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Monday, April 21, 2014

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Monday Morning Eye-Opener: Smart, Connected Appliances To Double By 2017

by Kevin Coupe

Advanced Television reports that Juniper Research is out with a new report saying that "the installed base of connected appliances in Smart Homes will beat the 10 million mark by 2017, rising from 4 million in 2013.

"The report found that consumer awareness of connected appliances, such as smart fridges and washing machines was gradually increasing, but that such devices are not widely considered to represent attractive purchases."

Because of cost in the early going, such connected appliances are expected to remain a niche item in the short-term, but that major players such as Samsung and LG "are pushing ahead with their range of ‘intelligent’ appliances as part of their wider Smart Home strategies."

I'm not sure if connected appliances will end up being disruptive technology or sustaining technology. Will such appliances create entirely new markets, or will they - if used in a savvy way by existing marketers - allow these marketers to be more competitive in the long run? It all depends on who adapts fastest and with the greatest consumer-oriented effectiveness.

But it seems to me that it generally is a good rule to expect that such technologies will catch on faster than expected, and will shape consumer opinion and behavior to a greater degree than expected. The bread crumbs of these kinds of innovations already have been dropped, and we just have to follow them to their logical - and likely inevitable - conclusion.

It'll be an Eye-Opener.

Never Mind: General Mills Reverses Policy On Forced Arbitration

General Mills announced over the weekend that "due to concerns that its plans to require consumers to agree to informal negotiation or arbitration had raised among the public, it was taking down the new terms it had posted on its website," the New York Times reports.

Last week, as written about here on MNB, General Mills posted new language on its website saying that any customer who downloaded its coupons, "liked" it on Facebook, entered a company-sponsored contest or even bought its products would be voluntarily giving up the right to sue General Mills, and instead would have to go to binding arbitration to resolve any legal dispute with the manufacturer.

In the new blog posting, General Mills says:

"We’ve listened – and we’re changing our legal terms back

"As has been widely reported, General Mills recently posted a revised set of Legal Terms on our websites. Those terms – and our intentions – were widely misread, causing concern among consumers.

"So we’ve listened – and we’re changing them back to what they were before.

"We rarely have disputes with consumers – and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful.

"But consumers didn’t like it.

"So we’ve reverted back to our prior terms. There’s no mention of arbitration, and the arbitration provisions we had posted were never enforced. Nor will they be. We stipulate for all purposes that our recent Legal Terms have been terminated, that the arbitration provisions are void, and that they are not, and never have been, of any legal effect.

"That last bit is from our lawyers.

"We’ll just add that we never imagined this reaction. Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization – or just very misunderstood.

"Not that any of that matters now.

"On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize. We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology. We also hope that you’ll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites."

KC's View: Last Thursday, commenting on the Times story about the new policy, I wrote, in part:

Wow. That's a pretty nifty legal argument - simply by doing business with us, you give up your right to sue … I guess what I don't know is whether such an approach by General Mills could have a chilling affect on its business, or at least its reputation. Because in essence, the company that just a few weeks ago said that it would eliminate GMOs from its Cheerios flagship brand - appearing for the moment to be on the side of the angels - now is saying that even if it violates that promise, consumers' options are limited. Which, to my mind, makes the promise just a little less impressive.

I guess I got my answer to that - General Mills apparently was concerned that public perceptions would, in fact, have a chilling effect on business. Good for them seeing the problem and moving quickly to fix it.

I got several emails about this commentary suggesting that I was being too anti-arbitration, and that as an alternative to long and costly lawsuits, binding arbitration actually can be an effective and fair method of achieving some measure of justice.

Which is a fair criticism of what I wrote. I should've been a little more careful with my words, because I actually agree with that last sentiment. I've been involved in a lawsuit or two and have been threatened with others (like by former business partners who got annoyed when I launched MNB). It's true - lawsuits can be expensive, and arbitration can be a far better option. Lawyers often are the only ones who benefit from such activity.

I think what a number of us were reacting to was the apparent presumptive elimination of alternatives, which seemed anti-consumer. Even more important, I was thinking not about General Mills, but about far less reputable companies that could use such an approach to protect themselves from lawsuits that deserve to be filed.

The broad lesson here, I think, is that any policy perceived as not being in the best interests of the consumer probably is a bad policy. Consumers have the power to an extent they never have before - not just purchase power (which they've always had) but also the power to shape and mobilize public opinion. Mess with that at your own risk.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Worth Reading: GMOs And The Saga Of Greggor Ilagan

Over the weekend, the Associated Press has a story about in the 50th state, "Kauai and Hawaii counties have moved in the past several months to regulate genetically modified organisms and the pesticides the farms use. In Maui County, a group is collecting signatures for a potential ballot measure that would impose a temporary ban on the crops."

In the case of Kauai, the story says, the law requires "large farms to create buffer zones around their crops and to disclose what pesticides they use. The law is set to take effect in August." However, "Seed companies with Kauai operations - Syngenta, Pioneer, BASF and Agrigentics - have sued the county to stop the law, saying they are already regulated by state and federal laws and there is no need for additional county rules."

As the AP makes clear, the legal wrangling is expected to continue, with the strong feelings on both side making it seemingly impossible to find a compromise. And the irony is that "you can trace the genetic makeup of most corn grown in the U.S., and in many other places around the world, to Hawaii. The tiny island state 2,500 miles from the nearest continent is so critical to the nation's modern corn-growing business that the industry's leading companies all have farms here, growing new varieties genetically engineered for desirable traits like insect and drought resistance."

This story made me go and look up a New York Times piece that ran earlier this year, which chronicled the efforts of Greggor Ilagan,a Hawaiian county councilman who decided that before he would vote on any sort of GMO ban, he needed to do a little first hand research. What he found was not what he expected to find, and it complicated his decision-making efforts considerably.

You can read the entire Times piece here. To be frank, I'd somehow missed this story when the Times first ran it, but was referred to it late last week by an MNB reader who thought that it illuminated the GMO issue by showing just how complicated it is.

Check it out.

Target Expands Subscription Program

In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that Target is expanding its subscription program beyond the 150 baby care products it started with last September to almost 1,600 items, including beauty care, office supplies, and pet care.

According to the story, "The retailer's free subscription program allows people to schedule shipments in four, six, eight, 10 and 12-week installments," as well as receive a five percent discount on subscription items.

The goal of the program is to compete effectively with Amazon's Subscribe & Save program, as well as to win back disaffected shoppers.

While Target won't break out sales numbers, a spokesperson did say that in the baby care segment, subscribed items represented 15 percent of online sales since the program started.

KC's View: Longtime MNB readers will know that I am a big fan of the subscription model - done correctly (which is what Amazon has achieved with Subscribe & Save), it can create a sustainable connection between the retailer and the shopper, allowing the store to offer better service based on a real knowledge of a specific shopper's behavior … and, it can pretty much lock out any other retailer from preying on a shopper in specific categories. I'm not surprised that Target is doing it; I'm more surprised that there aren't other retailers out there trying to figure out how to develop such programs for themselves.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Walmart To Launch New Money Transfer Service

Bloomberg reports that Walmart plans to launch a money transfer business that would compete with Western Union and "let customers transfer money to and from more than 4,000 stores in the U.S." and rates as much as cheaper than competitive offerings.

The story notes that "during the past decade, Wal-Mart has expanded its offering of financial services to customers yet has been unable to get a bank charter amid resistance from U.S. lenders and labor organizations. In 2005, banks and unions opposed the retailer’s application to open a Utah-based industrial bank. Wal-Mart eventually dropped the application. Since then, Wal-Mart has opened financial-service centers where customers can cash checks, pay bills and transfer money. The retailer also has offered prepaid debit cards, including Bluebird, a partnership with American Express Co., and Green Dot Corp., which can be used on the Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. networks."

The Wall Street Journal reports that the market for these services is significant, and that "about 34 million U.S. households were classified in 2011 as 'unbanked' or 'underbanked,' meaning they either don't have a checking or savings account or have used nonbank services such as check cashing and payday loans, according to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. report. That figure is up from 30.8 million U.S. households in 2009, the report said."

The new Walmart-2-Walmart Money Transfer Service will begin service on April 24.

KC's View: Walmart knows its customers … and it clearly believes that this will be a significant offering to a large percentage of its customer base.

