November 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
Today’s Freakonomics features a story by James McWilliams on fighting obesity. The Rational War on Fat mentions three ways the government is trying to improve the American diet, reasonable but with little effects.
“By no means have these efforts failed, but considerable evidence suggests that whatever success they’ve achieved has been conspicuously countered by a national waistband seemingly guided by the imperatives of Manifest Destiny. 68 percent of Americans are currently overweight or obese. This figure, moreover, shows no sign of retreating.”
1. Tax on soda, side-effect: compensate calorie and sugar intake elsewhere
2. Labeling, side-effect: savvy “brand labels so often counteract nutritional data”
3. More accessible healthy food, side-effect: people spare no effort for junk food
1. Lower average sugar content, side-effect: besides salt and pepper, sugar becomes standard on dining tables
2. Watch Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show daily, side-effect: people get frustrated and overeat
3. Use smaller packages, side-effect: won’t work for environmentalists (basically everybody in the US)
4. TRY SELF-CONTROL, side-effect: everybody needs a shrink?
It amazes me how much effort the government and other institutions put to promote better diet in the US. There is this stereotype that Asians don’t get fat. Well, I can only say that human anatomy works the same. (I know a sufficient amount of Asians to prove that.) If Asians eat a lot of sugar, junk food, drink a lot of beer and don’t exercise, they get fat too. There are skinny girls in Asia, just as there are skinny girls in America, Europe and everywhere else in the world. While some of them suffer eating disorders, Others don’t. If any of the latter tells you that she eats a lot of fattening food but doesn’t gain weight at all, go eat with her and find out yourself.
November 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
According to The Independent, the production was rumored to have cost a whopping $1.5 million.
October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
Customer Reviews Not as Important as Ratings
Origin and Intro:
I shop online very often, both in the U.S. and back China. So I want to design an experiment that can help me shop more rationally.
I find customer reviews and ratings an interesting feature. When browsing the product list, I often check out the rating stars and only click open either the one with the highest rating or no review at all. Then I jump to customer review section, skim through several reviews, paying attention only to the first few reviews and never turn to the next page.
Some retailers like Amazon.com show reviews based on the elusive how-many-people-find-the-review-useful order, while others like Macy’s and Urbanoutfitters display their reviews in time order. Whichever the order, the first review shown is always mysteriously positive, with star ratings of five or four.
Since I only read the first few reviews, they has the biggest influence on me. And as it turns out, those positive reviews always urge me to own the product as soon as possible.
In the beginning, I designed my experiment to see if people are more favorable to the product with most favorable reviews shown at first, as first impression is very important. Unfortunately, most of my respondents realized my tricks immediately. So I redesigned my experiment to find out if people evaluate the product based on the reviews, or rating stars to make decision.
I expect to see that most people choose to buy the shoe with good reviews first, if they are given the reviews along with the ratings (control group), whereas if they are given the reviews without ratings, their choices would vary (experimental group).
First, I chose the same shoe that was sold by three major online shopping websites. Most of the people shopping online are women and shoes, handbags and clothes are the most common purchases. So I thought shoe was probably a good idea.
Then I got the reviews and randomly chose one 5-star review, four 4-stars, four 3-stars and one 2-star. Although the overall rating for all the shoes should be the same, I gave shoe B overall ratings of 4-star, C 4 1/2-star and A 3-star, just to confuse the respondents. All the good and bad reviews address to similar pros and cons. Pros: comfortable, fashionable, the right height of the heel. Cons: uncomfortable, heel too high, low quality.
For shoe A, I put the bad reviews first, good reviews last; for shoe B, good reviews first, bad reviews last; for shoe C, one bad review, one good review.
I emailed the profiles of three shoes in three separate document to my friends, their age ranging from 20 to 50, and interviewed some people at Bobst library aged 20-30, also using separate files for the three shoes.
The instructions I gave was: assume you are shopping online, in about two minutes, decide which shoe you’d like to buy depending solely on the reviews provided.
The two-minute limit is, I think, the proper amount of time a consumer spends on three shoes. Most of the shopping decision is made within seconds. Also, I didn’t want my respondents to study the shoe carefully, which is very likely since they know it is a test, in which case, it will lose the point of the experiment.
The picture I put on the shoe profiles are the same black pump for professional attire. I wanted to give them a general impression of the shoe so that they wouldn’t focus on trying to figure out what the shoe was like based on the reviews. For the same reason, I provided some information about the shoe.
- 1/4″ platform; 3″ heel
- Leather upper; Black
- Man-made sole
- Pump with round toe
For the control group, 12 out of 15 chose shoe B. One chose C. Two chose B. Two of them gave the reason that they just read the first review when shopping online. Several of them said the reviews of shoe B were more positive.
For the experimental group, people’s choices vary. 7 out of 18 people chose shoe B, 7 chose shoe A, 4 chose shoe C.
In the control group, 80% people chose shoe B. Even though there is no single rational answer, if the whole group acted rationally, I’d expect the answer to vary like the experimental group, despite the problem of small and select sample.
People chose shoe B probably because the first review of B is the most positive of the first reviews of the three shoes. Moreover, the general rating for B is 4-star, the best among the three. Thus B left more favorable impression to customers in the 2 minutes when they browsed the “webpage”.
In the experimental group, the result is almost proportionate distribution, with shoe B still on top. I think the same reason for the control group applies. But the most significant findings here is that the rating star gives customers a strong quantified sense of value and quality whereas the contents of the review play a minor part.
It is true that people can’t possibly read all the reviews in about 2 minutes, nor can they make an informed judgement in such a short time. And most of them probably read from the beginning. However, I never instructed them on which review to read, neither did I ask them to read in a specific order. This very problem proves the fact that people have a certain review-reading pattern, that is to read from the beginning and only pay attention to the first few.
Advice to shopping websites:
A. Do show the rating stars.
B. Put positive reviews first.
A follow-up experiment of showing people mismatched rating stars and reviews would be more interesting.
October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
Squirrels and rats belong to the same family, medium-sized rodent. Why hate rats, love squirrels?
Ice Age. Yep, squirrels are greedy. Not just this squirrel, but squirrels in general.
Ratatouille. Rats can cook!
I went picnic today with my cousin at Central Park. Apparently, people there are crazy about squirrel. They are cute, furry and mischievous. However, Squirrel and rat look almost the same, except for their tails. From Inglorious Bastard by Quentin Tarantino (Respect) :
Is this repulsion rational?
Not all squirrels have the luxury of having an organic diet in the nut-packed beautiful garden in New York City. My cousin said in St. Louis, like rats, squirrels scavenge garbage. In fact, she said the squirrels in poor neighborhood are more fat because of all the junk food dumped in trash. Rats do the same thing.
Just think about why exactly do people hate rat and not squirrel? I’d say modern media play a significant part in promoting a bad image of rats. Just as what I learned from Cultural Studies, there has been a redress of wolf’s bad image in China lately. Ever heard about the book Wolf Totem and the cartoon 喜洋洋与灰太郎? Hopefully, that luckiness would fall on rats soon.
October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment
The MTA board approved fare hikes for subway, bus and commuter train this morning. The new price plan, featuring 30-day unlimited MetroCard rise of $25 to $104, 7-day unlimited-ride increase to $29, single ride jump from $2.25 to $2.5 and bonuses on pay-per-ride MetroCards plummet from 15% to 7%, will be carried out on Dec 30th.
In the public hearing, the MTA Board members restated their dilemma again and again. The state cut their fundings. They’ve done anything they can to cut costs. And they are left with the choice of either cut service, or raise fare. The former, which has already caused the loss of two subway lines, the elimination of 36 bus routes and 570 bus stops, and the reduction of service on a dozen more, has come to a point that further doing so would result in a crumbling dysfunctional system. The latter seems to be the choice of the less evil.
“Board member Allan Cappelli criticized state politicians who ‘stole’$160 million in MTA funding to help balance the state’s own budget. ‘If we don’t increase revenues, we are looking at service cuts of a gargantuan nature,’ Cappelli said”, according to Stumbleupon.com.
Living in Beijing for more than 20 years, I’ve never came to appreciate the service sufficiently funded by the government, be it public transportation, education or daily necessities like food, water and electricity. Watching the public hearing on TV this morning made me think about Beijing.
The Beijingers pay $0.3 for the entire ride of subway, $0.06 to $0.5 for buses depending on the route, (the $0.5 is for long distance commute which serves the same purpose as commute train in New York City) and the students get 50% off when taking buses. The national government is making sure that no student should drop out of school (even college) on the reason that they can’t afford the tuition fee and living expenses. Basic daily necessities are also subsidized by the government to stop people from worrying about living a decent life with dignity.
No need to argue the political system, the wellness of its citizens is the single most important thing that any government should strive for, the wealthy and the poor alike (none of the government should be elected only to blackmail certain disadvantaged people). Moreover, If a government could squander $700 billion to rescue and further spoil its banks, then why not help the people who are struggling to survive, the consequence of which, if unattended to, is equally grave if not more.
I’m glad that I’m not a commuter. Otherwise I would buy a bike and ride to school everyday to tackle the rising fare.
September 14, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’d like to start my new blog on online advertising by telling why I love advertisement (in general, not when I’ watching How I Met Your Mother on CBS though) and why I chose to focus on online advertising.
People sometimes use blanket terms much too often to their conveniences and rarely understand what they actually mean or imply. Words like “freedom”, “culture” and “economic crisis” spread all over the news. But what exactly are they? By asking this question, I do not mean that we should all go look through the simple plain one-sentence English offered by Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, but that if a child asks you what “media” means, are you able to explain to him/her not only what defines “media” but also what its impacts are on our lives?
The notion of “media” came to me when I was reading 1984 by George Orwell. The anti-utopian novel depicts a totalitarian country whose government functions as a giant propaganda machine. The “Big Brother” (nobody knows what that is, or who that is) use myriad ways to control public mind without people’s realizing that they are brain-washed. That is both the downside and the upside of media, or advertisement, depending on who you are siding with.
In 2005, my cousin from L.A. bought me two bestsellers, Blink and The Tipping Point, which I read immediately and was mesmerized by. While some especially scholars dismiss bestsellers as too mainstream and shallow, I happen to be one of those who find them refreshing and enlightening. (After all Stephen Hawking wrote bestsellers, many of them!) The two books brought my attention to a brand new field of interest, psychology.
Besides my double major of Chinese and English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, I also pursued a double degree of economics at Peking University. Naturally I became curious about the business sides of every story and found out that I could make much more sense of the world with the small amount of knowledge that I acquired!
The recipe for advertisement: Advertisement = Media + Psychology + Business
So basically that explains why I want to make specific sense about advertising. And here goes the online part. When Adam proposed online advertising, I was skeptical, not about the topic itself, but about myself being an “online” person. Honestly I am an internet idiot. I check my email, read news and check out some blogs everyday, sometimes go to facebook and twitter (sometimes because in order to do so in China we have to “climb” out of the Great Firewall of China, which blocks nearly all of the social networking websites, such as Picasa, Youtube and even imdb and wikipedia for a while.) But that’s it! I had no idea why or how people kept “poking” each other on facebook and what the little sign of “@” meant on twitter.
I thought about me writing online stuff. It only gave me goosebumps and not in a good way. But later I came to think that there is really no point of writing on a topic that you are already an expert in. Imagine myself opening a blog on how to be a Chinese? Never. (A good Chinese, probably.)
I like the idea of getting out of my comfortable zone and really begin to get to know something I don’t normally have the motive to learn. That’s the whole point of studying abroad, experiencing something new, uncomfortable and gives you goosebumps.
So let this blog “omnipresentad” be the witness of my learning process.