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    Published on: August 24, 2010

    by Michael Sansolo

    There are things we all know that we know, except sometimes we don’t.

    Here’s a simple question: what’s the number one source for news in the US? Chances are you said NBC or maybe Fox News. And you’d be right if the question was limited to broadcast or cable news. But unless you answered Yahoo! News you missed a huge market and, arguably, America’s top source for news.

    According to collected number of sources, Yahoo! News is by far the most frequently visited website for news, boasting some 70 million unique visitors in the course of a month. CNN, whose cable ratings are taking a well-publicized beating, came in second. MSNBC, Google news and Digg rounded out the top five. (Television ratings and newspaper sales don’t approach anything near 70 million.)

    But read those stats again and think of this: Digg gets more internet traffic for news than NBC, the New York Times, and Fox News. And Digg doesn’t compare to Yahoo! (That’s their exclamation point, not mine. And take a visit to Digg, a news website where content flows entirely from the readers. I have a feeling we’ll hear more about that for years to come.)

    It reminds us of two key lessons.

    First, when we think about competition, we all have a tendency to think of the competitors we know. Yet many times the market place has hidden surprises lurking. That’s how unexpected category killers have had such an impact across retail through the years or even - if you can remember it - how a mass merchant from Arkansas became the biggest seller of food (among other things) in just about a decade.

    And that means we have to keep our eyes open for all forms of competition, though it may be the last thing we want to do. Everyone’s time is always so pressed, yet we have to find a few spare moments to visit the other stores in the strip mall or downtown or wherever. If we don’t do that, we miss the line outside the cupcake shop selling a dozen for nearly $30, which makes no sense in the midst of a recession, but keeps happening.

    The second lesson is equally important and it takes us back to the beginning of this column. Do we really know what we think we really know? Too often, I’m afraid, the answer is no.

    While I really like Yahoo! News, I never thought of it could possibly be the leading supplier of internet news. Yet a recent Newsweek article about the Huffington Post (a top 10 news website itself) featured that shocking news. (The Newsweek article actually listed CNN as the most popular web news site, with Yahoo! coming in second. Most other internet information sources I found reversed the ranking.) That means when Yahoo! reports, as it customarily does, about a host of shopping, cooking and eating trends, a huge number of people are reading along. It means that, like it or not, Yahoo! is an influencer.

    Now, I like to pride myself on keeping up with trends and knowing stuff like this. Yet I never saw this coming, even though my homepage includes Yahoo! News and I find myself checking it frequently.

    The bottom line is the change was right in front of my face, but I was missing it because I wasn’t looking. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person in business to ever have that happen.

    And now I have to worry about Digg. Great.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 24, 2010

    Call it a case that illustrates the death - or at least the disintermediation - of the middle man.

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that “best-selling marketing author Seth Godin is ditching his traditional publisher, Portfolio, after a string of books and plans to sell his future works directly to his fans.” According to the story, Godin feels that between his blog and books “he now has so many direct customer relationships, largely via his blog, that he no longer needs a traditional publisher. Mr. Godin plans to release subsequent titles himself in electronic books, via print-on-demand or in such formats as audiobooks, apps, small digital files called PDFs and podcasts.”

    The move actually suits Godin’s broader message - that companies need to be more nimble and fast when bringing products and services to market.

    No argument there. Too many companies suffer from analysis paralysis, creating systems and structures that inhibit innovation and slow down their ability to compete in existing markets and explore new ones.

    But it is the other line from the story to which anyone in the retail business ought to pay attention - that Godin believes that he now has so many direct customer relationships ... that he no longer needs a traditional publisher.

    The lesson here seems clear. Retailers need to cultivate that personal relationship between themselves and customers so that they are so valuable that disintermediation is impossible ... even as manufacturers try to cement and personalize their relationships with shoppers.

    Godin’s decision is just another in a series of stories from the traditional publishing world that illustrate how some industries are coming to the precipice, and need to make fundamental decisions about how to approach their futures. For retailers, it is critical to behave as if the precipice is just over the next hill. Because if one thing seems clear, it is that the precipice is closer than you think.

    That’s my Tuesday morning Eye-Opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 24, 2010

    The New York Times this morning reports on how the AARP is redefining its audience through its magazine - featuring younger people on the cover (like 50-year-old Dennis Quaid) and actually sending slightly different versions of the magazine to three different segments - 50-59, 60-79, and 70 and older. The goal is to make sure that editorial is age-appropriate; an article on hearing aids, for example, might be right for one group but not for another.

    And, the Times writes, the strategy seems to be working. AARP - The Magazine is that rare printed publication that is seeing increased sales, profits, readership and advertising.
    KC's View:
    A good example of how important it is to drill down, analyze, and get as much usable information as possible...and, of course, to act on it. Not all senior citizens are the same, not all baby boomers are the same...and so on.

    If you are behaving as if these groups - in fact, as if any group - is homogeneous, then you’re probably making a mistake.

    Published on: August 24, 2010

    There is a story out of the Netherlands saying that a supermarket trade group there is planning a test early next year of two stores that will only accept debit and credit cards - no cash.

    The stores would be Albert Heijn and Deen Supermarkt units.

    Reports say there is still some debate taking place about whether there should be one cash lane, rooted in concerns about how ready customers are for a cashless store. At some level, the groundwork already has been laid for such a shift - more than 300 Dutch stores reportedly already have checkout lanes that are card-only.
    KC's View:
    Checks are being outlawed in the UK, so it isn’t that hard to imagine that there soon will be no-cash stores. After all, people writer fewer checks than ever, and, I’m guessing, use less cash than ever. it isn’t hard to see where things are going.

    Though I think for the time being, I’d vote with the “one cash lane” group. I’d hate to go into the experiment by completely disenfranchising an entire group of customers.

    Published on: August 24, 2010

    A blog called The Food Section reports that “researchers at New Mexico State University conducted a series of experiments at supermarkets in Las Cruces where they temporarily redesigned shopping carts with the aid of some duct tape. The researchers marked a line across the width of the shopping carts using the tape and placed signs asking shoppers to place their fruit and vegetable purchases in front of the tape line and the rest of their groceries behind the line.

    “According to Collin Payne, an assistant professor in NMSU’s College of Business, the duct tape demarcation of the shopping carts led to a whopping ‘102% bump’ in the purchase of fruits of vegetables.”
    KC's View:
    The conclusion seems to be that the simple use of duct tape highlights produce in a way that counteracts - or at least equalizes - the marketing money spent by CPG companies. I’m not sure it is that simple, even if it is intriguing.

    Published on: August 24, 2010

    • Brookshire Grocery Co. announced that it has rolled out a new iPhone application that informs users about weekly specials and allows them to create grocery lists.

    “Customers can easily browse hundreds of products instantly with a list neatly organized into categories with pictures, descriptions and prices,” said Chief Marketing Officer Rick Ellis. “This app synchronizes and downloads specials directly to iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 24, 2010

    • Associates of Kroger's Mid-Atlantic Division have ratified an agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 204, covering 2,000 associates working in 18 stores.

    Bloomberg reports that PAI, a private equity group, is considering splitting its Yoplait yogurt business into two entities - one that “would manage the yogurt maker’s brands and international licenses, while operations would be handled by a separate company.” The move is aid to be in preparation for a possible sale of a 50 percent stake in the business.

    • The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that a new, 4,300 square foot IGA supermarket is planned for the downtown area in a space formerly operated as a McDonald’s; it would be the only downtown supermarket, the paper says, since a Rosebud Market closed last March. The store will focus on fresh and prepared foods.

    "Our business model is that bigger is not always better," says Wayne Hancock. "It's not going to be big, it's not going to be fancy; but it's going to be fast, and it's going to be friendly."

    • Weis Markets announced the introduction of its new Market Street deli line, which it says is “a high quality sliced deli meat program offering customers artisanal quality at an affordable price. All Market Street products are trans fat, gluten and MSG free. The initial roll includes nine main-stay items and is expected to nearly double over the next twelve months to include cheeses, dips and spreads.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 24, 2010

    • Walmart-owned Asda Group in the UK said yesterday that it has named Charles Redfield, who has been serving as senior vice president for food and beverage for Sam’s Club in the US, as its new chief merchandising officer (CMO).
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 24, 2010

    We took note yesterday of a Fortune story that in part questioned whether Trader Joe’s may have lost some of its entrepreneurial zeal as it gets bigger and more corporate.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    love Trader Joe's stories because it is a store that I feel I know well (as both a shopper and with a marketing eye...).

    I have witnessed many changes, most seemingly happening in the last two or three years.  Yes, more products are under the "Trader Joe's label - although the fact that they are manufactured by others was never a surprise to me - nor in this day and age should it be to
    anyone - anymore...  (I mean, come on - do you really think supermarkets have a little factory where they chop, and bake and so forth!!!!)

    I am of the opinion that the changes that I see and feel from Trader Joe's is not positive.  First off, the line that states "refunds cheerfully given - no questions...".  My experience in  three of their stores has been just the opposite.  Much like returning a drink at Starbucks.  Either questions...unnecessary, unprovoked 'commentary' about how much EVERYONE else loved the product or just that uncomfortable glance that says, "you are a rare nuisance in our store...".  Not once have I returned an item (and I return items because they are damaged or moldy only...) and had a cheerful experience.

    Two, the store employees seem a little less unique and much more generic - again same as Starbucks in recent years.  In earlier years I felt excitement and pride pouring out of anyone in those tropical shirts!  Not so much lately.  I have even had an occasional brooding or rude employee.

    Three, the products are not as natural as a few years back  - many products that I have been buying for years have altered their ingredients to cheaper (i.e. pesto with canola and "potato" instead of olive oil and pine nuts...yuk!)

    Four, a continued problem is the "sell by" date - easy to let go of in the earlier years when I enjoyed the store so much but really, really bugging me as prices rise and quality falls.

    Five:  Okay, Trader Joe's - why has my customer "profile" changed from $150.00 trips every two to three weeks to   $120.00 trips every 4 or 5 weeks?      Prices!   Creep, Creep, Creep...and in some cases just a big leap (think cereal, juices, frozen and dairy) that just made it less desirable to shop there when I can find comparable "organic"/private label items regularly at Stop and Shop and others.

    TJ's used to feel fun and bursting with value - sort of my  "Take that sucka!!!" to other stores. Now, I walk around the store feeling as ripped off on many items as I do at the big box supermarkets - so I go a lot less...

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I am always impressed with how TJs has managed to maintain an image of the small, caring natural foods store since the owners, the Aldi Brothers, own the Aldi chain in the states and are considered the Wal-Mart of Europe.  They are some of the richest men in the world.

    A new article in Utne Reader also brings up the issue of the secrecy meaning that their is no trusting whether the product sources are organic or sustainable, since the producer/manufacturer is unknown.

    And, on another subject close to my heart, MNB user Tom Devlin wrote:

    Watching Lou Piniella with tears in his eyes last night talking about giving up the game and of course the stress of his mom’s condition was very touching. He is one of the reasons why people loved the game of baseball because of his passion for the game. There were no tears of admitting steroid abuse or cheating or contract issues. Whether you rooted for him or against him everyone was behind him. Good luck to his family and  as a fellow Mets fan we would gladly take him next year or when ever he is ready to return.
    KC's View: