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    Published on: February 9, 2011

    by Kate McMahon

    Sometimes, you can be clever by half. And fail exponentially.

    Such is the case with Groupon, the hip site known for its irreverent humor, which could easily be dubbed Dumped On this week due to an avalanche of online criticism of its ill-conceived Super Bowl commercials.

    In its first foray into national TV advertising, the nation’s number one online daily deals site seriously misjudged the public’s reaction to its “spoof” commercials, the immediate internet backlash and the failure of its lame response.

    How immediate was backlash? The Steelers were still chasing the Pack when Twitter and the blogosphere erupted with complaints such as “detestable” and “offensive” and calls for members to resign from Groupon’s site.

    Of the three commercials, the most incendiary featured actor Timothy Hutton lamenting the plight of the oppressed people of Tibet, saying “their very culture is in jeopardy.” Cut to a Chicago restaurant where he chirps “but they still whip up an amazing fish curry, and since 200 of us bought at we’re each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15.”

    Trust me, in the pages of blog posts on this commercial, the offended far outnumbered those who found the parodies witty or cutting edge.

    Said one: “If you’re pushing the boundaries, why not make fun of the Holocaust? Or kiddie-porn? Or domestic violence?”

    Whoops, said Groupon. Lost in its multi-million dollar outlay on prime time was an intended tagline which encourages members to take the money they’ve saved and donate to such causes as Free Tibet and efforts to Save the Whales (Greenpeace) and end rain forest exploitation. According to its link, Groupon said it would make contributions to the designated charities as well.

    As if that colossal “oops” wasn’t bad enough, CEO Andrew Mason finally responded on the company blog Monday afternoon, way late in the real-time world of the internet.

    He said “the last thing we wanted to do was offend our customers” and back-pedaled into an explanation about wanting to raise awareness for Tibet and other causes.

    Problem is, he never said this: “We goofed. We pushed it too far. We’re sorry.”

    The lesson for all businesses - large and small, social media and retail, national manufacturers and independent grocers - is simple. If you make an error in judgment, just apologize and try to make amends.

    One blogger ripped Mason for saying “We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes …”

    “Yet, they do, and you did. Nowhere in this blog entry does the word ‘sorry’ or ‘apology’ appear. Shame on you.”

    Another blogger asked if this might be next ad: "Mubarak and his goons just killed 300 democracy activists in Egypt. Now we're slaughtering the prices at our favorite Egyptian restaurant with a coupon from"

    While Groupon’s response to resigning customers did say “apologies if we have offended” and its PR team trotted out the continued support of Greenpeace and 50,000 new subscribers, the direct response from Mason fell way short. Retooling the ads to include the tagline isn’t enough. If you want to raise awareness for charitable organizations, do that. And as more than one blogger pointed out, fish curry isn’t exactly the lunch special in the Himalayan mountains.

    Comments? Send me an email at .
    KC's View:
    Excellent point. One of the downsides of being an edgy company, or at least a company that tries to have an edgy attitude, is that sometimes you fall off the edge.

    When that happens, the only way to respond is to immediately stop digging the hole you find yourself in, apologize profusely for having screwed up, take full responsibility, and, if possible, finding way to make amends or reparations.

    If Groupon had been smart, it would have done all those things before the Super Bowl postgame show was over.

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Sometimes, people and companies say the wrong thing because they are trying to be edgy, and they go too far.

    But sometimes, they say the wrong thing because they are morons ... or, at the very least, out of touch.

    Such is the case in Germany, where Josef Ackermann, the CEO of Deutsch Bank, said last week that bringing women into upper management would make life “more colorful...and prettier, too.” reports that “the comments came as (Germany) debates whether to instate a mandatory minimum quota for the proportion of women manning corporate boardrooms.” Such a quote, by the way, is opposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has never been accused of only getting by on sex appeal.

    The bigger issue illuminated here is the problem of old world thinking in a new world environment. Ackermann sounds like he’s living in a “Mad Men” world, when most of the rest of us are living in a “Facebook” universe. That’s something that companies that want to be relevant to their customers cannot afford.

    How many women are Deutsche Bank customers? Or are potential Deutsche Bank customers? And how many of them now will take their business elsewhere?

    For the record, Slate notes that at the moment, “no women adorn Deutsche Bank's management board or group executive committee.”

    That’s a situation that ain’t pretty.

    And that’s our Wednesday Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    In Milwaukee, the Journal Sentinel reports that SC Johnson is the subject of two-year-old lawsuit that accuses the company of being deceptive about some of its “green” credentials.

    According to the story, at issue is the “marketing of S.C. Johnson's iconic glass cleaner, Windex, and its category-leading stain remover, Shout.

    “The fronts of their bottles feature prominent, green-colored labels with a leaf-and-branch graphic and the trademarked ‘Greenlist’ insignia.

    Greenlist is a rating system used to evaluate and reduce adverse environmental effects of chemical ingredients. What the front labels don't say is that the Greenlist insignia is conferred by S.C. Johnson itself.” The back labels refer obliquely to the ownership, but is not, in the words of one critic, ‘clear and conspicuous.”

    SC Johnson acknowledges that it owns the patent on Greenlist, but maintains that “the system has helped the company achieve such results as eliminating nearly 48 million pounds of volatile organic compounds from its products in the last five years.”

    However, the story notes that while SC Johnson “says on its website that Greenlist was ‘scientifically reviewed’ by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry,” a spokesman for the Society’s North American wing says that it has not formally reviewed Greenlist.
    KC's View:
    At the very least, there is something disingenuous about creating a label of approval and then conferring it upon yourself without being transparent about the fact that you created the label.

    There is something dishonest about saying you’ve gotten an imprimatur from an organization that, in fact, has not given it.

    This goes back to the whole transparency argument that comes up here on MNB so often. (Too often, according to some folks...but I don’t think this issue can be overstated.)

    I’m not arguing that SC Johnson is being environmentally irresponsible. That isn’t even the point here. I am arguing that it is hurting its own credibility - and, quite frankly, the credibility of the industry - by being overly cute about its approach and policies. It’s like claiming that a sugary cereal is good for kids because it has a lot of vitamins ... it may be technically accurate but hardly true because it ignores the big picture.

    Now, SC Johnson may be placed on the straight-and-narrow by new guidelines that could be issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The company says it is meeting all legal requirements of the moment, and will accept guidance from the government if the rules change.

    Which, to be honest, isn’t nearly enough. It shouldn’t be hard to do the right thing here, regardless of what the government requires.

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    The Fairlawn Patch reports that FreshDirect, the NYC-based pure play online grocer, is expanding to Bergen County, New Jersey, beginning next week. Last year, the company expanded into New Jersey’s Union and Essex counties.

    According to the story, on Valentine’s Day, “FreshDirect CEO Rick Braddock will deliver the first Bergen County order to Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera at Borough Hall. Braddock will make stops in Garfield and East Rutherford as well. All the mayors involved are donating the food to local charities.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    • The Boston Herald reports that Mayor Thomas Menino there said that if Walmart wants to open stores there, “the retail colossus must promise quality jobs and a commitment to Hub neighborhoods.”

    “I’m very concerned about how they treat their employees ... I want to make sure they are good jobs, that their employees get health insurance, retirement plans — all the benefits everyone else gets,” Menino told the Herald.

    According to the story, “The world’s biggest retailer has been meeting quietly with city councilors to lay the groundwork for opening one or more stores in Boston.

    “Wal-Mart executives have not yet met with Menino or the Boston Redevelopment Authority to discuss expansion plans. But the five-term mayor — the final arbiter over what gets built in the city — said he’s troubled by accusations the bargain behemoth mistreats its workers.”

    Boston is on Walmart’s radar now that it has made deals that will allow it to expand in Chicago, and is working to break down objections to its opening stores in New York City.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    The Nashua Telegraph reports on a New Hampshire web designer named Michael Devaney who, disappointed that his Demoulas store did not have an online presence, created a website called

    According to the story, the site “is fairly straightforward with a blog dominating the front page and a row of buttons at the top for a store locator, the weekly flier, coupons, a forum, a history= section and a menu for the stores' cafes. A number of the visitors also participate on the site. Devaney said he gets hundreds of e-mails and comments left on the site itself.” The site is generating as many as 2,000 visitors a month, and is growing. Devaney is selling local advertising on the site, and says he is making a profit.

    Devaney tells the paper that he’s willing to sell the site to Demoulas, but has never heard back from the company after several inquiries.

    "In the end it would be really great if they were actively online in the 21st century," he says.
    KC's View:
    Demoulas should be flattered by the attention...but it also should take note of the fact that one of Devaney’s advertisers is Ahold-owned Peapod, which is peddling its online grocery shopping service, which competes directly with Demoulas.

    If I were at Demoulas, I’d do whatever I could to make sure that doesn’t happen. Ignoring competition is never a good idea, no matter what century you are operating in.

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    The Seattle Times has a story about how Borders “botched its move into the digital age and instead saw sales drop and earnings plummet,” putting it in a position where it now is “under siege, cutting staff, shuttering stores, shaking up top management and flirting with bankruptcy.”

    "The superstores were viewed by the independent bookstores as dinosaurs that came to kill them — and they did," Al Greco, a book-publishing expert and professor of marketing at Fordham University's Graduate School of Business Administration, tells the Times. "Today, it looks like the big bang has hit and now the dinosaurs are in peril."

    Among the problems cited in the story: “Borders was especially hurt by poor and sluggish decision-making by revolving-door executives from unrelated industries, including supermarkets, apparel and finance, Greco said.”

    And, “in 2001, just as Internet commerce was beginning to thrive, Borders made the mistake of turning its online sales over to Amazon, which gained vital customer information such as purchasing habits.”
    KC's View:
    To survive in the current economic environment, you have to be fast, you have to be certain, you have to put the highest premium on innovation, you have to be willing to make changes if things don’t work, and, most importantly, you have to have an intimate knowledge of your customer and be willing and able to act on that information.

    By these standards, Borders has been a colossal failure.

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    USA Today reports that faced with a government-mandated phase out of incandescent light bulbs next year, in favor of more energy efficient light bulbs, at least some consumers are stockpiling the old bulbs as a hedge.

    The story says that “about 13% of Americans said they would stock up on 100-watt incandescents and continue using them after they are phased out in January,” according to a survey conducted by Osram Sylvania. “The 75-watt version will be phased out in 2013, and the 60-watt and 40-watt in 2014.”

    writes that “such reports are common whenever a new standard is introduced, says the Natural Resources Defense Council's Noah Horowitz. He says consumers will still be able to buy incandescents, but new ones will have more-efficient halogen capsules.”
    KC's View:
    Here’s the paragraph from the story that I think is most noteworthy:

    Home Depot stores in California, where 100-watt incandescent bulbs were banned Jan. 1, a year ahead of the national schedule, has seen an uptick in sales of incandescents. But CFLs are selling better, too, thanks to increased awareness, says spokeswoman Jean Niemi.

    Sometimes you have to lead by not just doing what the government requires, but by being both progressive and aggressive.

    Published on: February 9, 2011 is out with its list of the nation’s most romantic cities, determined by an analysis of “sales data of romance novels and relationship books (Kindle Books and print books), romantic comedy movies (digital movies and DVDs), Barry White albums (CDs and MP3s), along with sexual wellness products, since Jan. 1, 2011, on a per capita basis in cities with over 100,000 residents.”

    The top 20 cities are, in order:

    Alexandria, Virginia
    Knoxville, Tennessee
    Orlando, Florida
    Miami, Florida
    Ann Arbor, Michigan
    Columbia, South Carolina
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Murfreesboro, Tennessee
    Gainesville, Florida
    Tallahassee, Florida
    Vancouver, Washington
    Round Rock, Texas
    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    Salt Lake City, Utah
    Arlington, Virginia
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Clarksville, Tennessee
    St. Louis, Missouri
    Dayton, Ohio
    Frisco, Texas

    Amazon also notes that:

    • “Needing to turn up the heat are El Monte, Calif.; Paterson, N.J.; and Miami Gardens, Fla., as the least romantic cities, coming in with the fewest number of overall purchases in the determining categories.”

    • “Florida is for romantics, with four cities ... ranked among the Top 20 most romantic cities.”

    • “For the second year in a row, Miami is the Sexiest City in America, winning the top spot in the sexual wellness category.”
    KC's View:
    The real news here is how much Amazon knows about its customers. The real question is whether you know as much about yours.

    But the other question I would ask about the “top 20” cities is whether it is possible that the folks there aren’t so much romantic, but more in need of help to express it.

    Just askin’...

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    Food Safety News reports that “key House Republicans released a proposal late last week to cut $58 billion from the federal budget for the second half of Fiscal Year 2011. Food safety programs at both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture could face steep cuts.

    “Under the plan, the committee that oversees both FDA and USDA budgets is asked to cut spending by 14 percent, compared with fiscal year 2010, which comes out to $3.2 billion. The proposal applies only to non-security discretionary spending--the Defense Department, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs are excluded.”

    The proposal comes after a year in which the previous Congress called for a major increase in FDA funding in order to support heightened food safety procedures.

    • The New York Times reports that Kraft Foods-owned Cadbury is about to bring out brand extensions of its Stride and Trident gums that are “fortified with ingredients like vitamin C and ginseng ... taking marketing cues from products like energy drinks and cereal that make claims to bolster alertness or wellness — though some of the gums stop short of promising health benefits.”

    According to the story, “Each piece of Stride Spark, which began appearing in stores in January, provides 25 percent of the recommended daily allowance of the vitamins B-6 and B-12, which are common in energy drinks like Red Bull. The gum, available in Kinetic Mint and Kinetic Fruit flavors, also creates a tingling in the mouth ... A Trident sub-brand called Vitality, which also went on the market in January, is including unlikely ingredients as well, in this case a flavor called Vigorate with vitamin C, Awaken with ginseng and Rejuve with mint and white tea. Marketing for the product is aimed at consumers older than Stride chewers, from 24 to 34.”

    • The Newark Star Ledger reports that “despite an eleventh-hour plea last week from officials and union leaders,” C&S Wholesale Grocers, “the distributor for the troubled A&P and Pathmark supermarket chains, laid off its entire New Jersey work force and shuttered all six locations.”

    According to the story, “The filing has created a ripple effect, with Grocery Haulers, the Woodbridge-based trucking company that serves A&P, also threatening to lay off 330 workers by last Sunday. Grocery Haulers did not return repeated phone calls today to confirm the layoffs, but a Labor Department filing shows the company cited a sudden contract termination with A&P.”

    • Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market announced that it has launched Gourmet – a new range of affordable, restaurant-quality fresh and frozen products. Created by Fresh & Easy’s team of chefs, Gourmet is said to “give customers a fine-dining experience with all the comforts of home ... Gourmet items are made with fresh, premium ingredients with no added preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors, no high-fructose corn syrup, no added trans fats, and only use preservatives when absolutely necessary.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 9, 2011

    Responding to Michael Sansolo’s column yesterday about the stuff that young people don’t know, MNB user Cleve Young wrote:

    Several years ago when I was still stocking shelves overnight I had a college kid come in who had a flat tire and needed help. At first I looked at him like he was pulling some kind of prank, but turned out he was serious. So there I was at 2:30 in the morning in the parking lot, in a cold rain, while his female friend watched from her car behind us, changing this young man’s tire. A couple of weeks ago my fiancée’s 22 year old son had a flat tire in his driveway. I was taken aback when he said he didn’t know how to do it. My first thought was ‘how can you not know something so simple and basic!’ Growing up all the guys (and most girls) I knew either learned to do those types of things, or we walked, as who had the money to actually pay someone else to do it? But before I said anything to him I stopped and thought about it. He’s a good young man who is earnest and responsible, but simply never had someone show him how to do anything with a vehicle, so he was unsure and worried he might somehow screw it up. I walked him through the process and now he has a lifelong skill (at least as long as cars with round rubber tires are around).

    What we of a certain age need to keep in mind is we may have skills that many young people don’t have, but at the same time they have ones we don’t. They may not know how to change a tire, but they sure can use the heck out of a smart phone (I use mine as an expensive watch). So the opportunities retailers have to educate customers is not limited to just the young, but to everyone who has a need which that retailer can fill. And more and more it may be that need is not just the tire but also guidance in how to change it.

    MNB user Gary Harris added:

    I’m thinking my mom learned how to cook from her mom because at some point she was expected to help out with preparing meals. The stuff we learn best, whether as kids or adults, is either something we’re interested in or something we’re expected to do. My folks didn’t teach me much about cooking, but thankfully my employer has made it a priority to help its customers and employees ‘make great meals easy.’

    I taught my son to sweat copper when he was around 12 years old. (20+ years ago) We were putting in an extra bathroom in our house and he and I shared the plumbing work. When I finally turned on the water, the only leaky joint was one that I had done. (those who can, do; those who can’t…) Anyway, this past Sunday my son sent me a video on his phone of the demolition of his current bathroom in his home in Georgia. Oh, and when he’s not doing home improvements he’s keeping multi-million dollar jets flying for the US Air Force. And our daughter just completed a complete remodel of her kitchen.

    And they and their spouses and all our grandkids over the age of 4 can all tie their own shoes. Wow, don’t think we need to outsource that one!

    MNB user Tim Heyman chimed in:

    I try to give all lessons of life to my kids, my youngest at age 5 is in the kitchen with me rolling stuffed cabbages, learning how to pinch pierogies shut so they won’t break open.  He has his own tool set out when I’m fixing something, his wagon is in the yard during yard work with me, and I did this with my older son.  But by the 5th grade, my oldest was teaching me things on the computer.  I left home with all the basics covered, thanks to mom and dad, and to my grandparents who enjoyed taking the time to both teach cooking and being a “fix it man”.  With technology, teaching goes both ways at a young age.

    And, we continue to get email about the Chick-fil-A story. (The privately held fast food chicken chain, well-known for a conservative religious culture that goes so far as to close its stores on Sundays, has come under fire from some gay rights groups for having contributed food to an anti-gay marriage group. The company says it is not anti-gay, though it does believe in the “biblical view of marriage.” And analysts say that the company’s culture may make it difficult to expand to national proportions, where its beliefs will be seen as unacceptable by some.)

    MNB user David Burgess wrote:

    I knew you would get a lot of feedback on the Chick-fil-A story.  It’s a hot button issue.  And, I knew that most of it would be supportive of Chick-fil-A.  That, I think, accurately reflects where most of the country is, not because we are all so much anti gay, as because there is a sensitivity to the fact that the moralizers on the right are tired of being criticized by the moralizers on the left as intolerant.

    There is a difference of opinion on the morality of this issue, but the left has successfully framed the debate so that those who do not support the gay agenda are anti-gay.  Look back at the original story.  The unnamed groups was characterized as “anti-gay.”  I don’t know who they are talking about but I can assure you that the group in question likely does not exist for the purpose of being “anti-gay.”  They probably are “pro-family,” as they understand the term.  They are very likely only anti-gay in this sense – they do not subscribe to the gay agenda.  Very few groups advocate the denial of civil rights to gay people, as you suggest, except for extending the definition of marriage to include gay relationships.  Now, if the definition of marriage is merely an arbitrary social convention, then of course we can define it any way we want.  But while some are apparently unclear on what the meaning of the word “is” is, others do not think it is that arbitrary.  A healthy difference of opinion is fine, but let’s make it a fair discussion.  Such rhetorical strategies as labeling everyone who doesn’t agree with the gay marriage agenda skew the entire issue.  By framing the debate in such a way make the pronouncements of those who do not agree with the gay agenda as “hate speech,” or at least as intolerance.  Is it not possible to be morally opposed to the gay agenda of equating gay relationships with marriage?  If the gay community can only “feel the love” by others delegitimizing the strongly held moral beliefs of those who disagree with them, then perhaps that is one of the reasons that they do not “feel the love.”  It’s a two way street.  Even when you feel that you are being unfairly treated, you have to give respect to get it.  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this.

    MNB user Jeff Gray wrote:

    As a Christian businessman, I am many times criticized for my decisions. Many companies claim to measure things morally and ethically because those terms have a cloudy definition. I add righteously to my decision making. In a country where most claim to be Christian but an immoral majority seems increasingly to be the norm, I can only hope that one day I can make the stand that Cathy has made. It seems Cathy truly hates the sin but loves the sinner. KC, maybe one day we will meet and I can help you understand life as God has created it. Either way, I may go to my grave poor one day, but knowing I made God honoring decisions.

    I realize that this may annoy some folks, but...what you really want to teach me is life as you believe God has created it.

    Which is fine. But is not the same thing.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I find it absolutely fantastic that a company is willing to act as they believe. This in itself says a lot about the company. I would be elated to get some criticism from “the gay groups”.  To me it would mean I am doing something right. “Love your neighbor as yourself “ is totally different than accept what your neighbor does as being right. This is a concept that a whole bunch of folks fail to grasp. Have a nice day.

    Once again, let’s be clear. You have a right to accept what you want to accept, and reject what you want to reject - as long as you don’t infringe on people’s civil rights.

    And I have no problem with companies that act according to their beliefs, as long as they don’t infringe on people’s civil rights. Which, I would argue, Chick-fil-A did not do. The company did not infringe on anyone’s rights.

    But, it did indicate a cultural position that could hurt its expansion efforts. And that’s what the story was all about, and the subject that my commentary focused on.
    KC's View: