retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails about what appears to be the likely departure of Tesco from the US with the sale of closure of its Fresh & Easy stores. One reader wrote:

Fresh and Easy never quite found its mark in the US, partly because their offerings were rarely in sync with their locations and the surrounding demographics.  Many  of their locations were easily acquired as they simply just 'rehabbed' existing closed store in shopping centers.  But these locations proved to be less than optimal for accessing the fresh-minded, on the go, shopper that their stores were designed to appeal to.

Other than Fresh Market or Sprouts, I don't see too many retailers chasing after this business, but it will be more than interesting to see how the assets are evaluated and how much curb appeal any or all of these stores have to a potential acquirer.

From another reader:

Any chance that Amazon would want the stores to run their AmazonFresh markets from?  A perfect chance to provide pick up locations for a much larger range of goods than is being provided in this format currently, and with the endorsement of Amazon, it could really take off....

I cannot imagine that Amazon would want that kind of bricks-and-mortar presence.

MNB user Richard Sokolnicki wrote:

"The plans came after two years of intensive research that involved Tesco sending senior executives from the UK to live with Californian families, assess the way they shopped and ate..."

Sheesh! Did they send them to live with transplanted Brits? Every aspect of the Fresh & Easy concept was DOA - except the fact that it involves small stores. (I may have said that once or twice in the past.)

I quoted yesterday from a study that said that "a majority surveyed again reported getting an emotional lift from postal mail, with 62% of Americans saying they enjoy checking their mailbox."

I commented:

Really? Because at least 62 percent of the time, the stuff I get out of the mailbox goes right into the trash can or recycling bin.

One MNB user responded:

Not sure about the other 62%, but for some completely bizarre reason to me snail mail seems more personal, even when I know it is bulk. Or maybe it is the thrill of the surprise. You know you are going to have e-mails, you never know if you are going to have anything in the mailbox. 90% of what I get in the mailbox goes straight to the recycle bin and I still get a small kick out of it. 90% of my e-mails also go straight to the trash icon, but no little thrill, just a desire to get off someone’s mailing list. Doesn’t make sense, just the way it goes.

MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

I have a few years on you Kevin.  So, picture yourself, with the kids all grown up and with kids of their own (in our case, 10 of those wondrous beings called grandchildren).  They live half a coast away, in some foreign land called New Jersey.  You open the mailbox and here is a big manila envelope, addressed with an uneven scrawl.  You open it to find drawings, letters, poems.  And signed, “ I love you, Poppy”.  “I Love you Nan.”  “We miss you, Poopy and Nan” (yep, that’s what it said).  Those 600 miles between us just became so small – and  SO much larger at the same time.  Pictures on Facebook, writings in emails just don’t FEEL the same.  And I’ve yet to find a way to hang them on the refrigerator.  I guess I’m an old (fill in the blank here),  but I really do get a lift from my mail. 

Yes, there is a lot of stuff that doesn’t even make it into the house with a quick detour to the recycle bin (I wish AARP would give up on me for a few more years), but I hope the USPS will be around for a few more years.  I’ll be out by the mailbox waiting for that package from the great-grandchildren.

Regarding the new $450 steel, limited edition Starbucks card that has just gone on sales, MNB user Joe Davis wrote:

Regarding the Starbucks steel card, can’t say I understand this at all either.  The Starbucks mobile-pay app is wonderful and incredibly easy to use.  I can’t imagine paying a $50 premium for the “privilege” of having a metal plate installed on my person.  The whole thing seems a little haughty – and for that reason alone, it may do incredibly well.

Got the following email regarding a recent story about a declining birth rate in the US:

Kevin I have always enjoyed MNB and find it a good read to keep up on the current state of our industry.  Often our industry focus on short term fixes to what ills us such as more Features and Displays, Sharper pricing, New Products, and ignore the simple fact that the customer base is shrinking.  Your commentary on the US birth rate decline today sparked me to write.

This is a serious issue that many have chosen to ignore or plan for.  I saw a presentation by Doug Anderson (AC Nielsen) in Nov 2009 at the Mid Winter GMA conference in which he presented the economic impact of declining birth rates.  The premise is that any Economy is driven by births than any other factor.  The impending economic bomb that will certainly come to every nation when their birth rates drop is compelling evidence that this will (is) happen(ing) here, is already happening elsewhere and will happen in virtually every country in the world where their birth rates drop below the "replacement level".  Without the replacements to consume what we make is the simple fact that drives this prognostication.  Couple that with the extended longevity of people around the globe and you have huge pressures on social programs and the labor force availability to do the jobs needed.

We had a story the other day about how some restaurants and stores in the Boston area continue to sell mislabeled fish, which led one MNB user to write:

This is no different than filling up your car with 93 Octane, willing to pay 20-cents more per gallon than 87 Octane, and finding out later that the gas station put the cheaper 87 blend in higher priced 93 storage tank.  Without any regulation, there would be plenty of gas stations taking advantage of the consumer.  This is no different, and that is exactly what is happening, some intentional and other not. The seafood industry is very complex with many species, countries of origin, farm raised/wild caught, sizing/packing specs, and is hard to understand for even the veterans. The consumers don’t even realize when they have been taken advantage of.  Regulation in this industry is looooong overdue.

Agreed. Especially since some people have gone on the record as saying that the controversy is "silly."

We had a story the other day about how more dads are buying toys for their daughters, which means that more so-called girls' toys are being designed to appeal to their dads, which means that more girls toys are being developed that will help them grow their math and science skills.

Which led MNB user Jessica Duffy to write:

I would look forward to ANY change in the offerings of girls toys. For girls there is just an endless stream of pink plastic crap that is packaged to grab attention, but which has very little play value. There is no room for imagination or improvisation…just a stupid hamster that runs up and down ramps making squeaking noises. Or those Bratz dolls! Honestly if I wanted my daughter to grow up to go into the oldest profession, then I would buy her a Bratz doll. Ridiculous! Amazing toys are marketed to boys including construction and building and science and sports – good quality, long-lasting toys, that have good open-ended play value. Every year I am at a loss trying to xmas shop for my daughter – I just can’t choke up the money for the crap offered girls. My son’s gifts accumulate easily. I torture myself to shop for my daughter.

Again, I love emails from readers that detail their own shopping experiences:

I wanted to share a "dinosaur retailer" story … My aunt and uncle enjoy visiting the Isle casino in Bettendorf, Iowa, so my sister and I wanted to get them a gift card from the casino for Christmas. I visited the casino's website but couldn’t find anything on purchasing gift cards online, except that they are available in the casino's gift shop. I emailed the casino about all this through the "contact us" link on Saturday; as of today (three days later) I hadn't gotten a response. So this morning I called. I first was sent to a main response center. Once I was transferred, this is how the conversation went:

Woman at casino: Front desk.

Me: Hi there. I was wondering if there's any way to purchase a gift card over the phone or through the mail.

Woman: It's $5.75.

Me: Excuse me?

Woman: The gift cards are sold in denominations of $25 and there's a $5.75 surcharge for each money order.

Me: Money order?

Woman: Yes, you have to send in the amount of the gift card plus $5.75 via money order.

Me: I can't just order one over the phone with a credit card?

Woman: No. Money order only. Or you can come into our gift shop.

Me: Ma'am, I live in Chicago.

Woman: Then you have to send us a money order.

I thanked her and hung up. How many things were wrong with this conversation and failed transaction? I understand that they wouldn't take personal checks for fraud reasons, but a credit card is verified immediately. Plus, why would I go out of my way to purchase a money order in this day and age when I'm perfectly solvent? This was the casino's only opportunity to get money from me, ever (I'm not a gambler), and they in no way made it easy or convenient for me to give it to them. So now my aunt and uncle are going to get sweaters instead of a gift card to a place they really like.

Still another Supervalu-related email, in this case related to new layoffs:

I have to wonder, if Craig Herkert hadn’t walked away with a few million dollars for being fired and Wayne Sales hadn’t accepted his million plus sign-on and stay bonuses, how Supervalu could have possibly just reduced the 401(k) match for all employees instead of eliminating it altogether for the majority of them. This is the kind of thing that makes it difficult for the rank and file to feel that upper management is taking as big a hit as they are expected to take. What’s so frustrating is that this is the norm in this country and why so many people are suffering financially.
KC's View: