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    Published on: August 18, 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...

    We talk and write a lot here on MNB about the importance of the front lines in any business, especially retailing. So I thought I would take a moment to frame for you a very specific example of something that happened to me this week...

    I was in the Darien, Connecticut, Trader Joe’s picking up some things so I could make lasagna, and, as always, I brought my own cloth bag with me. I did my shopping, and went to the checkout, where a nice man named Paulo quickly scanned and bagged my items.

    As he was doing so, he handed me a small ticket - Trader Joe’s has a program where everyone who brings in their own bags gets to fill out a ticket, and they do a drawing at the end of the month, with the winner getting a Trader Joe’s gift card. I was happy to fill it out, but because I also mentioned to him that I was impressed because it had been months since anyone at the store had offered me a ticket, and I always bring in my bags.

    Paulo seemed shocked by this - but then he did something about it. He handed me several additional tickets to fill out, saying that I deserved better treatment than I’d been getting. Now, I told him that it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted. “I want you to have a good shopping experience,” he said. Yes. Those exact words...

    I was actually taken aback for a moment, and ultimately very impressed. Not only was Paulo engaging with me, but he was taking the initiative and, when you think about it, taking ownership of my shopping experience. That’s huge.

    To some extent, this isn’t a complete surprise. Trader Joe’s always scores pretty high on the “friendly employees” scale. But the real lesson is how important the front line employee is, and how retailers need to pay more attention to this critical part of the business. We talk a lot about supply chain efficiencies and things like that, but the most important chain - the one that links the shopper to the store - has as its most important links the people who work there, who personify what the experience is supposed to be.

    Paulo got it right, and Trader Joe’s got it right by hiring Paulo. Or by hiring whoever it was that hired Paulo.

    This is the standard by which all retailers should be measured, regardless of format or cost structure.

    At least, that’s what I think. And, as always, I want to know what you think.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Consider this statement, from PC Magazine:

    “Not only does sell just about anything from a paintball gun to a jukebox, it also has the widest global reach of any retail site on the Internet.

    “According to comScore, in June, Amazon was visited by 282 million people, or 20.4 percent of the world's online population.”


    It gets more interesting:

    “eBay follows Amazon as the number two retail site, reaching 16.2 percent of the worldwide Internet population or about 224 million visitors. China's has the third-most extensive reach with 157 million visitors or 11.3 percent. Apple's global sites take the number four spot, visited by 134 million people last month, 9.7 percent of the Web. Wal-Mart comes in at number four, with close to 46 million visitors last month, 3.2 percent of the online realm.”

    Consider the difference between the penetration numbers for Amazon and Walmart...especially since a lot of people think that Walmart has identified Amazon as its chief competitive threat over the next decade.

    Consider the fact that a Chinese business-to-business site is number three ...

    And consider the notion that Amazon has become so pervasive - in visits, in sales and in the way it identifies and targets its best customers, both showing and inspiring loyalty with relevant offers - that its pricing, marketing and merchandising positions must be considered by almost everybody who sells anything.

    That’s what we’d call an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times reports that labor negotiations in Southern California seem to be hitting as critical juncture, as this weekend “an estimated 62,000 grocery workers in Southern California will vote - for the second time - on whether to give their union locals the go-ahead to strike.” The first time around, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the vote to authorize a strike was “overwhelming.”

    At the same time, “this week, Albertsons and Vons began taking applications for people willing to cross a picket line and work during a strike.” Ralphs has not yet started recruiting strike workers.

    According to the Times, “The second strike vote also will be a way for labor to gauge the current mood of its members, as California’s economy has deteriorated since the first strike vote was taken, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of New York-based Strategic Resource Group. ‘It also comes as Target has converted virtually all of their stores in the area to carry groceries,’ Flickinger said. The strike vote this weekend ‘may not guarantee people are going to walk out, but the odds become highly likely that they will’.”
    KC's View:
    Hate to see this happen, because it is hard to see how it is a positive development for either management or labor. On the other hand, there are a number of competitors in Southern California - like, say, Fresh & Easy - that may be licking their proverbial chops at the possibility that they will get another chance with some customers to make a first impression.

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    Adweek reports that Coca-Cola has a limited edition Diet Coke can scheduled to hit store shelves next month: “Retaining the can’s familiar bare-aluminum background, the new design super-magnifies a segment of the existing logo right where the ‘D’ of Diet rests atop the ‘k’ of Coke. The result is a modish and (for a global brand) even daring design that refuses to reveal the brand’s complete name. Which is the beauty of having a brand that’s already the best-selling diet soft drink in the world: You don’t have to worry about stuff like that.”

    However, Adweek suggests that there may be more going on here than just a design innovation:

    “The revamped Diet Coke cans - the work of San Francisco-based design firm Turner Duckworth - will remain on store shelves for an undisclosed period. In fact, just about everything about these 12 fluid ounces of design flair is undisclosed. The usually press-release-happy folks at Atlanta headquarters are playing this one surprisingly close to the vest, sending out cases of the new Diet Coke to ‘trendsetter[s] in the fashion and design world,’ according to the accompanying card, but saying little else publicly.

    “However, William White, group brand director for Diet Coke and Coke Zero, Coca Cola North America, told Adweek in an email: ‘Fall is all about new looks and new energy, making this a great opportunity to give the Diet Coke can design a refreshing uplift that celebrates the season.’ He added that ‘this new concept will only be around for a short time’.”
    KC's View:
    I think I’m hurt. How come MNB didn’t make the cut as a trendsetter?

    I’ll put it out there right now. I’ll trade an MNB t-shirt, three MNB canvas shopping bags and a half-dozen MNB canvas wine bags for an advance case of this new Diet Coke.

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    Bloomberg Business Week reports that Wells Fargo plans to begin a five-state test of a $3 monthly fee for its debit cards, “in addition to monthly service fees ranging from $5 to $30 that Wells Fargo already charges.”

    According to the story, “Although it's unusual, Wells Fargo isn't the first major bank to test whether customers will be willing to pay to use their debit cards. Chase last year also began testing a $3 monthly debit card fee in northern Wisconsin.

    “Other major banks have also revamped their lineup of checking accounts in the past year or so, in many cases by hiking monthly fees or adding conditions customers must meet to qualify for fee waivers.”

    The banks are looking to compensate for the loss of revenue that they are anticipating will occur because of new federal regulations putting limits on transaction or “swipe” fees, which in the past have reaped more than $19 billion or more for the industry.

    Business Week says that “Wells Fargo has said it plans to recover about half the revenue it loses from the new regulation, either through product changes or volume growth. Earlier this year Wells Fargo announced that it was ending its debit rewards program. Chase has also ended its debit rewards program and PNC Bank will no longer give customers with free checking accounts rewards for debit card purchases.”
    KC's View:
    Three bucks a month isn’t so bad.

    My bank says that beginning in January, it’ll be charging a pound of flesh each year, payable in monthly installments of 1.3 ounces apiece.

    This struck me as a problem until I thought about it. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get rid of my love handles, so if I can just carve off that flesh from that specific area of my body, it’ll be a win-win...

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    Media Post Daily reports that a kind of “Facebook fatigue factor” may be taking place, at least in mature nations.

    “In some of the social network's biggest markets,” the story says, “including the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, new research from GlobalWebIndex shows sharp declines in usage for activities such as status updates, sharing content, messaging and installing apps ... The report found that messaging friends via the U.S. Facebook platform was down 15% last month compared to June. And the proportion of users participating in the ‘joined a group’ activity was down 10% in the same period. ‘The trend is even more pronounced among U.S. college educated 20somethings, the original users of the platform,’ the report stated.”

    However, “the report also indicated that total worldwide usage continues to increase, due to growth in the emerging markets,” Media Post Daily writes.
    KC's View:
    This sounds like it could be based on a limited survey, so it is hard to tell if the conclusions are, well, conclusive.

    But here’s the thing you have to remember. In so many ways, the speed of change means that social networking - at least as we’ve thought of it, and as enabled by companies like Facebook - may already be obsolete ... or at least on its way there.

    It is the next iteration - the next innovation - that we have to keep looking for, trying to figure out how to take advantage of it. Doesn’t mean that we’re all going to stop using Facebook and its brethren ... but I suspect that it does mean that Mark Zuckerberg and his cohorts are themselves seeking the next big thing.

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that in South Africa, Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman is conceding that Walmart’s acquisition of 51 percent of Massmart Holdings there presents a “huge challenge” for the company.

    “It is going to make businesses a lot more competitive and bring prices down,” Ackerman reportedly said in a speech to the Cape Town Press Club. “We are dramatically changing our business to deal with those challenges.”

    According to the story, “Pick n Pay plans to fire 3,137 workers, or 8.6 percent of the workforce, it said July 6 after profit plunged 29 percent in the six months through Feb. 28 and the company lost market share to bigger rival Shoprite Holdings Ltd.

    “Job eliminations are necessary because unions refused to let their members work more flexible hours, Ackerman said. ‘Our business has to be more competitive,’ the chairman said. ‘We have to be more productive’.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    CityBiz reports that Safeway “is looking to add to its current roster of 112 Randall's Food and Drug and Tom Thumb stores in Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas,” with a goal of significant expansion by the end of 2012.

    • The State Journal-Register reports that “the Meijer supermarket chain expects to increase purchases of locally grown fruits and vegetables by 5 percent this year, Meijer announced Tuesday. Meijer already buys $60 million worth of local produce annually in a five-state region that includes Illinois ... The company says its ‘Home Grown’ program buys 75 varieties of fruits and vegetables from 85 farms in the five-state region.”

    Reuters writes that despite reports to the contrary, Carrefour CEO Lars Olofsson says that he is not planning to sell its Brazilian business, though it remains open to potential partnerships. Walmart was said to be eyeing that division for possible acquisition.

    • To follow up on a story from earlier this week....the Chicago Sun Times confirms that Moo & Oink,described as the “150-year-old icon of quality, affordable meat in the African-American community,” will indeed go up for auction on August 29” and “will include sales of Moo & Oink inventory and store fixtures and equipment.

    "Moo & Oink has three stores in Chicago and one in south suburban Hazel Crest, offers online ordering of its products, and supplies local restaurants and specialty grocers with meat, ribs, pork, chitterlings and other meat products.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    The Chicago Tribune reports on a depressing assessment of the current economy:

    “If the economy stays on its present course there won't be enough jobs to employ new workers and people out of work until the year 2023, said economist Laura Tyson, who served in the Bill Clinton presidential administration and is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

    “In a session on creating jobs at the former president's Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago, Clinton told about 750 business, government and non-profit leaders Wednesday that there are three million jobs open now, and if employers filled them that would cut the nation's 9.1 percent unemployment rate in half.  But he said companies are filling positions slowly compared to the past.”

    The story goes on:

    “A panel including Clinton and Tyson noted a mismatch between jobs available and the people out of work.  ‘It is very depressing to note,’ that people between 25-34 of age are less likely to have a college degree than older workers, said Tyson.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    PC Magazine reports that Google has “launched Google Catalogs, a free tablet optimized app that aggregates shopping catalogs in a searchable, interactive format. Google Catalogs, which is currently only available on the iPad, lets you ‘subscribe’ to digital versions of print catalogs from dozens of retailers, including William Sonoma, L.L. Bean, Urban Outfitters, and Macy's. The app will provide alerts when new catalogs show up.

    “Beyond that, you can search for products among all your catalogs, save products that catch your eye, and create collages to share with friends. You edit photos, choose backgrounds, and edit text; there's also the option to make it public for viewing by other app users. Google Catalogs also supports videos, like cooking demonstrations in the William Sonoma catalog. You can even tap to buy the product at the online store, or search for nearby store locations.”

    The story does note that Google tried this before, without success ... but the speculation is that tablet and application technologies may make it more palatable this time around.
    KC's View:
    I just downloaded the Google Catalogs ap to my iPad, and it works pretty well.

    Thought it occurs to me - not to beat a dead or dying horse - that this is yet another nail in the coffin of the US Postal Service.

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    • Albertsons LLC announced that it has promoted Stewart Edington, division pharmacy manager for its Florida stores, to be its new VP pharmacy operations.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    MNB is going to look a little different is the end of summer and so, encouraged by both Mrs. Content Guy and Michael Sansolo, I’m taking the day off from the usual reportage and commentary and will be enjoying a three-day weekend (that will be punctuated, I’m thrilled to say, by a Jimmy Buffett concert). However, there will be a special Friday edition of Michael’s column, Sansolo Speaks, this week, and both Your Views and OffBeat will be in their regular positions.
    I’ll be back Monday, and will see you then.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View: