retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB fave Glen Terbeek:

I read your FaceTime posting re: Great Expectations with interest.  Yes, technology creates different expectations than print news.  However, I think that a different point should be made.

When a book, article or research paper only reports history, it will always become old news in a hurry, regardless of the the form that it takes. Especially when it is reporting fast moving current event details.  As a result it has short term use.

In contrast, good reporting take the risk of predicting the future by extrapolating the many currents events into long term future trends.   Usually there are only a few long term trends that matter in shaping the future.  Accordingly, current events usually can be grouped into one of these trends, since they are often symptoms of or results of the trend.  Unfortunately it is easy to get too focused on the short term symptoms and lose track of the trends so important to long term success.

I would argue that most of the research for the retail industry, unfortunately often done by "the associations", continues to study and report the news. After all, it is risk free for the reporters, it doesn't upset anyone; but it surely does not serve the real needs of the readers/users of the research.

Case in point.  The whole ECR movement!  The industry couldn't think past the current mass marketing industry model; it ignored the emerging trends.  The trends that should have been addressed at the time were flat population growth, saturation of products and stores, technology trends that empowered the shoppers, and the false economics related to the above trends (trade dollars practices to mention one).  I argued the enemy at the time wasn't discount department, clubs, or discount drug stores (remember them);  it was the industry itself. The industry let these alternative formats in and thrive by 1) not understanding and 2) not addressing the future game changing trends.

Instead, the emphasis was on the same old supply chain efficiency goal;  unfortunately to the disadvantage of local market/shopper differentiation and/or effectiveness. The industry tried to emulate the "enemy" rather than trying to understand why they were becoming a threat!  Real future trends always force a change in the way a business industry works if it is to continue to be successful.  My experience is that change is not a natural reaction of the supermarket industry, their business practices, organizations, and Wall Street don't allow it in most cases.

MNB has done a great job in reporting and debating current events with a "provocative attitude".  Hopefully it will help management Identify the game changing trends that will shape the industry's future.

I’ll try.

We continue to get email about Best Buy and what can accurately be called its inconsistent customer service profile.

MNB user Frederic Arnal:

I was fascinated by the discussion on how Best Buy performed during the holiday season.  Some negatives but on the whole more positives.  My experience was very positive.  I buy all of my electronics for business and home from Best Buy.  Their young sales people are very knowledgeable and helpful.  At Christmas I bought a number of items that were happily price matched at the store even with their own on-line site.

I think that any company as large and complex as Best Buy will have some issues but I also think we should be careful in assuming that a few individual experiences are representative of the whole organization.

From another MNB user:

Always fascinating reading consumers' wide range of customer service experiences from the same retailer.  Goes to show that where the rubber in your strategy hits the road is always with your people. But what really stood out for me was the lack of transparency in pricing at Best Buy. Only the savvy, well-informed customer gets the best price. It sounds like their in-store pricing is based on nearby competitors, whereas the on-line strategy is based on on-line competitors. When you are a  "clicks and bricks" retailer, you'd better be prepared to become a whole lot more transparent, and consistent, with your pricing. Going for the short term margin gain by having different in store pricing ultimately may be the demise of your credibility with consumers, and ultimately, your brand.

Another MNB user chimed in:

Wouldn’t it just make sense for a retailer to keep their prices the same, in-store vs. online? With the majority of consumers looking for the best price (either on-line before they shop or with their smart phones on-the-go), it seems like a hassle to have to worry that the price you are looking at in the store might be cheaper on that same companies website.. Even if the store will match their own on-line prices, why put in the extra step? As a young consumer with an iPhone, if I were in a store and saw a higher price then that store’s website online, I would feel tricked and deceived, like the store does not want me to know the price is cheaper online. I am not suggesting consumers stop shopping around for a better price, especially on-line, but why the higher prices in store?

I love it when I get emails from the roads like this one:

Just wanted to share my Kmart story.  I went into our local Kmart for a few items, because it was close and I didn't have to park to far away (should have been my first clue).  I bought a gift bag $2, some candy - 3 pcs at $.75 each, a tool for my son's bicycle fanny pack for $13 and a scooter $75.

I wanted to stop into Target (just across the street) to pick up a gift I had seen there on an earlier visit.  But as I was looking, I ran across the exact same tool for my son's bicycle for $9.99  . . . so I thought, what the heck, I'll go check and see if they have the scooter - sure enough, $55.  Really?  A $20 difference on one item?  And it was their everyday price.  So, on average Kmart's retail is 25% higher than Target??

I was so mad that I returned the tool, scooter, $2 gift bag and $2.25 of candy and vowed to NEVER shop in Kmart again.  And you can believe no one in my office will shop there either.

Not only is it absurd to be priced so much higher than a store across the street, but it angered me because they wasted my time.  So I am not surprised to hear about their store closings, not even if one of them is in Uniontown PA.

And sometimes it is emails like this one that give me the greatest pleasure:

My wife did not want to see the new Tom Cruise movie due to the three previous less than average performances of TC.  When I told my wife that you approved (not personally but a recommendation that I read in a newsletter) of MI4, she reluctantly agreed to go.  Surprise, the movie exceeded our minimal expectations.

I was as surprised as anyone that Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was a terrific movie. But I love being surprised like that.
KC's View: