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    Published on: October 11, 2007

    To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

    Or, to simply read the commentary in text form, continue below…

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    I did it. I bought an iPhone.

    Now, to be perfectly honest, even though I am an enormous fan of all things Apple, I was a little leery about being an early adopter, an attitude which proved to be correct when a couple of months after introducing the iPhone, Apple CEO Steve Jobs dropped the price by $200. And, I was concerned about switching from Verizon to AT&T, which is what you have to do in order to use the iPhone.

    But the stars seemed aligned correctly. The price had been lowered, and it seemed unlikely that it would be lowered again anytime soon. And, my Verizon contract was up…which meant that I could switch to AT&T without paying a penalty. So I took a deep breath, and I did it.

    And not for a moment have I been sorry. This is just a very cool phone, and for the past two weeks or so I’ve had a great deal of fun trying to figure out all the various things it can do.

    Which is actually my only problem with the iPhone. Believe it or not, it doesn’t come with an instructions manual. Now, in some ways it doesn’t need one, because it is such an intuitive piece of equipment. But there are things that do need to be explained…and instead of providing a manual, Apple instead has videos and PDFs that can be downloaded off the Internet and used. And I suppose that makes sense in the new world order, and also from an environmental point of view. I have to say though, if Apple wants to appeal to people outside its core user market, I think an instructions manual would just make sense. It’d be something I could throw into my bag to use as a reference when I need some help. It would be a kind of low-tech security blanket for a high tech product.

    There are, of course, manuals you can buy. I love the one written by David Pogue, the technology writer for the New York Times, which has as its subtitle, “the book that should have come in the box.” Talk about knowing your audience…

    My experience with the iPhone has gotten me thinking about the whole idea of instruction manuals, and how much we sometimes take for granted about what consumers know. For example, I’ve been on the west coast this week, and I’ve been driving a car equipped with Sirius Satellite Radio. I don't have satellite radio at home, and I liked the idea of testing it out to see if it made sense to get it for our own cars. Did they have an instructions manual to explain how to use it and what all the various stations were? Nope. So I ended up listening to a couple of CDs I’d brought with me, and the opportunity to convert me was lost. I blame this on Sirius, not Hertz, by the way…though I have another bone to pick with all the rental car companies. I’ve always thought it would make sense to equip every car with a list of local radio stations, so that I’d know how to find news, classic rock, or a sports station as I’m driving through town. It’d be a simple thing, but nobody does it. And that list of stations would be like an instructions manual for the radio, which isn’t much use if you don't know what’s available.

    Think about your store. How many customers come in the front door but really don't know how to shop the whole store? I suspect a lot. They know the departments that they always patronize, and they have their standard list of products from which they choose. But nobody really tells them about what the whole store has to offer, what products go with what other products, and how to use them in an efficient and effective way. Some stores do a god job with this – I think immediately of Wegmans and Publix, and I know there are others. But I think that in general the food industry assumes a lot about what its customers know, which doesn’t allow it to educate them in an aspirational way…rather, many stores market to the lowest common denominator and then act surprised when the customer chooses a fast food joint instead of the supermarket.

    Let’s bring it back to Apple, which has in every one of its retail stores a “genius bar” that is sort of the ultimate instruction manual. Could your store benefit from having a kind of genius bar to answer shoppers’ food-related questions. I’m guessing yes…mostly because I can't imagine any store that wouldn’t be better for providing this service.

    For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    The New York Times reports that American officials, anxious to improve the safety of imported foods, have begun to examine the procedures used in Japan as a possible template for changes that could be made here.

    “The Japanese have developed tough approaches for ensuring the quality of Chinese imports, particularly food — in part by far more rigorous testing of its imported food than in the United States,” the Times writes. “But the innovation getting the most American attention is Japan’s system for screening Chinese producers even before they ship their merchandise to Japan.

    A report released last week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee cited Japan’s system for monitoring spinach and other Chinese food exports as a possible model for importers in the United States. Last month, a White House working group issued its own report after visiting Tokyo, and even Chinese officials have urged the United States to adopt the Japanese approach … The program is the product of Japan’s longer experience with Chinese safety problems, going back to the discovery five years ago of high levels of pesticide in Chinese frozen spinach. Americans have become more conscious of such safety issues this year, with the highly publicized recalls of Chinese-made toys contaminated with lead paint and pet food ingredients containing hazardous chemicals.”

    Japan buys far more of its food from China than the United States does, the story notes.

    KC's View:
    This story fairly drips with irony, because the Japanese approach to food safety has been the subject of much American criticism when it comes to mad cow disease. In Japan, they test every cow for BSE, while we test a tiny fraction here. And in Japan, they remain so concerned about US beef that many Japanese stores still do not sell it.

    Go figure.

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    USA Today reports that the peculiar complications of the US bureaucracies have contributed to what can only be termed an alarming hole in the nation’s food import system.

    Seven years ago, the story says, the US Congress voted to create what is called the “port shopping rule,” which essentially mandates that food shipments denied entry into the US would be marked as such, so that importers wouldn’t try to get the products through less strict points of entry.

    “Despite broad support then — and renewed calls by Congress to tighten food import oversight — the marking law has yet to take hold. The FDA has yet to set specifications on such details as how big the mark should be and where it should go,” the paper writes, noting that “it's just one of many proposed solutions to long-standing problems with food imports that have been delayed, derailed or ignored by the FDA, Congress and the food industry while imports have soared in the past decade. The measures withered because of lack of funds, lack of political will, competing priorities and industry opposition, say former FDA officials and current lawmakers. And while recent tainted imports from China have spawned a slew of import-safety bills in Congress, the slow trek of the port-shopping law tempers expectations of quick and effective change.”

    USA Today also notes that even if the FDA were suddenly to change its priorities and become aggressive, it will have to deal with such things as outdated computer systems. And the agency will be playing catch-up, no matter what it does. As the paper reports, “Because the FDA cannot easily inspect foreign manufacturing plants, it relies heavily on inspections at U.S. ports of entry. Yet, while food imports have soared about 50% in the past five years, the number of FDA food-import inspectors has fallen about 20%. The FDA inspects just 1% of food imports.”
    KC's View:
    Gives you a warm feeling inside, doesn’t it?

    While the FDA continues to push for greater funding and authority, I’m not sure why there is any reason to believe that it will do a better job in the future than it has in the past. And I keep getting the feeling that virtually all of the changes being recommended amount to a band-aid on a deep wound, and that the holes in the safety infrastructure have their own holes, and that nobody understands how serious the problems may be.

    Someone explain to me again why country of origin labeling (COOL) isn’t a good idea. This way, as a consumer, I could decide for myself what products I don't want to eat or drink, at least in part depending on where they come from. It may not be a perfect system nor an exact science, but it would give the consumer a certain level of autonomy in a system that doesn’t seem to work very well.

    There are two passages in the USA Today that I found intriguing…and somewhat jarring.

    • “Congress added the FDA's so-called "port shopping" rule to the high-profile Bioterrorism Act enacted in 2002.”

    • “Randall Lutter, the FDA's deputy commissioner for policy, says the agency still intends to pursue the marking proposal. He gave no specific time frame.”

    Now, it has been a while since I’ve taken a civics class, but since when is an enacted law a “proposal”? I didn’t know that departments and agencies were allowed to be so cavalier about such things.

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “consumer-product suppliers are pushing to make their products and supply chains more environmentally friendly in an effort to bolster their images with consumers and garner favor with retail titan Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Their initiatives -- which have ranged from cutting down on packaging to shrinking detergent bottles -- can help save costs for packaging and reduce fuel costs. But those moves also require substantial initial investments and sometimes even changes in manufacturing processes by suppliers.” The problem for many of these companies is that these changes can have an enormous short-term impact on profitability.

    One example cited by the Journal: “Procter & Gamble Co., which is also converting its detergents to a concentrated formulation, has said that it expects fiscal 2008 to be a net investment year for that initiative. Procter said one-time costs for new molds, manufacturing-changeover costs, retail-conversion costs and higher marketing support would hurt fiscal 2008 earnings by a few cents a share, but that the changes would eventually help retailers, consumers and its own supply chain. While consumers are paying far more attention to companies' impact on the environment, it is still hard to gauge and to quantify how much that trend will affect their buying decisions.”
    KC's View:
    At least one executive interviewed by the Journal says that while he wants to do the right thing, he still has a business to run, and that he’s looking for solutions that are “win-win.”

    In a way, he’s right. But he may also be dreadfully short-sighted, because attention to the long-term sometimes means that the short-term must suffer.

    Making the kind of infrastructure changes necessary in order to become a more environmentally friendly society isn’t going to be painless…and we’re probably all going to pay the price in various ways. To suggest that there won’t be sacrifices is to propagate a lie…and it does the subject a disservice. Sometimes, I suppose, consumers may even fight back against these shifts in direction and priorities, but I believe – I have to believe – that leaders will be rewarded in the long run.

    P&G is absolutely right to bite the bullet and say that 2008 will be an investment year that could hurt earnings a bit, but will be healthy for the company – as well as for customers, retailers and even the planet – in the long run.

    Short-term wins often are exactly that. And it seems to me that the ultimate win is the one that changes the world as opposed to the balance sheet.

    And yes, to anticipate the inevitable emails that follow a story such as this, I do believe that climate change is one of two or three central issues that will define our generation’s stewardship of this planet. MNB had a story and commentary about this subject the other day, and I got the following email:

    I can't believe that you have bought into the whole "Global Warming" thing. What a cop out for not looking at the facts. Climate change has always been with us. I love it when the news uses the weather changes to prove their point, like, because of the man-made effects on Global warming, today was the warmest day since 1907. One hundred years ago was a time when all the causes used today to blame for Global warming didn't exist. What caused it to be so high back then?

    I am sorry for you if you are choosing the global warming position, and have bought into their phony science. I thought you had more intelligence than that.

    I guess you misjudged me. But I continue to believe that the “phony science” is that which denies the impact that industrialization and technology are having on the planet.

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    Unionized Kroger employees in the Cincinnati area have rejected a new contract proposal that was made by the company but not recommended by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). This could result in a strike; while the current contract extension doesn’t expire until November 3, either side can cancel the extension on four days’ notice. However, local observers say they expect both sides to continue negotiating without a work stoppage anytime soon.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    CNN reports that ConAgra has voluntarily stopped production at a Missouri plant after the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued an alert warning consumers that Banquet pot pies made there could be linked to more than 130 cases of salmonella in 30 states.

    According to the CNN story, “ConAgra officials believe the company's pies are safe if they're cooked properly, but the Omaha-based company told consumers Tuesday not to eat its chicken or turkey pot pies until the government and company investigations are complete."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    The Wall Street Journal has a story that says:

    “Supermarket shoppers may soon be cruising the aisles with "intelligent" shopping carts that warn them if they are purchasing too much junk food, technology experts say. Some shoppers are already using the advanced shopping carts. Trials of touch-screen computers on them have been conducted in stores in the U.S.

    “While many people probably would be happy enough if they could simply get their cart to travel in a straight line, the high-tech model is fitted with a computer screen and bar code scanner.

    “It can read each product's individual code to give customers information about calories, nutrition, ethical sourcing and the environment.”
    KC's View:
    I don't mean to be cynical about this, but it feels like we’ve all been reading these “smart cart” stories forever. Best I can tell, the “smart cart” industry occupies the smallest of niches at the moment, and I see no sign of it breaking out anytime soon.

    But maybe I’m just cynical.

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    • Interesting interview this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle with Tom and Kate Chappell, founders of Tom’s of Maine, the “green” product manufacturers that is majority owned by Colgate-Palmolive. In it, they talk about selling products in Wal-Mart, and assess the company’s environmental commitment:

    “Before this took place, I asked our people to do a social audit on Wal-Mart, and it was very interesting what came up,” says Tom Chapell. “The more we learned about Wal-Mart, the more we found we had in common with them. For instance, we are both founder-driven or founder-inspired. Which means that when they think about something, they do it. They execute with incredible capacity and ability.

    “Then we found them to be very much turning the tide on sustainability. There had been a complete change in their thinking. They had figured out the planet was not big enough to provide what they needed as a brand discounter. What they needed was to be part of the solution in order to have sustainability as a growth company - part of the solution with organic farming, organic growing, sustainable living, sustainable packaging. And they demand it of all their suppliers today.

    “On the issues that would normally rub us about health insurance and so forth, they are going to have to join the human race eventually. They'll just have to.”

    And Kate Chappell adds, “We can become a model to companies like them on how to do it.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    It may not be quite the same thing as trying to sell ice to Eskimos, but the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Taco Bell is for the first time trying to sell its Americanized vision of the taco – a hard shell with ground beef, tomato and sour cream – in Mexico.

    While some criticize its bland taste, other say it could be successful simply because it is American, and American products are seen as being high in quality.
    KC's View:
    The reason I don't eat at Taco Bell and places like it is summed up in one statement made to the paper by Rob Poetsch, a spokesman for Yum Brands, which owns Taco Bell.

    “What we are bringing to Mexico is not Mexican food, it's our exciting quick-service restaurant brand,” he tells the paper. “We feel the timing is right, and we've done quite a bit of consumer research to validate that this goes beyond product. It's about value and convenience – that's the universal appeal.”

    In other words, it is about the brand. Not about the food.

    The food itself is lowest common denominator food, and it may someday be America’s legacy that we spread this crap all over the planet, killing off the notion of authentic cuisines whenever possible.

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    • Pathmark and the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) have each scheduled shareholder meetings for November 8, at which they will seek shareholder approvals for the proposed purchase of Pathmark by A&P.

    MSNBC reports that Cadbury Schweppes plans to spin off its U.S. beverage division – including the Dr Pepper, 7Up and Snapple brands - to its shareholders rather than sell it, as had been widely speculated earlier this year.

    • Food retailers, wholesalers and restaurants will be able to review detailed supplier safety auditing and certification records online through a new alliance among the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), Muddy Boots Software and Agentrics, according to an announcement today by the three organizations. SQFI, a division of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), plans to launch this service in early 2008.

    SQF field auditors will use the Muddy Boots Quickfire software to enter food safety audit results into a hand-held computer anywhere food is grown, processed or manufactured. They will transmit the data to a secure Agentrics online database, where food buyers can review auditing and certification records of suppliers in the SQF program.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    • Germany-based Tengelmann announced that its annual sales for the just-completed fiscal year were up 3.2 percent to the equivalent of $30.7 billion, with European sales up 4.9 percent, and US sales down 2.6 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2007

    Lots of reaction to yesterday’s story about Home Depot trying to develop a woman-friendly store that will have different features than its traditional units … which I thought sounded just a bit condescending.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I agree, it sounds condescending to say that Home Depot will romance women.

    The question asked in MarketWatch was does hardware have a softer side? Sears tried the “softer side” campaign from 1993 -1999 but could not, as we know, differentiate themselves from the competition and suffered lackluster sales. Warm-friendly doesn’t always match the needs or wants of consumers.

    As a 45 year old, female, professional who has spent considerable sums in Home Depot, and Lowes and some years back Ernst Hardware also, through the years, I feel somewhat offended. I believe there is a market out there that would like the fancier show rooms and more emphasis on décor but leave me my hardware store. I resent that it is nearly impossible to find a place that sells fasteners by the pound instead of in fancy plastic packages with either too few or too many for the job I have at hand. Leave me a hardware store that sells parts and not preassembled replacement units in “standardized” sizes.

    As a single female, having owned three homes and having had two of them remodeled, I am sure I have bought things from every aisle in a traditional home depot store. If you want to “romance” me here is what I would find sexy the next time I am in Home Depot:

    1) let me come and go through the same door, don’t make me walk past home and garden, doors & latches, paints and plumbing, and lighting, just to get to lumber – I am in the store often enough I know what they sell. When I am in the middle of a project and need that one item to finish I want to get in and out quickly – I will probably be back before the day is out if I can move along with my to do list quicker;

    2) available help that WILL help. Last night I approached three floor sales people before I got assistance - “not my area” was the response from the first two – if it isn’t your area then use your phone and call for help or direct me to the right person;

    3) knowledgeable help – recently I bought the display model to complete a set of towel racks, the first floor person was sure that it would take a special installers tool to remove, when I pointed out that a small screwdriver was sufficient after a long wait a young man with droopy britches (showing my age) returned with a Phillips;

    4) train sales people in respect – a) don’t assume the male standing near me is my husband, or that he in any way is more involved in the project than I am if I am the one who asked the question – look at and direct your answer to the one who asked (me!) – I know I live in GA and Home Depot is GA based but I am not a wilting southern violet – I’m the one paying the bill and doing the work, and b) if your clerk is going to ask did I find everything I needed when I check out make sure they know how to handle it when I haven’t found what I needed – “oh” is not the correct response; and c) it wouldn’t hurt if they were pleasant, that surly gal that works the first register on the early evening shift needs to smile and not glare when she has to get off her cell phone to ring up my sale, every time it’s the same thing with her ; and

    5) make my extended credit viewable online (this may be offered now, but wasn’t at the time it was important to me).

    Obviously, most of my complaints are help related. Truthfully, these have mostly stemmed from my experience since moving to Georgia three years ago. My Home Depot in Odessa, Texas had wonderful help and I was always treated with the appropriate level of respect due any customer regardless of gender. Notice I said “my” for Texas, except for the doors and extended credit they did things right – a place I would like to consider part of “my” brand. Isn’t it interesting that in the home state of the company they don’t seem to be getting it right?

    Another MNB user wrote:

    It’s like that “tool kit for women” with the pink case and pink screw driver handles…we’re not all delicate flowers! I can make my way around a Home Depot just fine. While I appreciate that they have women in mind, actually having someone around to answer our questions would suffice!!

    MNB user Rosemary Fifield had a suggestion for Home Depot:

    Well, for one thing, don't call it a hardware store. It's a bath and kitchen store. There's a difference. I've had my crummy experiences with staff at a local hardware store whose attitude is plainly, "What are you doing in here, lady?" but I've never taken it quietly. Home Depot doesn't need to protect me with a pretty-in-pink hardware store.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I hope these new Home Depot's for Women are not located in Maine, where my son and daughter-in-law reside, or else I fear reading about how one woman is picketing this store for discrimination. A few years back for Christmas, I got them each what they had put on their list. My son wanted a high-end copper sauce pan from France. My daughter-in-law wanted a new table saw.

    So, that's what they each got (the pan cost more than the saw). When she goes to the lumber yard to buy wood for a project, she tells them exactly what grade wood she wants for the project; she doesn't spend up more than she needs, and she doesn't skimp by buying a lesser grade than the project calls for. When she decided she'd like to put ceramic tile on her kitchen floor and counter, she bought a video, bought a tile cutter, and went to town. This store is definitely not for her.

    MNB user Lois Bredow wrote:

    We have been doing a large amount of shopping at Home Depot in the last year due to several home improvement projects. I have noticed that approximately 1/3 of the men in the stores are accompanied by a woman and that one does see women alone in the store. There are women employees there as well. None of the employees, male or female, have ever been condescending to me when I have shopped alone there. I do not need a fancy place to sit down to be shown materials. I do know, however, that there are women who need that. I am involved in using the products we purchase there, installing them, and making them function in my home. I want to see more than color when a purchase is made. I visited a Home Depot decorator store (which has since closed) and that is where I felt discriminated against. I felt the sales people in the store assumed I was not their customer. Hopefully their new approach will not send this message.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    So, are the other Home Depot's just for men? This feels like pandering and as a female Home Depot shopper, it turns me off. HD should focus on what they are good at, having "lots of stuff you need" and not patronize those of us who can find our way around a hardware, even when it's not "pretty."

    MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

    Home Depot didn't do well with its Expo Design Centers, and failed entirely with its Village Hardware Stores. Its major problem, it seems to me, is to upgrade its existing store base. Most of those units have been cranking out millions of dollars of sales for a decade or more and are somewhat "shopworn."

    The lesson here is clear. The Home Depot “innovation” actually categorizes customers of a certain gender one way, and many of those customers reject the label as being inaccurate. We all make assumptions about our customers, but in the long run simple respect and attention can go a lot farther than condescension in making our customers happy.

    And by the way, I say this as someone who is married to a woman who is far more handy than I am; I tend to buy light bulbs when I go to Home Depot, and screwing them in is about the extent of my abilities in this area.

    We did, however, get another email that put the issue in a different light. MNB user David Livingston wrote:

    There is probably more than just a whiff of condescension. But regardless, women, like men, like to go where others make them feel good about themselves. Romancing shoppers of either sex is not a new idea. I have a client who owns a supermarket. He greets all female customers with a hug, kiss, or compliment. You would think he would get nailed for sexual harassment but he has all registers open and a store full women shoppers coming to get their dose of attention. His attention to them might be the only positive attention they ever get from a man. Naturally these are long time repeat customers.

    Years ago when working for Scrivner in Oklahoma City we did some consumer research because we could not figure out why this less than ordinary IGA store was doing so well. Turns out it had nothing to do with pricing, quality, or service. A high percentage of women told us they shopped there because the manager was charming.

    As a man I know I have shopped at a certain store or picked a certain checkout lane because I enjoyed the attention some woman was giving me. The lady that runs the dry cleaners I go to always gives me a hug and tells me I'm a handsome man. I go there quite a bit now.

    Which is the difference between us. I don't want the dry cleaner going anywhere near me, much less hugging me.

    Hell, I don't even like it when people in stores call me “hon.”
    KC's View: