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    Published on: December 1, 2011

    This commentary is available in text and video form. Enjoy either, or both. We look forward to hearing from you...

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    Most retail environments pay close attention to visual impact in the store, and some - though I would argue, not nearly enough - supermarkets pay attention to smells and tastes. If something looks good and smells good and tastes good, the odds go up enormously that the shopper is going to buy it.

    It doesn’t sound like rocket science, but to some food retailers, it might as well be.

    The other day on National Public Radio, on a program called “Sound Check,” I heard a fascinating segment about the importance of sound on the food enjoyment experience - specifically, the impact that music can have on certain kinds of wine.

    Forget the whole white wine with fish and red wine with meat discussion. There actually has been research done to suggest that, for example, a nice meaty Cabernet goes best with Beethoven.

    They even did a test on the program’s host - giving him three different glasses of wine and playing with each one a certain kind of music - the Beach Boys, a flamenco, and Metallica. The wines actually seemed to reflect the musical choice ... which was interesting, because, in fact, the three glasses each contained the same wine, a Pinot Noir ... which ended up tasting different at least in part because of the soundtrack.

    I find this fascinating. And I wonder how many retailers pay attention to the soundtrack of their stores. I mean really pay attention ... picking music that heightens the experience rather than serves as bland background noise, or features frequent interruptions to sell stuff. It may be that by customizing the music to the food and/or wine - especially in sampling situations - retailers might actually sell more than with those annoying verbal assaults.

    It may mean working harder, because the music programmed for the frozen food department is going to have to be different from that done for fresh produce, or meat, or the wine department. But working harder - and paying more attention to the little things, even the things that we used to take for granted - is the price of survival and relevance in the 21st century retail environment.

    You can listen to the “Sound Check” segment here.

    That’s what’s on my mind this morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Time has a story this week about lessons learned from the just-completed Black Friday/Cyber Monday holiday shopping promotions, based on the amount of money spent, who spent it, when they spent it, and how they spent it. They include:

    • Consumers like the idea of shopping at midnight on Thanksgiving.

    • Consumers like shopping online on Thanksgiving Day.

    • Younger consumers and men are more likely to shop late at night.

    • Even after splurging in stores, consumers will splurge online.

    • Credit card use appears to be on the rise. (More on this in a story below.)

    • Black Friday shoppers are capable of pretty horrendous behavior.

    However, the story notes that one has to be careful about drawing too many conclusions from the statistics, since the previous record-setting Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend was “in the depths” of the 2008 recession. People may have spent a lot of money on presents, but it didn’t pull or push the country out of its economic doldrums.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    USA Today reports that on Black Friday, “payments made with credit cards rose 7.4% from a year earlier, vs. an increase of 3.4% for payments with signature debit cards, according to First Data, a payments processing firm. An analysis by Javelin Strategy & Research forecasts that credit card payments for online purchases will increase 63% from 2011 to 2016, vs. 2% for debit cards.

    “During the recession, the use of credit cards declined as cost-conscious consumers switched to debit cards and cash for their purchases. Now, though, the pendulum is swinging back, analysts say. While overall consumer debt continued to decline in the third quarter, the number of applications for credit rose for the second consecutive quarter.”

    According to the story, there are a number of reasons for the swing toward greater credit card usage.

    For one thing, federal limits on debit card transaction fees mean that banks are cutting back on debit card incentives, and switching their attention to credit cards - and consumers are biting. There’s also a gradual loosening of consumer credit by the banks, as well as a growing desire for personal indulgence.
    KC's View:
    Perhaps people are just so worn down by all the apparent bad news about the global economy that they’re saying, “%&@# it, it’s Christmas.”

    Certainly good for retailers and marketers in the short term ... especially since we have to have this kind of growth if the economy is ever going to get out of the ditch. But I think we all have to worry that the new growth is being built on a house of cards.

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    Politico reports this morning that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has voted “to move forward with a contentious new labor rule” designed to “eliminate delays between when employees file for a vote on whether to start a union and the day the ballots are cast.”

    According to the story, “Republicans and business groups charge would restrict the ability of employers to bring concerns about union elections to the regulatory agency ... The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized the NLRB’s move Wednesday, arguing that the proposed rule would lead to ‘ambush elections’ that don’t allow employers adequate time to discuss unionization with their employees.”

    Politico notes that the House of Representatives has “passed by a 235-188 vote a bill that would roll back the NLRB rule. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), was drafted in response to the NLRB’s more sweeping earlier proposal and was the second whack at the labor board this fall by the GOP-led House, which in September approved a bill that would ban the NLRB from forcing companies to close or relocate jobs.”
    KC's View:
    I’m in favor of fairness. People ought to have the right to unionize, and companies ought to have the right to explain why employees are better off without a union. In this case, it appears that organized labor wants to speed up the process because private sector unions are in decline, and this is one way to address the issue.

    It is sort of like moving in the fences in a baseball stadium when you suddenly realize that your team is incapable of hitting home runs. I get the rationale, but is somehow seems sort of cheap.

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    Reuters reports that Walmart has “unveiled its first social-networking application late on Wednesday, in a move to latch onto one of the hottest trends in e commerce.

    “WalMart launched Shopycat, which uses Facebook data to recommend gifts to consumers, on the company's Facebook page. This is one of the first products to roll out of @Walmartlabs, a unit of the company based just south of San Francisco that is developing social-networking and mobile technologies for the retailer.”

    According to the story, “Shopycat uses data from Facebook pages to estimate a person's top 10 friends. It then recommends suitable gifts for those friends, based on their interests, again based on information shared via Facebook. Consumers can also search for a topic or theme, and Shopycat will show which Facebook friends are interested in those things, along with related gifts.”
    KC's View:
    To me, the most important phrase in this story is: “this is one of the first products to roll out of @Walmartlabs, a unit of the company based just south of San Francisco that is developing social-networking and mobile technologies for the retailer.”

    If Walmart keeps its eye on the online ball, and doesn’t do things like move @Walmart Labs to Arkansas to save money and keep everybody in the same bubble, one can expect to see a lot of these kinds of things, which are designed to position the company for the coming conflagration that will be its epic battle with Amazon.

    That’s a battle that every retailer needs top focus on, or risk being collateral damage.

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Walgreens is offering 300,000 vouchers for free flu shots for “people whose health insurance doesn't cover flu shots and those who can't afford the inoculation.” This represents $10 million worth of flu shots, available on a first come-first served basis to those who get the vouchers from local public health departments and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Rep. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), who serves as co-chairman of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, released a statement saying that Amazon.com has not provided enough information about how it will access and use customer information gathered via its new Kindle Fire tablet computer.

    According to the story, Markey sent a letter to Amazon last month “raising concerns about the Silk browser built into the Kindle Fire. Silk is designed to speed browsing for users, by routing them through Amazon's own cloud-computing servers.” Amazon’s response to that letter apparently had insufficient detail to satisfy Markey and the privacy committee, though the company did say that "respect for customer privacy is embedded in the design" and that web browsing histories are not linked to specific customer identities and are only kept for 30 days.

    Amazon also says that it will not release or sell its customer information to others.

    The Journal writes that “Amazon announced Monday that the Kindle Fire has been the online retailer's best-selling product in recent weeks, and that customers bought four times as many Kindle devices on Black Friday this year than they had on the traditional holiday shopping day last year."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    The New York Times reports that starting today, people who order Happy Meals at McDonald’s stores in San Francisco will have to pay an extra dime if they want a toy.

    The extra charge is McDonald’s way of adhering to the city’s ban on giving away free toys with kids’ meals, which local regulators say is one way that fast feeders lure children onto their premises and serve them crappy food. (Okay, they don’t say “crappy.” They say “not very nutritious.”)

    McDonald’s says that all the money it collects from Happy Meal toy sales will go to support Ronald McDonald House of San Francisco, part of the national nonprofit group.
    KC's View:
    Silly law. Appropriate response.

    Besides, kids like the fries more than they like the toys.

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    • As part of its Chicago urban small-store strategy, Walmart has opened its newest Walmart Express store just a few blocks from Wrigley Field on the city’s North Side.

    The first one opened on the city’s South Side in June.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    The Huffington Post reports that Loblaws has opened a new 85,000 square foot supermarket at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, the arena where the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team played until moving to the Air Canada Arena in 1999.

    According to the story, the “store has an impressive array of offerings, such as chef made meals and select counters specifically for tea and cupcakes. If you've thought of it, it's probably there; it's like visiting a food market with one huge cashout area.

    “The environment includes a 2,000-square-foot kitchen that creates everything for the ready-made counters while overlooking the produce sections below. Ace Bakery, which was purchased by Loblaw last year, has a full factory within the space that will function as a testing ground for new products intended to roll out to other stores.”

    Perhaps most important, “Monuments to the Gardens' history can be found throughout the space, including repurposed blue stadium chairs placed in the shape of a maple leaf at the entrance, a circle designating where centre ice once was found, and columns in the midst of the store depicting historic moments.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    • The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responded to a study by Consumers Union saying that there is too much arsenic in children’s juices and that there ought to be federal standards established.

    According to the piece, the FDA “is considering tightening restrictions for the levels of arsenic allowed in apple juice after consumer groups pushed the agency to crack down on the contaminant.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that ConAgra Foods has spent $10 million to boost its stake in Agro Tech Foods, an Indian food company that markets ingredients to consumers and institutional companies there.

    "Expanding our international business is a key part of our strategic plan, and India represents an attractive growth market for ConAgra Foods. We will continue to work with Agro Tech's management team to expand its business and our investment in this important region," said ConAgra CEO Gary Rodkin.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View: