retail news in context, analysis with attitude

On the subject of Walmart’s growth plans, MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

Two weeks ago, I was in a Walmart supercenter in York, Nebraska, a town of 7,000.   Busy as blazes, and why not?   It brought low prices on food and all other products to a community and county and saved consumers from driving miles to a bigger city to enjoy the same selection and pricing.

Seeing Walmart in suburbia, one sometimes forgets that Sam Walton built the business by bringing assortment and value to small town America.

Which suggests that urban America is the last big battle that Walmart has to fight. Only time will tell if it is a bridge too far.

Regarding possible increases in US mail rates, and my suggestion that the US Postal Service (USPS) is an obsolete business model, one MNB user wrote:

The demise of the mail system can also be seen as the triumph of private enterprise innovation over bureaucratic sloth. It is basically getting squeezed by digital technology on one side...think e-mail and electronic checking and package delivery systems that take on time delivery seriously. They really couldn’t do much about the digital revolution. It took away their traditional high margin First Class mail business . I imagine that the sending of post cards by the younger generation is almost non existent. They can send actual vacation movies by their iPhone or post them on Facebook. And if you want to make sure that the birthday gift gets there by the birthday, Fedex would be the delivery service of choice. I agree that jacking up the price of a stamp will no doubt accelerate the demise... may help sell Kindles and iPads for magazines . And the USPS will join the telegram and fax as communications relics of the past.

I certainly “get” the postcard reference. When I was in Australia, all I did was send pictures home via email, and post photos on Facebook (and even here on MNB).

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

Discussing the "dirty tricks campaign" against Wal-Mart which has gotten a lawsuit against SuperValu initiated, you noted maybe Wal-Mart could launch a marketing campaign around the theme "what are they afraid of?"  This is a lot more than merely a rhetorical question, I think.  Back in the 1990s, I worked in a supermarket real estate department, and one of the observations made about Wal-Mart's way of competing for choice real estate locations was the notion that they "asked for no exclusives and granted none."  Which meant, for example, if they were a potential tenant in a proposed shopping center, they wouldn't ask the landlord for the exclusive right to offer a certain class of products within the center (general merchandise, for example), even if such an exclusive right would seem to accrue in their favor, nor on the other hand would they agree as a covenant of the center to allowing any other retailer in the center to secure an exclusive for themselves (on grocery products, for example).  Basically, unabashed, unbridled, bare knuckles competition.  Bring on all comers; we'll take you on in a fair fight.

Not a seemingly unreasonable competitive position to take, I thought (speaking there from the consumers' point of view), although if it meant, as a contrary viewpoint, that SuperValu’s Shaw's division decided to opt out of a potential center because it couldn't secure the grocery exclusive in the center, all consumers would be without the option of that new Shaw's, simply because they decided competing unprotected against Wal-Mart in the same center wasn't a task they were up to.  We could label Shaw's as being "scared away" by Wal-Mart in such a case, but so what?  Is there no value to consumers in having Shaw's as a grocery option, even if it meant Wal-Mart might have to compete against them for the grocery business in the center, with "one tiny arm tied behind their back"?

At the root of this debate, I believe, is the win-one/lose-one dynamic that permeates so many issues involving economics.  We can support higher rank & file wage levels as employees, but we won't like the resulting higher product prices as consumers; we can like fair-trade protectionism as employees because our employers become more stable & sustainable, but we won't like the higher prices on imported (and domestic) goods that result as consumers; we can like a higher value of the dollar, as consumers, because of the reduced import prices we enjoy, but we won't like it as employees, whose companies' export business suffers competitive disadvantage, thereby making our jobs less secure. Win one, lose one.  Economics.  Pick a side.  I think that's why it's called the dismal science.

Maybe the one overarching thing I have learned about business economics over the years is that we are all consumers, and we are all employees (those of us that have jobs anyway), and our personal vested interests under these two "hats" are usually in conflict with each other.  Absolute wins or losses on policy issues frequently are only visible when wearing one or the other hat; when one attempts to wear both hats at the same time, absolute wins or losses usually negate each other & disappear.  This ever-present tension between my personal economic interests as a consumer and my personal economic interests as an employee, thus, have often led me to a balanced, centrist position that essentially seeks to optimize my gains -- some realized in my role as consumer, some realized in my role as employee -- as opposed to stridently advocating one polar-extreme position over another.

Regarding yesterday’s story about Publix taking over the number one position in the Atlanta market - in which MNB quoted the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which used numbers from the Shelby Report, we got an email from Dan Mayer, client director at The Nielsen Company:

As I respect you as a journalist, I thought you might want to know more about an article's excerpts than what is on the surface.  The Shelby Report, noted as reference in your notes below, once purchased market share information from Nielsen's TDLinx service; they no longer do so.  The data they now use represents forecasted shares based on "sales potential".  This is not the same as the market share estimates once provided to them by Nielsen.

Fair point. Forecasted sales are not the same thing as actual sales.

Thanks for sharing.
KC's View: