retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Merchants Payment Coalition, which has been front and center in the battle to regulate the hidden swipe fees charged by banks for debit and credit card usage, has responded to the number of stories this week that have focused on what has been called “the death of free checking” - just one of the moves being made by some banks to compensate for the loss of transaction fee revenue. The other initiative that seems to be popular among some banks is charging a monthly fee for debit card usage. (Bank of America generated headlines by saying it would charge $5 a month for people to use their debit cards to make purchases.)

    In fact, the Coalition says, there are at least 14 banks that have announced that they plan to continue their free checking programs and will not charge people to use their debit cards. They include Ally Bank & ING Direct; Arvest Bank; Bancorp South; Eastern Bank; First Bank; the Hapo Credit Union, Yakima Federal Credit Union and Gesa Credit Union; M&I Bank; North Jersey Community Bank; Penn State Employees Credit Union; Redwood Credit Union, Exchange Bank, Summit State Bank, and Bank of Marin; Renasant Bank; State Farm Bank; Washington Mutual; USAA Bank; and US Bank.

    The suspicion here is that this list is likely to grow, as some banks decide that it is to their long term advantage to be perceived as not charging the consumer to use his or her own money. (Otherwise known as “gouging.”)

    That’s what smart companies do. They let the competition make a mistake, and then capitalize on it ... and that almost always means being on the side of the consumer.

    It’s Eye-Opening. And yet, there are none so blind as those who will not see.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart - long seen as the most efficient and effective retailer in terms of dealing with supply chain issues - “is now turning to consultants” to help it keep its shelves stocked.

    According to the story, “The retailer has hired firms including Acosta Inc. in the U.S. and Retail Insight in the U.K. to walk the aisles and track whether hundreds of items are in stock. Products are missing as a plan to add thousands of items to stores this year crowds storage space and tighter labor budgets leave workers less time to stock shelves.” Suppliers confirm that the out-of-stocks have become a significant problem.

    It is, the Bloomberg story suggests, emblematic of greater problems in Bentonville: “Wal-Mart’s empty shelves are a fresh example of how its reputation as the most efficient and cheapest merchant is eroding amid nine straight quarters of declining U.S. same-store sales. Pressured by unemployment and rising fuel costs, Wal-Mart shoppers are making fewer trips and visiting other stores more often, according to a study from WSL Strategic Retail.”
    KC's View:
    The attacks that Walmart continues to feel from women’s groups and organized labor are, in my view, less of a problem that what appears to be the erosion of its longtime and core value proposition. If that doesn’t get fixed, then all the other issues - including things like environmental initiatives - are not going to be all that important.

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    IHL Group is out with a new research study suggesting that “tablets and smartphones are redefining the retail shopping experience and will be a $5 billion market per year by 2015.”

    “By 2015, over 2.7 million tablets a year will be shipped for use in North American retail and hospitality, an increase of 450 percent,” the study says. “Specialty retailers will deploy nearly half of all tablets shipped to retail.”

    “The advent of mobile devices is a Gutenberg moment that is revolutionizing many aspects of the shopping experience," said Greg Buzek, president, IHL Group. "A complete transformation of the customer experience will occur at clothing and department stores over the next three years. Store personnel will be able to greet shoppers with their device, access purchase history, help customers accessorize, and even walk around as a personal shopper and check out the consumer — all from the same device.”
    KC's View:
    This technology is going to change everything. For sellers. For buyers. And companies that do not deal with this new reality and evolving expectations are going to be left behind.

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    Bloomberg has a story about how South Africa’s Pick n Pay Stores saw its first half profit cut in half - even as sales were up 7.4 percent - because of investments the company has made in loyalty marketing and supply chain systems.

    Interestingly, as the financial news came out, company CEO Nick Badminton sent an email to Pick n Pay customers that looked to position the chain - especially in view of heightened competition from Massmart, in which Walmart recently acquired a controlling interest.

    “The first thing we’d like to do is say a big thank you for shopping at Pick n Pay and for your loyalty to our company,” Badminton wrote. “We are delighted with our improved sales, which clearly show that over the past six months, more of you are shopping with us, more often than ever before. Again, a very big thank you to all of you.

    “One of the things you’ll notice is the very high level of investment we’ve made—and continue to make—to improve things for you at Pick n Pay. In fact, over the last six months alone, we’ve invested over R250 million.”

    Badminton continued: “For over 40 years, we’ve been improving your day-to-day shopping experience through lower prices, better selections, fresh food, convenient stores and value-added offerings as well as through community and nation building. We now have over 700 stores throughout Southern Africa, employing almost 50,000 people and processing over 50 million consumer transactions every single month. We share countless mealtimes, bath-times and family times as an integral part of the lives of ordinary South Africans. In all the ways that matter, we’re always there for you.”
    KC's View:
    I’ve always had a rooting interest in Pick n Pay. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to interview then-chairman Raymond Ackerman, who distinguished himself and his company by fighting against apartheid at a time when such a position was commercially and personally risky. Few people have that kind of legacy, and few companies have that kind of heritage.

    Competition often brings out the best in people and companies, and I hope that Pick n Pay is able to weather the competitive storms successfully.

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) said yesterday that it expects “holiday retail increase 2.8 percent to $465.6 billion,” and while “that growth is far lower than the 5.2 percent increase retailers experienced last year, it is slightly higher than the ten-year average holiday sales increase of 2.6 percent.”

    “Retailers are optimistic that a combination of strong promotions and lean inventory levels will help them address consumer caution this holiday season,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “While businesses remain concerned over the viability of the economic recovery, there is no doubt that the retail industry is in a better position this year to handle consumer uncertainty than it was in 2008 and 2009.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    • The Washington Post reports that “several prominent women’s groups joined with organized labor Wednesday to call on Wal-Mart to improve pay for its female workers after the U.S. Supreme Court banned employees from moving forward with a class-action lawsuit alleging sex discrimination.

    “The groups, which include the National Organization for Women, said that the retailer — the country’s largest private-sector employer — should review its pay scale to ensure that women are being compensated fairly and that managers are not discriminating against female employees. They also called on the company to establish a scheduling system that helps women juggling work and family commitments.”

    • The Post notes that Walmart “called the effort a ‘publicity stunt’ and said more than half of the hourly workers promoted over the past year were women. Last month, it pledged to spend billions of dollars during the next five years to train female workers around the globe and support women-owned businesses.”

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “labor unions are trying a new tactic in their long but so far unsuccessful campaign to organize workers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.: taking workers' complaints about store conditions to Wall Street financial analysts.

    “With help from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, current and former Wal-Mart workers and managers are planning what they call an alternate analysts' meeting near the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters on Tuesday, a day before the retailer holds its annual Wall Street briefing. Union representatives said more than 20 analysts agreed to attend.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told a food policy conference this week that he believes that food safety initiatives will be less susceptible to funding cuts that are being imposed because of the nation’s current economic doldrums.

    “I’m least concerned about the food-safety part than any other part,” Vilsack said, suggesting that nutrition and food assistance for poor families are more likely to be affected by budget cuts.

    However, Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was not so sanguine, saying that FDA food safety programs could be at risk.

    “Historically, it’s been significantly underfunded,” Hamburg said, adding that “there remains a very large gap” between food-safety needs and the agency’s budget.

    • Kroger-owned King Soopers said this week that the NuVal nutritional labeling system is now being used in all of its stores, providing shoppers with a 1-100 ranking of virtually every SKU being sold, with the most nutritious products getting the highest numbers based on a proprietary algorithm.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    • Golub Corporation/Price Chopper Supermarkets announced that Mike DeJulio has been named Director of Corporate Brands, reporting directly to Angelo Cannistraci, Group Vice President, Center Store, Pharmacy and Senior Merchandising Coordinator.

    In his new position, the company said, DeJulio “will be responsible for growing Corporate Brand sales for the 128 store chain. He will oversee the new item design and development and work with merchandising teams to create business plans for sales and profit objectives. Mike will work directly with Daymon for sourcing of products.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    Lots of reaction to yesterday’s news and commentary about the death of Steve Jobs.

    MNB user Ann Boyles wrote:

    My Facebook post when I heard the news.

    I type this post on my iPhone, Bob will read this on his iPad, Nolan will text me tomorrow from his iPod and Sydney just downloaded $15 worth of songs to our MacBook and synched with her iPod. Last December, The Boyles launched a new family calendar in the clouds. Earlier tonight when I added a soccer party and a business trip to the family calendar, Nolan Sydney and Bob's Apple devices updated simultaneously. What an amazing difference this technology has made in our lives.

    Regrets.....1) not adopting the Apple family sooner, and 2) should have bought more stock.

    Steve Jobs Thank You! Your little devices for one little family has made an incredible impact.

    One of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes:

    "Your time is limited, don't waste it living someone else's life.”

    FYI...this last line comes from a commencement speech that Jobs gave at Stanford University a half-dozen years ago. If you have not seen it, it is worth watching...and it is at left.

    MNB user Richard Lowe wrote:

    Very nice epitaph to Steve!

    To add to your view my oldest son was nurtured on Apple by Steve. At 20 years old he was hired by Notre Dame to run their photography dept. which assisted profs and grads on their thesis and lessons. They gave him a free hand with a $50,000 annual equipment budget and the ability to check out whatever he needed. They were Apple oriented and he fell in love. Writing programs to run the dept and track all projects and accounting. He expanded the dept into graphic design and hired a designer.

    He was hired away after 4 years by a grad student who worked with him to California to be a photographer/programer for Dynamation - builder and show provider of Dinosaurs. They fell on hard times a few years later and had to lay him off, when he became his own free lance programer consultant on Apple products making a better living than he ever had.

    Today he runs his own programing company Excelisys with 30 virtual employees all over the country operating on Macs and iPhones. His 6 yr old daughter has inherited his first model iPad as her own, and is fully entertained by it. He also transformed me about 6 years ago and I have never looked back.

    So you and he are part of millions of such stories!

    From another MNB user:

    Your obit for Steve Jobs was masterful.  Thank you so much.

    MNB user Lynn Olsen wrote:

    You made some very thoughtful comments about Steve Jobs , thank you.

    As a recent returnee to the Apple world after 25 years in the corporate PC world, I am passionate about how well my MacBook, iPad, iPhone, and AirPort work together to meet my needs. He was a master of simple elegance in design, very high standards in manufacturing and flawless usability. His genius as a passionate and brilliant marketer of the Apple brand was in knowing how to create a personal bond between Apple's technologies and its users - one device at a time. He knew that true quality and overall value will trump a simple low price offering, creating massive shareholder value in the process. I'm hopeful that those leadership lessons continue to prevail over the long term in his absence. He will be missed . . .

    MNB user Tom Devlin wrote:

    I am sure you are getting tons of emails on the passing of Steve Jobs. What I admired the most about the man is more than what he did with a company but rather what he built about himself after his success. It was never about ‘HIM” or he did not flash the bling, rather he focused on his creativity and doing the right thing . He would never be on a show like  on “Pimp my Ride” and  show off what he has. He had character.  My best quote from him was.... “Don’t be afraid to look foolish, follow your dreams”.. Rest in Peace to a brilliant mind and a better man...

    From another MNB user:

    Condolences to you and all Apple fans. All of our lives are better because of Steve Jobs' innovations and desire to create the most elegant solutions to issues we didn't even know we had.”

    MNB user Hortencia Espinoza wrote:

    I knew you would pay an appropriate and amazing tribute to Steve Jobs. Thank you.

    Yesterday, when the “breaking news” hit all over the Bay Area media sadly advising of his passing, you could feel the instant mourning for this great visionary. He is compared to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison but I really feel he was our generations Ben Franklin. The comparisons are amazing when you think about it.

    I cried when I heard of his passing. It brought back the flood of memories of growing up learning on Apple computers at school. In 1981 we were one of the first schools to have computers in school. Apple had donated 4 computers to our school. They were Macintosh Apple 2e’s. The “text books” were two huge binders. In a world where NO ONE owned a personal computer it was a HUGE deal. We had to learn how to format disks, understand binary codes and know BitMAP. From this moment on, Apple became a part of my life.

    Steve Jobs will be missed by all. I would say Rest in Peace but I can hear Steve now advising God how to improve on the next version of human.

    We also got a number of emails responding to Michael Sansolo’s Eye-Opener about Honor Flights.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I just returned from a trip to my hometown, Dayton-OH, and learned about the Honor Flight from my brother-in-law. He is driving to Lima, OH (75 miles) to pick up an uncle @ 4:00AM and bring him to the Dayton airport for the flight that morning. That beats Revile and Taps in the service - but not by much. He will meet the plane when it returns later that same evening. A small sacrifice for a great experience.

    While at the airport, I met a young Chief Warrant Officer (Army Airborne) who pilots a Chinook helicopter. He had just finished a 15 day leave and was headed back to Kandahar to finish his sixth (6th) year long tour in combat areas.

    May God bless them all, young and old, and speed them home safely.

    MNB user Tom Thurow wrote:

    I’m writing today to thank you for your Wednesday morning eye-opener of 10/5/11.  What you said and how you said it was emotional for me.  I could see the line of heroes and wished I could have been there to add my thanks.  My dad was a proud veteran and articles like this make me realize, sadly, I never thanked him for his work protecting our country.  Excellent piece of writing!

    MNB user Rick Henry wrote:

    Was flying home from the ABC Kids Expo recently held in Louisville.  Passing a Delta flight an attendant was making an announcement that a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam, a Sergeant Major in the Marines was on the flight that just arrived. 

    Louisville had a MOH conference in town and she told of him jumping on a grenade saving his troops in the process.  Everybody stopped to watch as the plan emptied, then a old fart (like me, about 60) came off in his Tommy Bahama shirt and was greeted by a thunderous explosion of applause and a standing ovation.  I am sure he did not receive the same welcome when he came back from Nam.  Glad we appreciate those that keep us free.

    MNB user Yvette Borrack wrote:

    I have been honored only once to land across from an arriving Honor Flight at Reagan in DC. It took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes and your story today reminded of that awesome moment when I was blessed to witness greatness and be filled with immense gratitude for these men. Instead of rushing to baggage to collect my bag I stood there till the last one exited the plane. Applauding each one. I felt so lucky to have witnessed this. Thanks for the memory.

    From another MNB user:

    God Bless these men who stormed the beaches in the European & Asian theaters of war so we can live in freedom and peace today.  Bigger blessings to the ones who never made it back home.

    MNB user Gary Spinazze, of Nash Finch, has the following request:

    There is an injured Marine (both legs and one arm plus other injuries) looking for airfare to the Marine Corps Ball which he was so honored to be invited to along with his wife. He is in Bethesda, Maryland, getting his new legs and arm when I talked to him las week. Any help from your readership would deeply appreciate  by this hero of ours.

    If anyone wants to help, I will forward the email to Gary.

    Finally, this email from MNB user Philip Bradley:

    I have been extremely disappointed in not seeing your sports results (at the end of MNB) include the results of the WNBA finals.  What terrific games!  The MN Lynx now lead the Atlanta Dream 2-0.  Please include the game results--and the winner--in future MNB columns.

    As you can tell, I am a huge fan of women's sports (I have two daughters) and of the Lynx (I live in Minneapolis)!

    I know I am going to get killed for this, but I had no idea the WNBA season was even taking place.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    In the final game of the best-of-five American League Divisional Series, the Detroit Tigers defeated the New York Yankees 3-2, and now will move on to play the Texas Rangers in the AL Championship Series.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 7, 2011

    Now here’s an idea that someone should have thought of a long time ago.

    Reuters had a story the other day about how Mexico City lawmakers are debating an entirely new definition of “until death do you part.”

    According to the story, “Leftists in the city's assembly -- who have already riled conservatives by legalizing gay marriage -- proposed a reform to the civil code this week that would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment, opting out of a lifetime.

    “The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stays happy. The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.”

    As in the US, half of the marriages in Mexico City end in divorce, though the rate is much lower outside the city limits. As would be expected, the Catholic Church is lobbying against any changes in marriage laws.

    However, I think this is a great idea. Takes all the sting out of relationships gone bad.

    Of course, Mrs. Content Guy - to whom I have been married for more than 28 years - would not be surprised by my position on this.

    When we were coming up on our 25th anniversary, I was fond of saying that marriage licenses should be like driver’s licenses or fishing licenses - at a certain point, you ought to be able to let them run out without penalty. And when she would ask me about my intentions, I was purposefully vague, like I had not made up my mind.

    I was being a wisenheimer.

    On our anniversary, I told her I’d come to a decision - and that I was re-upping for another 25 years.

    “That’s nice,” she said. “I’m re-upping for 10.”

    Served me right.

    Maybe I have to move to Mexico City...

    Thanks to all of you who asked how my college reunion went, after I wrote about my anticipation of the event a couple of weeks ago.

    It was fabulous. One of the best weekends I’ve ever had, hanging out with great people, most of whom I had not seen for 35 years. It is amazing, even after all this time, how conversations took on old rhythms, and familiar repartee emerged. It was great, and strangely enough has awakened a whole series of online discussions. (These days, it usually is the other way around.)

    There was one odd comment that I can’t quite figure - one guy said that I was taller than he remembered. Which is odd, because after 35 years you expect people to say that you are shorter, balder, grayer or wider ... but not taller. But I’ll take it.

    Furthermore, I was reminded when I was walking the campus of Loyola Marymount University of how much I love that place, and how important it was to me. I may have the opportunity to do some speaking there next year, and I’m really looking forward to it.

    With the death last year of author Robert B. Parker, his estate and publisher have found new writers to continue his various series. Ace Atkins, a mystery novelist who wrote the excellent “The Ranger” (recently reviewed here), will have his first Spenser novel out next year. And “Robert B. Parker’s Killing The Blues,” by Michael Brandman, is just out in bookstores now, continuing the adventures of small town police chief Jesse stone.

    Brandman has long experience with Parker’s work; he has produced all of the Tom Selleck movies about Jesse Stone, as well as three Spenser movies starring Joe Mantegna, and Monte Walsh, a western starring Selleck and written by Parker. And so he knows the characters well, and uses his first novel to merge the published and television universes inhabited by Stone, and which had diverged more and more over the years.

    To be honest, it isn’t a great book. As I read it, I kept thinking that it reminded me of a pretty good cover band - it may play the same music and sing the same lyrics as the original artist, but it is never the same. That metaphor isn’t chosen idly. When I interviewed Parker years ago for a newspaper story, he told me that that he believed that people liked to read his books because they enjoyed the rhythm and cadences and beats of the language, which he intended to be almost musical.

    I enjoyed “Killing The Blues,” and I’ll read the next one, in part because I’m invested in the characters and the series, and in part because I’m curious to see if Brandman gets better with practice.

    There’s a really good movie out there that you need to see - 50/50, the title of which refers to a young man’s chances of survival after he is diagnosed with cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a somewhat tentative radio producer living in Seattle, who is knocked for a loop when he is told of the disease by one of the most unfeeling doctors ever shown onscreen.

    The thing about 50/50 is that it is a funny, uplifting movie that never gets morose or maudlin; much of the humor is provided by Seth Rogen, who plays Adam’s best friend, and who makes it is mission to help him exploit the diagnosis as best he can (and if it helps him get girls, too, so much the better). Some of the humor is crude, but never gratuitous; it is organic to the characters and situation, and so it really works. (This is probably because 50/50 is based on a true story, and Rogen was actually the best friend of a guy diagnosed with cancer. So the moments feel absolutely real and never contrived.)

    There are two other excellent supporting performances - Anna Kendrick as a hospital therapist assigned to help Adam cope, and Anjelica Huston as his mom, who drives him nuts. The thing about both characters is that they take turns you don’t expect, and that keeps the film alive and fresh.

    50/50 didn’t do a lot of business when it opened last weekend; I suspect that’s because the subject matter seems off-putting. But I am telling you to go see it - it is beautifully written and acted, and is a lovely piece of filmmaking.

    I have several wines to recommend to you today...

    • the 2009 Christian Bernard Select Block Gamay, with just enough heft to stand up to a good burger.

    • the 2006 Duffy Waldorf Zinfandel from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, which is thick and smoky and wonderful.

    • the 2009 Alto Nero Davola from Sicily, fantastic with spicy Italian food (I’m partial to Cajun shrimp and pasta).

    • and the 2010 Zull “Lust & Laune” Gruner Veltliner, which is light and really drinkable.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: