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    Published on: June 30, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    The customer is always right.

    Until the customer is wrong. But then, even when the customer is wrong, should you still act as if the customer is right?

    The New York Times had an interesting piece that ventured into this territory the other day, about a movie theater in Austin, Texas, with a simple rule - use a mobile device in the theater during the movie, even for texting, and you get tossed out. No argument, no discussion.

    This policy got a little unexpected publicity lately when a woman, having been ejected for using her cell phone during the movie, left a long and rather vulgar voicemail for the theater owners ... who then turned around and used the audio in a public service announcement before its movies, and even posted it on YouTube.

    It is an interesting case study. This woman says that she was simply using her phone as a flashlight because she could not find her seat. If that’s the case, maybe the theatre could have been a little lenient. Though there’s no cause for the kind of abusive voicemail she left.

    Now, I have to be honest here. I hate it when people talk in movies, and I hate it when people use their cellphones, either to have conversations or send text messages or emails. That said, I’m guilty of having done it myself. If Mrs. Content Guy and I are at a movie and our 17-year-old daughter is out with friends, she’s under strict orders to send us a text message if she’s going someplace we didn’t know about.; I then try to be discreet about glancing at it. When our kids were little, our babysitters were under orders to call us if there was a problem, and I left my phone on even though there was a message on the screen telling me to turn it off. If there was any reason to talk to the sitter, I’d obviously leave the theater...but I held onto that phone like a security blanket.

    So who’s right? And who’s wrong? While I respect the right of the theater to have such a policy, and agree with the impetus behind it, I also think that sometimes you have to cut the customer a little slack. Though I am totally cool with the idea that they’re so brazen about their policy that they use even a dissatisfied customer as a way of making their larger point.

    The larger point, I think, is that this stuff is rarely black and white. There’s plenty of gray in here, and everyone in an organization needs to be thinking about how customers are treated, and what the consequences are when decisions are made about how people are going to be treated.

    That said, I have a story to tell you.

    Sometimes, companies don’t have to police the customers, because other customers will do it for them. Other customers like me.

    As I said, I hate it when people talk during a movie. I have no problem turning around and shushing them when they do.

    Many years ago, during the early eighties, I took the woman who would eventually become my wife to see the new Woody Allen movie at the Beekman Theater on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I can’t remember which Woody Allen movie it was; it might have been Stardust Memories or Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy or Zelig But no matter.

    The previews start, and there’s this woman in the row behind me who is chattering away. I was annoyed, but I didn’t do anything because it was only the previews. But then the movie starts, and she’s still yapping away, and so I turned to my right and said “ssshhhh” in a tone that left nothing to the imagination.

    And then I turned back to Mrs. Content Guy and whispered, “I just ‘ssshhhed’ Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

    But you know something? Except for laughing, she didn’t make a peep for the rest of the movie.

    Anyway, that’s what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I’d like to hear what is on your mind.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    In a move that outraged US retailers, the Federal Reserve Board voted yesterday to limit swipe fees on debit card transactions to an average of 21 cents apiece, half the average of 44 cents that the banks have been charging but double the initially proposed cap of 12 cents per transaction.

    The New York Times reports that “the cap marks a defeat for banks generally, although the news was not as bad as banks expected.” The financial services industry has been lobbying furiously in recent months, trying to delay or completely stop any regulation of the fees that it says generate $15 billion or more each year, but that retailer and consumer groups say are usurious.

    In addition to the 21 cent cap, the Washington Post reports, the Fed said that “banks can also collect .05 percent of the amount of the transaction to recoup losses from fraud. In addition, the Fed will consider allowing them to receive another cent for each transaction if they take steps to prevent fraud. The new rules will take effect Oct. 1.”

    The Merchants Payments Coalition said after the vote that it “is exploring all available legal options to address the irresponsible mistakes made in writing this rule.”

    Condemnations from the retail sector were swift and specific.

    “Today the voice of big banks drowned out the cries of consumers and Main Street merchants in the ears of the Federal Reserve,” says Leslie G. Sarasin, president and chief executive officer of FMI. “This ruling is inconsistent with the proposed ruling issued last December and utterly fails to be true to the spirit of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed more than a year ago.  It will not provide sufficient reform for businesses that are currently fighting high debit swipe fees.  Merchants and customers across America are the big losers today.”

    "Every month the largest banks and credit card companies reap over $1 billion a month in debit swipe fees off the backs of Main Street businesses and consumers. It's extremely unfortunate that the Federal Reserve ceded to the bank's lobbying to increase the allowable debit swipe fees. Independent grocers and our customers are very disappointed that they will not benefit from the important reforms Congress intended. We fought for years to persuade Congress to reform debit interchange and we finally succeeded. This afternoon the Federal Reserve reversed our victory and every independent grocer in American has a right to be angry and disappointed." said Peter J. Larkin, President and CEO of the National Grocers Association (NGA).

    “The Federal Reserve very clearly did not follow through on the intent of the law,” said Mallory Duncan, Chairman of the Merchants Payments Coalition. “This rule is unacceptable to Main street merchants and consumers, who were counting on the Fed to issue a fair rule that followed Congress’ law. Unfortunately, this rule does not meet those qualifications.”

    Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of government relations for NACS, called it “an irresponsible abdication of (the Fed’s) legal duty to implement the law as written.”

    “The announcement today from the Federal Reserve is a disappointment to merchants and consumers who face unfair and excessive fees imposed by big banks and credit card companies,” said Sandy Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).  “The Federal Reserve’s about-face suggests it abandoned the facts that the Board embraced in the December proposed rules, instead ceding to the wishes of the big banks and credit card companies.” 
    KC's View:
    Let’s be clear.

    Retailers and consumers got screwed by the Federal Reserve yesterday.

    Once again, banks got their way. Maybe not as much their way as they are used to getting, but they pretty much managed to avoid the will of the Congress and the intent of last year’s financial reform legislation when the Fed ruled yesterday. No doubt, some members of Congress breathed a sign of relief when this happened, because it means that the banks can now spend some of those fees on their re-election campaigns.

    I am disgusted, but not really very surprised. When the news came over the wires, I happened to be reading a story in the New York Times about the logic used by the sentencing judge who gave Bernard Madoff a 150-year jail sentence. Judge Denny Chin wrote that “one of the traditional notions of punishment is that an offender should be punished in proportion to his blameworthiness.”

    Seems to me that few of the people and organizations responsible for the financial collapse of just a few years ago have been held accountable. And it seems to me that yesterday’s ruling suggests that it is unlikely that this is ever going to change.

    I would hope that all of the retail companies and organizations who were appalled by yesterday’s decision will respond to it by withholding any and all financial support from any Senator or Representative that has not fully and unambiguously backed financial reform and tough limitations on swipe fees. And I would hope that all of these organizations will now make it a priority to engage in a high profile public relations campaign to explain to consumers exactly what the banks are doing, and why retailers have been advocating for the shopper.

    And finally, I hope someone has the common sense to allow Walmart to open a bank. Because I suspect that would do as much as anything to end all this nonsense. (I’m being a little facetious here. But only a little.)

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    It started 25 years ago, when Neil and Jane Golub, of Price Chopper Supermarkets in upstate New York, got involved with the Anti-Defamation League, bringing its “A World of Difference” education program to the Albany area.

    In addition to insisting that the program could be successful in Albany and providing the financial support to make it work, Jane Golub, a retired elementary school teacher, was the creator of the first-ever K-12 “AWorld of Difference”curriculum, which ADL says laid the foundation for an Anti-Bias Study Guide now used across the globe.

    The Golubs' contributions to the Anti-Bias cause (which focuses not just on religious and ethnic bias, but also on anti-gay bias) were recognized earlier this month at a dinner in Schenectady, NY, but their efforts have not ended.

    Price Chopper, together with ADL and WRGB-TV, the local CBS affiliate, have developed a new program called the “Be An Ally” project, which is designed to inform students, families, educators and the public on what can be done about bullying and cyberbullying.

    More information about the programs can be found here.

    To say the least, it is an Eye-Opener.

    And people like the Golubs, who have spent much time and effort on promoting what can only be described as a noble cause, should be saluted for their efforts.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that an organization called Mercy for Animals has released a video that includes “gory footage secretly recorded at an Iowa pork-supplier farm,” showing “pigs mutilated and restricted in cages too small to turn around in, and workers tossing and ‘thumping’ piglets - smashing their skulls against cement.”

    Kroger, which is one of the retailers supplied by the company, Iowa Select Farms, immediately halted purchases from the farm pending further investigation.

    Mercy for Animals said that the video was shot by an employee who went undercover there for two months, shooting conditions with a pinhole camera.

    Iowa Select put out a statement saying that it is investigating potential abuse and has "zero tolerance for violations of our animal welfare policies."

    The Columbus Dispatch reports that “Howard Hill, a veterinarian and the company's director of external affairs, said Iowa Select was looking into the video but thinks the recording gave an inaccurate picture of its operation.”

    Ironically, the Journal writes, the video was released as Iowa state lawmakers consider a bill that would “criminalize such undercover investigations.”

    The Journal continues: “Democratic Sen. Tom Rielly, who introduced the Senate bill, said the video released Wednesday ‘is exactly why we need a bill like this.’ He contended parts of the video were staged to advance the group's agenda.

    “‘They'd like people not to eat eggs, hamburgers, bacon,’ he said. The group is ‘creating these salacious images to put this important industry to Iowa in a bad light’.”

    Mercy for Animals contends that nothing in the video was staged.
    KC's View:
    Forgive me for a bit of Thursday morning crankiness, but Sen Tom Rielly is full of it.

    Criminalizing such undercover investigations is not the answer. (While I’m not a lawyer, it is hard to imagine such a law holding up in a Supreme Court that says First Amendment rights include selling violent video games to young kids. Then again, you never know.)

    It seems perfectly logical to criminalize the making of such videos that inaccurately and blatantly spread untruths about a company. in fact, I think there are such laws in existence.

    In addition, Rielly implies that it is only radical animals rights advocates that are behind such videos. But for the record, I eat ham, bacon, and pork chops. I am the farthest thing from a radical animal rights activist. But I think that this kind of crap is abhorrent, a kind of random and casual cruelty exercised by people with small minds and smaller hearts.

    (Rielly also ought to look up the word “salacious” before he uses it in public statement. I’m pretty sure that isn’t what he meant ... or, if it is, maybe someone ought to start looking into his personal life and preferences.)

    But if Iowa Select - or any of its employees - are found to be guilty of horrific behavior, then the appropriate people ought to be held accountable. And legislators ought to start protecting the things that need protecting, not the companies that make political contributions to their campaigns.

    And let me take this a step further. Maybe, as punishment if anyone is found to be guilty of this atrocity, they ought to be subjected to a little “thumping” themselves.

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    The Chicago Sun Times reports that Walgreen announced that it will add as many as a dozen new stores in the Windy City, and will remodel 39 others “in food deserts to feature fresh fruits and vegetables.”

    The strategy will result in 600 new jobs, the company said.

    According to the story, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Walgreens President and CEO Greg Wasson announced the “Chicago Hometown Investment Initiative” at a news conference at a Walgreens store at 8628 S. Cottage Grove, just a few blocks from the first Chicago Walgreens, which opened in 1901.

    “The new mayor has made eradicating food deserts a priority and recently summoned major retailers to a private meeting where he showed them maps of shopping-starved areas and demanded to see their plans to build stores in those neighborhoods.

    “Wasson was a participant and his company obviously got the message loud and clear.”

    At the press conference, Wasson said, “It’s neat to be able to do good business while doing good. This is our opportunity to do just that. . . . Fortunately, we are in communities that are, maybe, under-served and don’t have convenient access to fresh food or even medical providers and medical care. We can leverage that footprint to expand our fresh food, as you’re seeing here. We can also leverage our pharmacists and nurse practitioners to be able to provide access to health care.”
    KC's View:
    These are just the early battles being fought by the likes of Walgreen and Walmart for the hearts and minds and stomachs of urban consumers. No surprise here, especially with Walmart planning a small-store Chicago strategy that could remake the city’s competitive landscape.

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times reports that beginning tomorrow, because of the new state budget signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday, “ Inc. and other large out-of-state retailers will be required to collect sales taxes on purchases that their California customers make on the Internet,” a change that is expected to generate $317 million a year in revenue for the financially troubled state.

    The Times goes on:

    “California is the seventh and largest state in the country to pass a law to collect taxes on out-of-state Internet sales. Illinois, Arkansas and Connecticut acted earlier this year, North Carolina and Rhode Island in 2009 and New York in 2008. Amazon sued to overturn the New York law and lost in the lower courts. The company is paying sales taxes into an escrow account pending an appeal.

    “Other states currently are considering similar sales tax collection bills.

    “California's new law was drafted to circumvent a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sellers can't be forced to collect sales taxes if they have no physical presence in the state where buyers live.

    “The new statute would establish that presence in two ways: when sellers pay commissions to other Internet sites in California, known as affiliates, that refer buyers; and when sellers have a related company operating in the state.

    “Amazon has thousands of such affiliates in California. It also has related business operations that include Lab126 Inc. in Cupertino, which develops Kindle electronic book readers, and a Studio City office for its Internet Movie Database unit.”

    The San Jose Mercury News reports that both Amazon and reacted quickly to the new tax law and “announced they are severing their relationships with California affiliates to avoid having to collect the tax ... The State Board of Equalization estimates there are 25,000 affiliates in California, 10,000 of whom make money by being affiliates with Amazon.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    Reuters reports that Judith McKenna, CFO at Walmart’s Asda Group in the UK, told a Consumer and Retail Summit yesterday that British consumers remain in recession, no matter what the economists say, and that it is having “a really biting effect on how people are shopping and spending....particularly in the area of discretionary spending ... People have changed their shopping habits as well ... they have started to ration their behavior about how they spend and what they spend it on ... there is a new norm developing,"

    She added, “Do I expect it to improve anytime soon? No, I don't.”
    KC's View:
    Not just in the UK. I think that statement also applies to the US, where despite the proclamations by economists, individuals and companies largely continue to act as if we are knee-deep in recession.

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    • The Economic Times reports that Walmart has “signed an agreement with the Shanghai government to set up a China e-commerce headquarters in the city to boost its presence in the fast-growing market.

    “Under a memorandum of understanding signed on Monday, the company will strengthen collaboration with the city government on training of personnel and offer Chinese consumers ‘a wider selection’ of products online.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    • The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “after years of watching competitors cut into its local lead in supermarket sales, Acme Markets fell into second place over the last year, dethroned by ShopRite, according to an annual survey published by Food Trade News.

    “ShopRite, ringing up $1.7 billion in sales across the eight-county Philadelphia region, grabbed the top spot from Acme, which has struggled to cut costs by shutting down underperforming stores and recently laid off 900 part-time employees ... Giant was in third place, with sales of $1.5 billion. Super Fresh and Pathmark, whose parent corporation, Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., declared bankruptcy in December, came in fourth at $851 million, down from $1 billion a year ago. Genuardi's, part of the Safeway chain, was fifth at $734 million.”

    Acme is owned by Supervalu, while ShopRite is made up of independently owned supermarkets.

    Reuters reports that Kraft Foods has decided to delay the launch of its Gevalia coffee brand until January, a five-month delay that is says is the result of concerns about high demand and limited supply.

    Gevalia is Kraft’s competitive response to losing the Starbucks packaged coffee business earlier this year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    Got the following response from MNB user Larry Lyons to yesterday’s column by Kate McMahon in which she wrote about how General Mills responded to concerns about how a Yoplait commercial might send a “problematic” message to people suffering from eating disorders:

    Where does it end!?

    I’m not diminishing the fact that there are some people with eating disorders, however they are a small minority of the public.

    If you follow this logic, nothing sweet should be advertised, lest we put undue pressure on diabetics.

    No ads for casinos…gambling addicts.

    No church ads…don’t want to offend the atheists.

    Can’t advertise beef, pork, chicken,…might sicken the vegans.

    Car ads…tens of thousands of Americans are killed in car crashes each year, yet we are bombarded with ads about how powerful the next generation of cars are. Very slick ads showing the cards sliding through curves, big tough powerful trucks leaping ditches and plowing through river beds. Where’s the outrage?

    Can you imagine a football game and not see a beer ad!?

    C’mon people! Toughen up and quit whining about every little thing…PLEASE!

    You don’t like the ad…don’t buy the product…the ad will go away on it’s own…unless a lot of people DO like it.
    Now can someone help me down off my soapbox?

    I get your point, but ... having had a relative hospitalized at one point for an eating disorder, I sort of appreciated the fact that General Mills tried to be sensitive. I get that there is a thin line between being sensitive and overly sensitive ... but I have to admit that I thought General Mills did the right thing.

    One MNB user had the following thoughts about how Tesco is bring mobile shopping to South Korean subway stations:

    Amazing how Tesco have broken the mould in South Korea with such a fantastic idea, yet they seem to have made such poor decisions with Fresh & Easy. (all self-service, no coupons, insufficient brands, etc).

    Fresh & Easy, I believe, is a work in progress. Think about all those small stores as delivery depots for something else, something bigger. The possibilities are endless, and I suspect the evolution is still in its early stages.

    MNB user Ann Hernandez wrote:

    I second your ‘WOW’.  THIS is innovation.  I can’t wait until these ‘mobile’ stores show up in my waiting places.  How about a “catalog” that I could browse and shop from as well while the train is in transit...?

    I think it exists online. That’s sort of the point - to make it visual and ubiquitous ... where the customer wants it, how the customer wants it, when the customer wants it.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Great use of technology, customer focus, and the ability to drive (I assume) profitable sales.  You could start shopping at your pick up point and complete the shopping trip at your drop off location.

    Wonder what is the delivery charge, can they scan coupons, and how do they publicize sales promos?

    The bigger challenge if you try that here:  How do you keep the POG pictures from being “Graffiti Central”?

    BTW...if you did not see the original story, check it out .

    Finally, I can’t help but smile as I share the following email, which responds to the person who suggested (tongue in cheek, I think) that “the number of people that that start out their day reading MorningNewsBeat instead of working is costing America Business millions in lost productivity.”

    This made me smile!   I love catching a glimpse of MorningNewsBeat open on so many monitors as I navigate through the cubicle maze each morning.  It’s what we do… we get our coffee, sit down at our desks, check for urgent emails, then read MorningNewsBeat.

    Facebook may be costing us in productivity, but your page is a net positive because we don’t have to spend time hunting for articles that are relevant to our jobs in order to stay informed.

    Thanks. It’s always nice to hear...

    Published on: June 30, 2011

    As has become a tradition at this time of year, I’m taking the week adjacent to the Fourth of July off…it is the beginning of the summer, the news cycle tends to be a little slow, and at this point in the year I can use the break.

    Not sure exactly what I’m going to be doing, but I suspect there will be beer and wine involved, not to mention plenty of seafood, maybe some crawfish beignets (if I get lucky), a trip to NYC to the theater at some point, a few movies, some reading (I’m about halfway through the Jack Reacher series) and certainly some long bike rides.

    I’ll be back on Monday, July 11. Have a great weekend…a great week…and I’ll see you soon.

    Fins Up!

    Livin' for the weekend,
    Jumpin' off the deep end,
    With just enough money to buy
    A license to chill
    And I believe I will…

    Photo by Ali Coupe
    KC's View: