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    Published on: July 20, 2009

    It was the e-commerce story of the weekend, and one that could not help but challenge the confidence that so many dedicated online shoppers felt in the preeminent Internet retailer.

    Here are the details. reportedly had been selling electronic copies of two books for its Kindle device that had been made available by a publisher, MobileReference, that did not have the rights to them. When Amazon found out that it had a copyright violation on its hands, it not only stopped selling the electronic versions of the books, but used its technology to remotely remove the books from the Kindles of people who already had bought them, and refunded customers.

    Here is the irony. The books in question were George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984.” It is in the latter book, of course, that the government censors news articles embarrassing to the power structure by incinerating them in a “memory hole.”

    There was outrage expressed both in traditional media and in the blogosphere, as people said – quite rightly – that the terms of service did not give Amazon the right to remove books from people’s Kindles if they were bought and paid for; they suggested that this was akin to Barnes & Noble sneaking into people’s houses in the middle of the night to take back books that were the subject of copyright questions.

    Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener told the New York Times that upon reflection, the deletions were not a good idea and that the company would not make such a move in the future.
    KC's View:
    Too late. Amazon did it once, and that’s enough to create questions in shoppers’ minds about the nature of the online relationship, especially since the New York Times reports that some customers have said that they have seen e-copies of some Harry Potter books and Ayn Rand novels deleted from their Kindles.

    Now, this won’t kill the Kindle, in part because most people who have the device tend to feel passionately about it. (I count myself in this group.) But it certainly has created trust issues. (And it may create an opening if another company – such as Apple – wants to come out with a competing device that won’t allow companies to delete content after it has been bought.)

    What’s amazing to me is that apparently at no point did anyone at Amazon’s headquarters say 1) we can't be in the business of deleting content that people already have bought, and 2) we certainly can't delete books by George Orwell because that simply hands the media a better story, and makes it look like we’ve never even read the books that we’re selling.

    This plays into a point made repeatedly here on MNB. Companies need to have someone at the table who has as his or her job the requirement that they not drink the kool-aid … kind of the role that ombudsmen play at newspapers around the country, representing the readers as opposed to the press.

    Amazon could have dealt with this issue by sending people who had bought the illegal books an email explaining the problem and asking for permission to replace the ones that they bought with legal e-books. Most people, I suspect, would have been happy to go along. And it would have been collaborative, rather than intrusive. Trust would have remained intact.

    One other thing. Amazon has to say – right now - that it is permanently disabling the remote delete feature from its Kindle technology. CEO Jeff Bezos has to say that they made a mistake and that this will not happen again.

    Published on: July 20, 2009

    The Richmond Times Dispatch had a piece over the weekend about the much speculated about sale of Ukrop’s Super Markets, wondering if any company would be willing to spend up to an estimated $248 million to acquire a company that is seeing its market share decline in a region that is saturated with food retailers.

    The story also suggests that Harris Teeter probably is best positioned to buy Ukrop’s because it has ready access to financing and also is most compatible in terms of geography and format. The other two companies most mentioned as potential suitors – Supervalu and Ahold – may not have that kind of flexibility.

    Finally, the Times Dispatch notes that just because Ukrop’s is circulating a prospectus doesn’t mean that the family has to sell the company – majority shareholders James Ukrop and Robert Ukrop have to decide whether the time and price is right. And this decision will be linked not just to economy, but to the next generation that will have to commit to leading the company in the future.
    KC's View:
    There are a lot of variables, and it is hard at this moment to figure out what the odds on an actual sale might be.

    It is interesting, though, that not everybody feels that Ukrop’s operations are firing on all cylinders. Check out one of the emails in Your Views, below.

    Published on: July 20, 2009

    Advertising Age reports that Walmart is pressing its suppliers to allocate a greater percentage of both their consumer ad budgets and trade promotion dollars to the retailer, and is “using a simultaneous push to clear underperforming brands off its shelves as extra leverage.”

    Walmart is looking for suppliers to fund co-branded advertisements and commercials as well as banner ads on its website and in-store television sponsorships.

    According to the story, “It's probably the boldest retailer grab for suppliers' consumer marketing funds ever, if only because the amounts involved are so huge. Some package goods companies do more than 30% of their U.S. business at the retailer. Complying with Walmart's guidelines would, in theory, mean a company the size of Procter & Gamble Co. diverting around $1 billion in U.S. media dollars into Walmart's media budget or marketing and merchandising vehicles -- a sum roughly equivalent to what Walmart spent on all of its own measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.”

    Ad Age says that there is no evidence that Walmart has been successful in getting suppliers to accede to its wishes – in part because if manufacturers do it for Walmart they’ll have to do it for Walmart’s competitors or face legal challenges.

    This move comes as Walmart also is applying pressure to suppliers on the environmental front, asking them to be part of an indexing process that will evaluate their “green” quotient.
    KC's View:
    Proving, I guess, that Walmart isn’t satisfied with just twisting arms. It also likes to twist other appendages…because “green” is a word with a financial as well as environmental implications, and Walmart is highly capable of multitasking.

    Published on: July 20, 2009

    The Grand Haven Tribune reports that “the Meijer store in Grand Haven Township has taken a first step in renewable energy” by erecting “six wind energy turbines atop its roof that will capture wind power and turn it into energy.”

    According to the paper, this unit is the first Meijer store to use the technology, which already had been installed at Meijer headquarters. Another store, in Norton Shores, also is slated to get a set of wind turbines.

    Company spokesman Frank Gugliemi tells the paper that Meijer will be evaluating the performance of the three wind turbine installations with an eye toward expanding the technology into new stores if it makes sense.
    KC's View:
    I don't know about you, but I think these kinds of stories are exciting. There’s all this environmental stuff happening in all these different locations, and it’s like seeds being sown that are going to eventually grow into something remarkable...if we give it time and nurture these technologies carefully.

    Published on: July 20, 2009

    Brand Week reports that there is a new study from Forrester Research suggests that online retailers are highly focused on providing customers with more information, more product detail, and a better checkout experience.

    According to the story,” Improving the checkout process was ranked as a priority by 79 percent of the retailers. Eighty-eight percent plan to improve shipping transparency by providing more detail on costs, as well as departure and arrival times. Additionally, 67 percent of retailers plan to make total order amounts visible to shoppers prior to checkout. More than half (60 percent) reported plans to enhance their respective home pages … Retailers also plan to increase the availability of online product information so users can make more informed decisions about their purchases. Half will add alternate image views and 31 percent will add color option previews. More than half (55 percent) have made customer rating and review tools a priority and 34 percent will take advantage of automatic recommendation capabilities.”
    KC's View:
    Proving, I think, that the MNB mantra is true – that it is critical for retailers to be a resource for information as well as a source of product. This is something that online retailers are more and more predisposed to do…and brick-and-mortar retailers will have to figure out how to deliver on this same promise.

    Published on: July 20, 2009

    There is an interesting op-ed piece in the East Valley Tribune by Austin Hill in which he writes about Bashas’ bankruptcy and compares the company to Walmart. Some excerpts:

    • “Bashas' is, by most any measure, the perfect example of a ‘socially responsible’ corporation. They employ people in their ‘home state,’ and have a great reputation as a place to work. They sell food products from local ‘hometown’ growers. In their current crisis, they are (to their credit) not attempting to blame all their problems on ‘the recession.’ And they absolutely ‘invest’ in the community. Very few for-profit enterprises in Arizona are as charitable and philanthropic as Bashas.'

    “Wal-Mart is one of the world's largest employers. They are known to have incredibly high standards for their employees, a stringent screening process for prospective employees, and their staffing turnover is relatively low. Their stock price, their corporate revenues and their charitable giving have all remained quite good in the midst of the current recession. Yet despite all the success they produce, they're still frequently demonized as being allegedly ‘greedy’ and ‘ruthless’ with the ways in which they undercut other retailers on pricing and "destroy" their competitors.”

    • “Why would the ‘socially responsible’ grocery retailer be in financial trouble, while the ‘greedy’ and ‘ruthless’ retailer is thriving? This dilemma points to a couple of very important truths.

    “For one, it's simply not sufficient for a business enterprise to be ‘socially responsible.’ Being ‘socially responsible’ is great, but it's not enough to breed business success …
    And this points to another important truth: if Wal-Mart is ‘greedy’ and ‘ruthless’ in their business practices, so are most all of us in our consumer choices and habits.

    I actually don't think that Wal-Mart is greedy or ruthless. They are most certainly ambitious, aggressive and competitive, but that doesn't necessarily entail ‘greed’ or ‘ruthlessness’.

    • “Let us all hope that the ‘self-interests’ of Bashas' can be realized and that the company can restructure and make a full recovery. And let's also hope that we all learn some basic economic lessons from Bashas' hardship. Social responsibility and competitive business acumen are both important, but one without the other is a formula for trouble.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 20, 2009

    • Walter Cronkite, the “most trusted man in America,” who anchored the CBS Evening News for two decades and saw the country through a time of social and political tumult (the Kennedy assassinations, the killing of Martin Luther King Jr., Watergate, Vietnam) and technological achievement (man walking on the moon), died late Friday at the age of 92.

    • Frank McCourt, a retired New York City high school teacher who turned a dysfunctional and impoverished childhood in Limerick, Ireland, into the best-selling “Angela’s Ashes,” died yesterday at age 78.
    KC's View:
    I could not help but think over the weekend that there is no way that the deaths of either Cronkite or McCourt will get the kind of media attention that Michael Jackson’s demise did. And yet, it seems clear to me that Cronkite contributed a lot more to the planet than Michael Jackson did; and it may even be possible to make the argument that McCourt made a great contribution – not because of his novel, but because he labored in the New York City public school system, teaching and inspiring young people for more than three decades.

    Maybe that’s because they lived long and full and good lives. Maybe it is because they did not die with scandal attached to their names and reputations. But maybe – just maybe – it is because our culture focuses on all the wrong things.

    Published on: July 20, 2009

    We continue to get emails about the possible sale of industry icon Ukrop’s.

    MNB user Bill White wrote:

    A couple of points about Ukrop's: First, if you knew Bobby Ukrop well, you would know that he will not under any circumstance compromise his values and open on Sunday and sell alcoholic beverages in his stores. It just won't happen. Period.

    Secondly, to your comment about Supervalu buying them and merging them into their Bristol Farms chain - I beg to differ. Having worked for Ron Dennis at Richfood/Farm Fresh in the period just after Farm Fresh's bankruptcy, I would suggest that the best move they could make would be to merge it into Farm Fresh and let Ron Dennis run the combined entity. Ron is a very well-kept secret in the Supervalu organization who desires to live in Virginia Beach, and has turned down much bigger offers to relocate. I don't know Kevin Davis, but Ron is undoubtedly the smartest, most-disciplined person I have ever met in this industry. The job he has done at Farm Fresh is nothing short of remarkable, and can only be appreciated if you had been there shortly after the Mike Julian days and the subsequent acquisition by Richfood.

    But then, this is probably all supposition, because we all know that Supervalu has their own problems and mountain of debt that they need to reduce...

    MNB user Robert Wheaton wrote:

    No question, Ukrop's does many good things for its customers, community and employees. Customer service i.e. carryout, charitable contributions, prepared food offerings and local farm purchases to name just a few. There is a generation in Richmond, Virginia that remembers and practices the genteel, polite, non-rushed southern way of doing things. Long time Richmond residents and customers love Ukrop's for that type of shopping experience.

    But, you know what, that lifestyle and generational group is shrinking fast.

    Transfers to the area, working families, to name just two constituencies perhaps look beyond the 'friendly associates' and instead see associates chatting up with their friends while other customers wait in line for service. Family ownership doesn't overcome staple stock conditions and inconsistent sale product availability. The Ukrop’s commitment to their ethical or moral standard, can be interpreted by those of a different religious persuasion as an affront - (have you seen the sign at the front of
    each store???). All stores closed on Sunday steers even "Christian" working families to find a more convenient shopping experience. No beer and wine availability is an inconvenience to many and perhaps a deal breaker to some.

    All that said, years ago, under the guise of 'taking care of our customers' centrally located stores could have been opened to service the needs of Ukrop shoppers who sometimes just can't make it Monday-Saturday and only between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. My bet would have been there would have been associates who would not objected to a Sunday assignment.

    Ukrop is/was a good company with a wonderful reputation, but, in my opinion, hasn't read second millennium customer needs and wants and reacted appropriately. Sad.

    It is worth reading this email very carefully. It expresses a sentiment about Ukrop’s that is not often talked about…and deserves consideration, especially that bit about not understanding the needs and wants of the current generation of shoppers.

    Which every retailer has to do. And which is difficult, even more the most iconic of retailers.

    MNB user Shari Reed wrote:

    A long time ago (late 80's early 90's) I represented a product called Gortons Fish. We were not able to sell our Beer Battered Fish in Ukrop’s because it contained the word Beer! But you have to admire the consistency of Ukrop’s over the years. They have their principles and stick with them. GREAT stores! (If I remember correctly the employees were wearing black pants, crisp white shirts with black cummerbunds and bow ties. It just made you feel good to shop there!)

    Regarding my opposition to the card check proposal that is part of the Employee Free Choice Act, MNB user Len Abeyta wrote:

    Why are you opposed to this legislation? Seems pretty simple to me. Majority rules right? Employers should give their employees that right. Seems pretty simple to me. But you being a Walmart apologist, I am not surprised at all that you are against this.

    Walmart might be surprised by that description.

    However, my opposition is to the pat of the legislation that does not require a secret ballot election if management requests it. The secret ballot, it seems to me, is quintessentially American…and I don't know why union leadership is afraid of it. (Actually, I do know…)

    For the record, Mrs. Content Guy is a union member. I am not anti-union. But I am against unions that don't seem to be in touch with economic realities, that make unrealistic demands, and that seem more on obtaining and maintaining political power than in the long-term best interests of their membership.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 20, 2009

    Stewart Cink won the 2009 British Open in a playoff, ending what had been a dream tournament for 59-year-old Tom Watson, who went to the 72nd hole looking like he might be the oldest man to ever win a major championship.
    KC's View:
    Having played exactly one round of golf in my life, I have discovered that there is something that Tiger Woods and I have in common.

    Neither of us made the cut at the British Open.