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    Published on: January 5, 2012

    This commentary is available in text and video form. The content is similar, but not word-for-word. Enjoy both, or either...

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

    I love the old line from “Spider-Man”... “With great power comes great responsibility.”

    May I suggest a corollary that has relevance for anyone trying to be relevant in a 21st century, technological culture?

    “With great speed comes heightened expectations.”

    I discovered this last week while on vacation. I read about a half-dozen books during the holiday, and one of them was entitled “The Right Fights Back,” by Evan Thomas and Mike Allen.

    I mentioned this book on MNB when it was published a month ago. It is an e-book from Politico, and is designed to be a modern equivalent of the old Teddy White - “The Making of a President” classics. But unlike the old days - like, four years ago, when “Game Change” came out after the election - you don’t have to wait for the polls to close and the results to be announced and analyzed. “The Right Fights Back” is coming out in a series of installments between now the the November elections, promising real-time reporting, behind the scenes insights, and expert analysis.

    All of which it delivers, though I wonder if anyone other than politics junkies will be interested.

    But, there’s a problem.

    It’s not all that real time. Between the time I downloaded the book and read it, Herman Cain dropped out of the race. Newt Gingrich surged, then came back to earth. Rick Santorum got some momentum. And Donald Trump left the GOP and became an independent. (Don’t worry if you did not know this last one. It may be the most meaningless piece of political news you’ll ever run into.)

    The thing is, as a writer and reporter, and as a reader, I understand that news is perishable. The minute you put a story to bed, you run the risk of being obsolete because something else happens. That’s one of the things threatening the traditional newspaper business. And I accept that when I pick up the dead-tree version of the New York Times, it is going to be about 8-10-12 hours behind the news curve.

    It was funny though. The same rules apply to an e-book, but because I was reading it on my iPad, my expectations were different. The bar was higher. And so, I was disappointed by the fact that the Herman Cain-Newt Gingrich-Rick Santorum stuff wasn’t there. It’ll make the next edition, sure ... but the stuff in that book also will be out of date.

    This is a great lesson. Technology raises expectations. Speed raises expectations. If we don’t meet those expectations - or at the very least, are not clear about our goals and processes - then we run the risk of disappointing and even disenfranchising the customer. And that’s never good.

    It simply may be that updating this book with new editions and chapters every few months won’t be enough. News is perishable, and that could be too long to wait. It may be that modern expectations will create a publishing animal that needs to be updated and improved every day, or at last every couple of days. Of course, then what you have is a website - like Politico - and I’m not sure what that means to the concept of a current affairs book. But the publishers have to be thinking about this.

    One other thing. When they do update the book, I’d suggest that they go to location 422 in the book, which has Mitt Romney enjoying the occasional Diet Coke. I’m reasonably sure that, being a devout Mormon, Romney actually is enjoying a Caffeine-Free Diet Coke ... and since issues of values and religiosity are front and center in this primary season, that’s more than a semantic difference.

    You can be fast. But you also have to get the little stuff right.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    There is a great metaphor for what all retailers need to do in a Salon.com piece that looks at Miami book retailer Mitchell Kaplan, who owns and operates the “venerated” Books & Books stores. Kaplan has a new venture - an independent publishing arm called B&B Press, described as representing “a heartening trend in the brave new world of publishing. Rather than trimming their sails, a number of independent booksellers are taking a page from Amazon by producing titles themselves.”

    The story goes on: “As publishers, indies enjoy a few distinct advantages over the competition. First, they can emphasize titles of local interest by local writers. Second, they can showcase the books in their shops. Third, because of advances in printing, they can bring books to market more quickly than traditional publishers. Just as important, when an independent bookstore sells a copy of one of their own titles, they collect all the profits, rather than a sliver. Consider it a poor man’s version of vertical integration ... The leap into publishing by indies can be seen as the literary equivalent of the locavore movement. It not only emphasizes local writers, and local subjects, but also asks residents to support a local business with their dollars.”

    Kaplan tells Salon, “If someone loves our bookstore, has been coming in for years, understands what we’re trying to do, and you can put a great book in their hands that was published by our store, I mean, who’s going to say no to that?”

    The lesson is one of differentiation - to the greatest extent possible, marketers need to offer stuff that nobody else is selling. Products. Services. Ambience. Tangible and intangible advantages.

    That’s the only way to compete. And, as we all know, “compete” is a verb.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    Walmart Labs, the California-based social media and mobile arm of the retail giant, announced yesterday that it has acquired Small Society, a Portland, Oregon-based Agency in the mobile development space.

    CNN writes that “Walmart Labs is trying to evolve with the changing face of commerce as shoppers look to mobile and social channels to help augment the way they buy. The Labs, created out of the acquisition of Kosmix, has been on a buying spree of sorts, buying up Grabble in November and OneRiot in September.

    “Anand Rajaraman, who leads Walmart Labs, said they bought Small Society for its laser focus on products and its commitment to consumers. Small Society impressed Rajaraman with its Zipcar app, and has also worked on apps for Starbucks and the Democratic National Convention. And now they will take their creations to Walmart’s big audience.”
    KC's View:
    Buying high-tech companies is one thing. But smoothly integrating their capabilities into the overall organization - especially when there reportedly is some resistance to such newfangled businesses in Walmart’s traditional bricks-and-mortar community - is something else again.

    It is all well and good that these small companies now will have a big audience. We’ll see if the show is ready for prime time.

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Eastman Kodak Co. “is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection in the coming weeks, people familiar with the matter said, a move that would cap a stunning comedown for a company that once ranked among America's corporate titans.

    “The 131-year-old company is still making last-ditch efforts to sell off some of its patent portfolio and could avoid Chapter 11 if it succeeds, one of the people said. But the company has started making preparations for a filing in case those efforts fail, including talking to banks about some $1 billion in financing to keep it afloat during bankruptcy proceedings, the people said.”

    The irony, the Journal notes, is that Kodak actually “invented the digital camera—in 1975—but never managed to capitalize on the new technology.”
    KC's View:
    Whatever happens, Kodak is a classic case of a company that had its eyes closed to the possibilities, challenges and opportunities available to it...falling behind the technology wave rather than riding it.

    There is an anecdote in the WSJ story that I’d never heard before, that just seems ironic considering the company’s current travails...

    Kodak's founder, Mr. Eastman, took his life at the age of 77 in what is now a museum celebrating the founder and Kodak's impact on photography. His suicide note read: ‘To my friends, my work is done. Why wait?’

    The lesson, quite simply, is this:

    The work is never done.

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a fascinating story about a lawsuit that city has filed against the Ohio State Legislature, saying that state lawmakers have no right to stop municipalities from banning the use of trans fats by restaurants.

    Cleveland’s City Council passed just such a law last April, but in June state lawmakers voted to prevent municipalities from regulating the ingredients used by restaurants.

    Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has now filed a complaint, the Plain Dealer writes, saying that “the legislature's action infringed on the city's home rule rights. The city believes it has the power to restrict the use of trans fats in its jurisdiction, and that the state's overriding of that is unconstitutional.”

    "The health and well-being of Cleveland is the responsibility of the City of Cleveland, and we are taking proactive steps to help make everyone in Cleveland healthier," Jackson said at a news conference. "One of those steps was a ban on industrially-produced trans fat in local restaurants and food shops.”

    The story notes that “Jackson pointed out that the Healthy Cleveland legislation also spawns incentives people can avail themselves of - including more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, the addition of community gardens and behavioral health education. ‘So we're not just doing things to regulate,’ he said. ‘But we need a two-pronged attack’.”
    KC's View:
    I have no idea how I feel about this from a policy/process perspective; I sort of see both sides. I do know that I’m going to enjoy the fight.

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    Yesterday, MNB took note of stories saying that Wegmans pulled its Alec Baldwin commercials off the air two weeks into a planned three-week, pre-Christmas run, citing complaints that it received from consumers critical of the actor’s highly publicized run-in with American Airlines over a mobile device he would not turn off as the plane readied for take-off.

    “We had perhaps a couple of dozen complaints, and we take complaints from our customers seriously,” Wegmans spokesperson Jo Natale said, noting that the company had already decided not to use Baldwin as a spokesman during 2012.

    Not so fast.

    “Dozens” of people may have objected to Baldwin’s role as a Wegmans pitchman, but the Erie Times-News reports today that Wegmans has had “a change of heart” after it was “inundated” with hundreds of phone calls, emails and Tweets supporting Baldwin’s continued appearance in Wegmans commercials.

    As has been well-documented, Baldwin’s personal passion for the retailer came to light when he appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” and said that he could not get his mother to move out of western New York because she would not leave Wegmans.
    KC's View:
    Good lesson here about not overreacting to the minor din created by “dozens” of shoppers.

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    Dollar General announced yesterday that the company plans to open 625 new stores this year, all of them in the 38 states where the company already operates. The plan will result, the company said, in more than 6,000 new jobs.

    The retailer that it also plans to remodel or relocate 550 existing stores, and open a California warehouse.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    • The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced today that United Supermarkets has become the first all-Texas grocery chain to obtain MSC Chain of Custody certification. United will immediately begin providing its guests with fresh and frozen seafood  products bearing the blue MSC “ecolabel,” assuring chefs and consumers the seafood is certified as sustainable and can be traced back to the MSC-certified fishery of its origin.

    • The Associated Press reports that “a bluefin tuna caught off northeastern Japan fetched a record 56.49 million yen, or about $736,000, Thursday in the first auction of the year at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market. The price for the 593-pound (269-kilogram) tuna beat last year's record of 32.49 million yen.”

    The story notes that “bluefin tuna is prized for its tender red meat. The best slices of fatty bluefin — called ‘o-toro’ here — can sell for 2,000 yen ($24) per piece at tony Tokyo sushi bars.”

    No word about the one that got away...
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    • Weis Markets today announced Joseph S. Douglas has joined the company as Vice President of Pharmacy. Douglas previously worked was Vice President, Transforming Community Practice, at Walgreen.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    On the evening of Monday, January 16, during the annual National Retail Federation (NRF) Show in New York City, MNB will be hosting a special retailer-only reception that is sponsored by Balance Innovations and WorldPay. (Michael Sansolo and I can promise terrific wine and beer, splendid food, and sparkling conversation...and maybe even a cameo appearance by Mrs. Content Guy.)

    If you are a retailer attending NRF, please let me know ASAP (email me at kc@morningnewsbeat.com . There are just a few slots left on our retailer-only guest list, and we’d love to have you join us.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 5, 2012

    Yesterday, MNB posted a letter from a reader talking about a bad customer experience his son had at Best Buy, in which the online experience was completely divorced from the in-store experience. Which led me to write:

    I don’t mean to be harsh here, but companies that pretend not to understand how the world works in 2012 - or worse, don’t know how the world works when it comes to how consumers shop - are morons. They’re guilty of retail malpractice. And they have no right to survive. (And, in the end, little likelihood.)

    Interestingly, this generated a bunch of emails from people who had a very different experience.

    One reader offered:

    Interesting story in "your views" on the Best Buy experience.  Mine was the opposite.  I went in the store to buy a new car stereo for my children's vehicle for Christmas.  The Bestbuy.com price was lower (which I didn't know) and the sales person automatically processed a "price match" for the lower price.  Don't assume the company doesn't understand how the world works; it may have been poor training or poor hiring that was the problem . . . . not the company and their policies.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Before we totally throw Best Buy under the bus for being out of touch, I would like to share that my daughter and I had the complete opposite experience last week.  We were shopping for an iPod and she had checked their online pricing before going to the store.  When the price was $20 more in store, we asked an associate about the price difference and she said they will match their online pricing.  In fact she told us they had a computer kiosk by their customer service area so customers could price check any competitor or their own online pricing.  Pretty cool, huh?

    Is it possible that Best Buy is guilty of a training issue vs. a bad customer service policy?   Very possible.


    From another MNB user:

    My recent experience at my local Best Buy was completely the opposite.  I was using my Android Smartphone to compare prices on an item that I wanted at Best Buy.  The retail in the Best Buy retail store was 199.99, Amazon was 159.99 and Best Buy on line was 149.99.  I asked the store associate in the store in they could match this price.  He told me them could and escorted me to the front check out.  As he explained to the cashier what to do, one of the managers overheard the conversation and gave me an additional 5% off.   I was very happy with Best Buy.

    MNB user Catherine Storer wrote:

    As a manager of customer service, I was appalled by what transpired at Best Buy this past holiday season.  I purchased a remote car starter for my folks for Christmas. Not knowing exactly what else would be needed for the install, I deferred any other installation purchases until checking with the folks.  Once the gift was well received, I found out what else was needed and proceeded to purchase that package.  I was told that I could ONLY do it at the store where the installation was taking place  (my parents live 2 hrs away) and that I could NOT pay for it over the phone.  I spoke to few different employees at Best Buy and they also confirmed.  What kind of customer service is this that in this day and age, a purchase cannot be paid for over the phone ? ??  As luck would have it, I was heading that way a week later so I braved the ridiculous traffic on the highways (and even more so in the parking lot!!) to get it all settled.   Once I got into the store, I was kept waiting 20 minutes or more for a salesperson.  I had to threaten to speak with a manager at one point.  Needless to say, I will be avoiding all Best Buys in the future:  Not the Best experience.

    Now, to be fair, not everyone came to Best Buy’s defense:

    All of the Best Buy comments remind me of my own experience with a local Best Buy store last Spring.  I was organizing a bone marrow registry drive in our community in honor of three local suburban city employees who were all suffering from the same form of cancer and in need of bone marrow transplants.   As part of the drive, we were conducting a fundraising raffle to help offset the cost of adding people to the registry and to help fund additional drives.  I approached my local Best Buy store(where I have been a faithful electronics customer and Rewards Zone member) for a product donation for our raffle.   I was supplied with the donation request forms, I filled them out and provided all of the requested documentation.   I was told there was a meeting the following week, at which time the store manager and some staff, would review all product donation requests and determine what donations would be made.  I waited until after the meeting and then contacted the store to find out the status of my request.  

    I was told the manager was the only who could provide the results of the meeting.  I left a message with my contact information.  Days went by and I didn’t receive a return call.  I called every day for two weeks and was never allowed to talk to the store manager.  I received so many excuses why he couldn’t come to the phone.  On one occasion, when I inquired why I wasn’t receiving a call back from the store manager, I was told “well, he’s the store manager, he’s very busy”.

    Finally, I resorted to contacting Best Buy corporate office and submitting my complaint, via their website, about the lack of response from this manager.  Amazingly, I received a call the next day.  Unfortunately for us, they did not choose our fundraising effort to support with a product donation.  And unfortunately, for them, they also lost a regular customer and probably many more who were involved in the fundraising drive.


    Forbes.com had a long piece the other day about Best Buy’s problems in which the author suggested that the retailer’s issues reminded him of a line from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” One character asks another how he went bankrupt.  “Two ways.  Gradually, then suddenly.”

    Great line.




    Michael Sansolo had a column yesterday comparing the travails at Kodak to the new Lytro camera, which captures the light field being emitted by the subject in a small-computerized system. That, in turn, enables you to manipulate a picture after you take it. It is technology that could threaten the digital camera biz, which itself rocked Kodak’s world.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Great piece from Sansolo regarding staying ahead of the technology curve.  He communicated his enthusiasm so well that I clicked on the Lytro link before I finished the article.  Unfortunately it appears that Lytro has a great product but poor communication.  When I went to their website, I saw lots of great magazine quotes about the product, but no actual product information.  When I found the link to the product, the website was so poorly formatted that a lovely flower photo was covering the opening paragraph describing the product, and another page that had text layered over other text, rendering the page unreadable.  Luckily Michael’s article summed up the product nicely.  Too bad the company’s website can’t convey the same information. I know many people who grew rich by taking a great idea that was poorly promoted and maximizing its potential through better communication.  It’s one thing to have a great product, but you also must be able to inform people about it if you want to be successful.

    MNB user Jim Swoboda had some thoughts about Kodak’s troubles:

    As an avid photographer, I have for decades now utilized the technologies brought to market by companies like Canon and Kodak.   I have been watching Lytro for over a year now and it is a great consumer product and will again change how people take photos.  It is not ready for professional use yet as the image quality is a bit lacking in resolution.  But that is simply a matter of time and further development. 

    What I really want to share is this...in the case of Kodak, the failure to adjust and adapt is purely their own and they can not blame anyone else.  

    In the mid 70's, a gentleman named Steve J. Sasson, invented the digital camera.  Sure, it was big, about 8 pounds, clunky, think a toaster, and took fairly crude images. Guess who he worked for....yup, Eastman Kodak!

    Do you think the guys/gals who ran the film division embraced him and the digital camera?  Based on the state of Kodak today, it would appear the answer if quite obvious.

    Do you remember the tag line "These are the moments.  Kodak moments."  It was part of all their media.  It conveyed the simple message, when you had a memory you wanted to preserve, an event that was priceless, it was worth forever preserved in a picture.

    What that tag line did not say out loud, but most certainly was believed inside of Kodak, "These are the moments, Kodak moments", as long as they are shot on Kodak film.  They actually believed they were in the film business, not the image business.  For if they were in the image business, why would they care how that image was captured.  Film, digital, or Lytros.  If they had believed that, perhaps they would be the Apple of the image business still today.

    Sad lesson in leadership failure.  I personally have always believed the job of management is to think about how to put themselves out of business.  Because if they do not, someone out there is doing just that.  The business landscape is littered with names of companies who never saw it coming, were so married to their successes and believed nothing could upset that balance.

    Someone can and someone did, to Kodak.


    MNB user J. Schindler wrote:

    My grandfather, with a drugstore in a small Ohio town, got a Kodak dealer franchise in the early 1900's.  In the early 30's two of the son's (my dad and his brother) opened a second store in a nearby small Ohio town  - also obtained a Kodak dealer franchise.

    When the stores closed in the early 70's (I graduated in pharmacy but then went to law school so the family tradition ended) they still sold a lot of Kodak cameras, film, photofinishing etc.   While some were predicting by the year 2000 we would all be riding around using jet propelled backpacks, I don't know anyone who was predicting the fall of photography as we knew it - first with videotape replacing movie cameras, and then digital replacing still photography film.




    Finally, commenting on a story about how Starbucks is raising prices in some markets, I wrote:

    I’m already hearing some blowback on this ... with some people saying things like, “Starbucks misjudges the market and they’re going to make me pay more?”

    Will this make them buy coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts or Caribou Coffee or Java Joe’s or some other place? Beats me. But I wonder what the ceiling is for Starbucks’ prices.


    This prompted MNB user Barb Francella to write:

    As a Starbucks regular/gold card holder -- it's the go-to place for PTA moms, community volunteers, at-home workers, college interviewers, etc., to meet here in New Rochelle, NY -- I think service, sense of community will drive business, not a 1-percent increase.

    On the other hand, when Starbucks screws up an order or a transaction, it "hurts/disappoints" more than if Dunkin Donuts does. They've set customer expectations high.

    Starbuck's sells the experience, not the coffee. Dunkin' Donuts sells the coffee.


    I’ll drink to that.
    KC's View: