retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Response to yesterday's story about the boom taking place in Arkansas because of Wal-Mart's growth…

MNB user J. Michael Zerr wrote:

I am an executive recruiter and Tyson Foods is one of my clients.

The upside of this is that a previously underdeveloped geographic area now has a professional well educated population that have created a fine area to raise a family without the cost of living associated with living on one of the trendy coastal cities.

We need more prosperous, low cost of living areas and less of the overpriced high cost of living areas.

The story about Arkansas noted that because Wal-Mart is getting so much attention from suppliers, it may be detracting from the attention being paid to other retailers; we also noted that there are new studies saying how much of the nation's food business Wal-Mart will control in the next five years. This made us wonder whether the only reason Wal-Mart isn't facing greater critical scrutiny is the fact that so many of its moves are looked at in a vacuum - that the greater whole isn't examined in context.

One MNB user wrote:

Their moves are looked on as being better moves for the multitude of grocery shoppers......

What chain didn't grow by building new and more stores or by practicing better business management?

We agree. Wal-Mart isn’t doing anything wrong.

But there have to be concerns about the long-term impact on the rest of the retailing community.

Is it healthy for so much of the nation's retailing business to be done by one entity? How much is too much?

Of course, it is up to other retailers to offer consumers a compelling reason to shop someplace other than Wal-Mart. And that's the though part.

MNB user Tim Yount wrote:

Remember the old term: "What's good for General Motors is good for the USA!" Wal-Mart, I feel, is generating their own brand of "goodness". It certainly spells trouble for those smaller retailers that want to compete to have to leap such a high bar as can be set by those vendors who lock-step to Wal-Mart. The technology cost alone can ultimately spell disaster for smaller stores. This also raises the cost of entry into the market for the smaller retailer.

I totally agree that Wal-Mart's individual issues are scrutinized in a vacuum. Taken as a whole, and you can applaud them loudly for doing a good job, they are only doing this things for their own benefit. They are their own industry and perhaps don't have any cause to consider the state of retail as a whole. No beneficent dictator here.

When I'm 80 and can't retire, though, I do want that "Greeter's" job. It's either that or bagging groceries. Oh, I forgot, they don't do that at Wal-Mart.

In response to our story about Sears opening a store with a grocery section, one MNB user wrote:

It will be interesting to see how Sears does in Grocery, after watching how their foray into furniture was such a failure. Does their business model enable them to be great in the grocery category? I guess we'll find out.

We also got an email objecting to our story about discrimination against fat people:

I think you contradicted yourself here:

"We're pretty sure that there are some jobs that simply aren't appropriate for obese people - like, say, a waiter at a restaurant, where an obscene girth might send the wrong message about the cuisine (though some might say it is truth in advertising)."

"But we're also confident that discrimination, in any form, is wrong."

You went and made a discriminating comment and then said you were confident it was wrong to do just that? Come on now...

"Which leaves us conflicted about what's appropriate and inappropriate."

That was inappropriate.

That's exactly our point. Discrimination is wrong. And yet, knowing that, in certain cases, we might be tempted to practice it…and we might even be able to rationalize it.

Regarding yesterday's piece about the problems of organized theft from supermarkets, one MNB user wrote:

I greatly enjoy reading the MorningNewsBeat and your opinions, and found the news flash…highly amusing. As a former retail industry veteran with Safeway out in California, I would venture that this "organized theft" has been going on for over 10 years. In fact, these "gangs" or groups also target liquor, batteries, film, OTC drugs, and cigarettes. Basically, items that are compact and have decent resale value. Reminiscent of the food stamp scams of the past, the end users are the many smaller grocers willing to support the loot that these (generally) druggies offer.

At many 24 hour Safeways, security at night is essentially nonexistent, and on countless occasions, store management would find, upon morning arrival, that whole sections were gutted. Safeway's official policy faults employees for engaging with (trying to stop) shoplifters, rather than commend them.

Furthermore, Safeway tends to err on the side of extreme caution when it comes to preventing lawsuits, reasoning that lost merchandise is not worth the risk of assault, battery, or other charges. More importantly, Safeway has found, according to its studies, that theft is primarily committed internally, and has therefore decided that preventing shoplifting is a low priority. In fact, the most common preventive measure is to simply keep the shelves "less full." Believe me, the so-called "security guards" and cameras are generally just there to provide the appearance of safety.

Btw, I encourage any current Safeway employee/spokesperson to dispute my contentions. By "reading between the lines" of what they write, you'll find the truth.

Our piece expressing concerns about the Patriot Act and its ability to extract loyalty marketing information from retailers generated several emails:

MNB user Stephanie Asher wrote:

One (more) reason to oppose the Patriot Act... Consider a terrorist or criminal who is planning some illegal activity and buys a bunch of related books or materials. Do you think this person is going to use his store loyalty card, pay by credit card or check, or in any other way create a link to his true identity? No folks, he's going to shop discretely, and pay with cash. Or perhaps he's adopted a false identity. Criminals are sneaky by nature! So in the end, it's the average, honest shopper who's privacy is being invaded.

On the other hand, terrorists might be tempted to use the cards to save a buck…after all, sometimes people behave in contradictory ways.

Didn’t the so-called religious zealots who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks spend some of their last hours getting lap dances?

However, another MNB user wrote:

It cannot be both ways. If you want to be sure there are no guns on the airplane, you might get your bags checked, too. To find espionage, it is necessary to dig in places not usually open to public eyes. The question comes down to security or relinquishing freedoms.

We don't mind having our bags checked. It is the price of flying on a plane these days.

But is having the government pry into our shopping habits the price of going to the supermarket? Or having the government pry into our Internet browsing habits the price of using a computer?

We think that is questionable, even in post-9/11 America.

We wrote enthusiastically yesterday about eating Pork Jowl Bruschetta, which prompted one MNB user to write:

Are pork jowls like beef cheeks? A beef cheek taco is a thing to behold. Yum!

We have no idea. But we'll trust you on this…
KC's View: