It’s time to better understand the galaxy of channels we use to shop online and in stores. Photo via Pexels

Back in the Paleolithic Age of online marketing — say, 15 years ago — the idea of online sales as a significant business vehicle for brands such as Target or Walmart was almost unimaginable. Shopping meant going to a store, because stores were where sales happened.

Today, people shop with their computers, via watches and phones, even through their refrigerators. Sellers market on multiple platforms, digital and traditional, including the brick and mortar store. Even the glossy catalogues that arrive in the mail still prompt sales.

Advancing technology has made it possible for consumers to shop not only across a staggering number of channels — but to do so in a constellation of ways. Say a shopper has broken down and decided to buy a wildly popular all-purpose pressure cooker. She might start off using the internet to glean product details and prescreen options. Then she might visit a retail outlet to eyeball the product herself. Finally, after mulling for days, she may impulsively whip out her phone to make the order.

But what determines these particular choices of shopping venues? Rice Business professor Utpal M. Dholakia set out to map this new landscape of consumerism. Joining Dholakia were colleagues Barbara E. Kahn of the Wharton Business School, Randy Reeves of Macy’s Department Stores, Aric Rindfleisch of the University of Wisconsin, David Stewart of the University of California at Riverside and Earl Taylor of the Marketing Science Institute.

Consumer behavior, the researchers knew, is too complex — too all-over-the-map — to develop any sort of quantum marketing theory to explain it. So while interested in answers, the team aimed instead to frame useful questions. Their goal was to bring attention to the multi-channel retailing environment, creating a comprehensive but flexible way to investigate how shoppers navigate the intricate modern marketplace.

More specifically, Dholakia’s team wanted to learn exactly what consumers are finding. What do they do while using various internet and other tools to shop? When do different types of shoppers grab their devices and buy? What obstacles crop up as shoppers wend their ways through this maze of venues? Finally, the researchers wanted to map the vast scope of research issues surrounding this customer behavior.

It was fairly simple to answer the first question: Why do we use such diverse shopping tactics? Usually, it’s about getting the best deal. Some people, however, take their shopping seriously, savoring the idea that they are approaching their task both thoughtfully and thoroughly. Others get a genuine thrill out of the social experience of being part of a community, or from experimenting with different products and ways to buy them. And some shoppers head straight to a certain website or media source because they expect a specific price tag.

Many consumers, Dholakia and his co-researchers found, constantly change the means they use to shop. In one survey of 337 multichannel shoppers, for example, the researchers found that 52 percent reported migrating back and forth from offline to online channels across four product categories including books, airline tickets, stereo systems and wine. This hopscotching from brick and mortar to catalogues, to online and back, could be predicted by certain factors including price, the product they were looking for, how they evaluated the product and even waiting time.

The researchers also found that each type of shopper uses channels differently. Penny-pinchers don’t care where they buy, as long as the price is right. Generalists shop online or in the store because of the overall shopping experience. Traditionalists shun new ways of shopping, and multichannel enthusiasts happily bounce between stores, the internet and catalogues. Finally, the hard-core, store-focused customers will only shop in a place with doors and shelves.

To add a layer of complication, some don’t use channels to shop at all. They just want information. These are the shoppers who pop into to a store to test drive a phone before they buy it online. They study the pressure cooker in a catalogue before they go to the store.

And even within all the online options, there are innumerable detours to explore. Say you want a Nikon camera. You might go to an enthusiasts’ page such as Nikonians.org before you decide which model to buy, whether it’s online or at the local camera shop. Your friendly chat with the guy who owns the local camera store may now turn into a real-time virtual chat with a company representative.

The new marketplace, in other words, has become a dizzying landscape. Shoppers, clearly, have risen to the challenge. Nevertheless, it’s in the interests of sellers and buyers both to understand more deeply not only why we buy what we buy — but where.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Utpal M. Dholakia, the George R. Brown Professor of Marketing at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

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Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

Houston named best city in Texas and No. 11 in U.S. in prestigious report

best in tx

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.