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Will your shopping basket include a new husband or wife…

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Dating sites are big business.

The NASDAQ quoted match.com for example, one of the largest dating websites, recently paid $50 million in cash to purchase the US online dating company OkCupid.

Years ago you would more than likely have met your future partner face to face at some social event whereas nowadays there is a high chance that you’ll meet your future husband or wife on the internet.

The online dating industry is also great at segmenting the market. In addition to the more mainstream sites such as match.com and friendfinder.com there are more niche dating sites out there including for example:

tallfriends.com – where as the name suggests, you can meet tall people;

farmersonly.com – to meet people that work in the farming industry;

scientificmatch.com – which uses your DNA to match you with suitable partners;

stdmatch.net – an online dating site for people with STDs;

meetingmillionaires.com – where yes, they do check your wealth when you join up, and

womenbehindbars.com – where you can meet women that are currently in jail (this has the added advantage of not having to pay for an expensive meal on your first date).

Last month the UK supermarket chain Asda announced that it was moving into the dating business. In a rather unusual extension of their product range they launched asdadating.co.uk which matched single people according to their shopping characteristics.

Users completed a questionnaire about their favourite foods and shopping habits and were then shown individuals that had similar shopping habits. They could literally compare their shopping baskets and find love.

Alas however for those people that completed the survey, the site has since been closed down as it was a marketing project for Valentine ’s Day and turned out not to be a genuine new product launch.

Those people that had completed the questionnaire with a shopping basket showing 7 “meals for one” are no doubt disappointed but the supermarket dating concept isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Could we see one of the other big supermarket chains starting up a real supermarket dating agency in the near future?

Are we about to see Nokiasoft or Microkia phones?

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I used to have a Nokia phone. It had a good battery and made great calls.

Then smartphones came along and I progressed onto an Apple iPhone. It looked super slick and did a lot of things.

Alas, problems with the battery and a slow processor meant that I fell out of love with it and recently decided to replace it.

I briefly looked at the Nokia phones and in particular their flagship phone the N8. The reviews were pretty bad and instead I decided on the Desire HD phone from  HTC.

Now my phone history isn’t the most scintillating of reads but what I found interesting was that Nokia appear to have gone from having arguably the top phones to really having not a lot to offer in today’s Smartphone market.

The challenges faced by Stephen Elop, the new CEO of Nokia have been blogged elsewhere but it seems that the anticipated success of their great hope, the N8 hasn’t materialised.

Nokia’s first quarterly results since Mr Elop joined have just been released.

Whilst their figures are growing with Smartphone sales of 28.3 million units (compared to 20.8 million units for the corresponding quarter in the previous year), their share of the Smartphone market has fallen to 31% (vs. 40% in the 2009 equivalent quarter).

On 11 February there is an investor meeting where Nokia will outline their new strategy but Mr Elop offered a few hints this week.

He stated that the company should have a better strategy around operating systems.

At the moment the 2 big operating systems in the Smartphone market are Apple and Android (the Google open source platform used by Samsung and HTC amongst others).

Nokia currently use their own Symbian operating system with a planned shift to the mobile Linux-based MeeGo operating system. Neither of these systems appear to be particularly impressive.

Mr Elop also mentioned the need for the company to “build or join a competitive ecosystem”.

Now, let’s just take a step back here and look at some of the facts:

Nokia make great handsets but they haven’t got a particularly good operating system. Apple are their arch competitors and switching to an open source Android operating system would make it challenging for them to rise above the other companies using Android.

Now here’s an interesting thought. A couple of months ago Microsoft launched their Windows 7 mobile platform. It’s reportedly technically very good but arguably needs a major handset manufacturer to take it on board.

Mr Elop’s previous employer before joining Nokia was none other than Microsoft.

Will we see Nokiasoft or Microkia phones in the near future?

The flight is cheaper than a single piece of paper…

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Ryanair is Europe’s largest low cost airline.

Their strategy is very much based on cost leadership and is a classic “no frills” approach on the strategy clock model.

In simple terms you don’t pay a lot for the service but at the same time you don’t get a lot. This approach can be very successful when comparing for example to another extreme where you pay a lot but don’t get a lot!

It released its results for the final quarter of 2010 today.

Air traffic control strikes and the bad weather in December were blamed for the Euro 10 million loss that was reported although the company is still confident of achieving full year profits of between Euro 380 million and Euro 400 million for their year ended 31 March 2011.

The average fare during the last quarter was reported as being Euro 34 and this will get you the flight and that’s about it. Extras which require additional payment include taking hold luggage, payment by credit card and seat allocation.

Their whole ethos is to minimise their costs. For example, they have a pretty aggressive policy when it comes to boarding passes.

Their terms and conditions state that passengers must print out their boarding pass at home. If they fail to do so and need one printed out at the airport then Ryanair will charge the passenger £40 to print the one piece of paper.

£40 to print a single piece of paper is pretty high but Ryanair argue that if passengers print out the boarding pass at home then it saves the cost of employing check in staff at the airport.

They have reported that people who forget to print out the boarding pass and are subsequently charged £40 remember to print it the next time.

Of course, it could be that if they’ve been charged £40 for printing one piece of paper then “next time” may well be with another airline as opposed to Ryanair.

At least it will make it easier for James Bond to park…

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The supercar manufacturer Aston Martin is associated with top end cars such as the Aston Martin DBS (shown left) which retails at £179,000. James Bond is also regularly seen saving the world in one of their cars.

So it’s come as a bit of a surprise to some people that in May of this year they are launching a small city car or “bespoke luxury commuter car” as they refer to it.

The launch version of the new Aston Cygnet (shown below) will cost £39,995 and whilst this is significantly less than the £179,000 for the DBS it is £27,750 more than the Toyota IQ that the model is based on.

So, is this a clever move by Aston Martin to identify a niche segment of the market that will pay extra for the luxury add-ons that are on the car such as a bespoke five-piece luggage set comprising a glovebox bag, removable door pocket bag, holdall, garment bag and a collapsible tote bag?

Or are their other possible reasons?

Some would argue that it’s a nice use of segmentation whereby the brand is being extended to high net worth individuals that need a luxury city runabout that is easier to park than a traditional Aston Martin.

It could also be targeted at the traditional male executive purchasers of new full size Aston Martins who could be encouraged to buy an Aston Cygnet for their wife or girlfriend (or both).

There is also the EU Commission proposal that car manufacturers’ car fleets should average below a certain CO2 emission rate to avoid penalties.

Manufacturers such as Honda and Renault which typically produce smaller more fuel efficient cars can achieve these limits. Aston Martin however with their high performance, and as a result less fuel efficient cars, will not meet the limits.

Is this a sign of things to come?

Will we see the Rolls Royce Mini or the Ferrari Cinquecento on our streets soon…

The sound of the tills ringing was music to their ears even though there was no music in the shop…

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Christmas shopping for me is normally a last minute rush before the shops close on 24 December.

This year though I was determined to be organised and last weekend headed off to hit the shops in London’s West End.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that arguably the two most famous shopping streets in London (Oxford Street and Regent Street) were car free as they had been shut to traffic to encourage early Christmas shopping.

Although the streets were closed to traffic the number of shoppers made up for it. It also seemed as though every other shopper walking along Oxford Street was carrying a Primark shopping bag.

For those of you that haven’t heard of Primark, they are a very successful budget clothing brand with 145 shops in the UK together with an additional 62 shops in 6 other countries.

They compete via a classic cost leadership strategy whereby they keep their costs low by way of a variety of business techniques including for example:

•    Purchasing  stock in huge quantities so as to benefit from economies of scale;

•    Only stocking items in popular sizes so as to avoid “using up” valuable shop space with items that don’t sell so well;

•    Minimising advertising spend (why pay models and magazines when they can let their prices do the advertising for them?);

•    Not playing any music in its stores (why pay licence or royalty fees to artists?).

As well as focusing on cost leadership they are masters at “fast fashion”. In other words, they manage the supply chain to get the fashionable styles into the shops as quickly as possible so that they match the very latest designs that are seen on the catwalks and in the fashion magazines.

Gone are the days of fashion having 4 distinct seasons as far as Primark is concerned.

With so many people carrying Primark bags last week then my suspicion was that they were doing very well with their sales.

Press reports yesterday did indeed indicate that Primark did very well at the weekend.

It was reported that they had their most successful one day single shop performance in their 41 year history on Saturday.

The tills at their Oxford Street branch rang up to the tune of £820,000 in the one day.

Whichever way you look at it that’s a pretty good figure for one day’s worth of sales at a single shop.

Their cost leadership approach to strategy seems to be working. As well as their success on Saturday, their reported profits for the 53 weeks to 18 September 2010 showed profits increasing by 35% to £341 million on sales up 18% to £2,730 million.

Marks & Spencer – the figures weren’t padded out but what about…

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Marks & Spencer (M&S) are one of the best known retailers in the UK. First established back in 1884 they have been a mainstay of British fashion for as long as anyone can remember.

They have however had a turbulent journey over the last few years but yesterday they announced their results for the quarter ended 2 October and a number of things were quite impressive.

First of all, the ability to release their figures within 3 working days of the end of the quarter was in itself no mean feat.

The figures themselves were also very good with group sales up by 6.5% and all the major divisions showing impressive growth. So, how have they managed this? After all, although we’re coming to the end of the recession people are still being careful about money.

According to Marc Bolland, the Chief Executive of M&S, “Customers are returning to quality. In Food they are responding well to our better value and innovation, and in Clothing are increasingly choosing M&S’s great fashions and quality that lasts.”

They were also successful in introducing “innovative new products” (classic Ansoff’s Product Development). For example, they have just announced that they will be the first to launch men’s “enhancing underpants” on the UK high street.

On the ladies side of things the success of the “Wonderbra phenomenon” has been well documented since they were introduced in the 1990s but in the words of M&S the Bodymax enhancement pants for men have a number of advantages.

The “frontal enhancement pants” are “specifically designed to visibly enhance your shape” and the “bum lift pants” are said to “lift and shape your buttocks for a visibly sculpted look”.

Mr Bolland also said that there had been “a positive response to increased investment in marketing”. It will be interesting to see how they market the enhancement pants.

Now, you’re possibly thinking what sort of person would buy these enhancement pants? You may also be wondering how comfortable they are to wear.

In answer to this final point I’ll let you know as soon as my pair are delivered.

£2.5 billion but can you have your cake and eat it?

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On Monday it was reported that China’s Bright Food Group was investigating the potential purchase of Britain’s United Biscuits for up to £2.5 billion.

Whilst on the face of it one food company buying another food company isn’t that exciting it does raise some interesting points.

Importantly, it also makes you think of whether Jaffa Cakes are in fact biscuits rather than cakes…

First of all though in classic Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage of Nations terms then particular countries are considered to be strong in certain industries.

Germany for example is renowned for the production of high powered cars such as Audi, BMW and Porsche. Japan is a world leader in high tech cameras such as Canon, Nikon and Pentax.

Britain on the other hand is a powerhouse in the production of biscuits. After all, who needs luxury cars and high tech cameras when you can have a lovely cup of tea with a nice biscuit or two?

Secondly, the fact that another company from a so called emerging market is now potentially making a significant acquisition of a company in a more developed market sends an interesting signal about the current trend of globalisation.

Both these points are all very well and good but what’s this all about a biscuit or cake discussion?

United Biscuits produce some household name products including McVitie’s biscuits, Hula Hoops and Twiglets. They also produce Jaffa Cakes.

Jaffa Cakes were the subject of an infamous tax case a few years ago. To cut a long story short the debate was whether a Jaffa Cake was a cake (considered to be a basic foodstuff and hence not liable to VAT) or a chocolate covered biscuit (considered to be a luxury food product and hence liable for lots of VAT).

So, how on earth can you decide whether a food product is a cake or a biscuit?

The deciding factor was that when a cake is left to go stale it gets hard whereas when a biscuit is left to go stale it goes soft.

The argument went to a VAT tribunal (which is in effect a type of Court) and as part of the evidence put forward a 30cm Jaffa Cake was baked and left to go stale (and hard) so as to convince the tribunal that it was in fact a cake.

The final result was that Jaffa Cakes are indeed cakes so you can now have your cake and eat it (VAT free).

Forget the great Polish and Russian vodkas, the best vodka in the world is officially English. Now, go and open a packet of crisps to celebrate.

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At this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition the best Vodka in the world award was won by a small distillery based in rural England in Herefordshire. Chase Vodka beat off 115 other entries to win.

This is a superb achievement by them.

I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the vodka. It’s certainly very nice and I have to say I think their award was thoroughly deserved. I hasten to add though that I haven’t tasted the other 115 vodkas so can’t really give an unbiased view!

Chase vodka has got a rather unusual background. It was founded by local potato farmer William Chase. Now William certainly knows a thing or two about potatos. He was the person that founded the upmarket potato crisp company Tyrrells.

Tyrrell’s crisps were only launched 8 years ago in 2002. In classic strategy terminology they were very much promoted on the differentiated manner as being of a better class of crisp, being hand crafted and a top quality product. His passion for potatos paid off and in 2008 he sold 75% of the crisp brand for a rather tasty £40 million.

Not content with sailing the world on his personal yacht or buying a private island to retire to he built on his core competencies and developed his love of potatos into another upmarket brand but this time to be enjoyed by adults only.

Again, using strategy speak the chase vodka business is nicely vertically integrated with the potatos being grown on the farm as well as the distillery and the bottling process being in the same location.

It’s not cheap – retailing at £32.95 it is over 3 times as expensive as the supermarket own brands but it’s hand crafted by a small team of workers and each bottle is reportedly made out of 250 top quality potatos. Comparing this with the mass market vodkas made out of left over grain then you can see why the pricing is different.

Using Ansoff’s matrix terminology they have also undertaken rather nice product development and launched a limited edition Marmalade Vodka.

Now, for me a lovely breakfast is a fresh pot of tea with some nice toast and marmalade. Should I be rethinking things though so that I opt for Marmalade Vodka instead?

The ACCA exam results are out today. If you’ve been successful then maybe head to the vending machine.

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It’s ACCA exam results day today and congratulations to those of you that have passed. All your hard work has paid off and it’s now time to celebrate.

I’ve often wondered whether the results day should be a Friday so you can celebrate on Friday night and Saturday night or whether it’s a good excuse to annoy everyone else in the office on the Monday with your shouts of happiness all day.

If by any chance you’re in Pennsylvania in America and want to have a little drink to celebrate your success then there is now a novel way of doing so.

We blogged last year about the use of vending machines in Germany for selling local fruit and vegetables but in Pennsylvania they are now piloting a new type of “outbound logistics” (using Porter’s Value Chain Analysis terminology).

You can now buy bottles of wine from vending machines. In order to buy the wine customers have to firstly prove they are old enough by swiping their ID and a credit card. They then have to prove they are sober enough to buy the wine by using a breathalyzer.

Wine aficionados may well be aghast at the thought of buying wine from a vending machine but if you’re the type of person that just doesn’t want to stand in a queue and talk to the shop assistant when you’re buying the wine then this could be for you.

Then again, if you’re buying it to celebrate passing your exams I would recommend that you buy it from the shop assistant so that you can tell them and the rest of the people in the queue the reason you’re buying it.

I’d like the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” and a whole lamb delivered tomorrow please.

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So my plan for tomorrow night is to have a relaxing evening and settle down with a nice box of chocolates, a glass of Pinot Grigio wine and start reading the 50th anniversary edition of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” which has just been released.

The only problem is that I don’t have chocolates, wine or the book…

Not to worry though as I can order these over the internet for delivery tomorrow. Two websites I’ve ordered from before are those of the supermarket Tesco and the online bookstore Amazon. Tesco have sold books as part of their offerings for a while now so I might as well order all of them from their website.

Hold your horses though as Amazon today announced that as well as books, DVDs and suchlike they would now be selling a range of grocery items online.  Over 22,000 grocery items in fact.

Items ranging from a packet of cinnamon sugar for 29p through to a Highland Fayre Royal Banquet for £1,203.97 are now available for home delivery on www.amazon.co.uk.

Is this a smart move by Amazon or simply an online bookstore trying to get some extra revenue? After all, shouldn’t they stick to what they do best and sell books?

Well, if you think about it, what do they do well? (what are their “core competencies” in strategy exam talk?)

I’d argue that they are pretty good at getting stock into their warehouses (using Porter’s value Chain: inbound logistics), processing orders (operations), delivering goods to customers (outbound logistics), running a website (sales and marketing) and dealing swiftly with any returns (after sales service).

Whether the item of stock being processed is the classic book by Harper Lee or a whole lamb for £119.99 then does it really make any difference?

Only time will tell whether this venture will be successful. Amazon has a trusted brand and is a world leader in processing orders over the internet so maybe they will be successful. The established supermarkets already have a successful internet presence though so it will be interesting to see how this develops.

Anyway, after writing this I’ve now made my decision and I’ll buy the chocolates, wine and books from the Sainsbury Express store next to the office and have the relaxing evening tonight.