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    Published on: November 16, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Call it yet more evidence that we’re living in the tablet computer era.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that “four in five consumers would rather receive a tablet instead of a laptop for the holidays this year, according to a shopping survey conducted by PriceGrabber ... Apple's iPad remained the top tablet, with 83% saying they preferred the iPad or iPad 2. Five percent said they wanted the new Amazon Kindle Fire...”

    According to the survey, “Those who preferred tablets said they liked that they were easy to carry and transport, lightweight, convenient and had touchscreens.”

    And marketers have no choice - they are going to have to develop sites and applications that are optimized for tablet computers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    • Walmart announced yesterday that it has brought to a halt its nine quarter streak of stagnant or declining US same-store sales, saying that they were up 1.3 percent for the third fiscal quarter. However, the company’s Q3 net income declined 2.9 percent to $3.34 billion from $3.44 billion a year earlier, on total revenue for the quarter that was up 8.1 percent to $110.2 billion.

    • The Washington Post reports that Walmart plans to announce today that it will open two more stores in the District of Columbia - six in total - despite the fact that there has been a degree of resistance from local activists and union organizers who complain that the retailer pays substandard wages.

    According to the story, “The announcement is expected a year after the company revealed its aggressive plan to enter the District for the first time, a push for the Arkansas-based company that has saturated rural and suburban areas and has begun moving into major urban markets.”
    KC's View:
    The stories about Walmart’s sales and profits note that the company’s stock price went down yesterday, and the concern here is that whatever the company is doing these days to right the ship, it may overcompensate for the issues that it has with the stock market. The long game requires confidence, perseverance and a willingness to endure stock market slips because there is a clear vision of the future. And, as I’ve pointed out here before, there are a lot of people who believe that many of Walmart’s moves are tactical, not strategic ... and that it does have the clear vision required.

    Published on: November 16, 2011 announced that its Price Check by Amazon app, originally released only for the iPhone, is now available for Android mobile phones.

    Price Check by Amazon is described as “a price comparison app that provides shoppers the easiest way yet to compare in-store prices with the low prices on and its more than two million online merchants, across all categories of products -- from toys to consumer electronics. Shoppers can use the app to scan a barcode, snap a picture, or say or type a product name to see prices from and its other online merchants and read product reviews. Shoppers can then purchase the item with 1-Click and have it delivered directly to their doorstep.”

    "So far this year we've seen shoppers with iPhones choose Price Check's barcode scanner to check prices more than any other search method available with the Price Check app and use Price Check millions of times, most frequently on weekends," says Sam Hall, director of Amazon Mobile. "We're thrilled to now offer Android users the same instant access to Amazon's prices wherever they shop."
    KC's View:
    The existence of this application should scare the hell out of traditional retailers that focus on price ads to be their differential advantage. Sure, you have to be sharp on price ... but you also have to have other things going for you that Amazon cannot or does not offer, because those will be the advantages that help maintain consumer loyalty in the long run.

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    Consumer Reports said yesterday that it has released a new application in the iTunes Store called “Eco-Label,” which provides detailed information about products’ environmental claims.

    According to the announcement, “The Eco-Label App is a new mobile version of Consumer Reports',” which assesses labels such as “organic,” “natural,” and “hypoallergenic.”

    “The Eco-Label App lets you search for information by alphabetical label index or by product including foods, cleaners, and personal care products,” Consumer Reports writes. “It also offers a label ‘report card,’ which provides clear guidance on which labels make truthful and meaningful claims, and which do not.” The magazine notes that “the best labels are meaningful, verified, consistent, transparent, and independent. They are those that have been developed with broad public and industry input.”

    The app costs 99 cents.

    • A company called Grail Research is out with a new survey called “The Green Revolution” that says “consumers who previously purchased green products have decreased their green purchasing as a result of the recession. Specifically, 43 percent of ‘light green’ consumers – those who buy some green products – reduced their usage of green products or switched to conventional ones. At the same time, the percentage of non-green consumers rose from 15 percent to 22 percent.”

    The survey goes on to say that “the number of light green consumers, those who purchase some green products, decreased from 76 percent to 60 percent of the population,” that “the percentage of former green consumers rose from only one percent in the previous survey to 10 percent of consumers,” and that “among green consumers, 43 percent cited the economic recession as the reason for not purchasing green products in specific categories – the top reason given.”
    KC's View:
    Feels like the survey is asked and answered by the ?Consumer Reports app ... especially because one of the other things that the survey finds is that people want better, more accessible information about green products.

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    • Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets said yesterday that it currently is hiring more than 600 employees for 20 stores in California and Nevada that are expected to open early next year.

    Among the California markets where Fresh & Easy will be opening stores are Brentwood, Burbank, Costa Mesa, Hermosa Beach, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara; the retailer also has a new store slated to open in Las Vegas.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that executive recruiters say that “they're spending a lot of their time turning up executives who can build and manage websites, handle increasingly complex inventory management, and unsnarl the logistical problems that come with developing a new sales channel.

    “The moves are being spurred by the fast growth of online sales and a realization by some big brick-and-mortar chains that they're still behind the curve.”

    Among the companies looking for high-level e-commerce executives are Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s.
    KC's View:
    I’m going to betray my own bias here, but while it is critical to have people with vision building and managing websites, it is even more important to have people who can create compelling content. That does not mean a “soft sell” necessarily - I would argue that Amazon’s content is compelling, and that all the bells and whistles in the world won;t make up for boring content.

    I used to work for a website where the majority owners thought it was more important to hire developers and technicians who specialized in bells and whistles, but they dramatically underfunded editorial because they thought that was less important. Ultimately, it went out of business ... I’m not sure it is cause and effect, but I would argue that cool buttons and graphics won’t make up for provocative content, and that when tough times come, buttons and graphics won’t engender loyalty.

    So I hope that companies like Walmart and Target are thinking about content.

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    Bloomberg reports this morning that after having posted a net loss of $5.1 billion during the 2011 fiscal year, the US Postal Service (USPS) is projecting that it will have “a record $14.1 billion loss for the 2012 fiscal year as a drop in mail volumes accelerates.”

    “We continue to see steady declines, unfortunately, in first-class mail, which is our most profitable product,” Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said yesterday. “We have to build tomorrow’s postal service based on revenue and volume projections as we look forward. We can’t look backward.”

    USPS is projecting that mail volume is likely to drop by six percent during the 2012 fiscal year, significantly exceeding the two percent annual drop that it had been forecasting.
    KC's View:
    Dead business model walking.

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times reports that a new report from the Breast Cancer Fund says that the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) “has been found in canned products commonly used in Thanksgiving dinners.”

    According to the story, “The organization tested four cans of each of the following: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, Campbell's Turkey Gravy, Carnation Evaporated Milk, Green Giant Cut Green Beans, Libby's Pumpkin, Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce and Del Monte Fresh Cut Sweet Corn, Cream Style. The amount of BPA found in cans of the same product was inconsistent. But for half of the items tested, a 120-gram serving of the product contained a BPA concentration of more than 11 parts per billion, the level that lab studies have shown to have negative health effects.”

    The Times notes that BPA is used to make the resin lining of many metal food cans, and that some research studies have suggested that its ingestion “could increase the risks of getting breast and prostate cancer and other diseases ... Legislation banning BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups exists in 11 states, including California.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    The Bergen Record reports that Toys R Us has decided to open at 9 pm on Thanksgiving Day, an earlier than last year and an hour earlier than the planned opening by Walmart as it looks to capture shoppers looking to get a leg up on the Black Friday traditional beginning of the end-of-year holiday shopping season.
    KC's View:
    I guess after that headline, I don’t have to add any additional comment.

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    With FastCommentary in italics... reports that Rouses has opened a new supermarket in New Orleans’ Central Business District (CBD), becoming what the site says is “the first supermarket in the downtown area since the A.M. & J. Solari Market and Food Emporium was demolished in the 1960s.”

    According to the story, “Reflecting the increasingly well-heeled downtown population, the store offers high-end luxury items in addition to the usual canned goods and Louisiana-made products: a stone-fired pizza oven, lobster and live fish tanks, a pho bar, a gelateria, a humidor and an extensive wine section.”

    Love the comment on the site noting that while “much has been made about ‘food deserts’ in New Orleans ... they might more accurately be called ‘nutrition deserts‘ — areas where healthy food is difficult to obtain due to distance, lack of public transit and other factors.” And the thing is, while New Orleans has been one of America’s most troubled cities, urban living is coming back...and we’re going to see a lot more of this kind of development from a lot of different companies. Good to see a local company like Rouses - where they make such of the best food I’ve ever tasted in a supermarket - getting in on the action.

    • Starbucks announced that the Create Jobs For The USA Fund being administered by the Opportunity Finance Network - which is being financed in part by a $5 million donation from the Starbucks Foundation - has raised $1 million in just its first two weeks.

    According to the Network, “Every $5 donation can lead to approximately $35 in loans to small businesses, with community lenders issuing $30 in financing, on average, for each donation through their respective financing sources.”

    As part of the effort, donors who contribute $5 or more at their local Starbucks “receive a red, white, and blue wristband with the message ‘Indivisible.’ The wristbands are individually handmade in the U.S.A. and all component materials are manufactured by U.S. suppliers. More than 200,000 wristbands have been distributed to donors since Nov. 1.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    On the subject of Amazon investing in its Prime loyalty program - adding services without increasing the price - one MNB user wrote:

    What a concept- putting the customer first. How quaint. How novel. A throwback to simpler times. ( hope you get the sarcasm.) It's why I use Amazon first and remain loyal. Their prime program is ingenious. They had me at free 2 day shipping!

    On another subject, MNB user Terry Pyles wrote:

    I've never stepped foot in a Fresh & Easy so I don't know what they do well and what they do not so well.  I do however admit to a certain amount of schadenfreude where Tesco is concerned.  These are the guys who so arrogantly proclaimed they were going to come to the USA and show Americans a thing or two about retailing.

    Really?  How's that working out?

    If you can back it up you're Joe Namath . . . otherwise you're just another Rex Ryan.

    Love this email from MNB user Steve Fitzgerald - Jostens, mostly because its opening line echoes sports radio, which has always been my model for MNB:

    First time comments…. Long term subscriber…

    It’s with  great  interest that  I noticed your comments on Whole Foods and their inclusion of a Beer Garden in the new Folsom, CA location.

    For me….If we had a beer garden in  any of the  Southern NE  supermarkets….It would sure put a “New  Light”  on helping out  the Mrs., by running to the supermarket  for  milk and bread.  In fact I’d probably be inclined to make that trip daily!

    On the subject of Starbucks hoping to re-imagine the coffee section of the supermarket, one MNB user wrote:

    Safeway tried a few years ago to re-organize its soda aisle by flavor (i.e., Cola/Diet/Dr Pepper/Lemon Lime/etc..) instead of by vendor (Coke/Pepsi/7up/Safeway), and customers HATED it, and Safeway reversed course.  Starbucks needs to remember this.

    They will now.

    On the subject of milk being used to create a new fabric by a German designer, one MNB user wrote:

    In light of the effect the use of corn and soy in traditionally oil based products has had on the price of those goods and the food supply, I'm not sure it's a good idea to do the same thing with dairy.

    A good point.

    And, from MNB user Henry Stein:

    Nice use of a few puns (whole udder industry) on the Cow Milk and Textile topic.

    Clearly, when there is an attempt by an entrepreneur like Anke Domaske to Homogenize an industry, she should be recognized as being cut from another cloth, and my guess is that this is not the type of business-person who will skim profits. While she certainly is up against tough odds, maybe 1% to 2% success rate, I would not blame her for milking this fashion idea for as long as possible.

    You get the prize. I give up.

    Regarding former Apple Stores chief Ron Johnson’s new efforts to totally reinvent JC Penney, one MNB user wrote:

    Kevin, I will be watching Ron Johnson’s attempt at re-imaging the JC Penny concept with great interest. Creating a space that sold solutions for problems/opportunities that people didn’t even know they had is quite different than changing the culture and product offering of a large clothing/department store chain. The key to Apple’s success not only lay in the store’s fresh concept, and  the talent recruited that bought into that over the top service provided at Genius bars, but the fact that Apple itself had unique offerings for customers.

    It matched the two in a very controlled way. In fact, I still have the shirt given away at the opening of the very first Apple Store in Tyson’s Corner VA (opened prior to the CA store, due to the time difference). It is still in its sealed container. Would anyone walk into a JC Penny store, even re-imagined, and cherish a re-imagined JC Penny shirt? How does Penny’s offer solutions and service that far exceed their customers’ needs and expectations, when they offer thousands more products than Apple would ever offer. It is far harder to be “special”. Creating a space that people want to “be” at, and join others at such a space, that is a very tall order.

    Tough job ahead for Mr. Johnson, and I wish him well.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 16, 2011

    The Duke University men’s basketball team defeated Michigan State last night at Madison Square Garden, 74-69, making Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski the winningest Division 1 Men’s basketball coach with his 903rd victory.
    KC's View: