Published on: December 3, 2012
I always think it is interesting when MNB readers send emails in which they recount their shopping experiences.
For example:We are both on the far side of 65. Wife went to Toys R Us to get a list of things for the grandkids. Was frustrated trying to find items, out of stocks, lack of help, and long lines (only half the checkouts open). Gave up, came home and ordered all at Amazon.com. She doesn't know who was less expensive and doesn't really care - nor do I.
And from another reader:Visited the Apple store on Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, CT on Saturday afternoon to learn about the adapter to permit an iPhone 5 to connect with a brand new iHome clock radio (not an Apple product). The adapter is manufactured by Apple and I wanted to be sure that the iPhone would charge when plugged into the iHome through the adapter.
A greeter ushered me to a large table by the front door manned by two sales associates. I was told that neither of them knew if the adapter would work; in fact they assured me that no one in the store knew if it would work. They pointed to a distant wall and said I should just buy it and go home and try it. As I walked away one of the clerks mumbled, “I’m sure it will work.” Why will it work now when 60 seconds ago no one in the store knew if it would work?
After selecting the proper adapter without any assistance (good luck if you don’t know what you are looking for), I tried to find someone to pay $30.00 for this piece of plastic. A woman with an iPad asked me if I was checking in (for one of the coveted appointments with a “Genius” you’ve described over the past few weeks). I said no, I wanted to check out. She told me I should go up front where there was help (to the same guys who pointed me to the back of the store). I told her that the help up front had been “worthless.” Another sales associate (Rebecca) overheard this conversation and immediately stepped in. I was on my way in 60 seconds, passing the two clerks up front who were still talking to each other.
Since I had opted for email delivery of my receipt, I also was given the opportunity to fill out a survey. Excellent! I let Apple know how disappointed I was. Trevor, the manager from the Apple store called me at 11:00 this morning and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. We spent about 15 minutes on the phone and I told him of my experience. He listened attentively, told me how he planned to educate his employees, including having the employee go on-line with the customer to Apple forums to try and find the answer (something his employee told me I should have done – I came to the store for their expertise!).
The manager assured me that the Apple customer experience of several years ago (engaged employees excited to talk technology with each customer) could absolutely co-exist with the today’s Apple stores that generated enormous revenues for Apple. He acknowledged the comparison of his employees to the aloof Starbucks employees of a few years ago and seemed committed to change what he can at his store. He pointed out that a manager could be called at any time and asked me to return in the future.
Will I go back? I will, because their technology is pretty good, pretty reliable, and I can walk to their store. But they have competition – a new store opened up on Greenwich Avenue several blocks away called Macinspires. I’ve been there and it is like walking into a combination of the Apple store from several years ago and an electronics trade show with really well informed sales reps. And no hard sell either. The best part is that they are even closer to home than the Apple store.
You can bet that I told Trevor of my positive experience at Macinspires.
I am more convinced than ever that Apple needs to find someone to lead its Apple Store division who can restore some of its past luster. I think that the Apple Store experience remains superior in most cases, but you hear more of these stories now than you used to.
That's never good. It is like a warning shot. Apple needs to pay attention. (Just like every other retailer.)
Regarding our piece last week about how United Airlines seems to be trying to intimidate the founders of a complaint website called "Untied.com," which led one MNB user to write:I had never heard of this site before your piece. I checked it out. Now that I know about it, if I have an issue with United, guess where I will be going to log that complaint?
On another subject, one MNB user wrote:In response to your response to the writer claiming that $250K annual income makes the earner a vastly different person than the majority of people living in America today you missed a couple of huge points other than geography’s effect on cost of living.
The first is that the majority of people earning $250K + annually are NOT “corporate fat cats”. They are small business owners who, due to tax laws, have to claim company profits as personal income. These people are not pocketing all of that money and buying McMansions and BMW SUV’s. These small business owners are channeling the profits into paying off the increasingly uncomfortable amount of debt and costs it requires to start and maintain a small business. In a lot of cases, that debt is a mortgage on their own home. I know this as I am one of them. Some small business owners actually incorporate themselves to avoid a certain amount of risk, but by doing that, their small corporation pays even higher taxes than small business “profits”. There was a time in this country when we encouraged and protected the risk takers for the obvious advantage that they were building and growing the economy for all that that offers. Now the prevailing knee jerk reaction is to blame and penalize them when they had naught to do with the avarice of the auto makers or large bankers who have yet to suffer any criminal prosecution for their mismanagement in the meltdown of 2008. Any tax increase on the small business owners who are the real risk takers will naturally hinder their willingness to expand business, open new locations, and hire new employees, especially when they see the taxes as being levied to pay off the rescue of the “too big to fail” businesses favored by TARP.
The next argument about raising taxes on the “rich” is much more philosophical. Define rich. In the US Tax Code there is no enshrined and codified definition of “rich”. Therefore, this adjective becomes the catchall bumper sticker definition which in reality will redefine itself up and down depending on the purposes of the user. In the 2016 election I will not be surprised to find that the definition of rich is now anyone making over $75K annually.
MNB user Bill Kadlec wrote:Here is my thought on the “wealthy” tax bracket discussion. While the simplistic and short sighted measure of one year’s income at $250,000 can be projected as a rich family, it doesn’t account for the overall financial health of that individual (or family). The US Government should seriously consider bringing back income averaging as an equalizer to spikes in income or the painful troughs that can be experienced by people. Particularly someone who is recovering from a financial devastation, the increase taxes feel more like a penalty for making the effort to dig out of a hole than contributing their fair share.
Regarding improved consumer confidence, one MNB user wrote:As I was reading the article on the improving consumer confidence index, I wondered if there is a post-election/campaigning “bounce”. The election/campaigning season is negative and drills in on the problems in this country to the point of over-saturation. I’m pretty sure we’re all glad it’s over and with that, the “mood” of the country lightens a little.
And another MNB user wrote:While there are a number of economic indicators that could lead us to believing we are heading down the path to another recession, and just as many that we are heading into better times, I think the recent up-tick in consumer confidence has more to do with the presidential election being behind us and corresponding negative ads from both sides also a thing of the past.
You are right in your assertion that whatever the sentiment is today, it could change almost overnight, with the next jobs report or more topically, an impasse in avoiding the impending fiscal cliff. For retailers, my advice is take advantage while the getting is good!!
The purchase by ConAgra of Ralcorp led one MNB user to write:The bigger opportunity for ConAgra Foods may not be in the broader portfolio of brands but rather the increased influence with major retailers, many of whom buy both their branded and PL products. CAG can leverage that influence to better control how their products are merchandised in-store.
There was a study out last week saying that parents tend to pay more attention to their kids' eating habits and health than to their own, which I didn't find all that surprising, but my comments led one MNB user to write:It was heartening to read your Wednesday comments on parenting: "caring more about your kids than you care about yourself." Couldn't agree more. [Corollary here for "somewhat older folks" might be "caring more about your kids' kids than you care about yourself."] In any event, discussing this with a co worker this morning, note was made of recent commentary on MNB about the Toys "R" Us customer experience, to the effect "I would take any available alternative to actually having to go to a TRU store to shop; it really is that bad!"
Those expressed sentiments seemed to be contrary to the sentiment expressed this morning about "being a parent", and seemed to manifest "it really is all about me" centricity, as opposed to the more-selfless "it's really all about my kids [or grandkids], and not about me." If a parent [or grandparent] opts to purchase, here, a child's toys online -- sort of the archetype impersonal shopping experience -- thus denying the child any possible "joy & wonderment" of simply being able to wander through a toy store, a big deal thing for a kid -- and even assuming the parent merely uses that trip to whet the child's appetite, intending to return ex child later on to actually make the purchase -- co-worker and I found it hard to square these two juxtaposed topical threads. The analogous observation, "Here, Johnny, instead of actually going to visit Santa Claus at the mall, we'll just look at pictures of Santa Claus here on my computer; it'll be a lot more convenient for me that way", was noted. Today's parenthood comments seemed genuinely to express the sort of selfless spirit we felt was appropriate in the "parenthood context", whereas the earlier TRU comments did not. Two readers' thoughts, anyway.
Maybe I'm a lousy parent, but I never took my kids to toy stores at Christmastime. We always had very specific rules. Get your letter to Santa done by Thanksgiving, and then sit back and wait to be surprised on Christmas morning. (Never Christmas Eve.) I'd guess that most of the time, maybe 30-40 percent of what they received actually was on their lists; I always liked the idea of surprising them, as opposed to wandering through stores so they would be tempted to get the "gimmies."
Sure, we'd hit the mall to visit Santa. And we'd try to get to NYC to walk down Fifth Avenue, see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, etc... I've always thought that Christmas traditions should have very little to do with toy stores.
BTW...my kids - ages 18, 23 and 26 - all had their letters to Santa in by Thanksgiving this year.
Responding to last week's Eye-Opener about the video showing terrific customer service at a Texas Krispy Kreme, even to a fellow trying to get rejected as a way of thickening his skin, MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:After viewing the Krispy Kreme, customer service experience on entresting.com, I watched another of Jia’s rejection videos.
First of all, people in Texas are much nicer than people in New Jersey. Even when giving rejection, they take the time to explain why.
Secondly, the interesting thing about Jackie at Krispy Kreme is that her mind automatically tried to understand how to meet Jia’s request, without instantly rejecting it as “something we don’t do.” How well do we give our customer-facing employees the latitude to create solutions to meet customer requests? How well do they do when they are busy? In this case, the unique request is part of a test, but the overwhelming number of unique customer requests are real, and how well do we address these real requests?
The only part of this email with which I disagree is the disparagement of people from New Jersey. That's an easy stereotype, but I have to tell you that there are nice people and bozos everywhere. I just hate it when people slot entire states into categories when it comes to how nice or not nice their residents are.
From another reader:Wow. Just this morning I stopped in a Dunkin’ Donuts. Three employees were behind the counter, but not a single customer so I walked right up. And waited. They seemed to be talking about work, so I was patient and waited some more. Eventually, one guy glanced over at me. I continued to wait. Then I waited some more. Nobody ever said “I’ll be right with you” or acknowledged my existence in any way. After waiting some more I turned and walked out. It’s a newer store that I pass every day and this was my first visit. It was certainly also my last. Krispy Kreme got it right, Dunkin’ Donuts got it wrong.
Thanks for posting that link. Every supervisor should make sure their employees watch it, whether they’re selling donuts, jewelry or plumbing parts.
Regarding JC Penney's stated interest in replacing checkouts with coffee and juice bars, and give employees smart phones that they can use to check people out, MNB user Julee A. Wingo wrote:I love JC Penney, but if they’re going to do that, they better have separate people designated for checking people out or more people will get frustrated with waiting for people to get their juice, etc.; and start shopping on line. Maybe not at Penney’s.
Another MNB user wrote:I believe in supporting brick and mortar stores so that I am essentially helping provide someone in the community a job. When selecting which stores to go to, I favor retailers that offer good customer service. Since starting my career, JC Penny has been the place that I shop for all of my business casual clothes, and I have been disappointed when I can’t find something and there are no employees to help. Giving employees iPads, iPhones, and a drink bar only makes me believe customer service will continue to lack. I have already abandoned Walmart because of the consistent lack of customer service and am trying to not feel this way about JC Penny…
We had some discussion last week of the irony that Walmart has such strict rules on what its employees can accept from vendors (nothing!), while there seems to be some evidence that it may have engaged in systemic bribery of foreign officials in places like Mexico, India and China.
Which led one MNB user to write:Not only is there zero tolerance for accepting any type of gift, including a lunch, but manufacturers are not permitted to leave behind any samples brought to sales meetings. When the meetings are over, all samples are packed back up and leave w/the sales force. On a call to any other retailer, the samples are left behind for the buyers to either take home or share w/coworkers.
And from another reader:I guess there is a bit of a media feeding frenzy about Walmart in India. But their policies are very clear. After a long and somewhat contentious meeting in Bentonville, the Walmart associate and I decided we could use a soft drink. We went to the Sam's soda vending machine near the meeting room. I put in my quarter for my soda and started to put in a quarter for hers ( it was about 4 years ago but I bet the soda is still close to 25 cents). She quickly stopped me, and put in her quarter. She was concerned that her tough minded buying attitude would be compromised by my " gift" of a $.25 soda. Say what you want about Walmart, but corruptible associates is not one of them.
Maybe not corruptible. But the question is whether at least some of its employees are corrupting.
From still another reader:It seems easy to point our fingers at them and say, "got 'cha!".
While I do not condone them... It seems they were nonchalant about it to the point of "asking to get caught", ... who are we kidding?
Retailers are currently paying "consultants" to go into some of our domestic municipalities to secure liquor licenses, building permits, etc. Anyone with half a brain knows these consultants are merely "bag carriers", who simply know who to give the bag to!
At least it maintains some degree of deniability for the retailer.
After Wal-mart gets properly excoriated, let's uncover some of the ugliness in our own backyards.
Regarding our piece about the Silver Fox Club being disbanded (and the picture we ran of the original members), MNB user Len Okyn wrote:Kevin, the ‘Silver Lining’ article brought back great memories of why I love the Supermarket Industry. It was because of my association with my good friend Paul Corliss and the other Icons in the Silver Fox Club picture I became committed to encouraging high school and College grads to seek careers in the most challenging and exciting industry in the world. I never forgot “how did we get here from there?” and that is what those Silver haired ladies and gentlemen did. Thanks for the article and now unfortunately you will never know what you missed by not being an proud member of the Silver Fox Club.
FYI: I am the Silver Fox to the left of Neil Golub, Price Chopper.
Neil Golub also came up in another story last week, as he and his wife, Jane, were honored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Which led MNB user LaDonna Hale to write:I had the distinct pleasure of getting to know these two outstanding individuals when I worked “with” them at Price Chopper. I am glad to call them friends. They continue to be the man and woman I measure all others against in this business, and in life in general. I have never met two more caring, engaged, thoughtful and gracious people. No accolade they receive could ever be enough to recognize them for their good deeds!
MNB user Matt Mroczek wrote, about American Express-sponsored Small Business Saturday:I support small business by NOT using American Express since their fees are usually higher than Visa and Mastercard. “Small Business Saturday” is a great opportunity for AMEX to send all of it’s cardholders unwittingly into stores that don’t accept it for payment to “show” them why they should.
Regarding Joe Biden's visit to Costco last week, MNB user Mike Starkey wrote:I would love to see a basket analysis of Joe Biden's Costco purchases and reveal the country of origin of his purchases. Sad to say that most likely a very large percentage of the basket would be manufactured somewhere other than the United States. I'll leave the politics aside, but if people are really worried about jobs folks should at least think about their purchases and where the products are made while they vote with their dollars in the marketplace.
I think that is a really good point. And not just because I have a sponsor on MNB that certifies products made in the USA.
Michael Sansolo had a column last week about how Martha Stewart has found a new fan niche - tattooed hipsters in Brooklyn, who are finding applications for her brand of suburban chic. Michael suggested, with tongue a bit in cheek, that maybe her prison term had given her "street cred" with an audience that might not ordinarily be seen as Martha Stewart fans. He also wrote about a college basketball coach who had to change the terms of the game if he was going to get any level of excellence from a team that traditionally had underperformed. Michael connected the two stories by suggesting that sometimes unconventional approaches and unexpected appeal can lead to sustained success...but one MNB user wasn't buying and he sent Michael the following note:Who gives a crap about street “cred”. So the business lesson is that Martha Stewart is more “diversified” because she spent time in Jail? Seriously? And you are making a comparison to and equate the business lesson to a coach who for all intents and proposes did something – NEW, UNIQUE, SPECIAL, GOOD, & WELL.
You and the metro guy clearly have dislodged equilibriums.
First of all, I'm the Content Guy. Not the Metro Guy. Let's get it straight.
Second, I think it was an entirely legitimate column and thesis. You're welcome to disagree with it, but I thought it made a lot of sense and is completely in line with the overall approach here on MNB, which is to examine everything from different and unusual angles.
Third ... I'll show you just how dislodged my equilibrium is. I've read enough about the basketball coach in question - David Arseneault of Grinnell College - that I'm not entirely sure his motives are as honorable as some have suggested. And, while I'm no Martha Stewart fan, I actually have a lot of sympathy for her. I cannot believe that of all the people who have committed financial misdeeds over the past decade, Martha Stewart is the one who went to jail.
At least that's one guy's opinion. The Metro Guy.
I appreciated this email from MNB user Cindy Sorenson:I loved your commentary about handkerchiefs, and the follow ups in "Your Views" section today. They all made me think of my dad. He carried one every day. AND it had to be ironed. How many handkerchiefs did I iron as a kid growing up? Boy, did I hate that job. But what I wouldn't give to be able to iron a handkerchief for my dad who has now been deceased for 12 years. I wouldn't complain for a second. Great memories. Thank you.
And finally, on another subject, one MNB user wrote:Regarding whether baseball owners have been guilty of exploiting players for relatively low pay (in years past), or whether, on the other hand, players' salaries these days have grown beyond all reason, you know what (the late) Robert B. Parker would say about it all, don't you? That's right. "Baseball is the most important thing that really doesn't matter."