retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I received the following message yesterday, and while the person who wrote it did not want it to be made public, I am doing so because it is an important question that deserves to be addressed publicly:

I have been a follower of Morning News Beat and a HUGE fan of both you and Michael Sansolo for a long time now. I have told many friends and business associates to sign up because I really enjoy the read every morning. Today I will be unsubscribing, this makes me sad. I have felt for a while it was becoming the Walmart news but today was over the top. I always wish that when a customer left my business they would let me know why, I don't know if you feel the same but here it is anyway. I don't want to say this in a public forum such as MNB's Facebook page or 'Your Views'. I just want to let you know I felt like you were advertising for Walmart this morning and I would be more interested in learning how to battle the 'behemoth' successfully. We all know they are smart and successful. I really am sorry to go but it is much like watching a news station that is swayed a certain political direction.

First of all, I’m sad to see you go. In an odd way, I’m also complimented that you felt strongly enough about MNB and the issue to write me a private note explaining why.

But while you meant it to be private, the issue deserves a public response. (Your anonymity, however, is preserved.)

In pulling together MNB yesterday, I did have the sense that there seemed to be a lot of Walmart news. There was the story about it being accused by unionists and farmers of using its bulk to keep prices down on agricultural products. There was the story about how is testing a new approach that it hopes will expand its big city penetration - allowing people to buy products online and then pick them up free-of-charge at urban FedEx locations. There were four short stories in the “MNB Walmart Watch” section. And the company’s name came up in my comment about the “top 100 global Brands” story.

It was an unusual confluence of stories, but that’s sort of the way things happen. I figure that my job is to take note of newsworthy events and trends, and try to make sense of them...or at least provoke thought and responses among folks in the MNB community. Every once in a while, I get asked by an ad executive for an editorial calendar, but the simple truth is that I do not have one. I have no idea what will run on MNB tomorrow, much less six months from now, because I am a slave to what happened during the past 24-48 hours.

So I ran the stories, hoping that it wouldn’t be too much...and figuring that the other stories about Tesco and Aldi (there were two pieces about the latter) would serve as an effective counter-balance.

Now, I feel bad that for this one MNB reader, at least, this was too much. To be honest, though, I’d have to do it again.

Those were good stories. The issue of Walmart’s size and influence is one that deserves consideration and reconsideration. (It even came up on “The Daily Show” last night, as noted in today’s Eye-Opener.) The FedEX connection has huge implications, and you cannot compete with it if you don't know about it. (I think it is a great idea and said so, though I’m not sure this qualifies as a “commercial” for Walmart.) And the other pieces - about the company is looking to open small stores in urban areas, and how it is deploying energy-efficient technologies, among others - strike me as need-to-know.

Anyway, this is my thinking. For some of you, it may be too much information. But in the interest of transparency, when a question like this is raised, I think it is important to explain my thinking about the issue.

I’m always sorry to lose readers. (Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often. MNB’s circulation list actually increases by between 75 and 100 people almost every week.) But I’ve always figured that my role isn't just to tell folks what they want to hear, but what I think they need to hear. Even when sometimes it is painful.

Finally, the email makes reference to “a news station that is swayed a certain political direction. One of the things that Michael and I fervently believe is that it is critically important to be exposed even to the stuff you don’t agree with. If you love MSNBC, for example, you ought to spend some time watching Fox News. That’s how we learn - by being willing to listen when folks challenge our assumptions. Sometimes you get surprised.

I got a couple of other emails about the Walmart stories.

One MNB user wrote:

I work for a major grocery chain (in the IT dept.) and although I’d like nothing better than for Walmart to have trouble competing with my company the fact is virtually every company is looking for ways to lower prices to consumers.  As grocery companies push for reduced ‘Total Cost to Serve’ it will force all partners across the Supply Chain to make changes/innovations to deliver their products at a lower cost in an effort to capture the shrinking wallet of the consumer.

Another MNB user wrote:

It looks like the unions are trying a new tact in their Walmart bashing campaign. That is to enlist the rock solid family farmer as an ally. I’m sure that the unions assumed that they would be a lot further along in their “ GM-ization “ of Walmart once a more friendly president was elected. But a combination of smart PR by Walmart, a recession driven desire for low prices, and the success of people like Chris Christie of New Jersey showing that unions may have it TOO good , has blunted their success. While Walmart is big, their share is nowhere near price dictating monopoly levels. There are plenty of companies that will buy the farmer’s goods besides Walmart. The unions will have to try another strategy to get at Walmart. But it won’t be easy. Even their natural allies in Chicago have decided that Walmart work is better than unionized unemployment.
KC's View: