Amazon is eating retail

I stumbled across this article in my Flipboard viewing this morning titled “Are we

Image representing Amazon as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Witnessing the Death of the Big Box Store?” on Time business.  The article was inspired by a 25% drop in net income for Best Buy in its most recent quarter, perhaps a sign that “software is eating” their world.  More specifically, Amazon:

So what’s behind a store like Best Buy’s headlong decline? One word: Amazon. Specialty big-box stores like Best Buy have made a killing the past 20 years by offering a huge selection of products at low prices. But there is no way the firm can compete with an Internet retailer like Amazon on those measures. Even worse for Best Buy is the phenomenon of “showrooming,” whereby shoppers check out an item in a store and then buy it through an online competitor for a lower price. This is particularly frustrating for brick-and-mortar stores because it takes their one tangible advantage to online retailers — the in-store experience — and turns it into a way for their competitors to steal market share.

Read more:

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, really ever since I upgraded to Amazon Prime (a little over a year ago).  There’s just something magical about the Amazon Prime experience, and it’s even more necessary amazing while living in NYC.  Before I upgraded to prime I was definitely an occasional but not heavy Amazon buyer, but since the upgrade my whole shopping patterns have changed.  Toilet paper?  Amazon.  Razors? Amazon.  TV? Amazon. Coffee? Snacks? Green tea? Batteries? Yep, yep, yep. I can have it shipped to my door for free sometimes as quickly as a day (Even though Prime’s promise is 2 days free, one day for $3.99).  I’ve even done my fair share of “showrooming,” although not to scoop the lowest price but because my local option had run out of stock.  What was I buying?  Plant fertilizer.  I went to my local hardware store and they had just run out, so I pulled out my phone, and within a minute it was on the way, shipped for free, cheaper than the hardware store anyway.  What happens as more and more people live in the “Prime world?”

There are still a lot of things I shop for “locally,” with food being the most obvious and frequent.  And I think there are many things that simply can’t be “primed,” (appliances, some clothing, etc), but clearly there are a lot of things that can and will be.  So what happens to Best Buy (who I think is in serious danger in current model)?  What happens to Ace Hardware?  I would bet on those businesses being severely limited in 10 years, a result of being “primed.”  What happens to the millions of square footage that is no longer needed when Amazon starts to really eat these businesses?  Could they ever be returned to farmland?  Or their natural habit?  I was at the farmers market last weekend.  One of those farms had a sign up that read “Once farmland is developed, it never goes back.  Have you ever seen a mall turned into a farm?”  No, I haven’t, but maybe I will.

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Don’t break the chain

Chain Link
Chain Link (Photo credit: small world)

Scrolling through my instapaper feed this past weekend I came across this post way back on April 25th titled “366 or How I tricked myself into being awesome.”  It’s an awesome post and well worth a read, but I’ll give you the meat here:

How did I do it?

Blogged every, single day. For one full year. 366 days. Every day. No matter what.

This, which I’m sure is not an accident, reminds me of what I’ve heard about off and on the last few years as “Seinfeld’s productivity secret.”  When a young comic asked Seinfeld if he had any tips, he provided some great advice:

He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself—even when you don’t feel like it.

He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

It’s funny because I also recently read an article about high achievers, “If you’re busy, you are doing something wrong,” which emphasizes the importance and power of deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice is defined as the work that truly stretches your ability, and this is exactly what Seinfeld is describing here.  He’s devised a system that motivates him to stretch his ability every single day, no matter what.  Deliberate practice.

So the questions is: What should and could you do everyday to stretch your ability?  I’ve been struggling with this, trying and exploring a few things.  Sometimes I wonder if writing is pretty much always involved here, unless you are working on something physical (athlete) or something very specific (chess player, pianist). I think there’s something about writing, especially public reading (even if very few people read it like on my blog) that really does crystallize and clarify your thoughts.

For me I have several things I’m trying on, and I’m using to track my chains.  So far, about 6 days in, I’m holding up and enjoying it.  More about what my chains are and why in another post.

What could you do everyday trick yourself to being more awesome?  What could you do everyday to make you a little better at what you want to do?


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What’s your invisible script?

Talking Heads (series)
Talking Heads (series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning while walking my dog I had a random thought: “hey, I should run with  Izzy (my dog) regularly.”  And almost immediately I heard another voice in my head say “you can’t do that.”  I realized that this voice is actually pretty common, and loves to immediately shoot down ideas, plans, hopes that I’m perhaps a little unsure of.  (It is my own version of the “shotgun,” a nickname for someone who used to meet up with Jason, etc awhile back.  No matter what we said, and no matter how much we bubbled with optimism about something we were discussing he would immediately shoot it down.)  This voice is active, and I wonder how many times throughout the day it holds me back.

Through this little moment of reflection, I was reminded of Ramit Sethi‘s excellent post on “The invisible scripts that guide our lives.”  As he says in the post, these scripts can be so entrenched in us that we don’t even notice the impact they have.  “Would a fish know he’s swimming in water?”  How many times does my “shotgun” voice speak up and I don’t even notice that I listen to it?

The good news is that we can respond to and even change those invisible scripts that may be impacting our lives.  The better news is that the first and most important step in this process is noticing.  The bad news is, noticing can be very hard.  Do you see the scripts that impact your life?

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Time for quiet

Heading through the Sound Tube on the Tullamar...
Heading through the Sound Tube on the Tullamarine Freeway in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know how or why, but for some reason this morning I had the tv on and tuned to CBS this morning.  I caught a piece they did called “Absolute Silence:  How long can you last?

In this piece talk about very quiet places, including a spot in Washington state that supposedly is absolutely free of all human noise pollution, which not surprisingly is increasingly rare (I am sure there are still a lot of spots like this, but anyway..).  They also visit a quiet room used to get absolute noise levels of all kinds of products and devices.  In this quiet room, decibel levels can reach an incredible -9, compared to 73 in a typical airport or 52 in a quiet office.  When they interviewed the president of the company who operates the quiet chamber he said “people go nuts in here…there are people who have walked into the room, taken one step on the floor, said they were disoriented and left.”  Apparently the longest anyone has been able to sit in the room is 45 minutes, which really surprised me.  The reality is:  sitting in quiet, especially really quiet, is very hard and getting harder.

When I think about my day, I’m really amazed at how little time actually is spent in a place of quiet.  I’m not necessarily talking about noise level, as it’s impossible to find absolute silence in NYC, but I’m always amazed at how uncomfortable it is for me to be still, and quiet.  There are a constant stream of thoughts, a constant impulse to want to check my phone, check my email, listen to a podcast, listen to this, do that, do this, do that.  Anything other than be still.  I do meditate now for 7 minutes (up 2 minutes every week) in the morning, but still really struggle with that.  I think the ability to be still is a skill that has to be developed, a muscle to be built.  The best way to build it is through meditation, and unplugging.  Meditation for my mind feels like eating broccoli while smelling a pizza.  I can’t help but crave the pizza while eating the broccoli.

It seems like everyday there are increasingly more ways to demand our attention, to fill the silence. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, but I do know that a moment of quiet is often the moment my best thoughts come forward.  It’s almost as if the voice inside me that has the greatest insights has the quietest voice.  It needs quiet to be heard.

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You never know…

Jerry Seinfeld (character)
For some reason Zemanta offered up nothing but pictures of Jerry Seinfeld for this post so I went with it. I would like to meet him (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had breakfast this morning with a a friend, Kareem, who is someone that always teaches, pushes, and inspires my work both as a person and as an entrepreneur.  I don’t see or speak to Kareem all that often mostly because he does not live in NYC, but I always come away from our interactions with a new found perspective, a new thing to test, a new way forward.  I’d certainly like to have more conversations like that, and so I was thinking as I walked this morning…how did I meet Kareem?

Well I’ve realized that I met him as I’ve met lots of other interesting people now in my life. I just reached out to him randomly.  I remember stumbling on his blog, reading over it and thinking “this is a really interesting guy with a cool background, I’d like to have a chat,”  and now here we are several years later meeting for breakfast.

A person I’m often asked how I originally met, Jerry, who has since become a good friend, coach, mentor, and teacher was another person I reached out to randomly.  I remember seeing him speak on a panel back in 07 and in his introduction he mentioned he was doing a bit of teaching and coaching, so I thought “Ok this is a guy I’d love to have a conversation with.”  Unfortunately after the event I wasn’t able to connect with Jerry, but when I got home I did some googling and digging, found someone who seemed to know him, and sent an open and honest note saying that I was just interested in having a conversation with Jerry. A week later I was meeting Jerry in his office, and 6 years later I’m still close with him.

My friend Zak used to refer to it as “acting on inspired thought,” that little moment where you think “ooh this person is interesting, I should reach out to them.”  I have only done that in spurts in my life, but looking now almost all of my good relationships related to work have come from these moments.  I think part of what makes this work is a genuine interest in people, and learning about them instead of trying to get something from them, but the lesson was clear to me this morning:  You never know.  I’m not saying you should flood your schedule with coffees and catch ups.  I don’t think that’s good for anyone.  But in those moments when you’re reading a blog post, reading a newspaper article, hearing from a friend about someone when you think “I’d love to meet them,” then act.  Reach out.  Connect or try to connect, person to person.  You really never know.

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Appreciate the day

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. –Steve Jobs


I was thinking about this quote this morning as I walked my dog.  I often hear people say or write things along these lines, the often repeated “Live each day as if it is your last.”  But honestly, does anyone live that way?  How realistic is that?  And what does that even mean?

This was on my mind after hearing from my wife, who works in the ER as a nurse, a story about a recent patient.  The was patient was young and healthy, but after a small scratch and a freak infection they passed away quickly.

It’s obviously a horrible and sad story, and thankfully a fairly uncommon one.  But it did hit me when she shared it, and even more so this morning on my walk.  I don’t know how to live each day as if it were my last, but I did find myself really appreciating this day, my life, on my walk.  The way the sun hit my face.  The way the cool, wet, morning air felt coming through my nose, down to my lungs, and into my body.  The way the incredibly green leaves sat against the blue, blue early spring sky. The great Sunday I shared with my wife, my sister, my nephew. There are things in my day, in my week that perhaps would normally sit in my throat as an anxious lump.  Not today.  I felt it melt away in the appreciation on my walk.

I know you won’t feel that way all the time.  You can’t.  There will inevitably be a return to worrying about bills, about work, etc.  But I’d sure like to find more moments in my days and weeks to make “things” melt.  Maybe that’s what it means to live each day as your last.

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