I just wish that they'd let Walmart open banks. I'm not sure I'd go there, but it'd be fun to watch it knock the traditional financial services industry back on its heels.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Harris Teeter Dangles Reduced Shipping Fee Carrot In Front Of Online Shoppers

Kroger-owned Harris Teeter will offer its online shoppers the option of paying an annual fee of $99.95 for unlimited Express Lane shipping, the Charlotte Business Journal reports. This option is in addition to the $4.95 per order or $16.95 per month alternatives.

Harris Teeter’s Express Lane Online Shopping service currently is available in 150 of its locations.

KC's View: Very smart. In its own way, this is a great way to address the advantages that many see in Amazon's Prime shipping program.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Barnes & Noble, Looking For A Strategy Around The Corner

The Wall Street Journal over the weekend had a piece about Barnes & Noble, which is facing an uncertain future. "A franchise built on cappuccino, children's story time, and tables stacked with the latest from Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Doris Kearns Goodwin is retrenching," the Journal writes. "A shrinking market for print books, competition from Amazon.com Inc., and the costs of investing in its own e-reader and tablets had led to three straight years of losses."

Despite some confidence in the executive suite, "the tide of history may be flowing against the retailer," the Journal goes on to say. "In recent years the rise of e-commerce has killed some well-known brick-and-mortar stores, including Circuit City and Borders Group Inc." While the chain still has 663 stores and a presence in all 50 states, it has closed 63 stores in the past five years. It also has "widened its offerings to include educational toys, games and other nonbook categories, which carry higher profit margins. Revenue for that category jumped 12% in the recent Christmas quarter. At the same time, the retailer has cut back on its book inventory: Its stores, depending on size, carried about 21,000 to 170,000 titles in 2013, down from 60,000 to 200,000 titles in 2004."

Leonard Riggio, the longtime chairman of the company, concedes to the Journal that it is hard to nail down a strategy for the future, considering all the influences that are affecting business. In the past, he tells the paper, "I could say that I could see around corners with ease. Then you reach a point as you get older and as things get more complex, you don't see as clearly around the corners. You've got to have people who do that for you."

While the company has a strong balance sheet for the moment, the question is whether the view around the corner is a friendly one … and whether Barnes & Noble can exist in its current form there.

KC's View: I'm with the consultants quoted in the story (not that I like to be seen in public agreeing with consultants). But in this case, I think they're right - it is hard to imagine Barnes & Noble resembling itself in two or three years time.

That said, existing retailers in a lot of segments ought to pay attention to what Riggio said about being able to see around the corner. That kind of candor deserves to be repeated.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

RadioShack Finds A Rocky Road To Recovery

The Wall Street Journal reports that RadioShack's announced plan to close more than a thousand stores as it looks to rebound from significant sales and profit declines is running into trouble - because some of the entities that have loaned it money were caught by surprise by the tactic.

According to the story, "The company, which operates about 4,300 stores in the U.S., said at the time that the plan still needed permission from its lenders, adding that its credit agreements allowed it to close only about 200 stores without the approval of lead lenders Salus Capital Partners and GE Capital, a unit of General Electric Co. The company also said in March that it planned to spend the next month hammering out an agreement with its lenders before choosing a liquidator to wind down the stores."

The Journal says that RadioShack now is focusing on closing only those 200 units, with some landlords agreeing to cut its rent in exchange for keeping other stores open.

According to the story, "RadioShack Chief Executive Joe Magnacca is fighting to trim the sprawling chain and stock his stores with products people want to buy, but time isn't on the retailer's side. The company's revenue declines accelerated last year as competitors slashed their prices and demand for big-ticket products, such as the smartphones generally offered at RadioShack stores, softened … In February RadioShack poked fun at its outdated image in a Super Bowl ad by bringing in a crowd of throwback characters from the 1980s, including former wrestler Hulk Hogan, actor Erik Estrada and TV alien Alf, who purported to want their store back and proceeded to tear out the shelves and haul away products."

KC's View: From the moment that Super Bowl commercial appeared, my concern for RadioShack is that its problems were so vast that it would not be able to live up to the promises it was making. And here we are, a couple of months after the game and the ad, and all we're talking about it store closures and debt. Not good. We should be talking about how RadioShack is reinventing the notion of electronics retailing … but that ain't happening. At least, not yet.

Magnacca better get busy finding differentiated merchandise that can help the chain to stand apart. That'll probably be easier to do than revamping all the remaining stores…

It has to find a way to make a big splash to which people will pay attention. Because if that splash doesn't come, the company is going to drown in its own missed opportunities.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Michaels Says Security Breach May Have Hit Three Million Customers

The New York Times reports that arts and crafts chain Michaels Stores is now estimating that as many as three million of its customers credit and card data may have been stolen between May 2013 and January 2014.

Michaels first said it may have experienced a security breach in January, when Target said that about 100 million of its customers might have had their credit and debit card information hacked.

According to the story, "Michaels said that two security firms had found evidence of a breach at Michaels and at a subsidiary, Aaron Brothers, a framing company. The computer hack involved 'highly sophisticated malware that had not been encountered previously by either of the security firms,' the company said."

The Times writes that "the data breaches at Michaels and Target, as well as at Neiman Marcus, were believed to be committed by a loose band of criminals in Eastern Europe."

Albertsons CEO On Safeway, Stores, And Survival

The Idaho Statesman covered a speech that Bob Miller, CEO of Albertsons LLC, gave to a conference at Boise State University, talking about the current acquisition of Safeway by the company (and its Cerberus Capital Management parent) and the company's management style.

Excerpts:

On whether Safeway stores will be rebranded as Albertsons: "They are stronger in some areas. We're stronger in other areas. We're going to take our time and analyze that, but both names will definitely survive. We're too big not to."

On decentralization: "We really push decisions down to our divisions. We visit our divisions on a regular basis. We share ideas with them, and, the most important part, we have quarterly bonuses that drive our plan. ... I think we have a really great structure that gives people authority and responsibility at the local level that makes our company successful. In other words, I don't have to look too much."

On his expectations: "Just between all of us in the room, I wasn't 100 percent sure when we started in '06 that Albertsons name would even exist in 2012. And I think there were a lot of people who thought the same way."

The MNB Walmart Watch

CityWire reports that Walmart's new CEO, Doug McMillon, a graduate of the Walton College at University of Arkansas and his wife Shelley have "donated $1 million toward establishing the McMillon Family Endowed Excellence Fund at the Sam. M. Walton College of Business.

“This gift will be the catalyst to help us eventually establish the proposed School of Global Retail Operations and Innovation. The school has the potential to offer interdisciplinary programs in retail, generate international prominence and establish ourselves as the premier location for consumer research and retail education,” said Chancellor G. David Gearhart.

FastNewsBeat

• The San Jose Mercury News reports that California's Mi Pueblo supermarket chain is saying that it "has limited options to re-emerge from bankruptcy protection and faces the possibility of having to liquidate its 21 stores and abandon its 3,260 employees … In documents filed in federal bankruptcy court here this week, attorneys for Mi Pueblo asked Judge Arthur S. Weissbrodt to approve the company's plan to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 14 -- or it will have no choice but to liquidate the 22-year-old chain of stores."

The story notes that "in 2012, Mi Pueblo had annual sales above $350 million, according to court records. But in the first six months of 2013, sales only grew 0.6 percent.

"Also in 2012, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service conducted an audit of Mi Pueblo employees that resulted in the company firing 80 percent of its workforce, the court filing said. When Mi Pueblo filed for bankruptcy protection in July, the company's attorney told this newspaper that Wells Fargo wanted to change the terms of its loans after it became concerned about Mi Pueblo's debt to credit ratio and its forecast revenues."


• The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said last week that it will now require companies in the pork industry to report all cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which has affected hog farms in 29 states and killed millions of piglets over the past year.

To this point, the source of the virus has not been identified, and USDA is hoping that by strengthening reporting requirements, it will be able to better track and isolate the cause.

The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus is no threat to human health, nor to food safety, according to published reports.


• Kroger announced that it has reached a new labor agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) local 1996 on a new contract that will cover 3,598 associates working in 163 stores in the Atlanta area and 12 in Savannah.


• The Wall Street Journal reports that "the average U.S. consumer ate 14.4 pounds of seafood in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, down from 15 pounds in 2011 and a record high 16.6 pounds consumed in 2004. That's far less than the average 82 pounds of chicken, 57 pounds of beef and 46 pounds of pork. Americans consume in a year. It's also much less than the amount of seafood eaten in other countries. The average Japanese consumer eats 120 pounds a year, while Spaniards consume 96 pounds.

"This fading appetite for fish shows that for a fragmented industry having a healthy product isn't enough. Surveys show consumers aren't sure how to cook fish and prices can be high, while the seafood industry hasn't been able to organize any major marketing campaigns to promote fish consumption, the kind of efforts that paid off for the beef and pork industries."


• The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report saying that while salmonella infections declined by 7.5 percent last year in the US, compared to the year before, the overall foodborne illness rate remained steady.

"That is because illnesses caused by the vibrio bacterium, found in raw oysters, undercooked shellfish and warm sea waters, have been rising for years and went up 32% in 2013 compared with the 2010-2012 span," the Wall Street Journal writes. "Meanwhile, the rate of campylobacter infections, linked to contaminated dairy foods and chicken, has risen since 2006-2008."

The CDC says that about 48 million people a year get sick from tainted food. It pronounced the new numbers "disappointing."


• The Chicago Tribune reports that "Kraft Foods Group Inc. is recalling about 96,000 pounds of Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners because the packages may instead contain Classic Cheese Dogs made with milk, a known allergen. The product labels are incorrect, as they do not reflect the ingredients associated with the pasteurized cheese in the cheese dogs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced on Sunday. The products were formulated with milk, which is not declared on the product label … A spokeswoman for Kraft said in an email that the recall is 'isolated to about 8,000 cases of product that were distributed nationwide'."

Your Views: Wage War

Last week, MNB took note of a report from Americans for Tax Fairness, a national advocacy group, that said "Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing." Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the report was "inaccurate and misleading," though he also said that he had no internal numbers on how many Walmart employees receive public assistance.

I commented:

Here's what I don't believe - that Walmart has no idea how many of its employees are on public assistance and what that assistance is worth in real dollars.

They've got to know that. If only to know how to argue their case when studies like this come up.

Y'know what else? If Walmart employees only receive half of what the study says they get in public assistance - $3 billion a year - that's still a pretty big number.

The company likes to talk about the value of work, but how are employees supposed to feel it is valuable if they cannot use their wages to house and feed their families, pay their bills, and help propel their kids into better lives?


This generated lots of response.

One MNB reader wrote:

If there was no Walmart, these folks would be on full-time government support, if we are to believe this rationale. Sorry, we may not like Walmart but they hire folks that many others would not hire. This is a public service…

From another reader:

As a person who has little love for Wal-Mart, I need to speak up on the study used to vilify Wal-Mart and its employee’s use of public assistance.  The study used to make this claim reveals that about 15% of workers in one store in Wisconsin were on some sort of public assistance.  The study is as far from statistically valid as it could possibly be, and does not even provide evidence to be directionally valid, but does create a great talking point for people with an agenda.  The study does not differentiate between full time and part time workers—and some workers require public assistance because they are unable to work full time--and the articles that cite the study do not offer any insight into what the national average is for all employees on public assistance.  Or, for comparison purposes, what does public assistance at Kroger, Target or Sears cost taxpayers based on a per store average?  I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but I can see biased and shallow thinking when I see it.  Fear the lie repeated enough times that people begin to think it is fact.

And another:

I am by no means a spokesperson or public relations for Walmart but am trying to figure out how any employer would know how many employees receive public assistance.  It definitely is not on the employment application since that would be discrimination.  In my 26 years in the business, I have never had to disclose my financial or housing situation to my employer, how I pay my bills, and if I have a mortgage or not.  Two things to defend Walmart; Walmart is the number one employer of Americans with Disabilities, so I am guessing their employees index higher on government assistance, and I am guessing you are supportive of their desire to hire and offer careers to those individuals.  Secondly, Walmart is the largest private employer and therefore their dollars will always be high compared to others.  Basic math.  Walmart offers good jobs to good people who are trying to better themselves.  Can’t blame them for that.

And still another:

How is it possible for Walmart to know what their employees are receiving from the Federal or State Governments? That is preposterous. And if Walmart employees don’t like their pay, then they should go get a higher paying job. Or get an additional job on top of the Walmart job. Or work harder and smarter than most, get noticed and get promoted. Pretty simple.

And yet another:

It seems like a pretty cheap shot to single-out Walmart for how much their employees might get in public aid.  It’s a safe bet this happens with employees of Target, Safeway, Dollar General, McDonald’s and every other employer with hourly workers.  The story is a bit more sensational when targeting one of the largest employers in the world.

One more MNB user wrote:

The battle between the “we create jobs” position that Wal-Mart presents and the “we’ve now got increasing debt as a results of those jobs” (that activist groups and some states present) will undoubtedly carry on through the next election.  I’ve asked family, friends and some clients what they think of this situation and the feedback is mixed. There’s even very little alignment on how much incentive is enough to secure new business.  It’s a tough question to resolve – on many levels.

This question isn’t limited to Wal-Mart. Nor just Target (who’s just as guilty). To get impressive numbers like those reported by Americans for Fairness wants to get attention, its easy to pick on Wal-Mart. But, this same issue also applies to quick serve restaurants.  And, we have certain states that have become aggressive about getting small to medium size businesses to relocate to their state by offering incentives of their own.

To me, the Central Question is “Should businesses provide healthcare for their full and part time employees”?

Small businesses, for decades, have said they are competitively disadvantaged on a cost / worker basis when the large national / globals move in and hand workers a medicaid form as part of their employment package, then use their global buying scale to sell cheaper than the local business to become relevant in that market. The globals continue to use their story of consumer innovation and jobs creation to get the attention of city / local gov’t to give tax abatements, lower rents.

Even today, we have states (South Carolina, Texas, Florida, Nevada and others) who are actively offering assistance to promote existing businesses to move into their state.  I had a discussion with CEO recently who said that the governor of one of these states called him personally to ask what else it would take to get them to move their 100+ person company to their state, after offering low rents, tax abatements and a workforce with a starting pay less than half of what this company pays today.

I wish these advocacy groups would stop picking on Wal-Mart. They aren’t alone on this topic, even if the advocacy groups can use Wal-Mart’s large numbers to create some “shock”.

I can’t imagine any of these globals would have to close outlets if they paid healthcare for their employees. There would be fewer employees / store working more hours / week, but the longevity of that employee would benefit the employer and consumers who come into those outlets.

Price adjustments occur easily when there are commodity pricing changes so I really can’t accept the argument that higher costs can’t be passed along to consumers and therefore outlets will have to close. If anything, it forces globals to innovate further on how to “sell more” in periods of re-leveling costs. Remember, some small business is already offering healthcare assistance to hire and retain their workers.

Fortunately, the upcoming election seems to be bringing the issue of subsidized healthcare out of the closet on a national and state level basis.  It will be good to see how the American public votes as it appears to be a central issue for the election.  One that is solved,  in part, by creating more jobs.  Which is exactly what the globals will tell you they provide.

The upcoming election season promises us that “spinmasters” will select and using their own data to tell their side of the story on why (or why not) we need subsidized health care for employed workers. We’ll all be educated more than we are today. After all, for most who have company health insurance, this isn’t a topic what we think about often.


Let me respond to a couple of these comments, if I may…

Yes, Walmart is an easy target. It is the biggest retailer in the world. That comes with the territory. If you don't want to be a target, keep a low profile.

Yes, maybe if they were not working for Walmart and receiving some public assistance, they'd be unemployed and getting even more public assistance. But are these our only two choices?

Maybe you're right. Maybe Walmart has no idea how many of its employees are on public assistance. But if that's the case, then maybe it would be in its best interests to find out, so it can rebut studies like these with facts, not supposition and extrapolation.

I got a bunch of email accusing me of supporting an increased minimum wage and living wage legislation, neither of which were actually mentioned in my commentary. For the record, I am against living wage laws, and while I think that an increased minimum wage makes a kind of sense, I do worry what'll happen if it is passed and companies start cutting back on employees.

But what I worry about more is the fact of the increasing wage disparity that we have in this country. The top five or ten percent is doing great, but below that level, there is real hardship. We have people working hard, working full-time or more, and yet still cannot support their families. And we have people - and I get the email - who suggest that they are being greedy if they'd like their full-time jobs to allow them to feed and clothe and house their families. (I know a lot more greedy bankers and hedge fund guys than I do greedy people at the lower end of the economic scale. But somehow, when these guys look for bigger bonuses and bigger houses and bigger cars, that's not greed. It's just rewards.)

I worry that this is not a sustainable economic model. … even if the accusations against Walmart are only half right. I worry even more than this is not a sustainable social/cultural model. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I am reasonably sure that it won't be easy or simplistic.

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