tourist fare (carpets, carvings knifes etc) and pirated CD/DVD’s

… to sellers of misappropriated goods:

Karimi Supermarket […] make sure to head upstairs for some great stuff that’s fallen off some PX trucks.

Another area where the copywriters really shine are directions to restaurants and shops that are provided alongside these descriptions: The ‘Red Hot & Sizzling” restaurant can be found after making …

… a left at the next traffic circle. slow down, the first gate to the right used to have a red chili pepper hanging up on a pole. Not easy to find.

And in order to get to the ‘Corner Pizzeria’ you have to …

… head down the barricaded street to almost the end. You’ll see big misspelled banners showing you the way.

Update (6 sept): Spiegel online has an interview (in German) with the editor in chief off the in-flight magazine. turns out that the whole thing is intended to be ‘honest’ (as opposed to all other in flight magazines out there).

Looking at the crisis from inside the belly of the beast

One of the more notorious/famous places in São Paulo is the boutique department store (Villa) Daslu. According to wikipedia ‘the boutique is known as the ‘fashion designers mecca’ of Brazil as it houses more than 60 labels plus 30 store-in-stores and is the place where Brazilian socialites, ranging from multi-millionaire soccer players to conglomerate bigwigs shop for the latest accessories and clothing’. Leged has it that Daslu is the only department store in the world where you can also buy helicopters (although that seems to be a bit of an exaggeration, in reality you can (could?) buy fractual ownership in helicopters operated by HeliSoultions) though the store.

Yesterday Kai and I decided to pay a visit to Villa Daslu to have a look at this icon of Brazilian upper class lifestyle. To our surprise/disappointment/excitement we found relatively little of the expected abundance. Instead large parts of the building stood empty looking as if they had been hastily abandoned and the few shoppers to be seen were easily outnumbered by the staff.

Large sections of the 2nd and the 3rd floor as well as some of the showrooms on the 1st and the 4th floor (including former Chanel, Gucci, Dolce & Gabana outlets) were completely empty, with all merchandise and most of the display-furniture missing. Strangely the management of the store did not even try to hide these empty spaces (one employe told us that they were ‘changing the concept of the store’ but in the absence of any sign of construction this seemed a bit implausible). As a result we were more or less free to stroll though the deserted parts of the building and take pictures of the emptiness (more pictures in this flickr set):

Moving through this half deserted temple of luxury shopping was easily one of the most surreal experiences i have ever had. This was reinforced by the fact that in other parts of the building the staff carried on as if everything was completely normal.

While i would certainly hope that this situation is illustrative of the effects of the economic crisis on the über-posh lifestyle of the Brazilian upper class this is probably not the case (it seems that the herd has simply moved to other pastures on the other side of the river). Instead it appears to be more likely that this situation is the result of the recent legal troubles of Eliana Tranchesi, owner and founder of Daslu who was recently sentenced to 94 years in prison and fined €434 million for tax fraud and smuggling. Apparently the aftermath of this verdict is slowly eating away this once iconic symbol of São Paulo’s immense economic inequality from the inside.

Bonus: one other option that i had considered for spending queens-day was to make a quick one day trip to brasilia (inspired by these incredible photos of the construction of brasilia by Marcel Gautherot). guess that will have to wait until next time…

Update (23.04.2012): The January 2012 edition of Time Out São Paulo contains a short article about the demise of Daslu (‘Death of a showroom‘) that uses two of the photos i took during my visit.

X-mas in Hong Kong

10 Dec 2006 | 181 words | hong kong xmas consumerism travel

Dubai may be positively insane but then Hong Kong is absolutely shameless in its display of wealth and consumption, especially now that it is christmas time. Now x-mas is not only taken as an excuse for excess shopping but there are special x-mas themed stages all over the place. Passed by the one in central tonight where they had a chinese band playing covers of pop songs and while i passed there the (very attractive, young) lead-singer announced the next song (i am a survivor or i survive or something like this) by telling the crowd that

… two months ago she had a really tough time, because all three of her boyfriends had left her on the same day – on the same day get this! – but this experience only made her stronger because [song starts]

Meanwhile the the lcd screen that displays txt-messages send to santa changes from ‘i wish i had 2.000.000 dollars to spend’ (not specific whether HKD or USD) to ‘i wish all the people in the world had a gun and would kill themselves’.

Terror soap...

19 Oct 2006 | 27 words | terrorism consumerism branding

Too sweet! wish i could buy this here in the Netherlands, but apparently this brand is available in costa rica only…

Photo by skot via boing boing

Queensday == beerdrinking madness

30 Apr 2006 | 349 words | amsterdam netherlands consumerism

So officially queensday is to celebrate the birthday of the Queen of the netherlands, but in reality it is just an excuse to wear extremely silly orange hats, listen to bad cover bands in overcrowded streets, buy stuff that you would not buy on any other day and most importantly to get really really drunk in public and embarrass the shit out of yourself (of course if you are dutch you wont find any of this embarrassing). In order to get drunk queensday-style you must absolutely do so by drinking beer from cans (only other thing that may be consumed in between beers is oranje-bitter).

The fact that queensday is about drinking beer and nothing else becomes most obvious on the day after, when the streets are littered with green beer cans and when the supermarkets that have been open during the previous day look like they have been looted by a mob that only had one think on it’s mind (beer?). Smack in the middle of the annual madness is the Albert Heijn super market behind the palace on dam-square in Amsterdam.

The following pictures have been taken when i went there for breakfast shopping on the morning after Q-D. Albert heijn never being shy to squeeze the last cent out of every possible chauvinist occasion had literally crammed a beer display into every unused square inch of floor space.

Albert Heijn, Dam square, Amsterdam, 30th of april 2006

Beers next to the ready to eat meals section

Beers next to the cheese section

Alone in an empty cooling tray

More beers on the ground

Alone in the wine section

Beers for hipsters

Next to the fresh dairy section

At the end of the preserved diary section

In front of the fresh 'bread' display

Next to the pastry display

And on the ground in front of the magazines and dvd’s

Special display at the head of the regular beer section


[Note that all pictures depict seperate piles of beer found in the store. I have refrained from taking shots of the piles from different points of view]

Living museum of youth cultures

27 Oct 2005 | 347 words | sao paulo culture consumerism

I guess the bigger a city becomes the harder the kids are forced to develop some kind of group identity. São Paulo with it’s 18 million inhabitants seems to be a pretty good example. The kids seem to be much more devoted to individual youth cultures than in most European cities. This is pretty much obvious on the streets or on the subway but the prime spot to witness this is the rock-gallery in downtown. It is a multiple story shopping gallery from the 70ties (or so) that neatly sorts youth cultures per floor:

In the basement you have shops that carter to afro /reggae clientele, the ground floor is all about hip-hop/streatwear, the 1st floor is suddenly all gothic/dark metal the 2nd floor is alternative (with the humming of tattoo needles echoing throughout the space) while the 3rd floor caters to yet some other variant of rock music (and for some reason i cant figure out the 4th floor is all occupied by silk screen printing shops).

rock gallery shopping center

Every floor covers all your youth cultural needs: there are clothing stores, shoe stores, accessories stores and record stores (plus tattoo & piercing parlors where the culture requires it) all of them exist at least in threefold and all are selling the same stuff. It is quite an experience to climb the stairs from one level to the next and travel through these different universes of style. As the whole thing has a very 90s feeling it really feels like a living museum of youth cultures. The only thing they should change is to replace the labels on the buttons in the elevator. instead of having ‘0’, ‘1’, ‘2’ …. they should have signs saying ‘hip-hop’, ‘gothic’, ‘alternative’.

One little gem from one of the shops on the ground floor is this package of nike wristbands with the word original written in clumsy handwriting by the owner. Apparently the shop is selling so much fake stuff that the fact that these are indeed originals has to be communicated to the clients.

original nike wrist bands

Creative interaction with online content must be punished

12 Oct 2005 | 306 words | creative commons copyright consumerism

Just read trough the Final Conference Paper (warning: pdf) of the Creative Economy Conference that was held last week in London as part of the British EU presidency. It is a pretty troubling paper that seems to be build on two general assumptions: 1) DRM is good for humanity and 2) the more/longer/stronger Intellectual Property Rights the better. Both of these assumptions are obviously stupid but they seem to be what you get when you let corporations sponsor (and dominate) government conferences.

The paper does contain two especially stunning statements that do illustrate what kind of role citizens should play in the creative economy (if you ask the creative economy types). They must be consumers of products that are supplied by the creative industries and for the rest they better shut up. My favorite statement is this:

there are concerns from consumers’ and civil society representatives that DRMs will restrict uses they believe they are entitled to (emphasis mine)

There goes fair-use, there go exceptions to copyright that protect non-consuming uses of creative works. And the DRM loving authors of this document seem to want to make a point of it by creating a PDF that i cant copy and past the text out of. kinda stupid of me to believe that i have the right to quote from this paper. This silly belief must be related to the fact that i am belonging to a minority group of people who actually want to use the powers of digital networks:

A range of alternative licensing arrangements were discussed, all of which cater for some consumers/citizens demand to interact creatively with content in the online environment.

If you ask me this is a pretty outrageous demand indeed. and at the very minimum these people need to be punished by making them type their quotes from PDF documents.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: