retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB yesterday took note of a Reuters report about how Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), ranking member of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California), ranking member of the House Energy Committee, have sent a letter to Walmart CEO saying that "they have obtained new internal records that may point to evidence of tax evasion and money laundering" in addition to the bribery allegations that have been made about Walmart's Mexico operations.

One MNB user responded:

I’m no WMT defender by any stretch, and having dealt with them in Mexico (and having directly dealt with many of the individuals named in all the bribery allegations) I sure hate to say anything that can be construed as defense for guys and a company that can well handle it on their own, but….

…you don’t really think Cummings and Waxman are motivated by purity of thought and intention, do you?   Cummings and Waxman?   I’ll bet you there’s a union favor being repaid there.  Having met them two once or twice over the years, and knowing Eduardo Solórzano Morales (president and CEO of Walmart Latin America) very well, all I can tell you is they all probably deserve one another, and we would all be better off if people like them did not have leadership positions, in government or business.

When it comes to institutional credibility, I’m going to go out on a limb and just say that both Congress and Wal-Mex are looking up at the rest of us.  And the rest of us have plenty of work to do out here.  We have to earn it every day….

Fair enough.

Though I suppose that it is possible that even if the Congressmen's motives are far from pure, Walmart could still have deeper problems with some of its actions than we know.  (I've been saying that from the beginning.)  But your point is a good one, and I'm with you on the whole subject of institutional credibility.

Another MNB user wrote:

Have just never been able to understand what all the agonizing is about.  Bribery is an institutionalized cost-of-doing-business in Mexico.  It's a little tricky to impose American laws on foreign governments, leaving American companies the only victims to all this self-righteousness.  Whatever happened to that "when in Rome, do as the Romans" stuff?

The Roman Empire crumbled. So much for doing what the Romans do.

I would also argue that one man's self-righteousness is another man's ethical imperative.

You say you cannot understand what all the fuss is about. I say that I cannot understand why one would not make a fuss about this. Especially when it may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of questionable financial dealings by a company that sometimes can itself be guilty of self-righteousness.

It is certainly worth making a fuss.

Regarding improvement to their customer service cultures made by both Home Depot and Lowe's, MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

The other day I was in Lowes, buying some wood panel and having it cut to size.  As I was standing there, there arose a cacophony of hammering and laughing.  Looking around the corner, I found a workshop class for children.  Here was about 20 kids, banging away like crazy on their project.  All looked like they were having a good time doing it.  Do you think that they will be Lowes customers down the line?  Customer service.  Something for the parents, something for the kids.

And then I went and had a pretzel dog and big ole icy lemonade from the Auntie Anne’s booth in the store.  Just the break I needed between shopping and going home to finish my project.

Speaks volumes.

MNB user Jim Hendrickson chimed in:

Agreed, like we talked about in the FILC class in Portland, we are not reinventing the wheel here.  You can see that we are returning back to 'service', and this is a good thing.  An employee who can spend more time with customers can turn more dollars with 'add on' sales and more so what the customer originally would have intended to buy.

I think I should note here, since he mentioned it in his email, that Jim was one of the people in the CPG/retail marketing class that I team-taught last month at Portland State University. And I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to start getting emails like this from members of the class, keeping alive one of the best experiences of my life.

Commenting on a story the other day about how Baby Boomers still lag behind younger people when it comes to everyday use of the Internet, I wrote:

I have to admit that I am a little surprised by these numbers. Maybe it is just the people I hang with, but I am trying to think if I know anybody - anybody - in any age group that does not go online on any given day. (Other than, let's say, people my dad's age. But even that is becoming harder to find.)

I know some people my age who don't use social networks, and even a few people who don't like to shop online. But not spending anytime online for at least a little bit each day? Hard to imagine.

One MNB user responded:

It's not surprising at all that Boomers lag behind in internet activity.

The mistake many marketers make is to think that a Boomer is a certain kind of person with shared experiences and value systems, when in fact it is simply an arbitrary age distinction--at least the way most marketers define it.

Most stats show that 20% of US households have no access to the internet at home or via mobile. That alone is bound to skew older because it is likely that the children from those houses, if any, can jump onto the internet with friends or at school.

But the best thing we can all do is to think of the vast diversity that surrounds us--both ethnically & geographically, as well as via education, income, etc. The reality is that the kinds of people most of us in this business hang around with are representative of about 3% of the US population.  This is not to suggest that folks who are poor or foreign born or living in rural communities don't use the internet, it's just that when you get beyond a cadre of people with smartphones and middle class jobs, things aren't always like we might suspect.

Another reader wrote:

I do think, as in many things for all of us, your impression is based on the company you keep. 

Although included in the greater Cincinnati metro area, the county I live in is a rural community where some people don’t even have internet access at home—they use the computers at the public library to go on line. Often because they can’t afford another monthly fee, or even to buy a computer. Others with access are still on dial up, which offers a barrier to downloading and streaming content. These people go for days without going online.  I am as addicted as you, on line throughout the day and on my smartphone when away from a computer, but I am not typical for my age group in my community. Heck, my husband doesn’t even begin to match my usage. He still lives without a smart phone.

MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

The numbers don’t surprise me at all.  I do some shopping online, but for some things I prefer brick and mortar stores.  My girlfriend does next to no shopping online.  I use Facebook a little bit, she doesn’t do it at all.  Neither of us has an iPad or smart phone though my next cell phone probably will be one.  I still use a PC at home.  That’s why I keep making the point, not everyone is part of the digital revolution, there’s still a lot of us that aren’t totally on board with it yet.

I think one of the biggest mistakes any marketer can make is to assume other peoples shopping habits are just like theirs.  I used to see it every day when out selling displays or new items to store managers.  Making this mistake can mean lost sales, and can mean, are  you ready for it, loss of relevance to part of your potential customer base.  I’m about the same age as you, so in another 30 to 40 years, my generation will be gone, and most business will probably be conducted online, or through the next generation of data transmission whatever form that takes.  So by all means, a retailer needs to be part of the digital age and meet the younger customer where they are, but at the same time, don’t forget those who aren’t on that particular  train yet and who probably won’t be anytime soon.

Speak for yourself. In another 30-40 years, I'm planning to be just be starting on my next 30-40 years.

From yet another reader, a different perspective:

I was at a birthday party for my 88 year old “grampa” on the 4th of July.  In every conversation I weaseled into,  someone was referencing something they saw on Facebook.  The average age was retirement age – many older.

Grampa friended me on Facebook awhile ago, and I had to go through all my back posts and delete any with the “F” word in them J  And to further tarnish my “rep”,  all those retirees friended me too!  Now the average age of my FRIENDS list is creeping up.
(I’m late 40s...)

Good for them.

Finally, in my Eye-Opener yesterday about how it was the late Gary Carter who apparently came up with the phrase "f-bomb," I wrote:

Carter died last year of cancer at age 57. It now appears that he will be remembered forever by Mets fans, by visitors to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and by anyone who peruses the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.

One MNB user thought I left something out:

In addition to Mets fan, visitors to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the users of the dictionary, The Kid will always be remembered by Expos fans.

Good point. My apologies. It should be noted that on his Hall of Fame plaque, Gary Cater is wearing the hat of the Montreal Expos.
KC's View: