Matthew Stern

Editor, RetailWire
Matthew is a writer and editor currently based in Logan Square, Chicago. Some of his recent journalistic work includes profile and feature writing for CompTIA: The IT Trade Association, and he has also undertaken copywriting and content creation for disparate clients in a broad range of industries. Before pursuing a career in editing and copywriting, he spent more than a decade as a freelance journalist and critic, writing about music and movies for a variety of publications online and in print. Matthew contributed reviews, articles and think-pieces to publications such as the Village Voice, the New York Press and The Brooklyn Rail, wrote promotional event blurbs for the Washington City Paper and was a regular review writer for experimental music website Dusted Magazine. During this time, he also performed various content and marketing-related roles in the non-profit sector.
  • Posted on: 06/08/2022

    Should retailers prepare to serve customers in ‘post-car’ suburbs?

    Hi Bob, I didn't notice anything on the Culdesac website indicating that they were quite that rigid about vehicles -- the concept seems focused on limiting private vehicle ownership. But your observation does raise an interesting point for future developments of this kind -- could innovations in last-mile drone delivery technology realistically manage delivery from suppliers to retailers? How much of the inventory process, from a robotic fulfillment center down the line, could be completely automated?
  • Posted on: 06/26/2020

    Luxury men’s salon and tailoring shop made house calls as Miami shut down

    Hi Richard, just wanted to clarify -- per my discussion with JM, the moves they made were meant to allow them to continue doing business while falling within the parameters of what was legal in Florida at the point in lockdown when they were offering the service. I agree it's confusing with the differences state-by-state, but they said their intention was to keep doing business while remaining on the up-and-up and without skirting any guidelines.
  • Posted on: 01/16/2020

    Burger King sets the dining mood with a ‘Whopperish’ aesthetic

    Hi April, Just to clarify, "Whopperishness" is a phrase I came up with to describe the look and feel that Burger King is going for with the redesign, it is not part of the restaurant's branding.
  • Posted on: 05/24/2019

    Can Loop make packaging reusability a reality at scale?

    Just wanted to add, for those interested in the mechanics of the package design process, that < A HREF="">according to Loop's website CPGs are able to use their own designs, graphics and other packaging features on the specially-made reusable packaging, so the products don't lose the brand's distinct look and feel.
  • Posted on: 01/16/2019

    NRF: Will success in mobile shopping depend on progressive web apps?

    Funny, I was thinking about that point -- articulating customer needs before the customer understands them -- while I was watching this session. The representative from Adobe was big on the idea of offline caching allowing for a sustained interaction with the app even when there was no internet connectivity. But obviously that couldn't extend to actually making a purchase unless Google and Adobe are now playing with some spooky FTL tachyon technology that lets people place their orders before they actually place them. Maybe that's where this whole thing is going! :) But more realistically it does seem that the big tech players are looking at using ubiquitous "smart" devices -- from the inside of homes to the outside of buildings -- to make those kinds of enhanced predictions. There should be an article on a session at NRF that dealt with just that type of technology coming up soon!
  • Posted on: 09/27/2018

    Will Amazon disrupt retail again with its new 4-star store concept?

    I've got a few thoughts on this one that seem to run contrary to most of the opinions in the discussion today, but I'm always happy to reconsider! :) I think this concept says more about Amazon continuing to recognize that shoppers want brick-and-mortar stores than anything about Amazon's ability to succeed in it with this hybrid model. I am thinking back to when a friend of mine told me about her visit to Amazon Books when it first opened -- her account of the visit reminded me of the "Uncanny Valley" experience people describe when they encounter a robot that is supposed to look human but is somehow "off" in a way that's unnerving and destabilizing. She said, "it's not a book store." I could see this store having the same quasi-lifelessness she described. I see it in the anonymous, user-generated product endorsement cards like the one pictured -- something about them strikes me as almost spooky. I also think the reliance on star ratings has some blind spots. Ratings can be useful in differentiating between products, but there are all sorts of reasons customers rate products -- I don't think a customer can assume that the top-rated item on Amazon is necessarily the best product in that category. Also I've found that when buying electronics basically everything with more than X number of sales is a 3.5 or 4 star, because everyone gets a lemon occasionally, but I don't know if that would be a sensible reason to keep a product off the shelf. All that said, the hodgepodge/treasure hunt factor could be a draw (even if the store were to sneak a 3-star product onto the shelf on occasion). Whether the store has return guests/fans would seem to rely more on store experience, engaging, interesting, knowledgeable staff and other elements that elevate it beyond being a brick-and-mortar version of a website. And I'm not sure that is Amazon's thing.
  • Posted on: 08/24/2018

    Will Kroger’s ban mean the end of plastic bags in grocery stores?

    Being in Chicago where the plastic bag ban went into effect a while back, I can say first hand that this is something customers get comfortable with pretty quickly. Here you can still buy a plastic bag for 7 cents if you absolutely need to, but it still drastically reduces the number of plastic bags people use. As many have mentioned, since plastic grocery bags are probably on their way out nationwide anyway, this does have a strong PR element and Kroger is getting ahead of the trend. As for blowback -- I can see there being more complaining about the change than anything. Of course in municipalities where plastic bags are banned you don't have the choice of going -- as a matter of principle -- to another grocer that has them. But again, in Chicago everyone could just pay an extra 7 cents per bag and continue to use as many as they want if they were really committed to it. They don't, because bringing your own bag has become the default. Customers just stop thinking about it and move on to something else. Refusing to go to a conveniently-located Kroger because it no longer has plastic bags is something I can see a lot of people saying they'll do and very few people actually doing.
  • Posted on: 08/24/2018

    Will gains make believers of investors who opposed Target’s toy category push?

    I agree with Neil -- it struck me as requiring some truly arcane divination on the part of investors to arrive at the conclusion that the children of the future will not want toys. With parents already in Target buying other things I can't see why the retailer wouldn't try to snag the attention of those parents' kids with improved/expanded toy aisles. I doubt it will become a toy connoisseur's toy store like a specialty shop, but it will be a big draw for kids who are along for the ride. Even prior to any announcements about expanded inventory, I've seen kids drop to the floor in the toy aisles of Target and refuse to leave/stop screaming until their parents bought them something. It's hard to think of a stronger incentive for an impulse purchase.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2018

    Will RadioShack find new life inside HobbyTown’s stores?

    The RadioShack brand, its signage, etc., doesn't immediately strike me as having much of a charge left in it. However there could be something to the idea of really going back to the retailer's roots as a niche electrical engineering spot (rather than its latter-day incarnation as a moribund cell phone shop) with this store-within-a-store. The images of soldering HobbyTown is using to promote the relationship seems to indicate that this is the plan. The real opportunity for differentiation there, it seems to me, would be in offering electrical engineering/tech classes from experts for people of all skill levels, having hobbyist-related lectures you might not get elsewhere and maybe even partnering to offer related industry certifications. Joann Fabric is adding community-building, educational offerings to try to revive its place in the crafting space -- perhaps RadioShack (in its store-within-a-store iteration) could get back on the map by doing the same in this highly-technical niche.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2018

    Survey: Customer experience tech rivals personal attention from staff

    It seems that it depends on the business, its audience and the size (one- or two-store mom-and-pop vs. small regional chain). I couldn't imagine most of the small retailers I patronize suffering from a lack of technology. I think this is because in many instances retailers apply technology to make things more convenient, and for mom-and-pops in areas like books, music, etc., convenience isn't what customers go there looking for. Rather they're seeking curation, product knowledge, connection/sense of community and the like. I think to some extent the same is true of restaurants -- if the food is good and singular at a place that has been open forever, the cash register being a shoe box is not only unimportant to the customer experience, it can be part of the appeal. And when it comes to promotion -- cost of implementation aside, technology can even be brand-incongruous. It would hardly make sense for an artisanal tchotchke shop to go with a big flashy display. Things may be different with, say, busy local/regional grocery chains, where technology could be implemented to help speed along checkout. Then again, though there's a line at the grocery story almost every time I visit -- there is an equally long line every time I go to Walgreens. So I am not sure how far ahead tech investment is putting big national chains in that regard.
  • Posted on: 08/11/2017

    Will Toys ‘R’ Us take Manhattan the second time around?

    I strongly agree with those who've mentioned Toys "R" Us hopefully learning a lot from this pop-up that the chain can work into its stores. The fact that the pop-up is broken out into stores-within-a-store bodes well. Last time I was in a Toys "R" Us a few years ago it struck me as feeling like a warehouse-sized tchotchke shop. There appeared to be little rhyme or reason to anything, somehow giving the impression that every product was an afterthought despite there being no main product on which to focus. This was even true of the branded merchandise sections. But when I later read about the American Girl store-within-a-store deal a while back, I thought Toys "R" Us was finally on the verge of realizing all the potential they have. There are a million little niche toy worlds out there that don't have enough pull for their own standalone concepts (like, say, skateboards or video games have) but nonetheless have dedicated enthusiasts/collectors/obsessives with their own vernaculars, levels of connoisseurship, expertise, fan YouTube channels and so on. Action figure collecting seems like an obvious one. Yo-yos, some might be surprised to find, have an incredibly dedicated "scene." And what about this whole fidget spinner thing? The kinds of varieties of those things that emerged and the things people were doing with them were kind of mindboggling. Toys "R" Us could have had people lined up out the door for the entirety of that trend's fifteen minutes with the right kind of store-within-a-store. So hopefully the shop-within-a-shop emphasis of this pop-up will help show Toys "R" Us the path to a redesign for its main stores. Those stores have so much space to work with -- Toys "R" Us needs to make the stores feel alive, not like customers are shoving and tripping their way through a storage unit!
  • Posted on: 03/20/2017

    Will the soy-in-chicken report sink Subway?

    Funnily enough, Subway's saving grace here (if the CBC report is accurate) could be the fact that the chain isn't (I don't think) considered all that healthy anymore by consumers, certainly not like in their heyday in the '90s when it was one of the only fast-food outlets where you could hope to see something resembling a vegetable. I think the low-carb trend did a lot to separate the idea of health from the idea of eating an entire loaf of bread for lunch, and competition from fast-casual chains hasn't helped Subway either. And I don't even know if the chain is positioning itself as healthy anymore. I remember a year or two ago seeing that Subway was promoting a sandwich with Fritos on it and figured that was a quiet admission that the company was no longer targeting the health-conscious audience. So I think this could blow over more quickly than a Whole Foods scandal or a Chipotle scandal because customers think of Subway as being on the lower fast-food rungs these days. News of fillers in chicken is a little alarming, but not as hugely off-brand as if you found out it was happening at chain that is branded as "natural." Such a scandal produces momentary viral outrage and demands a response, but it doesn't turn people off the brand for good.
  • Posted on: 09/14/2016

    Will the Galaxy Note 7 snafu send Samsung up in flames?

    When a device you keep in your pocket has the potential to burst into flames, that's when consumers start paying attention to the alerts. I can only imagine (or hope) that when word broke a few months back that those "hoverboard" things were prone to exploding quite dramatically, that it impacted sales. However I think because people buy smartphones relatively rarely compared to other items, this incident will have dissipated from the public mind long before most consumers take their next trip to pick up a Samsung. The company handled it well by dealing with the situation quickly. Assuming they don't have any further problems with their phones exploding they should be OK. If it starts to look like a trend and the press picks it up accordingly, that's a different story. As others have noted, it is fortuitous for Apple right this second, but probably not a huge deal in the long run.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2016

    Pokémon Go showcases potential of augmented reality in retail

    As the game currently functions, I could see partnerships developing in which particularly valuable Pokémon are placed in a store location and maybe require an IRL purchase to get, but I think things really change when the rare Pokémon becomes the "Buy Button." Maybe users will find themselves stumbling onto pop-up shops, rewards and such throughout the Pokéverse, or even find themselves on day-long multi-retailer quests. And further into the future, it seems as though there could very well be games in which AR characters mapped to different geographical locations collect and remember information about the people who interact with them. Want to know if your friend was in the store earlier? Talk to the extra-spatial wizard over by the pharmacy. I also wonder if Nintendo's first-mover advantage (besides Ingress) will position it to be the AR go-to environment for a while, or if this one will atrophy and give way to the next shared universe. It seems that just as with social networks, we don't really have a clue what determines the lifecycle of one of these games. Will there be one shared universe everyone uses, or will retailers each develop their own? Will retailer-developed ARs “crossover” with one central one? I’ve also spent a lot of time this past week wondering if a developer creates, for instance, an in-game character that physically chases users, if that will cause an epidemic of people running out into traffic. So many questions. This could be flash-in-the-pan, or it could be a whole new chapter in the history of the madness of crowds, but either way it’s fascinating.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2016

    Yes! McD’s McGriddles all-day, every day

    While I've never had a McGriddle (they sort of scare me), I remember when the product was first released, or at least when it became more widely available, it was a story unto itself. It had a funny name, a funny concept and an absolute throwing of caution to the wind on calorie count, which got the hivemind buzzing. Because of that, I think virality plays a role in getting people in the door for something like the McGriddle at any time of the day. In fact, when you think about it, in earlier eras McDonald's had successes with menu items that had a proto-viral appeal. Both the McRib and the Shamrock Shake developed cult following due as much to being curios for people to talk about as their scarcity and taste (the McRib even managing to get parodied on The Simpsons). So if the McGriddle succeeds as an all-day-breakfast menu item, it might be worth considering that McDonald's is doing, perhaps somewhat unknowingly, what Burger King has been doing quite intentionally; getting surprising, viral products (hot dogs, those macaroni-filled Cheetos cheese stick things) on the menu with their appearance doubling as a media event. Perhaps the next step should be another breakfast item that boosts buzz similarly -- an Egg McMuffin/hamburger hybrid, or something pulled from the memetic "secret menu," maybe?

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