retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to my piece on Friday about a moribund Microsoft store just a few doors down from a packed and vibrant Apple Store, MNB user Jarrett Paschel wrote:

I’ve been by the Microsoft store several times (including shortly after it opened) and it has never been very crowded. The challenges are two-fold.

First, Microsoft is not a really brand in the sense that Target, Apple, Trader Joe’s or Wegmans are. Nobody’s face lights up when you mention the word Microsoft. It’s sorta the Bank of America of the computer industry. Lacking that, the store is simply a retail space with a random amalgamation of products, many of which are neither best in class or aggressively priced. All of the notebooks I saw were cheaper on Amazon, and most were a generation behind.

The one interesting thing I did notice was that people were waiting to play with the Xbox Kinect, arguably their most successful consumer product. At the end of the day it’s the stuff—and not the brand—that really matters. Don’t believe me? Try to find someone with an Apple TV.

That’s easy. I just look in the mirror.

I own two Apple TV systems.

But I recognize that I am something of an outlier on this one.

MNB user Christopher Gibbons wrote:

I saw the exact same thing you described two months ago. I live in the Minneapolis area and my nephew and his father visited back in August of his year. As this was their first time here, I of course took them to the Mall of America. In our travels at the Mall, we came upon the Microsoft Store, something none of us knew even existed. It looked shiny and new, but somehow phony or fake. Kind of like the Stepford Wives or something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And what store do you suppose was literally right across the aisle from them, not more than 15 feet from door to door? You guessed it, the Apple Store. And just as in your photos, the Microsoft Store was virtually empty (other than lots of staff waiting for someone to serve) and the Apple Store was busy with customers. It was an interesting if somewhat surreal sight: the two stores, almost mirror images, facing each other. The one store appearing to be trying oh so hard to capture whatever magic the other had found. Without much success, it appeared...

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

It’s interesting that a discussion about the word “compassion” appeared on the same page as your description of your VEAL dinner.  Do you know how much veal calves suffer?  Do you know how the industry makes sure their meat is white instead of pink?

Point taken.

For the record, I may have eaten veal twice in the last 20 years. (That would be twice more than Mrs. Content Guy.) Last week, when I ate it, I was in a restaurant where there were no choices and no substitutions - the menu was the menu was the menu. Maybe if I were truly principled guy I would have have skipped that course, but it isn;t like they went out and slaughtered a calf just for me. The veal already was in the place and just required cooking ... it would have been a waste not to eat it.

Is this a rationalization? Sure? Are you philosophically correct? Absolutely. Was the veal delicious? You betcha.

Is this an ongoing conundrum? Not really. I’m guessing that I probably won’t be in this position again for another decade or so.

Regarding Whole Foods not taking checks in many of its locations anymore, one MNB user wrote:

Retailers typically pay for the bank to clear checks on a per check basis too.  Slower checkouts and then you also have the bounced checks to contend with.

The only thing retailers would love is cash money, then no clearing or swipe fees to contend with. Cash Only stores could reduce costs about 2% vs. "full service" operator and get that advantage.

There are some many and varied charges on your monthly credit card remittance statement, you literally have to take it on faith that it is correct.  There is really no way to try to reconcile the charges and remittances into your retail account.  Gold Cards, Rewards Cards, Platinum Cards each have a different discount rate usually.  The higher the "reward" for the consumer, the lower the remittance rate back to the retailer.  So the retailer is subsidizing the card company's so-called rewards.

MNB user Tom Kroupa chimed in:

You do know that the UK is banning check writing in a few years. It will save the banks processing fees. It will also prevent the proliferation of fraudulent checks of which I was a victim a few years ago. But I understand it may be inconvenient for some people. I am amazed to see individuals writing checks at the grocery checkout counters when a swipe card is faster, easier and (for now) does not cost any more than writing a check.

Walmart announced it is cutting back on health care coverage for its employees, with one part of it being that smokers will be charged more for their premiums - a piece of the policy that I completely endorse.

One MNB user responded:

As a former smoker for well over a decade, I wholeheartedly agree with your comment that smokers should pay higher healthcare premiums.  It is a (long term) suicidal practice and most smokers know full well that they are putting their long term health at risk.  Most of them will readily admit so when asked and many will also profess a want to quit!

I tried to quit at least 6 or 7 times over the years, the most successful span lasting a little over two months before some major life impacting event (that I don't even remember!) got me to relapse.  Lo and behold, it was actually my employers actions that got me to finally quit once and for all.  First, they banned it from the campus (oh, the gnashing of teeth!) so it became inconvenient to hike off the grounds to light up.  To this day, I can't help but chuckle at the hard core tobacco users standing on the sidewalk at the edge of our property when I drive by.  Two years later, they announced a program that offered lower premiums for non-smokers and presented a cessation program.  Again, met with a healthy level of outrage from the impacted few.

Though many called this an infringement on their personal freedoms and still do, for me it was the right incentive at the right time.  I'll have been tobacco free 3 years next March and I've never felt better than I do today.  I know it was my will to make it work, but I fully recognize that my employer's policies helped me make my life changing decision.

MNB user Larry Lyons wrote:

I do not smoke, have never smoked, but am torn as to my OWN opinion as to how smokers should be charged for their insurance premiums.

While I agree the statistics prove they consume more health care dollars and should be charged accordingly…no different than a poor driver…it is a slippery slope. A poor driver has accidents or speeding tickets, which are documented, thus proving they are higher risk.

How do you prove a person is smoking if they simply SAY they aren’t at work?

Do you pull their Facebook to check up on them?

Do you administer blood tests to check their nicotine levels?

No? Then why would a person admit they smoke?

Do we begin charging folks who are obese more? Their health care costs are surely more than a slimmer person? What about a person who is simply overweight? A sliding scale perhaps? Monthly weigh-ins to set your premiums?

It all comes back to costs. This country has to address the insanely high, unsustainable costs of our byzantine health care system.

When health care becomes so expensive people cannot even afford the insurance when medical outlays place the government itself on the brink of insolvency…something has to change…radically.

Charging smokers more for their insurance may seem “fair” to us non-smokers, but it will not fix the issue. Not even close!

Another reader offered:

As you know, life style choices make a huge difference in health care costs. The brutal truth is that our food choices (our bad food choices) have a big impact on overall health especially heart disease, diabetes and strokes. If employers are going to go after tobacco users then the next logical step is to go after those who make bad food choices and become obese. While this would be viewed as discrimination somehow we don’t have the same discrimination view toward tobacco users. I personally don’t like paying high premiums because of other peoples lack of concern for themselves. There needs to be some financial incentive to stay healthy and maybe high premiums for those who aren’t living healthfully should pay the price and those who are making the effort should be rewarded.

MNB user Charles James wrote:

Overall we agree on most issues however your position on paying more for health insurance because of smoking? …come on. There are a lot of risky behaviors that we all engage in.

Life, after all is  100% fatal. I can see the long term result of your  thinking and it would lead us to having our lives invaded by some bean counter deciding  how to tax us on any number of life style issues and behaviors we exhibit. That’s why insurance is a pooled resource. Anyway where would you stop? Should we tax jay walkers, the overweight, the old ( they get sick a lot) the young (they get sick a lot) and when did we ever want mega-profitable insurance companies deciding how we should live. The perfect world for an insurance company is one where everyone is paying in, nothing ever happens to anyone and they never  pay out…you get my drift.

And finally, responding to some observations made in “OffBeat” on Friday, one MNB user wrote:

I want to thank you for taking my question seriously and elevating it with a review of Top Pot and Voodoo simultaneously.  I know it involved serious personal sacrifice and suffering to eat those four donuts.  I knew I could count on you to take one for the team.  So now my Pacific NW trip will have to include both shops to see if I agree with your assessment.  It’ll be a while until I make the tour, but I’ll be sure to share when I do.

P.S.  I am guessing that by Monday you will get a flood of emails about everyone’s favorite indie donut shop that will start a list like the hamburger favorites.  Should my prediction be correct…please add Paula’s Donuts in Buffalo to the list.  Pumpkin Spice for the holidays is out of this world and the Red Velvet is no joke either.

KC's View: