retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a lot of email yesterday...

Let's start with one from MNB user Terry Pyles, who seems to particularly enjoy one aspect of this little enterprise:

Can’t tell you how much I enjoy MNB every day.  I may not always agree with everything you say, but that’s the nature of true discourse and I appreciate it as much as when I do agree.   Always thought provoking, never afraid to take a stand, and frequently amusing enough to induce an out-loud chuckle even when I am alone.   I’m also a huge fan of the pop culture references and quotes.
Which brings me to my reason for writing today.
In today’s first article you talked about grocers who are oblivious to the competitor lurking in their back yard, namely Amazon.  It reminded me of your oft-repeated reminder that compete is a verb.
Then in a subsequent piece on technology changing everything you quoted my favorite starship Captain, Jean-Luc Picard, who said "Everything is impossible...until it is not."
And finally, in another piece on Amazon you said “Amazon is engaged in the act of selling . . .”, which brings us back to Captain Picard.
One of the qualities I liked best about Picard was his (OK, the script writers’) choice of words.  When the crew was about to embark on a new mission; the coordinates locked in, destination set, everyone in their “ready” positions, the Captain gave the order to begin the journey.  Did he say “Go” . . . “Proceed” . . . “Begin”?  No.  The word he liked to use was “Engage”.
Most astute use of language on your part.  Well done, Number One.

I feel a sudden craving for Earl Grey. Hot.

My "FaceTime" video commentary yesterday focused on the generation gap between older people who run retailers and manufacturers and the young people who actually consume their products and services. One thing I mentioned was that I continue to be amazed by the number of retailers who don't realize the commitment that Amazon has made to the grocery business, and I said that sometimes I feel like John the Baptist, wandering the country and preaching the e-commerce gospel.

Which led one MNB user to write:

I think of you, in the context of this article, not so much as John the Baptist - I think altruism creeps in here where perhaps a stretch may have to be made.  After all, your whole format and dialogue is digital which lends bias, if nothing else.  No, I think of you more as the mythical version of "Johnny Appleseed;" spreading seeds of digital inspiration and guidance to today's business drivers.  And like Johnny, some of his seeds took, which I'm sure gave him pleasure, while others may not have, which gave him continuing drive (so-to-speak).  But still he planted.

Don't tell Mrs. Content Guy that I'm wandering the country spreading my seed. She may get the wrong idea.

From reader Steve DelBonis, on the same John the Baptist reference:

Not sure I can see you changing diets from that wonderful food, beers and wines you recommend to honey and grasshoppers.

Greatly enjoy MNB especially your role as a futurist.

The generation gap piece prompted MNB user Gary Harris to write:

We had a similar discussion a couple years ago at my church. I was trying convince the council that we could probably increase, if not at least make more consistent, our members' contributions if we launched an e-giving program. There was some resistance to this, thinking that folks would be less thoughtful about their offerings if they were done automatically, plus the loss of visible giving during the weekly worship service. As part of my argument, I said that there was an entire generation of givers growing up who will never own a checkbook, and who will take care of most of their financial obligations electronically. To make their support of the church more burdensome by forcing a particular way to give because it was tradition didn’t seem like a smart long-term strategy. After all, if we go back far enough we used to bring animals into the building, cut them open and set them on fire. We seem to have moved beyond that, at least in our offerings during worship.

MNB user Bob Bartels wrote:

It took me aback to see my seven year old granddaughter helping the five year old work through a laptop issue .  That is the way it is.

From another MNB user:

I find it amazing how fast all the technological fads change. It wasn’t that long ago that instant messaging was all the rave. Although I found it annoying, I adopted it, and it seems that, as soon as I did, it went away. Last night, I was trying to figure ought some of the features of this new Facebook thing so I asked my son and his girlfriend to help me. They tried but gave up saying they never go on Facebook anymore. We’re going to have to be pretty nimble to keep up.

Another reader chimed in:

I couldn't agree with you more!  For those of us over the age of 30, we all better wake up and figure out how to play in this new world that is very quickly becoming the defacto way of life.  Most especially those of us who have spent most of their careers in a field that is the front line of how we, as a society, live today.  The change is here and will accelerate as the economy improves and the Millennials mature.  They are the largest cohort in recorded history (yes, that's right, my fellow Boomers) and in my experience, the characteristic more prominent than their technological savvy is their entrepreneurial spirit.  So, I look forward to seeing how the brewing alchemy of retailing and technology will play out in the next 10-20 years.  Ought to be a lot of fun!

And, from still another reader:

Going off your "Everything is impossible..." quote ...

I might have missed your commentary on this,  but we DID land an SUV on Mars from a sky crane!

What!! Seriously!

Seriously. It was pretty cool, huh?

MNB user Deb Faragher had some thoughts about

I feel as if the “long time listener, first time caller” applies here. I’ve been reading you almost since the beginning. Despite the fact that I retired a few years ago, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy my daily “fix”. And I love sharing with my husband, and others, your insights on all things cultural. It’s amazing to me how aligned our tastes are and how often I’ve wanted to write and bring to your attention books and TV shows, not to mention some great food finds. I was also delighted when Mike Sansolo joined you—I knew him from both our former lives, mine at GS1 US (formerly UCC). All that is to say “keep it up”.

That brings me to a story my husband and I thought you’d appreciate. Talk about customer service and the art of winning or losing customers, not to mention yet another ringing endorsement of We are in the process of relocating from! NJ to South Carolina and, in many respects, have had nothing but positive service experiences in our first week here. The story lies with our need to purchase a new TV. We wanted an HD LED TV and it had to conform to a specific space. We determined that there was a brand new Samsung 37” that fit the bill. We went online to locate what stores were in our area and if any had stock. It turned out that Best Buy, not the one closest to us though, did have stock. We called that store (about 25 miles away) to see if it could be delivered directly to us. It took over 20 minutes and numerous “on holds” but we were finally all set.

Then two things turned the tide. First, though the website offered free delivery, as the deal was being done, we were told that the delivery was, in fact $69.95. It turned out this included set up of the TV and take away of the old TV so we decided to go for it. Then, when processing our credit card, due to potential fraud issues, we were told we had to present ourselves at the local Best Buy with our card so the sale could be processed. What? First of all, we’re in an area where many, many have second homes. Doesn’t this happen all the time? Further, they wouldn’t guarantee they’d hold the TV or commit to the delivery date promised (8 days hence). I understand that intellectually, but it was not what we wanted to hear.

After discussing this with my husband, it occurred to us to check Amazon to see if the Samsung TV we wanted was available. Within minutes I had purchased the TV (no trip to local store to present a card) and was promised delivery in 3-5 business days. And it was done. The TV arrived in 4 business days (and I could track it from the time of the confirming email received within 24 hours), my husband set it up and we’re now enjoying our shows, yes, starting the day with Morning Joe. Best Buy lost the sale and a customer.

It’s with great interest that I read in yesterday’s WSJ - "Best Buy Co. founder Richard Schulze envisions a turnaround plan for the electronics retailer that involves cutting prices to better compete against Inc. and other online retailers while ensuring that the in-store customer-service experience is as good as Apple Inc.’s, according to people familiar with the matter.” Based on my experience last week, they do have a long way to go.

Along the same lines, MNB user AJ Hoyle offered this anecdote:

As you suggest this morning, I’ve ordered products from Amazon in the past and gave a try on July 22nd to see how they measure up.  It’s now August 9th and I’ve only received 7 of the 11 products I ordered (at least I received the toilet paper last week).  Below is my “frustrated customer” email to Neil Ashe, yet to be met with a reply.

Good morning Mr. Ashe,

Although I'm an Amazon Prime member, I read with great interest about your arrival at back in January.  I waited until July 22nd to give your team's eCommerce effort a try with an order of 11 items normally purchased at my local grocery store.  Here I am two and one half weeks later in receipt of only seven items delivered in four different shipments over the past two weeks.  I have yet to see my four remaining items and I've included tracking information on one of the four items below for your review.  The items were originally shipped via FedEx from the Atlanta area, made it to Orlando, were then sent to Bentonville where the order was cancelled and new, individual orders were cut for each item after being assigned to Newgistics.  My credit card was charged over two weeks ago, yet I will receive my order in three weeks?  How am I supposed to replace/supplement my weekly grocery shopping trip with your service if I can't depend on the products I ordered to be delivered within three weeks?  Additionally, I would need a "receiving clerk" just to track all the shipments and products arriving across numerous days.  Are you all really gearing up to take on the Amazonian beast with the service you're currently offering?  I apologize if my frustration is now showing, but I believe you may be the only associate at your company who may care.  Thanks for your time this morning and good luck implementing your strategy at Walmart.

Good luck, indeed.

On the subject of how crushing student load debt affects consumer spending, one MNB user wrote:

I worked for a student loan company just recently- they were contracted by FSA (Federal Student Aid) to service loans owned by the government. It was literally frightening to talk to parents, students and other borrowers and see how little they truly knew about the thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars they had borrowed. In fact, some didn’t know they had loans at all. Others thought the money was interest free, or a grant. Again, absolutely terrifying. There is massive reform needed but, I can tell you that the government stands to lose billions in interest on student loans. They are not going anywhere, and, unfortunately, I feel that people’s calls for forgiveness of student loan debt are a lost cause. While there are very few forgiveness programs, most are extremely hard to qualify for and often they do not forgive an entire loan debt. The president (not to play politics) has introduced programs to ‘help’ with this debt which the public sees as beneficial because they don’t understand the implications or long-term effects of the programs. I can tell you that there are very few, truly beneficial programs to help with student loan debt. Please inform yourselves before you sign on the dotted line!

Regarding Amazon's locker initiative, MNB user Clint George wrote:

Being a former employee of Amazon, I used this locker system last winter when ordering my expensive Christmas gifts.  It was nice not having to worry that my electronics were sitting on the front porch all day at my house just waiting for a thief to take (or the ones that conveniently follow the UPS driver then steal right after they leave).  The locker system does just what it says, lock your valuables up until you decide to retrieve them.

Very nice system, I would highly recommend to those that have this option.

On the subject of the first woman to ever referee an NFL game, and comments we had on the subject yesterday, one MNB user wrote:

Being a high school and college official for three sports (including football), there is a balance to "doing your job without being noticed" and allowing participants and coaches to manipulate the official.

Anyone who thinks an official should just stand there and take abuse is wrong.  There is a balance between fading into the game and letting the players play and make plays ... and knowing when to shut down the BS that happens from time to time.

Good baseball umpires will tell you that you eject early so you don't have to eject at all.   There are lines players and coaches must stay within ... and when they cross the line, they need to be punished (flag in football ... technical foul in basketball ... ejection in baseball). Once that line is clear, the game (and future games) will run much smoother for everyone.

A pet peeve of mine are "officials" that say they haven't ejected/called a "t"/or thrown a flag for unsportsmanlike in all their years of officiating.  All that means is that official hasn't done their job and is setting up the player/coach for running into an official that will.

The fact is Shannon Eastin is an excellent official ... but it's not because she did her job without being noticed.  It's because she knows the rules, interprets the rules and implements the rules ... and when the game allows her to do so without being noticed ... GREAT. However, when she needs to handle business ... I'm confident she will!!

KC's View: