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How COVID is driving the whole economy

(MARKETING) Coronavirus is turning the traditional consumer-model on its head. How are our changes in needs purchases affecting the economy?

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Woman grocery shopping, showing economy changes

The consumer landscape has shifted since the start of COVID-19. Americans are going out less frequently, which means less money is being spent on eating out and travel. As a result, consumers are splurging more on luxury foods, clothes, and other items. The logic is: When you don’t need to fill up the gas tank to commute to work or bring your children to school, that money can be used on other things that you might not have had the disposable income to buy before. But there is more to this new COVID-era economy than a simple reshuffling of what we spend our money on.

There are indistinct, whole-sector trends regarding what Americans are now buying or not buying. For example, there was a massive e-commerce push in the fashion industry when brick-and-mortar stores began to shut down, but since people aren’t going out as much, there is less incentive to buy new clothes and keep up with fashion trends. There has been, however, an increase in luxury athleisurewear sales, such as Lululemon yoga pants ($105) – the demand for which has increased, driving the price up. If you’re going to be spending most of your time at home, might as well do so in luxury comfort.

The money that one would have typically spent on going out to eat a few times a week, or for purchasing a daily coffee on the way to work, is now increasingly being spent on at-home alternatives. Americans are now spending more on coffee, eggs, and ketchup – to name a few.

These changes in consumer culture are also affecting how manufacturers are packaging items. For example, Cal-Maine Foods Inc.– the egg market leader – has reported a shortage of cartons. Pre-COVID, Cal-Maine was mostly providing powdered eggs to restaurants whereas now their focus has shifted to egg cartons for grocery stores, as COVID-19 has elicited higher rates for household egg consumption.

This trend can also be observed in the condiment industry, where there has been an increase in demand for domestic, fridge-sized bottles, and a decrease in the gallon-jug sized products intended for supplying restaurants. In the case of market giant Kraft Heinz, consumers are spending 10% more ketchup, mayonnaise, and vinegar this year – a price mark-up that many see as opportunistic and profit-seeking during a pandemic, but which the company claims is due to increased difficulties in manufacturing during this time.

Amidst mass layoffs, many Americans are actually doing quite well financially, all things considered. Along with decreased overall spending, the majority of Americans are either working from home or collecting unemployment. With the added cushion of the first stimulus check – which was distributed in the spring – some Americans are even more well-off monetarily than they were last year, which typically drives the economy.

However, the first round of COVID-related benefits expired on July 31st, which left around 30 million unemployed Americans without the additional weekly $600. As of now, there is no solid federal plan to continue the COVID-19 benefits. With many Americans adjusting to life without the disposable income they had in the spring and early summer, analysts predict recessionary spending behavior in the fall and winter.

Because so much is unknown about government assistance, the economy, and the coronavirus itself at this time, it’s difficult for economists to predict future market trends. While it’s not good for business, almost all remains uncertain.

Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

Real Estate Marketing

Incentivizing recycled materials puts this shoe startup a step ahead

(MARKETING) Thousand Fell integrates sustainability into their brand structure by paying customers back for their recycled shoewear, which they then use to make more shoes.

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Thousand Fell Shoes, a startup incentivizing using recycled materials.

The startup shoe retailer, Thousand Fell, has a line of classic white lace-up and slip-on shoes. Based in New York City, the company was launched by Founders Chloe Songer and Stuart Ahlum last year. But, the brand isn’t just a regular sneaker company. It’s a full-circle economy shoe company that’s creating zero-waste footwear.

According to the company’s website, about 2.4 billion pairs of shoes are sold in the U.S. every year. As many as 97 percent of all shoes will end up in a landfill each year. It takes leather soles about 40 years to decompose in the landfill, and rubber soles take twice as long to decompose. Thousand Fell recognizes that waste is a huge environmental issue and wants to be a part of the solution with its biodegradable footwear line.

The company’s shoes are all made with materials that can either be “biodegraded, recycled to make new shoes, or upcycled into materials for new projects.” The company uses items like recycled rubbers and bottles to make soles, leather-like uppers, and next generation laces. Other ingredients such as aloe vera, coconut husks, and sugar cane are also used to offer a soft-touch feel, stability, support, and comfort.

Thousand Fell’s mission is to be sustainable and to never send another sneaker to the landfill. And to get there, it’s incentivizing its customers to recycle their purchased products. When you’ve worn out your shoes, or simply don’t want them anymore, you can return your shoes to Thousand Fell at no cost.

“Thousand Fell owns the material feeds and covers the cost of recycling, as well as the resale or reintegration of recycled material back into new shoes and the issuance of the $20 recycling cash that is sent back to the consumer once they recycle,” wrote Ahlum in an email to TechCrunch.

In partnership with TerraCycle, customers can easily recycle their purchased products through the company’s “Thousand Fell Recycling Program”. All you have to do is place your shoes in any box you have. You create an account, request a prepaid UPS shipping label, print it, and affix it to the box. Then, you can mail them via UPS. Once your shoes are scanned for return, you’ll receive $20 that can be applied to your next Thousand Fell order.

When the company receives the shoes, they are catalogued, sorted, and broken down to be used to make raw recycled materials

“We create sneakers with a life cycle you can follow—and feel good about,” the company’s website states. By taking a step forward to create a zero-waste product that can be used and reused to create a new one, Thousand Fell is going full-circle and doing just that.

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Real Estate Marketing

Midtown’s empty offices could be turned into affordable housing

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) With remote work quieting Midtown, there are plans to create affordable housing in Manhattan’s high-income business neighborhood.

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New York Midtown, where office buildings may turn into affordable housing

Since the start of the pandemic, Manhattan’s business districts have become something of a ghost town. With almost no one going to work at the office — or going out to eat or drink after work — entire blocks that were once busy and bustling have become empty. With so many New Yorkers currently struggling to pay the city’s famously high rent prices, this begs the question of whether or not Midtown should be rezoned – should some of the city’s (now obsolete) high-end office buildings be converted into affordable housing?

As someone who has always wanted to move to New York (but also values having affordable rent!), this potential rezoning plan sounds utopic. Imagine: A live-work-play neighborhood with fantastic transit, top-notch restaurants that cater to locals, and all the amenities you’d imagine for a residential area in NYC. I’m packing my bags as you read this.

And yes, it may seem far-fetched to reimage Midtown as a place to raise your family if you aren’t multi-millionaires, but, at this point, the city is trying to be creative.

Since September, only 10% of New York’s workforce has returned to their Manhattan offices. Essentially, office and hotel buildings (the former being notoriously easier to convert into affordable housing than the latter) have been collecting dust – and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, as work from home has proved itself to be a viable, economically sustainable option.

Historically, there have been major tax breaks for commercial-to-resident conversions, as was seen in the mid-1990s 421-g program, which revitalized Lower Manhattan. This is part of the incentive for developers, who would ultimately be rewarded for taking a risk during the economic uncertainty COVID-19; building permits in NYC during the first half of 2020 have hit historic lows.

And that’s not the only incentive. Did you know that many of the city’s older buildings still run on steam heat, which is extremely inefficient? Converting these buildings into residential units would result in a massive environmental win for the city, as they would need to abide by the city’s strict new building code. Cheap rent for me and lower emissions for the city? Sign me up!

It will be interesting to see how the city ultimately decides to react to the COVID-induced ghost-townification of Midtown. I do believe, however, that the vain in which they decide to rebuild will be defining of the next decade of NYC. The city will never die, that’s for sure. How it continues to live is the question.

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Real Estate Marketing

7 signs that your website design is out of date

(MARKETING) Just as styles of clothes come and go, website styles can date your business. How can you tell if your design is stuck in the past?

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Just as styles of clothes come and go, website styles can date your business. How can you tell if your design is stuck in the past? Here are 7 things to consider about your design style:

1. Sans serif or not? With 4K in full effect, serif types are coming back into vogue. A serif typeface is one with small lines attached to the end of a letter.

Sans serif typefaces, those without those small lines, were introduced for readability on mobile devices which used to have much lower resolution.

2. Are you constantly changing colors to keep up with trends? Although the “best” color for marketing changes annually, it’s not really about what color you use. It’s about consistent design with color saturation.

3. Where do you work? Sitting at a desk waiting for inspiration is a thing of the past. Get out in the world and work on your tablet to enhance your ideas and take pictures to bring more elements into your design.

4. What’s your perspective? Look through your social media account and look for variety in your photos and posts. Find a new angle for photos and text to give more interesting content.

5. Are you using trends to brand your company? Coloring books have been the hot ticket item in 2016 and 2017, but the population has already moved on to the next thing, so why would you hop on an old trend and send out branded coloring books?

Use trends in marketing, but not for branding.

6. What’s your design style? Flat design is a trend that is going by the wayside. Get one step ahead by using elements to add depth to your site.

7. Do your templates look like templates? WordPress is great for small businesses, but when you use one of the templates without any customization, you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Spend a few dollars and get some help implementing your own images and graphics to fully adapt your site.

This assumes that your site has already been on the cutting edge. We’re still seeing a number of small businesses who don’t have much content about their business.

Having a website is vital in today’s economy, and even if you’re the only one in your community that provides your service or product, you cannot expect to stay on top by just having a minimal website.

Make it a part of your marketing strategy to update your site weekly and keep your customers engaged.

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