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    Published on: October 24, 2012

    by Kate McMahon

    Caution: This column is not about politics. It is about doing business in the new world of social media, consumer reviews, and online shopping. However, it is the world of politics that provides the example...

    We are here to declare the official winner of the second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney: The Avery Dennison Co.

    That's right. The the Pasadena-based office products company may not be on anyone's ballot, and in fact was never mentioned by name. But Avery Dennison hit public relations pay dirt when, in the October 16 debate, Romney mentioned that, when seeking qualified candidates for various positions as governor of Massachusetts, he asked for and received “binders full of women."

    That line set off a blitz of Facebook posts, tweets, YouTube spoofs, late-night talk show quips and memes about women and binders. As might be expected, Democrats jumped all over the line with Facebook pages and websites poking fun at the GOP candidate's phraseology.

    But from a business standpoint, Avery Dennison, and by extension, were the unintended beneficiaries of Romney’s phrasing . In fact, “binders full of women” pops up when the term "binders" is entered on Amazon’s site.

    Consider the satirical consumer comments on Amazon of the top-selling Avery Durable View Binder with 2 Inch EZ-Turn Ring, White, 1 Binder, for $8.69, which had generated more than 1,110 reviews and no shortage of online reaction yesterday. Here’s but a sampling from Most Helpful Reviews:

    • “One Missing Bit of Information You Might Want To Know: For any of you who might be considering, like me, purchasing this binder based on the reviews, let me just point out one glaring omission: While this is a lovely, multi-purpose binder, IT DOES NOT COME WITH WOMEN.” (Note for context: 7,683 of 7,870 people found the review helpful.)

    • “Changing my tune: I was originally going to rate this only 1 star. You see, I'm a big girl and I can only squeeze about 53% of myself into this binder. But then I decided that I'm not going to worry about the other 47%.”

    • “I'm a Binder Mom: I'm proud to say that I'm in this binder. I've spent 20 years working my way up from Wal-Mart mom to soccer mom, and finally, I've hit the glass ceiling. I'm a binder mom! I highly recommend this binder I'm in, but be aware that if you purchase it, you must be flexible and let me put a ham in the oven by 5. Otherwise, my kids might resort to gun violence.”

    • “I received the wrong binders: My advice is to be very careful when ordering, because what I received were binders full of men.”

    According to Bloomberg News, Avery Dennison was along for the ride and said it would stand by its October 18th Facebook comment: “It’s terrific to see so much passion this election season. And we’re always excited to hear folks talking about binders.” (And it should be noted that Dean Scarborough, the CEO of Avery Dennison, is listed in Federal Election Commission reports as having personally donated money to the Romney campaign ... though he also has donated money in the past to the Senate campaign of Democrat Barbara Boxer.)

    Now, let's stipulate that about 45 percent of the population will find these comments funnier than another 45 percent, and that roughly 10 percent of the population - many of them living in Ohio - are undecided, or at least uncommitted.

    The point that needs to be made - and in my view, cannot be made enough - is that a slip of the tongue, a clumsy turn of phrase, or even a verbal gaffe (which the columnist Michael Kinsley once defined as being when a politician actually tells the truth) can take on a life of its own. In this case, there suddenly were hundreds of customer reviews of binders on Amazon, and thousands of people reading and evaluating those reviews.

    In this case, it seems unlikely that the original phrase or the responses will serve to change anyone's mind about who they will vote for in two weeks. But it is not hard to imagine that a political candidate or a CEO could make a far more damaging remark that could do severe damage to his reputation or cause. (Remember when the CEO of BP said, during the height of the Gulf oil spill, that he wanted his life back?)

    It also seems to me that beyond the implications for sales - no matter what you are selling - it is important for business people to be aware when these sorts of outpourings take place, because they suggest an attitude on the part of at least some consumers that may need to be factored into future strategies and tactics.

    Social media and consumer reviews can be a land mine for marketers. But they also can be a gold mine of information about what consumers are thinking and feeling, and how they are going to vote, whether at the ballot box or with their wallets.

    Don't forget what moderator Bob Schieffer said at the end of Monday night's debate. Quoting his mother, he said to the television audience, "Vote. It makes you feel big and strong."

    That's what consumers are. Big and strong. And based on the information they get, and they way they react to it, they show how big and strong they are. Everyday.

    Comments? Send me an email at .
    KC's View:
    A brief postscript here...

    It is being reported this morning that when President Barack Obama had a phone conversation with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, seeking to get the paper's endorsement, his campaign insisted on the highly unusual condition that the details of the discussion had to remain off the record. (When Romney met with the board in person, by way of comparison, not only was the conversation on the record, but the paper posted the audio on its website.)

    The Obama conditions suggest a fundamental misreading of the need for transparency in today's world. If you ask for such a conversation to be off the record, at the very least you can expect that it will be reported that you made such a request ... and it won't look good.

    As Kate correctly says in her column, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can result in lots of online discussion, some of which will actually cast light on the subject at hand. But it also is harder than ever to play your cards close to your vest, because what in the past might have been seen as discretion and caution is now seen as trying to hide something.

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Marketing Daily reports on a new Mintel study projecting that "digital downloads, subscription streaming and video-on-demand sales of movies will increase tenfold during the 10 year period of 2007 and 2017, having already quadrupled from $1.3 billion to $5.5 billion between 2007 and 2012."

    In addition, a consumer survey suggested that "already, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are gaining in popularity; a quarter of respondents said they had used online streaming over the past 30 days and 22% used Video on Demand, according to Mintel."

    It is a slow sounding of the death knell, but an inevitable one.

    We've been talking about this subject for a long time here on MNB - the ways in which technological shifts are changing the ways in which people consume content, turning old-fashioned methods obsolete. It is happening with books, it is happening with movies, it is happening with TV shows. It is the argument here that people who feel such influences will not be felt in traditional shopping circles are, sad to say, misguided. Maybe delusional.

    I recognize that this is not going to happen overnight, and that DVDs - like actual paper-and-ink books - are not going to go away anytime soon. But the future seems clear. If we proceed with our Eyes Open.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    SymphonyIRI is out with its third-quarter MarketPulse report, suggesting that while generation X - the demographic group born after the Baby Boomers and before the Millennials - may be more hopeful about the economy than other demographic groups, it also tends to be more frugal than baby boomers and seniors.

    Some excerpts:

    • "Gen-Xers were graduating from college and entering the adult world after the 1987 stock market crash and the recession that followed, so many were left jobless and moved in with their parents. This somewhat "bleak inheritance" shaped their future financial attitudes and shopping behaviors much like The Great Recession has influenced millennials.

    • "Even though Gen-Xers are more financially optimistic versus the average shopper--24 percent think their financial situation has improved during the last 12 months, and 37 percent feel their finances will improve during the coming year--this generation is very cost conscious and careful about their purchases."

    According to MarketPulse survey results of Gen-Xers:

    • 37 percent buy brands that are on sale rather than their preferred brands versus 45 percent of millennials, 27 percent of boomers and 22 percent of seniors.

    • 32 percent select products to create more meals at the lowest cost possible versus 39 percent of millennials, 27 percent of boomers and 19 percent of seniors.

    • 33 percent choose products based on loyalty card discounts versus 35 percent of millennials, 25 percent of boomers and 16 percent of seniors.

    • 20 percent steer clear of certain aisles to avoid unplanned purchases versus 22 percent of millennials, 15 percent of boomers and 11 percent of seniors.

    The study also suggests a high level of technological engagement by this generation, with 55 percent of Gen-Xers downloading recipes off websites and other online sources, 52 percent downloading coupons from manufacturer websites, 51 percent downloading coupons from retailer websites, 51 percent downloading coupons from couponing sites, such as SmartSource, and 38 percent researching products online.
    KC's View:
    This kind of information simply illustrates something that we talk about a lot here .. that the company with the most information will win.

    This is all good information about Generation X and other generations, but only actionable if companies start to determine how their shopper demographics break down, and figure out unique ways to appeal to their various needs and concerns.

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    National Public Radio (NPR) reports that the American Academy of Pediatrics has decided to contradict a recent Stanford University study suggesting that because there is little nutritional difference between traditional foods and organics, there is little reason to spend more money on organics.

    In a just-released report, the Academy says that it is worth it for parents to buy organics for their children "to avoid pesticide residues," and because "relying on federal standards for pesticide residue isn't good enough."

    According to the story, "The pediatricians are worried because babies of female farm workers in California showed small but significant developmental and motor delays when their mothers were exposed to pesticides at levels similar to those deemed acceptable in conventionally grown produce while pregnant.

    "No studies have been done to see if exposure to similar levels of pesticides from simply eating produce would cause similar problems. But since early childhood exposure to lead and other toxins at very low levels is now known to be harmful, the pediatricians think caution is in order."

    The Academy concedes that when organics cost more than traditional fruits and vegetables, it makes sense to buy mainstream items rather than not eat fresh produce at all.
    KC's View:
    I have to admit that if I had young children today, I might make some very different decisions about meals and menus. I wonder if I indulged them too much, cooked the wrong things too often, and simply was not vigilant enough about making family food decisions.

    I'm not sure I did anything wrong. But I'm pretty sure that in matters of food - as in so many ways - I certainly did not do everything right.

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    Responding to reports that a high percentage of seafood products being sold in grocery stores and restaurants were not what their labels claimed they were, Golub Corp.-owned Price Chopper Supermarkets says it "commissioned a voluntary test of its seafood stock. The objective report’s conclusion confirmed that 100% of the fish tested was properly labeled."

    “Our purpose in commissioning a course of scientifically reliable DNA testing on our seafood in addition to our own internal control procedures, is to provide quality assurances to our customers beyond those offered by other purveyors,” says Lee E. French, Price Chopper’s vice president of seafood, adding “Being able to verify the various species of fish that we carry, in much the same way that we document the sustainability of our sourcing, speaks to our philosophical position, as it offers our customers a well-deserved additional peace of mind."
    KC's View:
    Be specific. Be accurate. Be transparent. Be vigilant.

    Words to live by if you are in the fresh food business...IMHO.

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    Home Media Magazine reports on a new study from The NPD Group saying that "usage of apps to watch video on a smartphone ranks low with the average person who devoted about 6.9 minutes daily to consuming video content in August ... While that tally is 86% up from 3.7 minutes of video content consumed daily during the same period in 2011, it pales in comparison to 25.8 minutes spent on games and social networking (18.1 minutes) and music (10.3). Watching news, sports and weather clips account for 3.4 minutes daily — up from 2.1 minutes in 2011."

    The story goes on to say that "the majority of time (55.1 minutes compared with 34.6 minutes last year) spent using apps on smartphone involves shopping, banking, coupons, payments, ebooks and content sharing, among others ... More than 50% of the smartphone users’ daily time is spent in apps, while communications (messaging and voice) comprises 35% and Web browsing less than 15%."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    Delhaize-owned Hannaford Supermarkets will announce today that, effective immediately,, it is renaming its Store Manager of the Year Award will be renamed as the Ronald C. Hodge Retailer of the Year Award.

    Hodge, as has been noted here, is retiring from Delhaize America after a long career with the company, most of it with Hannaford as a store manager and, eventually, CEO. In her comments about the change, current Hannaford chief Beth Newlands Campbell noted that Hodge's great gift "was instilling in people the confidence to achieve far beyond what they thought they could," had "a unique way of making associates feel valued and cared about and supported," and understood that store managers were the lifeblood of the business.

    "Great store managers lead," she said. "They listen. They coach. They inspire. And day after day, year after year, they overcome challenges to succeed."

    All of those qualities describe Hodge, one of the best guys in the business. And I'm happy to second the comments made by beth Newlands Campbell.

    • The Press of Atlantic City reports that Safeway has decided to shut down two of its remaining Genuardi's supermarkets, in Egg Harbor and Barnegat, New Jersey. The move leaves Safeway with just two remaining Genuardi's, in Marlton, N.J. and in Audubon, Pa.

    Love the comment from one consumer interviewed by the paper, who doesn't know where he'll shop but sees a possible upside: "Maybe we'll get a Wegmans now," he says.

    • The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Target has made a deal to sell its consumer credit card business to TD Bank Group. The search for a buyer took almost two years.

    The story indicates that Target "said the sale price is equal to the gross value of the outstanding receivables at the time of closing. Target's portfolio currently has a gross value of about $5.9 billion."

    • The Boston Globe reports that greeting card retailers will need to make room for yet another section, as the Life Is Good t-shirt company - known for having a do-good approach to business - has signed a deal with Hallmark to create a new line of cards. According to the story, "The partnership will bring 'Life is good' T-shirts, other apparel, and accessories into Hallmark’s distribution network."

    Bert Jacobs, chief executive optimist and co-founder at Life Is Good, gave a memorable keynote speech at this year's Food Marketing Institute show in Dallas. For some of MNB's coverage of his retail-oriented comments, click here.

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and United Fresh Produce Association yesterday announced the co-location of their 2014 conventions, June 10-13 in Chicago. The reunion of FMI and United Fresh follows the successful 2012 co-location in Dallas, which attracted more than 14,000 attendees and featured 2,800 exhibits covering one million square feet.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    • The Financial Times reports that Tesco "is seeking to bolster its top-tier executives as it battles to turn round its UK business and grapples with problems in its overseas operations," and currently is looking for "a new chief executive for its operations in central Europe."

    The story says that Tesco "is looking at both internal and external candidates to succeed Gordon Fryett, chief executive of Europe, who is set to retire in just more than a year."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    Responding to a piece we wrote last week about Harris Teeter, MNB user Dennis Sirianni wrote:

    I, too, have always been impressed by Harris Teeter and like you, KC, I am blessed and cursed to live live in CT.  Thankfully, I have the good fortune of representing a great company that afford me the opportunity to visit great retailers throughout the country, of which Harris Teeter is among the best.

    On another subject, MNB user Chuck Lungstrom wrote:

    I found the quote from one of your MBN users, "Convenience that meets your needs is all it takes to make you a former customer"  to be right on the mark and should be a bell ringer to all retailers to make sure they are relevant to today's consumer.

    Regarding the onslaught of price-matching and same-day delivery programs being initiated by a number of retailers, one MNB user wrote:

    Boy, a lot of the brick and mortar stores better improve the real time inventory levels from where they are now or their going to hack off a lot of folks...

    MNB user Elizabeth Archerd wanted to respond to one of the emails posted yesterday on MNB:

    To the MNB user who wrote...

    "I especially want to know if the organic food item is natural, or genetically engineered, and grown without the use of pesticides. I, personally,  do not consider a genetically engineered food product as 'organic'."

    ...Nothing labeled "Certified Organic" contains GMOs. The rules governing the label do not allow them, period.

    Certified Organic is not only your best bet for avoiding GMOs, it supports agriculture that enriches the soil, cleans and protects our water and wildlife and yes, can feed the world.

    Responding to a story about how more stores than ever are likely to be open this Thanksgiving, I commented yesterday:

    I'm saddened by the idea of stores being open on Thanksgiving. It ought to be that one American holiday that is sacrosanct, that actually allows people to disengage. . . .

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    So you choose to not shop on Thanksgiving.  Does that mean no one else should be able to?

    First of all, I'm perfectly happy to foist my point of view on everybody. But since I'm unlikely to be named dictator anytime soon, maybe I can take refuge in what I actually wrote yesterday, taken in context:

    I'm so torn on this.

    On the one hand, I'm saddened by the idea of stores being open on Thanksgiving. It ought to be that one American holiday that is sacrosanct, that actually allows people to disengage and, yes, give thanks for and with each other.

    But the reality is that online stores are open on Thanksgiving. So maybe the sad reality is that bricks-and-mortar stores have to fight back in the only way they can.

    Too bad.

    People got by for a long time not being able to shop on Thanksgiving. I recognize that reality has changed. But I can still be a little wistful.

    MNB user Bill White - who, for the sake of context, needs to be identified as president/CEO of Belle Foods - wrote:

    Having worked for many retailers in my past lives, some of which were open on the major holidays to my chagrin, and now having been blessed to acquire a regional supermarket chain this year, I am able to affect my employees’ lives and work life balance in a very positive way.  I was in a store last week meeting with our employees prior to a grand opening of one of our re-branded stores, and announced that all of our stores would be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter (even though some of our competitors will remain open), so they could spend that time with their families.  They all cheered, and I actually got a standing ovation.

    We are all in business to make a profit, and sometimes that gets ion the way of doing what is right for the employees on the front lines that make our business successful.  Are we going to lose some sales? Certainly!  But our employees will be much happier, much more productive, etc., which will translate into better sales down the road.  It’s the right thing to do!

    MNB user Mike Moon, of Moon's Hometown Markets, wrote:

    I hesitate writing this email for fear you will blast me, but my stores are open on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. When I became a partner here twenty years ago, the store had been open on both holidays for several years. It wasn't something I was terribly happy about as I was going to work them as the Store Manager, but I quickly learned that this seeming disrespect for the holiday and the family unit was really a service for the consumer. You don't know how many times a frantic shopper comes in on Christmas Day because they forgot the whipping cream or burned the dinner rolls.

    We think we have developed a good system that makes it fair for the staff members. First, we are only open for a few hours, usually 7 AM to 1 PM. We write a really small, "skeleton crew" kind of schedule consisting of only checkers and stock clerks (no meat, produce, or deli staffing). We hang a sign up sheet with the shifts posted and allow employees to sign up if they want to work. We pay time and a half on Thanksgiving Day and double time on Christmas. We allow them to wear whatever they want to work as long as they wear their name badges. We have always had a full signup and never had to lean on anyone to work.

    Mike, I would never "blast" anyone for doing what they think is right for their business and their customers. I absolutely respect both your decision and your reasoning ... and hope you'll never hesitate to challenge my thinking because of some worry that I'll "blast" you.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 24, 2012

    In Monday Night Football action, the Chicago Bears defeated the Detroit Lions 13-7.
    KC's View:
    Yes, I know that today is Wednesday, and that this score is a day late.

    But I got a bunch of emails yesterday wondering why I had not included the score in yesterday's "Sports Desk" piece, and asking if I was dissing the Bears.

    Far from it.

    The simple truth is that I forgot that Monday Night Football was on.

    I was watching the third presidential debate, and switching occasionally to the Giants-Cardinals game to see what was happening there.

    Monday Night Football wasn't even on my radar.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.