business news in context, analysis with attitude

We wrote last week about how Amazon can link its new Baby & Toy Store to its Grocery Store and its Book Store, allowing it to make targeted and relevant offers to customers that it knows far better than so-called “local retailers.”

MNB user Richard Sokolnicki begged to differ:

So I order this "baby" book from Amazon as a GIFT, and they keep inundating me with unwanted info about toys, baby food, and planning for my kid's college life. And my conclusion is that they know nothing about me like all the other junk mailers. The "so-called local retailer down the street or around the corner" greets me with a smile and asks what I thought about the ball game. (...or whatever...) He/she doesn't try to "guess" what I'm all about using a computer-based analysis, and it's none of their business unless I make it their business.

If someone feels that a retailer knows "too much" about them...or not enough, the retailer may end up excluded from the many choices available. Providing unwanted "services" could be seen as a highly intrusive world. The "wake-up call" could come when a retailer becomes "too smart for its own good."

We don’t buy it.

We have never gotten an email from Amazon that we didn’t give it permission to send.

And there are too many local retailers who grunt rather than smile at the customers, and have no idea who their best shoppers are and what they are buying.

A retailer can’t be too smart for its own good. It can misuse information, true. But there’s no such thing as being too smart.

Besides, most retailers don’t misuse information. They stockpile it until their databases are the virtual equivalent of the warehouse at the end of “Raiders of the Los Ark.”

We got a number of emails regarding Ahold’s decision to sell off 46 Tops stores in Ohio.

One MNB user wrote:

The Ohio stores were consistently under performing, so that wasn't a surprise to me. The rest of Ahold USA will be back on track once Ohio is sold. You have to give our new leaders credit, it could have been easy to throw in the towel, but we have fought through a lot. We lost a little, but I think you will see the US divisions start getting customers back. Ahold now has money to invest in its stores and make them a better place to shop. You will see a change, soon...

Another MNB user wrote:

Hopefully, a suitable buyer will be found. The Finast chain was a viable and profitable operation until local control was eliminated under the Tops banner. The situation deteriorated further when Giant became in control. If Kroger is indeed the buyer (as rumored), I hope they have learned their lesson from their last venture into this marketplace. No matter who is the buyer, some things will need to change:

1. Stores need to be updated. When was the last time any money was budgeted for improvements? Tops stood still while competitors moved forward.

2. Customer service needs to be reinstated for the long term.

3. Management needs to grasp the concept of quality local supervision so they know and can react to marketplace competition. The failure to recognize Marcs and Heinens as true competitors and to full devote attention to Super Wal-Mart (who is just starting to enter the marketplace) was a major fiasco. NEO customers shop at Marcs stores 1st and go to a grocery chain to supplement what they cannot buy at Marcs (i.e. non-prepackaged meat, bakery, etc.). The elimination of the in store butcher shops and downsizing the bakeries was the death blow.

This sale is the complete result of mismanagement by outsiders.

We expressed a certain skepticism about reports that the economy is rebounding, to which MNB user David Farnam responded:

I whole-heartedly agree that the economy is being misinterpreted as strong simply because the Dow is back over 10K. While I do not have a crystal ball, the fact that we have an increasing trade deficit, spiraling military spending, and Boomers hitting retirement are all facts that are hard to ignore and that will undoubtedly have an impact on our economy. And did I mention energy prices? ! ! !

I was curious the other day and looked up the numbers. Federal spending for Social Security, Medicare and other mandatory spending, know as entitlements, is in excess of 60% of the federal budget. Military spending, and this was somewhat old information, was over 22% leaving only 17% on discretionary congressional spending. How long will it take before entitlement spending eats up the 17% discretionary spending?

The New Deal has been a grand experiment and a complete failure by those who’ve managed it. In a short while I think we will witness our government institute a tough love approach to retirement putting responsibility back in the hands of we the people. I hope you have a job you love for you may need it far longer that you realize.

Get ready for the New New Deal, for the medicine for what ails our country will likely leave a bitter taste.

We do have a job we love, and we had no intention of retiring.

Lucky us.

We had a piece last week about the troubled RadioShack Corp. hiring Julian Day, the former CEO of Kmart and COO of Sears – before their merger – to be its new chairman/CEO.

We noted that while Day’s compensation package wasn’t detailed, he doesn’t need the money - when he left Kmart after just 10 months in the top job, he was awarded stock options worth $94 million, in addition to his salary and roughly $3 million in assorted bonuses. And we joked: “Watch him sell the whole thing to Best Buy in less than a year and walk away with another hundred million dollars.”

This hit a nerve.

One MNB user wrote:

I disagree with your comment about Best Buy, although you were probably being sarcastic. I see Circuit City being the best fit for the Radio Shack stores. Best Buy's stores are large, modern and friendly (at least the ones I have been in). Radio Shack stores always seemed like they belonged in the 80's, which was probably the last time they were a force in the market.

Us, sarcastic?

MNB user Brian Fox wrote:

Maybe to Circuit City the same as they have already done in Canada? Radio Shack is now “The Source” by Circuit City up here.

And MNB user Mike Peterson wrote:

Your last sentence should read Sears Holdings, not Best Buy!

We’ll see.

Finally, we were rather harsh in our description of the Norwegian Cruise Line in our OffBeat column last Friday, saying that while we had a terrific family vacation on one of its ships the previous week, the cruise itself was a scam that could be best characterized as a study in mediocrity.

We heard back from a number of cruise enthusiasts…

MNB user Craig L McKee wrote:

Kevin, you were just unlucky. I've been on 3 cruises, each was better than the last. Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Caribbean and Holland America, Holland being the best. Nothing but wonderful staff, terrific food and an overall superb experience. No scams, no games. Give it another try...just stay away from the proven bad guys. A good travel agent will be able to direct you to the good guys.

MNB user Jackie Lembke wrote:

Before condemning all cruise lines should try at least one more on a different line. The cruise I took was wonderful. The price of drinks comparable to what I would spend in a bar and the service was great, because the passengers determined the tip and tips were needed to make a living. My biggest complaint was the lack of talent in the on board shows. I forced my husband to one and he made me swear I would never take him to a show again. The food on our cruise was delicious and plentiful.

Another MNB user wrote:

I have only been on one cruise in my life and it was this past year on a Disney cruise. I couldn't be more happy about my experience. Excellent service, great amenities, good food, reasonable alcoholic drink prices, etc.

And we determined the gratuity at the end of the week for both our room service as well as our table service.

I highly recommend Disney. Lots to do for young and old.

MNB user Gary Harris wrote:

The week before last, my wife and I were on board the Carnival Glory, along with my son, daughter-in-law, sister, brother-in-law, niece, her husband, my aunt, and my Mom (who suggested this little get-together to celebrate her 80th birthday!)

Our first cruise, we thought the service and food were fine, but the daily hit for refreshments and photo-ops did get a bit old. We had the outdoor ping-pong thing going too, although I didn’t hear anything about what happens if the ball blows overboard.

I was impressed, though, by the consistent friendly greetings we received from just about everyone working on the ship. Smile, hello, good morning, how was your day, were all typical greetings from everyone we passed or who passed by us.

As a training professional in the retail environment I was impressed by this. But I also realize that there needs to be an environment, both from a physical workplace and supervisory standpoint that supports and nurtures this kind of behavior. People who enjoy their jobs and love what they do can’t help but share that with their customers and clients. When it doesn’t happen, look at the organization, not at the person. Maybe Carnival gets it but Norwegian doesn’t?

MNB user Michael Sommers wrote:

I read your offbeat section today and felt bad that you don’t have the desire to ever cruise again. I’ve been on two cruises so far and I’m only 20 and I plan on cruising many times in the future. So far I’ve been on a 7 day Alaskan cruise and a five day cruise to Grand Cayman and Jamaica. Both times I’ve cruised on Carnival Cruise Lines and really don’t have anything to complain about. The food was well above par for me, especially in the formal dining room, the buffets were always fully stocked, the desserts were excellent, the night time shows were good and I’m not one to enjoy musicals and broadways mind you, and the service was good as well. I always highly recommend Carnival to friends thinking about cruising and I hope your one cruise with Norwegian doesn’t turn you away form cruising, just away from cruising with them. And no do I in any way work for Carnival, so don’t take this as a sales pitch, just a cruise enthusiast giving a recommendation.

MNB user Jennifer Mabey wrote:

Being somewhat of a veteran cruiser (nine different cruises in my only 25 years on this planet), I'm saddened that you had such a bad experience on what I presume to be your first cruise. I've also cruised Norwegian and received less than stellar service, but let me assure you that most other cruise lines are not as bad.

My most recent cruise was in May with Princess, which has turned out to be my favorite line thus far. I traveled with ten people (who could be embarrassingly loud and obnoxious at times) and the crew on the Caribbean Princess was more than accommodating. I found myself giving them extra tips just for putting up with us.

Anyway, the point is that I've had extremely friendly, eager-to-please crews on nearly every ship I've ever been on and I enjoy cruising so much that I'm making it a goal to plan at least one cruise a year. I hope you don't give up on cruising altogether because of Norwegian - I assure you there are better lines out there who wouldn't dream of charging for a ping-pong ball overboard (absurd!!).

Yet another MNB user cut to the chase:

I love the fact that your family had a wonderful time together, that experience cannot be replaces by anything else.


We’re unlikely to ever cruise again, but that probably is because the whole notion of being captive on a big boat for a period of time runs contrary to our desire for autonomy.
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