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    Published on: September 16, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Okay, here is an Eye-Opener.

    I’m going to say something negative about Apple.

    The Associated Press reports that Apple has decided to remove an application available to its customers in France because of accusations that it “violated France's strict laws banning the compiling of people's personal details without their consent.”

    The app was called “Juif ou pas Juif?,” which translates to “Jew or not Jew?”

    That’s right. There was an application on the iTunes store that you could buy for about a buck, that would allow you to enter the name and determine whether a well-known person was Jewish or not.

    In France, there were accusations that this amounted to a kind of racism, and reminded people of the Holocaust; the story notes that “some 76,000 Jews deported from Nazi-occupied France to concentration camps. Fewer than 3,000 returned alive.”

    The developer, however, says that there is nothing pejorative about the application, and that it was meant to celebrate Jewishness, not denigrate it.

    Here’s the real Eye-Opener, at least for me. The app is also available on the US iTunes store ... and still is, for $1.99.

    Now, I suppose that there is a defense for this. Apple can say that the app meets its own standards of acceptability, and that it is not necessarily a negative use of technology.

    And I suppose that some will accuse me of being too “politically correct” in my reaction to this.

    But that does not change the fact that I am gobsmacked.

    I checked, and iTunes does not have an application called “Gay or not Gay?” Or “Irish or not Irish?” Or “Smart or not Smart?,” which could make people’s IQ public.

    This just seems so wrong. I know a lot of this information can be found on the internet, but it seems misguided to institutionalize the search through a smart phone application.

    I’m not just gobsmacked. I’m disappointed.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the likelihood of a supermarket strike by Southern California labor unions has gotten a little stronger, as the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) informed management at the three major chains that it was giving them the requisite 72 hours notice that the ongoing contract extension would not be renewed.

    The most recent contract expired on March 6, but has been renewed daily until now. The UFCW was obligated to give the three chains - Albertsons, Kroger-owned Ralphs and Safeway-owned Vons - 72 hours notice that it would not be renewing. Once the 72 hours pass, the unions can walk out at any time.

    According to the Times, “The labor negotiations, which have grown increasingly tense in recent weeks, stalled amid deep divisions over healthcare funding, worker scheduling and future staffing levels.”

    The three chains all made statements suggesting that their stores remain open and that they remain committed to the negotiating process. The UFCW, on the other hand, accuses the chains of stonewalling and not being fair with the some 62,000 workers that it represents.

    The Times goes on: “Thursday’s news harks back to 2003, the last time Southern California grocery workers and their employers faced a standoff over labor issues. The 141-day strike and lockout that began that fall left many union members with staggering debts. It reportedly cost the employers an estimated $2 billion and gave competitors an opportunity to step into the gap.”
    KC's View:
    If these guys go on strike, I don’t think it will be good for either labor or the three big chains. It’ll only be good for all the retailers competing with those chains - especially Fresh & Easy, which may get a second look from shoppers who won;t want to cross a picket line.

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    Schenectady, NY-based Price Chopper has announced that it is getting into the online shopping business, offering both a pick-up and delivery model that will debut next week at its Niskayuna, New York, store.

    “We created ‘Price Chopper Shops4U’ in response to the call for a convenient shopping experience made by a growing number of our customers who are either too busy or unable to get to their local Price Chopper to shop for what they need,” said Jerry Golub, Price Chopper’s president and chief operating officer.  “While we have plans to roll the program out in many more of our 128 stores, we’re pleased to be the first to market this service and our new digital coupon program, AdvantEdge e-Coupons, here in our hometown, the Capital Region.”

    The AdvantEdge e-Coupons program, the company says, “offers the value of coupon savings without the printing and clipping. They are digital coupon offers that can be selected electronically by customers and loaded directly to their Price Chopper AdvantEdge Card.”

    Price Chopper says that the service fee for ‘Price Chopper Shops4U’ is $10, with an additional $5.99 fee for delivery.  For the customer’s first order, this service fee will be discounted 50%, as it will for every fifth order.  To make shopping even easier, once a customer has used ‘Shops4U,’ he or she can refer back to previous shopping lists to place the next order even faster and more efficiently.”
    KC's View:
    Love it. Of course, that won’t be a surprise to anyone who reads MNB, and knows that we are fervent believers in the importance of having an e-commerce option in a 21st century competitive environment.

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    Netflix, which earlier this summer announced that it would raise its prices by 60 percent - charging people who were paying $10 a month for one DVD at a time plus unlimited online streaming - said yesterday that it expects this move will reduce it subscription base from 25 million customers to 24 million.

    The desertion by one million customers would seem to be linked to the fact that the price increase was aimed directly at Netflix’s traditional base - people who get their DVDs delivered by mail. Streaming alone, which is a relatively new part of the Netflix business model, did not see a price increase in the Netflix model, and the company has long said that it believes that it believes the future is in streaming movies via the internet.

    The company also has been facing pressure from its content suppliers, who object to they call Netflix’s “aggressive pricing.” As the Wall Street Journal reports, “The bear thesis on Netflix is playing out. Entertainment companies that control popular video content have realized their own businesses would be undercut if they license recent movies and TV shows for Netflix's streaming service. Witness the recent decision by Liberty Media's Starz cable channel to cut off a crucial supply of recently released movies for Netflix's streaming offering. That protected Starz's lucrative deals with nervous cable and satellite TV operators.”

    Shares in Netflix have dropped 40 percent since the new pricing policy was announced, according to published reports.
    KC's View:
    This can’t be a huge surprise to founder/CEO Reed Hastings, but it isn’t a positive narrative. I still think that at some point they may roll back that price increase, just to put some of the tumult to rest. And the real lesson is how fragile customer loyalty may be.

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    BrandKeys is out with its 2011 Customer Loyalty Leaders index, and says that Amazon’s online store is now in the top spot, moving up from being number seven in 2010.

    Apple’s iPhone dropped from first to second in the new report, and Facebook was third - even though it wasn’t on the list last year.

    The remaining members of the top 10 are Samsung’s smart phone, Apple’s computers, Zappo’s, Hyundai, the Kindle e-reader, Patron tequila, and Mary Kay cosmetics.

    "Brand loyalty has always been primarily driven by emotion," points out Brand Keys founder and President Robert Passikoff. “Consumers seek to emotionally connect with brands that actually stand for something, and to connect with each other, too."

    Among the retailers on the list were Dunkin’ Donuts (#12), Walmart (#13), Netflix (#22), McDonald’s (#26), Target (#33), Sam’s Club (#38), BJ’s Wholesale Club (#50), Costco (#98) and Starbucks (#100).
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    The Detroit Free Press reports that it is almost all over for Borders, as liquidation sales all over the country come to an end with all the remaining merchandise reduced to one dollar.

    In 2008, the story notes, Borders had $4.1 billion in sales ... but since then has been losing market share to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and even bog box retailers such as Costco and Walmart. The company went into bankruptcy and hoped to find a buyer, but when one private equity deal fell through, it was forced to simply go out of business.
    KC's View:
    This should be an object lesson to any retailer. There’s no such thing as an unassailable business advantage, and you constantly have to be paying attention to the competition...and even looking for competition that you can’t see yet.

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    In the UK, the Daily Mail reports that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a Tesco TV commercial that showed “a herd of pigs in an open field grazing in the dappled sunlight before cutting to three pigs playing in a hay barn and then following a farmer down a country lane. It then shows a sign for Kenniford Farm in Devon - where the pigs were filmed - before picturing a man barbecuing the sausages and a young lad chomping on a sausage in a bun.”

    The ASA said that the pigs being used for the sausages did not live the idealized life that was being portrayed in the ad - that it misled people into thinking that the pigs lived a carefree, outdoor life before being turned into sausage and eaten.
    KC's View:
    I know the whole “farm to fork” thing is important to know about, and I know that every time I have a sausage or a slice of bacon, it came from a pig.

    That said, I actually don;’t think it is smart marketing to show, in a space of 60 seconds, a happy pig romping through a pasture and then being barbecued and eaten.

    More than I need to see. Maybe it’s a British thing...

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    • The Sacramento Bee reports that Raley’s is the latest supermarket chain to adopt the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, which assigns every product in the store a number from 1-100 according to scoring of their nutritional value.

    According to the story, “Raley's said it's the first grocery chain in California to offer NuVal, which can be found in more than 1,500 stores nationwide.”

    • The Associated Press reports that “a melon farm in Colorado has issued a recall of cantaloupe following a Listeria outbreak that has killed at least two people, sickened 22 and spread to several states.

    “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the deaths from the outbreak were reported in Colorado and New Mexico, and state health departments said more deaths could be confirmed once testing comes back. The CDC said the 22 people infected are in seven states: Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    • Greenbax Holdings, parent company to Piggly Wiggly, has named Sandra Sineath Rabon, the company’s senior vice president of finance, as its senior vice president/CFO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    Got a bunch of emails yesterday about our story regarding Big Y’s decision to eliminate all its self-checkout lanes by the end of the year.

    MNB user Dick Shulman wrote:

    There are two things to consider in making a decision about self-checkout.  First, a retailer’s standards for checkout speed and service  must consider several issues.  First, is the service at normal checkout lanes, e.g. how many people are in line.  The normal standard is that no less that three people should be in line, one being checked out and two waiting.  If the present queues are longer than many people will normally select the self-checkout alternative and their speed at completing checkout is irrelevant.

    Second, how many customers need store service at the self checkout lanes.  If their need for assistance  reflects problems with the quality of the data file that supports checkout, e.g. there are many items that are not on that file, items with incorrect identification data (weight and size) or procedures that are mysterious to the average shopper the problems are caused by the retailer.  For example, if is produce is weighed at the front end, all your top 20 items easy to find and the others available in a logical presentation.  If you want to enter a "house customer number" to enjoy promotion discounts is that option obvious or hidden and requires store assistance. 

    I will always remember the first self-checkout store I visited.  It was a test run by Publix with a client's front end system.  We were astounded at the customers who selected self checkout.  They were not young, most were senior citizens.  There checkout speed was far slower than the speed of manned lanes, but they loved the process.  Shopping was their event of the day and they were in no rush to end the experience.  They now had the ability to understood each charge as they scanned and watched the display.  In fact, there were so many seniors living around the store that they invalidated the test because the store's demographics was not typical of the chain.

    MNB user Jeff Gartner wrote:

    Forest Hills Foods -- our neighborhood independent food store in Grand Rapids -- has never had self-service checkout, and I cannot imagine how any customer could do it better or faster than their cashiers and baggers (who also carry it out to your car). They actually know how to converse with you too, adding two final touchpoints with each customer to reaffirm the positive customer service experience throughout the store.

    The store was re-designed a few years ago to encourage their associates to converse more with the customers. And they have great food products too, and are very community oriented. Shopping takes sometimes longer than expected because you keep running into old friends also shopping there -- throughout the store you just see so many conversations going on. I've done related marketing research work on the customer experience and store design for Meijer and the old D&W group among others, and Forest Hills Foods is the best managed store and offers the best customer experience in the entire state of Michigan.

    Another MNB user, an east coast retailer, wrote:

    Fresh & Easy has the best self checkout system by far, as well they should given that it’s the only option available.  They also have a nice cadre of willing staff on hand ready to assist (throughout the store, not just at checkout).  Great stores and concept.  Glad they’re out west only.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Normally I only use the self check out at my local grocery store when I have a handful of items.  But recently I had a good size basket and since I was a grocery cashier for many years, I figured no big deal.  I went to a lane that actually has a belt, to accommodate larger basket sizes I assume.   So I started ringing up my purchases.  The scanner was not very good, I had to swipe the item multiple times to get it to respond.  Then there was an issue with the scale and it wasn’t recognizing that I had put my items on the belt for bagging.  The store assistant had to come over at least 5 times to clear things.  What a pain!  For one or two items and getting me out the door fast, they are great.  Otherwise, I’ll be happily waiting in line for a real person.

    MNB user Chris Weisert wrote:

    I find it surprising that you missed the opportunity to suggest that the next version of self checkout just might be a hand held device many people already have, their smart phone.  Not sure if these companies are thinking that far ahead but putting money into a technology that may already be becoming obsolete seems silly.

    Good point.

    And, from another MNB user:

    Hi, I’m a member of BJ’s which has self checkout. They use extra technology to measure the weight and size of packages after they’ve been scanned as the travel down the belt. The problem is if you don’t set lay/ down a tall product on the belt the same way the programmers did,  it backs up the item and you re-scan and rescan until getting customer assistance. For a heavy item, if you bounce it on the belt the weight scanner doesn’t react correctly with the same result. This poor use of technology slows the self checkout to a crawl. I continue my membership, but won’t use their self checkout.

    In my commentary yesterday, I noted:

    I have no reason to think that this is the case at Big Y, but supermarket chains are well known for adopting strategies and/or technologies that they think will totally change the economics of their world, only to be disappointed when things don’t change as radically as they expect. And then, they abandon these efforts. It is like institutional ADD.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    Perfect description! Self check out has not been around long enough and I personally prefer to use them.  The long lines I see are at the staffed lanes. Frankly the only place I truly enjoy checking out with a live person is Trader Joe’s. Whatever they've done there works. The stockers managers and checkers at TJs are consistently pleasant informed about their products and helpful. If other chains could duplicate that maybe those of us who prefer the self check lanes would change our tune.

    And MNB user Shawn Ravitz wrote:

    Institutional ADD ... Could be my favorite saying of the year!  I absolutely love it and suffer from it from time to time.

    MNB yesterday noted that when Target put on sale a bargain priced designer line called Missoni, it generated so much interest that Target’s website crashed just three hours after the product line was posted, and kept crashing intermittently as the day went on. It wasn’t just the website - there also were long lines at Target’s bricks-and-mortar stores, and one store in New York City - scheduled to be open temporarily for just three days to hype the Missoni collection - had to close after six hours because everything got sold out.

    In my commentary, I suggested that Target had missed the lesson of Jaws - that you always have to make sure you bring a big enough boat.

    But several MNB user thought that it was me that missed the boat.

    One wrote:

    I think Target brought a huge ocean liner, not a boat.  You missed the point of the promotion.  This was on trend, news worthy, water cooler topic, and made every news cast for free.  The only time you see Wal-mart in the news is when they miss the analyst growth projections or another class action lawsuit.  This was brilliant marketing even though they probably didn’t plan on the website crashing.  Very few would have heard of this if Target executed this flawlessly, this was planned to be news worthy.

    And MNB user Brian Blank wrote:

    Call me cynical, but Target doesn’t have much incentive get themselves a “bigger boat”.  They might even have incentive to drill a hole or two in their boat.  Target would not have made every newscast, every news paper, every business and computing publication simply for offering a special collection of made-for-Target Missoni apparel.  Their system crashed “from the overwhelming demand” and THAT made headlines. 

    How many middle-American big-box shoppers had even heard of Missoni before this?  It’s a line found at Sak’s and Neiman-Marcus, not at Macy’s and Kohl’s.  Sure, some of us cart-pushers know fashion—whether or not we choose to actively chase after it.  But regardless of anyone’s depth of knowledge of the Missoni brand, the message was easy to infer from the new reports:  “Target has nice stuff, really cheap!”  And they were able to get that message out there without making any media buys, probably more effectively, too, being delivered as content instead of ad time/space.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2011

    One of the great pleasures of what I do is having the opportunity to, while on the road, eat and drink in places that I’d never experience if I just sat in an office back in Connecticut. Not fancy places, generally, but just cool joints that I find myself wishing were around the corner from my home and office.

    For example, during a recent trip to Cincinnati for a speech, I found myself enjoying lunch at a downtown place called Nicholson’s Gastropub, where they had these amazing lamb sliders, served with tzatziki and fontina cheese, as well as some of the best corned beef hash I’ve ever eaten. It was rather warm out, so I washed it down with a Hoegaarden White...which is lighter than I’d usually go, but it seemed right.

    I also was in Chicago earlier this week, and my son who lives there took me to a joint he frequents in the lower west side Pilsen neighborhood called Simone’s, where we had the most extraordinary Chipotle Burger, thick and juicy with cheddar cheese and spicy barbecue sauce. This called for something a little richer on the beverage side, so I tried a couple - a Finch’s Golden Wing, a local brew that is medium bodied and golden colored, and a Founder’s Red IPA, from Michigan, which had some serious hops going for it. Both were excellent.

    And now, I’m in Seattle and had a chance to visit a new Tom Douglas place called the Brave Horse Tavern in the blooming South Lake Union neighborhood, where they make their own handmade pretzels that are almost unbelievably good, and serve them with fascinating sides - I enjoyed mine with Penn Cove clams that had been steamed in Old Seattle Lager, and dipped the pretzel in the broth. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And then I enjoyed a wonderful cheeseburger served with caramelized onion and a slice of heirloom tomato, which was just perfect for the space - which is all tall ceilings and exposed brick and features a bustling, hip clientele, it seemed, and yet was totally accepting of un-hip people like me. And I loved the beers I tried - the Double Mountain India Red Ale, and especially the Big Al Brewing Smoked Porter, which was almost mind-blowing.

    Been a good week.

    I also hope that this goes a long way toward satisfying the MNB users who occasionally complain that I spend too much time writing about wine and not enough writing about beer. I’m doing my best here ...

    That said, I do have a couple of wines to recommend to you...

    I really enjoyed the Vina Tabali “reserve” 2010 Viognier, from the Limari Valley in Chile, which I had during a brief stop at Bin 36 in Chicago, and which the notes say features a ”lively acidity and a sexy, silky finish.” Whatever. It was really good, though I felt neither sexy nor silky when I drained my glass.

    And then, my friend Morgan at Etta’s in Seattle - whom I have celebrated here and elsewhere as being one of the best bartenders I’ve ever met, working in one of my favorite places - served me up a glass or two of the 2009 Fedelitas M100 red - a blend of 48% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot - which was just rich and smooth and wonderful. (Fedelitas is a small boutique winery located on the slopes of the Red Mountain AVA - American Viticultural Area - in the Columbia Valley.)

    The tasting notes say that the M100 has “vibrant fruit notes” that “are a great match for tomato-based dishes, like pizza or pasta marina, while the richer tones help this wine stand up to more intense dishes like steak or pork. Try bringing out the smoky tones in the wine with barbecued ribs or spice rubbed pork tenderloin.” Sounds good to me. All I know is that I have to find a way for them to sell their wines back home, and if not, I’m joining their wine club. (If Mrs. Content Guy lets me. Which she may not. I’ll just have to bring her with me to Seattle next time, or get her to move here...)

    So there you go. Food and drink that I can recommend without hesitation.

    Have a great weekend. I’m going to.

    KC's View: