business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had reaction to yesterday’s piece about Ahold’s Stop & Shop division in New England being investigated by the Connecticut Attorney General’s office for alleged anti-competitive real estate practices.

“We have an investigation ongoing regarding real estate deals and practices by Stop & Shop that may be anti-competitive,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told MNB in an interview yesterday. The allegations charge that the company may have made real estate transactions -- such as buying out leases or entire pieces of real estate -- that were explicitly designed to exclude competition from taking over specific locations, even if Stop & Shop had no intention of using the space itself.

MNB user Frank Dell wrote:

“If I were Stop & Shop I would not be worried about AG (Richard) Blumenthal. This man feels forgotten due to the war as he has been unable to get his usual publicity. Note he has filed over 2,000 court actions and never followed up. Few if any are ever heard. All he is interested in is keeping his name before the voters for his run to be governor.”

Maybe…though it should be noted that Blumenthal has several times declined to run for governor. He may have his eye on other higher office…and we weren’t aware that political ambition automatically meant that these kinds of allegations should be dismissed.

That said, these allegations could get dropped. Or, they could be true, and could end up on the front page.

We’ll see.

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

“I would bet the Ahold could start selling bait in their stores. They sure have opened a big can of worms with all of this mess!”

Good line. Wish we’d thought of it.

A couple of stories yesterday really seemed to capture the attention of the MNB community.

One was our piece about, quoting from a letter to shareholders from CEO Jeff Bezos that seemed a strong explanation of the company’s philosophy and strategic thinking.

MNB user Lawrence Anderson wrote:

“We sell to Amazon, and this company is a prime example of the "trickle down effect" in their management. Their employees BELIEVE what Jeff says, and it has resulted in profits way ahead of predictions. This is a squared away company.”

Another MNB user wrote:

“Jeff Bezos' firm grasp of the heart of retailing is even more astounding considering that his annual salary for 2002 was $81,840. That's it. No other compensation. And it has remained unchanged for 3 years.”

We’re not sure about this, but we seem to remember reading that Bezos did sell a little stock from time to time…

But that’s not to minimize his strength not just as a manager, but as a leader and a visionary.

Not everyone agrees, though. MNB user Gail Ginther wrote:

“I know I'm probably the only one on the face of the earth, but every shopping experience I've had with Amazon has been negative. I've been notified two weeks after my order that the produce is completely unavailable to ship, ever. Only to see it still listed a month later when I search again. I've had purchases that took weeks to deliver, while every time the product was pulled up as a shopper it was shown as shipping in 4 to 7 days. In the end, Amazon is the very last place in the world that I would try to buy anything.”

To be honest, we’ve never had a negative experience with Amazon. Only extremely positive.

We also reported yesterday about a study into the efficacy of free standing inserts (FSIs), and questioned whether their lack of targeting made them a waste of time and money.

Some agreed. One MNB user wrote:

“I open my paper over the wastebasket. After I've shaken all the junk out I take it to the table to read.”

Not exactly what FSI companies want to hear, but we suspect it is a common practice.

Not everyone agrees, though. Not surprisingly, we got an email from Ryan Martinez of Valassis Sales & Marketing Services:

“Despite waste inefficiencies due to a brand's/categories low household penetration, FSI's are undoubtedly one of the most cost efficient vehicles to distribute coupons. If you break the cost down on a per targeted consumer reached, it is still more cost efficient than the vast majority of other distribution alternatives. Hence, waste becomes additional opportunity to bring new consumers into the brands franchise and grow household penetration. Combine the FSI's distribution cost efficiencies with the FSI's advertising/equity value and you have a very effective vehicle. It's no wonder the majority of consumer package goods manufacturer's use the FSI as a primary coupon/incentive distribution source!”

Well, it looks like Valassis won’t be sponsoring MNB anytime soon…

However, one MNB user pointed out something that we accidentally edited out of our copy that actually drives home our point:

“In the full study, NCH notes that the number of manufacturer coupons printed and distributed by CPG companies grew. HOWEVER, the redemption has dropped to 1.5% on average from 1.7% in 2001. This seems to imply that coupons are not nearly the efficient vehicle that they once were. It seems as though manufacturers are relying now on coupons to do the job of advertising their brands, more than just providing that short term lift attributed to promotional activity.”

Listen, we just think that in 2003, there’s too much clutter out there. We’re all deluged by it…and marketers have to find targeted ways to cut through it.
KC's View: