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    Published on: October 28, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    The growing ubiquity of smartphones and tablet computers has become well documented. But apparently, some of this documentation could be written in crayon.

    Advertising Age reports on a new study from Common Sense Media saying that “half of kids under 8 (and 40% of 2- to 4-year-olds) have access to a smartphone, iPad or some other mobile media device. Ten percent use these devices daily for an average of 43 minutes.”

    So while television is the medium most consumed by kids, clearly there is an evolving trend to which marketers need to cater. Now, to be clear, the study notes that the kids with access to all this technology tend to belong to fairly affluent families.

    But not only are these the customers of the future, but there may be appropriate ways for marketers to engage with these youngsters that will create a kind of loyalty.

    But beyond all that potential opportunity, there is something eye-opening about all this mobile access among people so young.

    (There is more to the study, much of it depressing. I’ll have more to say about it in OffBeat, below.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    The New York Times reports this morning that Walmart has been hit with a new gender bias lawsuit by women claiming that the retailer has discriminated against them. The new suit is, in fact, a narrower version of a class action suit tossed out four months ago by the US Supreme Court, which said, as the Times writes, that the 1.5 million women involved “had failed to establish that the legal and factual issues involving all those women had enough in common to be examined as a single class.”

    The new suit is specific to Walmart’s California stores, and the lawyers filing the suit said that it was just the first of an “armada” of lawsuits that would be filed against the retailer over the next six months, challenging the company’s employment practices in other regions of the country.

    “The lawsuit filed Thursday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California,” the Times reports, “contends that Wal-Mart’s discriminatory practices on pay and job promotion affected more than 90,000 women currently or formerly employed at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in four regions in California and neighboring states.”

    It may be a smaller class action, but not small enough for Walmart.

    “As we have said all along, these claims are unsuitable for class treatment because the situations of each individual are so different, and because the claims of these five plaintiffs are not representative of the thousands of women who work at Wal-Mart,” Greg Rossiter, a company spokesman, told the Times via e-mail.

    One of the things that the new lawsuit alleges is that former Walmart senior executive Tom Coughlin once said that “women tend to be better at information processing,” while “men are better at focus single objective,” and that the latter was key to Walmart’s ongoing success.

    The original lawsuit - filed against Walmart by a single woman alleging gender discrimination - dates back to 1999.
    KC's View:
    Whether it was formal or informal, institutional or cultural, it is not hard for me to believe that there was some sort of gender discrimination going on at Walmart at some point in time. I’m willing to also accept the notion that the company recognizes the problem and is trying to fix it. (Though some habits die hard, especially in some places.)

    That said, it is not hard to see where this is going. Walmart is going to fight every class action suit for as long as it can, whittling away until either everybody trying to sue is dead, or just worn out from the effort. And only the lawyers will get rich.

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    USA Today writes this morning that Consumer Reports is about to “ reveal a mislabeled seafood scam that leaves millions of consumers clueless whether the fish they think they're buying is the fish they're actually getting.

    “The world's largest independent product-testing organization Friday will reveal that 22% of the seafood it tested at supermarkets, restaurants, fish markets, gourmet stores and big-box stores in three states was either mislabeled, incompletely labeled or misidentified by store or restaurant employees.”

    According to the story, “The investigation, which took place in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, included 190 pieces of fresh and frozen seafood that were DNA tested by two outside labs.” Among the findings: “Not one of the 10 lemon soles tested was lemon sole — but more common and cheaper flounder. And of 22 red snapper samples, not one was definitively red snapper, though eight couldn't be ruled out.” In addition, “some 18% of the samples didn't match the names on placards, labels or menus. Another 4% were incompletely labeled or misidentified.”

    The story also says that “only four of the 14 different types of fish purchased — Chilean sea bass, coho salmon and bluefin and ahi tuna — were always identified correctly.”
    KC's View:
    Okay, so the story also says that Consumer Reports could not determine - or does not speculate about - whether this was fraud or just incompetence.

    But either way, this ain’t good. In fact, I’m not sure which would be worse.

    And it follows up on a Boston Globe story earlier this week that found much the same thing in Beantown.

    It all adds up to a system that consumers are not going to have confidence in ... and that needs to move quickly to fix the problems and get things right. ASAP.

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    Wakefern Food Corp. announced yesterday that Dean Janeway is retiring as president/COO of the company, to be succeeded by Joseph Sheridan, a 35-year veteran of the company who has held the position of executive vice president since 1996.

    The company announced that “in honor of Mr. Janeway’s generous spirit and 45 years of service, it has established The Dean Janeway Endowment for Healthcare Excellence at the Foundation of UMDNJ. Mr. Janeway will designate the $1 million endowment to support groundbreaking research, scholarships for future healthcare professionals or patient care and community service programs for the underserved; all programs offered through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.”

    Janeway will remain as president emeritus through January 2012.

    “Dean has led Wakefern through a period of unprecedented growth,” said Joseph S. Colalillo, chairman and CEO of Wakefern Food Corp. “His dedication to seeing Wakefern’s members succeed is at the heart of our success.”

    The retirement was announced as Wakefern reported record annual sales of $12.8 billion for the just-ended fiscal year, up 8.5 percent from a year earlier.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    Redbox, the Coinstar-owned DVD and video game rental service with 28,000 locations nationwide, announced yesterday in an email to users that it is raising its prices 20 percent - from one dollar to $1.20 - effective Monday, October 31.

    The move comes some months after Netflix, the online DVD rental service, caused a small firestorm among its subscribers by raising its prices 60 percent.

    The company said that one of the main reasons for the increase was “higher debit card fees that went into effect October 1.” Crain’s Chicago Business notes that while financial reforms “capped the interchange fees that banks charge to process debit-card transactions ... some merchants who primarily handle small transactions saw their costs increase under new rules.”

    Redbox said that Blu-ray discs and video games will stay at their current daily rental rates ($1.50 a day for Blu-ray discs and $2 a day for games).
    KC's View:
    After the Netflix debacle, Redbox probably figured there was no time like the present to increase prices. And the move is even easier when you can blame it on those damned politicians.

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    • Winn-Dixie Stores announced that it has “launched a smartphone application that will help guests better manage their prescriptions and locate the nearest Winn-Dixie Pharmacy with their iPhone, Android or Blackberry smartphones. The easy-to-use app is available as a free download through Apple Inc.’s iTunes, the Android Market, Blackberry App World or through links on Winn-Dixie’s website.”

    According to Mary Kellmanson, Winn-Dixie group vice president of marketing, “Using the new app will help guests view and reorder prescriptions, receive alerts when their prescription is ready, set reminders to take their medications and remind them of dosage, and even remind them to schedule a doctor’s appointment.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    • More trouble brewing for Walmart in China, as Bloomberg Business Week reports that the company is accused of selling a pack of coffee that had passed its expiration date. The alleged sale took place in Chongqing, the same municipality where Walmart has been dealing with charges that it was selling ordinary pork and labeling it as organic.

    Walmart says it is investigating the charges.
    KC's View:
    What’s Chinese for “Oy!”? There is so much more going on here than a simple food safety/labeling investigation. Not sure who Walmart ticked off, but I guess it is time to increase the budget line for “bribes.”

    Because the way things are going, that may be the only Walmart is going to get a break over there...

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    Bloomberg Business Week reports that while a recent poll by BIGresearch indicated that most shoppers plan to spend less money during the upcoming holiday season at chains ranging from Best Buy to Gap to Toys R Us, they are planning to spend more at one chain: Costco.

    And, the story says, “While purchases are expected to increase from last year -- the National Retail Federation forecasts a 2.8 percent gain in sales in November and December -- that spending may be targeted toward items such as Costco’s home decorations and clothing rather than pricier electronics.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Procter & Gamble “s offering its staff an early-retirement program,” which it expects to be completed by June 2012, as part of what some analysts say is a broader restructuring the company.

    But that doesn’t mean the company has stopped hiring. “We will continue to hire throughout this process and you will see modest enrollment increases in come part of the company and modest decreases in others depending on the needs of the business," says Paul Fox, a company spokesman.

    • Food Lion-owned Bottom Dollar Food, a discount grocer with expansion efforts underway in the greater Philadelphia market, is scheduled to open a new store there today - a 15,400 square feet unit that will be the discount grocer’s 24th location in the region.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    Regarding Walmart’s decision to move its fashion office from New York to Bentonville, one MNB user wrote:

    I don’t see this as desperation, just getting back to their roots.  I was fortunate enough to be a Wal-Mart Divisional for 10 years from 95 -06 and I believe they are getting back to what they do best.  Name brands for less.  Wal-Mart has always been about change, so change here is not unusual.

    But another reader offered:

    When I look at Wal*Mart today compared to it's beginning, I'm reminded of the history of other large retail institutions. It appears to me that Wal*Mart is going the way of many large corporations, forgetting its roots and business philosophy. It is becoming entrenched with burdensome rules and committee style decision making and becoming top-heavy with management that contributes nothing to the bottom line. What was once a nimble and fast acting company is fast becoming a monolithic immovable object that has no idea which way to go. It looks like the rise and fall of a larger Kmart.

    We had a story yesterday in which the USDA predicted an increase in food prices this year, prompting one reader to write:

    Wow. I want that guys job. It must be nice to get paid to predict what's going to happen after it's already happened. The amazing part is, I think they still got it wrong. I'm no expert in the area but pretty average. Between content reductions in so many staples and price increases, my family's grocery bill is up closer to 10% this year. Being pretty average, I'd guess that's common and the 3.5% to 4.5% post-call is short of the mark.

    We’re still getting email about Kate McMahon’s column, which criticized Dr Pepper for its introduction of Dr Pepper Ten as a “for men only” drink ... suggesting that perhaps it was misguided to be condescending to women, who still do most of the shopping. Besides, she said, the commercials aren’t funny: “When the joke is sexist, demeaning, offensive or part of a lame marketing strategy ... that falls as flat as day-old soda,” she wrote.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Kevin, Can’t say that the ad is particularly interesting but what I DO find interesting is the ever-present ‘men bashing’ group who will take any opportunity to find what men do, that excludes women, to be offensive. IT’S A COMMERCIAL ... since when do we take ANY commercials to be serious…………every one of them is simply trying to get our money.

    It certainly seems unpopular to be a ‘man’ these days unless you have been sufficiently emasculated and judged by the women around you and, in that case, you now ‘think’ yourself to be a man as defined by women. Should women be held to the same litmus test ???


    We actually got a bunch of emails from guys who think that men in general have been emasculated. Which surprised me, since I don’t feel particularly emasculated. Though to be fair, when I wrote yesterday that I agreed with Kate’s opinion about the marketing campaign, one MNB user thought I needed help.

    Steve Kneepkens wrote:

    Dude – seriously put down the rose wine, the turtle neck, and the hair gel -   and move to Iowa and bale some hay or something cause you are exactly why this country has problems discerning between the roles of men and women. The whole metro thing is a lot more offensive then any Dr. Pepper commercial.

    There is a very special woman – MY lovely wife  - who watched this commercial and thinks it was kind of cute – her words not mine – the 2 ½ men version of an ad. Great analogy! I am sending you a flannel shirt and a tool belt for Christmas.

    Thanks for the offer, but I have plenty of flannel shirts. As for the tool belt, I’d have no idea what to do with it. And I’m not a hay-baling sort of guy.

    However, I do make a mean seafood risotto ... which you probably think makes me emasculated, but I always figured simply made me self-sufficient. (I can live without hay. Risotto, not so much.)

    Finally, I noted the other day that I’ve just “cracked open” my copy of the new Steve Jobs biography, which led MNB user Paul Woodard to ask:

    Curious, when you say “cracked open” the bio – hardcopy or Kindle?  I’m reading my first book on my iPad, not sure how I feel yet.  Great when traveling, still not sure it will be my “go-to” for all of my reading…yet.

    In this case, I have the hard copy ... because I wanted to make it easy to lend out, especially to my kids.

    But I read most books on my iPad or Kindle. And love it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    In an extraordinary, riveting, heart-pounding sixth game of the MLB World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers 10-9 in eleven innings, sending the series to a seventh and deciding game to be played tonight.
    KC's View:
    And I’m going to be there. How cool is that! (It is wonderful to have good friends....)

    Published on: October 28, 2011

    Okay, Amazon did not have the best week.

    For the third quarter in a row, its profits were down, and the company said this was because of “stepped-up expenditures on new warehouses and technology upgrades to keep up with rapid growth in its business.” As the Seattle Times reported, CFO Tom Szkutak said that “Amazon is sacrificing profit now to grab a bigger share of the online marketplace.”

    But analysts were not impressed, and the stock price dropped significantly. And some folks are not convinced that what appears to be Amazon’s Kindle strategy - which seems to be sell the new Kindle Fire tablet computer at a loss but counting on consumers to buy more content and spend more money - will work in the long run.

    They may be right.

    But I would just suggest that since Jeff Bezos founded Amazon back in 1994, there have been no shortage of of times that investors and analysts have questioned his strategy - and even his sanity. And almost every time, Bezos ultimately has been proven to be right ... and that while the short-term implications may not have been positive, the long view has shown that he has had an uncanny knack for understanding how to best serve the customer.

    Now, I have no idea if this will be the time when Bezos is found to have miscalculated. It might be.

    But I would not be inclined to bet against him.

    For a moment, I want to get back to that Common Sense Media study referenced in this morning’s Eye-Opener.

    In addition to the stats about the use of mobile media by kids under eight, there were some other distressing findings in the study:

    “Kids under 2 spend more than twice as much time watching video as they do being read to,” Ad Age writes. “Nearly four in 10 kids grows up in a house where the TV is on most or all of the time, even if no one is watching it. By the time they hit 8 years old, kids are as likely to have a TV in their bedroom as not.” (Once again, the study suggests that this seems to be more prevalent among the affluent.)

    And we wonder why there is an obesity crisis in this country.

    Sure, we need to eat healthier. We need to get more exercise. But we obviously also need to turn off the TV, and spend less time on our computers and cell phones. (And I say this as someone who spends an ungodly amount of time on his computer and cell phone.)

    And one other thing. If there is an increasing distance between the haves and the have-nots, I wonder if it might be partly because the have-nots are dealing with the reality of life, and the haves are spending too much of their time watching TV, thinking, for example, that reality shows have anything to do with reality.

    I’m just asking.

    The Associated Press reports that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has a new strategy in its fight for animal rights - it is asking a federal court to grant constitutional rights to five killer whales that perform at various SeaWorld amusement parks. Specifically, PETA says that SeaWorld is violating the 13th Amendment, which outlaws slavery.

    Now, the AP is generous in its reporting of this move, calling it “an unprecedented and perhaps quixotic legal action that is nonetheless likely to stoke an ongoing, intense debate at America's law schools over expansion of animal rights.”

    But let me just say this.

    I am against animal cruelty. Not to the point where I’m going to stop eating steak or fish, but I think that animals should be treated as humanely as possible before they become an entree.

    That said, this new PETA effort is nuts.

    I mean, seriously nuts.

    And it is the kind of move that, while PETA may think it serves the larger strategy of bringing attention to animal rights, actually undermines its efforts and credibility.

    Next thing you know, they’ll be asking that animals be given their Miranda rights before going to the slaughterhouse.

    Though I would pay real money to see what Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would do with this one.

    Just finished reading “The Affair,” the new Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. This is a kind of prequel, taking place immediately before the events described in “Killing Floor,” the first novel in the series. This is everything one expects from Child - fast-moving action and snappy dialogue, combined with a view of his hero that helps us understand how he became the man so many of have followed through 16 novels. One of the central metaphors of the book is a train that roars every evening through a small Mississippi town; the Reacher novels are just like that train, and it is good news for addicts that they arrive like clockwork.

    The Captains is a new documentary written and directed by William Shatner in which he looks and the lives and careers of the people who have played starship captains in the Star Trek series - Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”), Avery Brooks (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”), Kate Mulgrew (“Star Trek: Voyager”), Scott Bakula (“Enterprise”), and Chris Pine (who played James T. Kirk, Shanter’s character from the original TV series, in the recent film reboot of Star Trek).

    The film is fun and idiosyncratic and full of Shatner enjoying being Shatner, which he does better than anybody - if you aren’t a Shatner fan, you’re not going to enjoy The Captains Now, to be honest, one has to be a real hardcore Star Trek fan to enjoy this movie, which I am. And it is fun to see him interacting with all the people who followed him in the franchise ... though it is a little disconcerting to discover that Avery Brooks - who played Sisko, my favorite Star Trek captain - seems to be permanently occupying some other galaxy other than our own.

    My wine of the week - the 2009 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Malbec, which is about as smooth and delicious as one can expect a Malbec to be.

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

    KC's View: