Published on: October 6, 2008
Got the following email from an MNB
user:Regarding Friday's item on Wegmans beginning a test of self-checkout at a western New York store: you commented that Wegmans’ intent here would likely be different than that of "some other retailers" in that Wegmans likely would be deploying this technology "as a way of catering to customers who want this kind of convenience...but will not use it as a way of simply cutting labor costs." Speaking here as a supermarket customer, and not as a supermarket employee, I can't help but think that your take on Wegmans’ intent is unduly biased coming into the issue.
It would seem to me that from the standpoint of any supermarket customer, there are two possible states of the world with regard to their understanding of, and reaction to, Wegmans’ intent in making self-checkout available: a customer either knows (or can figure out) that a store can ostensibly save labor costs by offering self-checkout, or they don't know (and cannot figure out) that there are possible labor savings available. In the first instance -- they understand the possible savings -- why would they care one way or the other? If they like the self-checkout service, they use it; if they don't, they don't.
How many customers would deliberately boycott a self-service checkout lane – which they might ordinarily want to use -- as a form of political statement against its deployment, as if to say "I won't support your doing the right thing here, because it's being done for the wrong reasons"? In the second instance -- they cannot understand the potential labor savings -- the whole point is moot anyway: if customers aren't even aware that self-checkout might reduce store labor expense, the issue of whether making such registers available can't even comprehend the "right thing/wrong reason" dimension.
All this said, then, your comments on Wegmans test program here strike me as "since I like Wegmans to begin with, I'm almost automatically going to like a new program that they embark on" as opposed to "I like this new program Wegmans is trying out, therefore, I'm going to commend Wegmans for trying it." In other words, your position seems to be an example of "I'll articulate my conclusion first, then come up with a case to support it later", rather than the other way around.
(By the way, though, irrespective of whether the direction of your logic is forwards or backwards, I do think Wegmans can be commended for trying this self-checkout test, and I say that regardless of their underlying reason for pursuing it.)
If I have a weakness as a pundit – and I probably have dozens – it is that I tend to give companies and people I like the benefit of the doubt…I tend to trust their actions and motivations because, in some sense, I think they’ve earned it. And I’m probably even more skeptical than I ought to be in cases where I think a company has gone off the rails. (Though I do think I have an open mind – witness the fact that I’ve said nice things about A&P in recent months.)
user thought I went overboard on the Wegmans praise…but had another rationale…this one about a possible jinx:I think you are becoming the Sports Illustrated of our industry. When a team appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated they immediately lost or a key player was injured.
We used to hear how great Starbucks was, almost daily. We all know what’s going on
there. My question: is Wegmans next?
I appreciate the fact that you think I have that kind of karmic juice…
On the subject of self-checkout, another MNB
user wrote:One comment you made struck me ironically. You state that there is never a lack of employees to help. I do comparison price checks for another supermarket chain every week. In three years of doing this, no employee on the floor has ever asked me if I needed help and many times I'm just standing around looking for items.
And another MNB
user chimed in:Here's a "wild and crazy guy" (Steve Martin) idea...... reduce costs-- install more self checkouts and then increase customer service/relations-- put more employees into sampling kiosks. The lost art of customer relations could be renewed.
What profit conscious retail executive would want to spend time and money, at store level, to know customers first names ..... their needs/desires and even where the bathrooms are…MNB
had a story last week about how the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose unexpectedly to 59.8 in September from an upwardly revised 58.5 level in August, and I commented that “this is a useless statistic, in my view, because I have trouble imagining that anybody’s confidence is higher these days than a month ago. (The October numbers are likely to crater.) The only people unaffected, I suspect, are people who don't read newspapers or magazines, don't watch television and don’t have Internet access. In other words, cave dwellers.”
To which one MNB
user responded:The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index is led by University of Michigan research. This index has been a barometer of consumer confidence for many years and has been a very good indicator. While I agree that sometimes the index doesn’t seem to go up nor down as quickly as I think it should, I justifiably understand the lag. I like you am a trend tracker, reading and learning extensively from many different sources. Not all consumers do that. And, please understand, Sarah Palin, whether you like her or not, did energize a certain segment of the country. Kevin, due to your expansive reading, understanding of key trends and key insights into what is truly happening now and in the future may give you a different perspective on what the index should reflect.
I wasn't doubting the accuracy of the number. Just its relevance in coming out at a time when pretty much everybody’s confidence has been shaken. (Quite frankly, anybody who isn’t a little concerned about the nation’s current direction at this point isn’t paying attention…)
I got a number of emails last week prompted by the Chinese dairy scandal, which has resulted in the recalls of a number of products even here in the US.
user wrote:I find it most interesting that we have allowed ourselves to outsource many products that we then import and not require the same checks and balances on quality that we imposed on those products that used to be "made in America" and little or nothing is done, until after the fact! Have American values sank so low that everything is about price?
Not sure what the total value is on all foreign products imported, but bet it comes close or higher than the cost of imported oil, which is the talk of the town right now. We'll get the energy thing fixed in the next 10 years and I guess then look at the other items we import and try to fix that, all the while, more companies are moving manufacturing off shore.
Everything is cyclical! Will we every wake up?MNB
user Ann Thies wrote:Why are we importing milk products/ingredients from China to make anything?! I cannot believe there is not enough dairy production here already or reason not to create more need for it here.
user Doug Campbell wrote:My very simple solution, and a great argument for COOL, is if it is made in China, I won't buy it. Not for myself, my daughter, my grand-daughter or even my dog. At least, if I know it was made in China, or if the manufacturer lets me know thru labeling if any components came from China, I can make that informed choice.
took note last week of reports that a San Francisco Superior Court judge has rejected an attempt by Walgreen and Rite-Aid to derail a new ordinance that bans San Francisco stores with retail pharmacies from selling tobacco products.
The ordinance was enacted last month by the city’s Board of Supervisors. The two retailers challenged it, saying that the ban would cause them irreparable harm. Tobacco giant Philip Morris also is challenging the ban in federal court.
My comment: While I have no idea whether the ordinance will be found to be legal or constitutional, from a broader thematic or marketing perspective it actually makes sense that retailers said to be in the health care business ought not be selling products that are designed to addict and kill consumers.
But as mentioned here on previous occasions, I concede that I have no objectivity on this issue. (My mother, who smoked two packs a day for 40 years before quitting, died a decade ago from lung cancer.)MNB
user Mike Flanagan wrote:Although I am a previous smoker, I believe that this action by government infringes on private enterprise. Cigarettes are a legal item, so why does the government dictate who can sell it. Walgreen and Rite-Ail also sell other “deadly” items such as beer and wine, so where does it all stop. Should they stop selling snack food also?
As a side note, some people smoke all their lives and never contract lung disease while others never smoke and die of lung cancer.
Foe the record, I did not endorse the ordinance. I just said that from a marketing perspective, consistency matters…and I believe that stores in the business of selling themselves as a health and wellness source ought not be in the business of selling products that are designed to addict and kill people. (Even if some people manage to beat the odds.)