retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Regarding the investigation of charges that Walmart may have bribed foreign officials as a way of greasing the bureaucratic wheels in places like Mexico, China and India, one MNB user wrote:

Having experience in doing business in India and even Puerto Rico, payoffs and "under the table" transactions are the accepted norms in those countries and the key reason that company I represented chose not to expand there.  With that said, I do not know what level of "nastiness" Walmart was engaged in, but it must have been pretty bad to fall beneath the "low" standards bar India and other developing countries still accept as business as usual.

I'm still impressed by the argument made yesterday by an MNB user - that Walmart's strict ethics rules for how its people deal with suppliers should have worked both ways, and that the company has enormous gall to preach one thing and do another.

There is some debate about whether retailers should actually add a surcharge to receipts for the amount that they have to pay in healthcare costs for employees, which prompted one MNB user to make the following observation:

It just occurred to me today – a product that increases its price and then explicitly states that the increase will go toward providing a living wage and health care for its employees – in any third world country we would be rushing to give that product Fair-Trade certification! Yet here, somehow, some people seem unhappy about the idea. Just strikes me as strange.

MNB user Rudy Dory chimed in:

I know you travel a lot (and am surprised it has not been brought up) but I know in San Francisco (at several fine eating places we patronized this last year at the Fancy food show) added a surcharge for employee benefits (Not sure what all it was about).  I don’t know if this is establishment procedure or a city of San Francisco charge.  It wasn’t huge money (like the tax portion can be) but it was on the bill.  All the fuss seems to be a bit of emotional posturing and I think we all just have to settle down and figure out how to make the program work.  Those of us  that do will stay in business and those of us who don’t will go out of business.  Just like we always have with other government programs or regulations in the past that we didn’t want or particularly care for.


I loved this story from an MNB user, writing about one particular Thanksgiving Day opening:

My Dad was an independent Supervalu operator with a small store in Lindstrom MN.  In 1974 he thought it would be a good idea that year to open on Thanksgiving day. I was in 8th grade.

The idea was we would help Mom out by using the meat department rotisserie and make a goose for dinner and because we were already there Dad would open the store from 8-12. His thoughts were that we would be available as a convenience for last minute small transactions..  All there was he two of us.    Major backfire… at the time I didn’t know how to ring register, the store was crowded, we had people lined up all the way to the back of the freezers. People were buying full grocery carts of thanksgiving dinner including huge rock hard frozen turkeys.  I would bag, carry out and then run back to dairy to load milk and run back to bag again. It was bad… quite a rush.

We finally got everyone out at 3PM, three hours late, the goose was over cooked and when returning home after 4PM, I never remember hearing Mom yell at Dad that hard, ever. Needless to say for the next 20 years we closed for Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving and the subject never came up again.

From another reader:

IMHO, Black Friday is dying. Black Friday deals are already starting well before Friday. Stores that traditionally were closed are now open to compete against on-line retailing and other brick and mortars that were already open. If you want to spend your Thanksgiving shopping you can, you can also catch dinner and a movie. Times change, I luckily do not work at a job that requires I be at work on Thanksgiving. One daughter does, one doesn’t. It is a work around for family dinner, but reality. I won’t be shopping tomorrow, but light shopping (regular weekly shopping after the early bird specials) on Friday. Much of my gift buying will be done on-line, probably about a 50/50 split, up from previous years. This year instead of protesting if you have to work, embrace your family and be thankful for all you have, including a job. Dinner is not required to be served at any predetermined time. Work around schedules and be thankful you have food on the table.

I wrote the other day about planning to do almost all of my holiday shopping online, which led MNB user Wayne Godwin to write:

Do you ever get out and check stores?  I’m sure you must, but you emphasize the “online” experience so often it makes me wonder.

Of course. But for personal purposes, I just find that online shopping is easier, more convenient, and often less expensive.'s an email from MNB user John Miller about online shopping:

My wife and I are both a couple months from being 56 years old and we shop online all the time.  Last night we sat down and completed all purchases for the kids and their spouses in a matter of just about an hour.  All items were on the wish lists on Amazon and a couple other sites so we picked what we would buy, ordered it, and it will be very shortly shipped directly to our front door.  Yes, we paid sales tax on many of the items that were included with those purchases.  We did not use our smart phone but did use both the iPad and our laptop.  So for those retailers that believe that the sales tax will make the difference ----you need to re-think your strategy.  The convenience and most often the pricing with online shopping, and with some sites being willing to even pay the return shipping should you need to return something, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to go to a brick and mortar store.  It’s not that I don’t, but sales tax is not the equalizer.

And from another reader:

Quite frankly, sales taxes are irrelevant to the decision of whether my family shops online or not.  I suppose we realized that taxes are a fact of life and the sales tax “holiday” wasn’t going to last forever, so we enjoyed it while we could.   Now, until the brick ‘n mortar retailers can match the price, selection, service and convenience (home delivery of just about anything) of shopping online, more of my business will go to the internet retailers.   In fact, I estimate that we do 65% of our total buying online, with food and my 16-year old daughter’s clothes being the largest exceptions.

We had a story the other day about how, while Hostess is liquidating its US businesses, there will be no interruption in production of Twinkies and Cupcakes in Canada, where they are made by different companies. Which led MNB user Michael Griswold to write:

Now is the time to annex Canada – they have the Twinkies and the Cupcakes!!!!  With no hockey, I am sure they are distracted.

On another subject, an MNB user wrote:

In the Obamacare, tax and executive compensation conversations you’ve had on the site recently, the thing that irritates me most is the offhanded remark some folks have made that $250K household income isn’t rich. According to the US Census Bureau, median household income 2006-2010 was $51,914. $250K puts you in the top 1-2% of households in the US.

People may not feel rich, but that’s because of how much they spend, not that they’re earning too little. It’s also about who they surround themselves with: high income folks live in great neighborhoods with wealthy schools. The frame of reference is narrow. If you’re neighbor has a nicer house and car than you, you may feel bad in comparison, but you’d feel incredibly wealthy if you were sitting on the bus next to a family of four that makes $30K.

I’m not saying that folks don’t deserve to have what they have. That’s not my right. But I do think it’s important to understand where you fit in. When we talk about government programs, taxes, health care, or retailing, the biggest challenge is for the rich people to put themselves in the position of the average consumer. And the first step, I think, is acknowledging that your life experience is very different than the vast majority of Americans’.

I think when people say that $250,000 in annual income does not make a person rich, they are actually speaking geographically. Someone who makes $250,000 and lives in New York City, for example, is far less well off than someone who makes the same amount of money and lives in Delaware, Ohio. Or a lot of other places around the country.

I'm not sure the extent to which this should be factored into public policy discussions about taxation. But it is a reality.

Yesterday, in talking about why content is more important than form, I quoted a passage from "The Real Thing," by Tom Stoppard, which prompted one MNB user to write:

I totally LOVE this quote, in so many ways. Thanks, as usual, for expanding my mind!

My pleasure. For those who missed it, I'll quote it again ... the play's protagonist, a writer named Henry, says the following: "Words ... They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more... I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead."

I've seen two different productions of "The Real Thing" on Broadway, and both were wonderful. If you ever have a chance to see the show, you should.
KC's View: