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    Published on: January 2, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Selfridges, the London department store, reportedly has decided to take some of the hustle and bustle out of the January shopping experience by providing customers with a so-called "silent shopping area" where people can leave their shoes and mobile phones at the door and "relax in silent bliss."

    According to the story in the Daily Mail, "The space will include meditation sessions and headspace pods," as well as a way to shop in peace for certain kinds of items."

    I'm not sure how expandable this idea is, since for many people the most important thing about almost kind of shopping is getting through it quickly. But it is an interesting idea, in the sense that it pays attention to a consumer need that many retailers don't take into account.

    To me, that's the very definition of an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    The New York Times reported the other day about how same-day shipping replaced free shipping as the hot promotion offered by e-tailers during the recent holiday season.

    "It’s logistically complicated and money-losing — and may not even be a service that consumers want or need, analysts say. But retailers from Walmart to small shops ... are willing to take the risk. Even the Postal Service has introduced a same-day option for retailers. And the reason is simple: fear of Amazon.com."

    Some context from the Times: "The same-day delivery idea was a spectacular failure during the dot.com boom. Companies like Kozmo.com and Webvan went under because the services simply cost too much to be profitable. Amazon has offered same day shipping since 2009, but with limits — only in big cities near Amazon warehouses on certain items ordered in the morning.

    "The geographical limits exist because Amazon had built warehouses far from major cities to avoid charging sales tax in certain states. But it has now given in on the sales tax fight, and in return, is erecting warehouses near cities like San Francisco, which analysts say is paving the way for faster, more widespread same-day delivery and spurring competitors."
    KC's View:
    Longtime MNB readers will know that we've been talking about this evolution for years, tracking how free shipping and one-day shipping and now same-day shipping have been evolving from differential advantages to standard operating procedure for some e-tailers. The Times is right - much of the evolution has been forced by Amazon's growth and willingness to change the game.

    For retailers that want to be in the game, it is critical to figure out where you are in this continuum, and what the differential advantages are - and will be - that allow you to be competitive. It is a shifting competitive landscape that is both impossible and unwise to ignore.

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    A number of retailers and manufacturers find themselves in the middle of a gun rights-related controversy, as a local newspaper decided to publish the names and addresses of area residents who own registered handguns, and Second Amendment advocates called for a mass boycott of all advertisers.

    According to Politico, just before Christmas the Gannett-owned Journal News - which covers Westchester and Rockland counties, bedroom communities near New York City - decided to post on its website a map showing the name and addresses of every pistol permit holder in the counties. (The map is being constantly updated as the paper gathers information that is in the public domain.) The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association then called for a nationwide boycott of all companies advertising in any Gannett paper.

    The gun rights association said that the posting of the names and addresses was a “wanton act” that “has put in harm's way tens of thousands of lawful license holders,” the association stated in a news release. It also is calling for "concerned citizens" to express their displeasure to Journal News management.
    KC's View:
    First, a bit of disclosure. It so happens that both Michael Sansolo and I are former Gannett reporters. I worked for the Journal News in Rockland County back in the late seventies, and Michael worked for the Gannett-owned Reporter Dispatch and several other Gannett-owned papers before they were combined as the Journal News a number of years ago. So we have some familiarity with the landscape.

    I am troubled by this situation on a variety of levels.

    I am not a fan of guns. Don't have one, never will, and have never fired one. I take the Second Amendment very seriously, though I think that it is clear that the founders did not envision the kinds of weapons now available when they wrote it. I think that we have to do a far better job of doing background checks of every person who wants to own any sort of gun, and should revive the ban on assault weapons. I don't think that the solution to gun violence in schools is to arm teachers and administrators and/or make permanent the notion of armed forces in every school. (I say this as someone who is married to a third grade teacher, and who has had three kids in Connecticut public schools.) I also recognize that being who I am, and not having grown up in any sort of gun culture, shapes my view of the issue, and that other people will feel differently. But there ought to be a place where reasonable compromise is possible. (In this, I think I agree most with Joe Scarborough, the former conservative Republican congressman from Florida, who was highly rated by the National Rifle Association but now feels that greater regulation needs to be enforced, as well as an improved mental health policy and a shift in the culture of violence that infects movies and video games.)

    I say all this not to launch a gun debate here on MNB. That's not really how I want to begin the new year, and this is not the place for this debate to unfold. But I think I need to explain myself before commenting on this story.

    I think the Journal News is wrong. The people who own registered handguns are behaving in a perfectly legal manner. I do not believe that the posting of their names and addresses makes them a target for gun thieves, nor do I think that it makes non gun owners a potential target because now people know where they won't get shot. (Don't laugh. Both points have been argued by people writing in to the paper.) I also don't think that, as another citizen wrote to the paper, that "the only way to 'fix' this is for everyone in the affected counties to become gun owners. Then the bad guys might go hunting victims elsewhere." (Again, a suggestion made by a local resident. I'm just glad I don't live next to him.)

    I think I understand why the Journal News did this - it was a way of pointing out, to people perhaps unaware of modern realities, just how prevalent gun ownership has become in this country. But the paper could have done that without posting people's names and addresses. (I might feel differently if the map pointed to the people who own assault rifles.)

    I also think the Journal News did this because it could. But just because you can do something does not mean you should do something. It does not make sense to abuse the First Amendment to point out that you think there may be abuses of the Second Amendment.

    This move targets people who are doing something legal. And even if the modifications to current gun regulations that are being suggested in most quarters take place, my guess is that it would not affect most of these people. Registered handgun owners are not the issue.

    I feel bad for the retailers and manufacturers that find themselves being blindsided by this issue. I'm not sure what they should do, though I think my impulse would be to ignore the demands made by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, just because to knuckle under would be to open the door for every group that threatens a boycott.

    One of the downsides of the digital revolution is that all kinds of issues - from the important to the inane - are spilling into public consciousness, creating debate and calls for boycotts of all kind. No question it is getting out of hand.

    The fact is that retailers by definition have to sell products that can have a connection to a range of issues and someone is always going to get offended. Navigating these waters can be tricky ... but I'm not sure there is any sign of this trend coming to an end.

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports on a new study suggesting that people who are just a little bit overweight - with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30 - "have a 6% lower risk of death than people whose BMI is in the normal range of 18.5 to 25, according to the study, being published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    "People who had a BMI of 30 to 35—considered the first stage of obesity—had a 5% lower risk of dying, but those figures weren't considered statistically significant."

    Being substantially obese, with a BMI of 35 or higher, "does raise the risk of death by 29%, researchers found."

    The Journal continues: "The new report is the latest, and largest, to document what scientists call the 'obesity paradox.' Other studies have shown that people with heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions tend to live longer if they carry excess pounds even though excess weight is associated with heightened risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and several cancers which in turn raise the risk of premature death."
    KC's View:
    To be clear, nobody seems to be saying that being fat is good for one's health. But it does seem to inject some measure of sanity into the obesity debate, suggesting yet again that moderation in all things is a sensible approach to weight.

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    The Associated Press reports that, apparently because of concerns about the so-called "fiscal cliff," the Conference Board monthly consumer confidence index fell in December "to its lowest level since August.

    "The Conference Board said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell for the second straight month in December to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November."
    KC's View:
    As I write this, the experts seem to be suggesting that the markets will do well today, as they breathe a sign of relief that the fiscal cliff has been avoided. But it doesn't sound like we'll have long to wait before we come up on another cliff, with all the accompanying hand-wringing, media howling, and inevitable erosion of consumer confidence.

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    The New York Times reports that "the chain that is home of the Slurpee, Big Gulp and self-serve nachos with chili and cheese is betting that consumers will stop in for yogurt parfaits, crudité and lean turkey on whole wheat bread.

    "7-Eleven, the convenience store chain, is restocking its shelves with an eye toward health. Over the last year, the retailer has introduced a line of fresh foods for the calorie conscious and trimmed down its more indulgent fare by creating portion-size items.

    "The change is as much about consumers’ expanding waistlines as the company’s bottom line. By 2015, the retailer aims to have 20 percent of sales come from fresh foods in its American and Canadian stores, up from about 10 percent currently, according to a company spokesman."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    St. Louis Today has a story about how men are doing more grocery shopping these days, noting that "Schnuck Markets (has) released consumer research showing that 6 percent more men have become their household’s primary shopper compared to five years ago. That research echoes national studies. A recent ESPN study found that 31 percent of grocery shopping is being done by men, up from about 14 percent in the 1980s.

    And Todd Vasel, of Dierbergs tells the paper, "We’re still marketing to the female shopper, from 25 to 49, who are doing most of the shopping ... Having said that, we’re definitely seeing more men in the stores."

    At least some of the blame is placed on the recession, which affected men more than women and therefore created an environment in which men started doing tasks traditionally done by their spouses.

    “We’ve talked to a lot of retailers who are trying to understand what to do, trying to understand what a man aisle truly is,” Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert tells the paper. “It’s really more about understanding men’s health and nutritional needs than putting out lighter fluid and beer. If you look at the canned tomato section, you’re seeing information about how lycopene is important to ward off prostate cancer.”
    KC's View:
    Some will say that marketing to men does not mean just having beer tasting and flat screen televisions with ESPN playing. And I agree ... though I think that beer tastings and ESPN always are a nice addition...

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal reports that pure play online grocery FreshDirect ended up offline for a couple of days last week for a somewhat embarrassing reason - it neglected to renew its website address.

    According to the story, while the company scrambled to renew the expired domain, "Instead of customers seeing its trademark orange logo and pitches for fresh vegetables, they were greeted by a generic Web page for domain registrar Network Solutions LLC, saying the freshdirect.com address needed to be renewed."

    FreshDirect is a company doing close to $400 million in annual sales. The cost of renewing its website address: approximately $37.99.
    KC's View:
    I have a few recurring nightmares, and forgetting to renew my domain addresses is one of them. (Among the others are getting up in front of an audience and forgetting what I want to say, and accidentally letting the F-bomb slip on MNB.) So I feel FreshDirect's pain.

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    • The New York Times had a long piece the other day about how Walmart, while pledging to enforce high standards from global clothing suppliers because of a deadly fire at a Bangladesh garment factory that claimed more than 100 lives, sometimes has obstructed efforts to improve conditions in such facilities.

    An excerpt:

    "Walmart has become the world’s largest retailer by demanding the lowest costs from suppliers and delivering the lowest prices to consumers — while promising its customers that the billions of dollars of goods it buys from Bangladesh, China and other countries are produced in safe, nonsweatshop factories. Walmart buys more than $1 billion in garments from Bangladesh each year, attracted by the country’s $37-a-month minimum wage, the lowest in the world.

    "But even as the deadly Nov. 24 fire at the Tazreen factory has stirred soul-searching inside and outside the apparel industry about the effectiveness of its global factory monitoring system, some nonprofit groups say Walmart has been an important obstacle to efforts to upgrade fire safety. That is partly because it has shown little interest in changing the existing practice of demanding that the factories, often operating at razor thin margins, meet fire safety standards at their own cost."

    The entire story can be read here.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart plans "to monitor subcontractors' U.S. warehouses, in the same way it tries to police conditions at suppliers' factories around the globe.

    "The monitoring program follows protests, fines and lawsuits stemming from complaints of poor worker treatment at the warehouses, where work is subcontracted out."

    The story notes that "recent claims of poor working conditions and withheld wages at warehouses, primarily clustered around major transportation hubs in Illinois, New Jersey and California, have led to protests by workers and criticism by labor activists and state regulators, who say retail chains should ensure the warehouses comply with labor laws."

    While Walmart has argued that the actual owners/operators of the warehouses should be held responsible for conditions and wages, heightened sensitivity and public opinion has pushes the retailer into being more pro-active in dealing with the worker issues.

    LA Weekly reports that Walmart has won yet another battle in its ongoing effort to open a Neighborhood Market store in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles.

    The retailer had applied for and been given permits to build the store, but opposing forces had appealed, maintaining that a Walmart would affect the character of the neighborhood. A zoning official has ruled that the city's Department of Building and Safety behaved appropriately in granting the permits, though it is expected that new appeals will be filed.

    At present, the store is being built for an expected March 2013 opening, and employees are being hired for the location.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    • Experian is out with data saying that online retail traffic on Christmas Day was up 27 percent in 2012 over a year earlier.

    According to the report, "“The top retail sites received more than 115.5 million total U.S. visits. To date the holiday online traffic for the past seven weeks to retail sites are up 10 percent for 2012 vs. 2011.

    "The top five most visited retail sites visited were Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Macy’s."
    KC's View:
    With that much traffic going to e-commerce sites on Christmas Day, I'm sure that one of these days there will be a push by bricks-and-mortar retailers to begin post-Christmas sales at noon on December 25, because they'll see that as the only way to really compete...

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    There were a couple of pieces that I read over the holidays that I wanted to recommend to you...

    • I love guys with a great work ethic, and the New York Times profiled just such a person recently in a magazine piece entitled "Jerry Seinfeld IntendsTo Die Standing Up," which looks at how the comedian - despite being worth something like $800 million - continues to ply his trade as a stand-up comic, honing his delivery skills and crafting jokes with mass appeal.

    It is a terrific piece, and worth reading here.

    • And, there was a column by R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball-throwing pitcher who won the National League Cy Young Award while with the New York Mets last season, only to be traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason for young prospects.

    I've mentioned here before that Dickey was my favorite Met, and I'm disappointed by the trade. But I was enormously impressed by the goodbye column he wrote for the NY Daily News, in which he wrote, in part:

    "I never expected to be writing a farewell 'holiday card' to Mets fans. I never expected to be doing anything but celebrating the joy of the season with my wife and kids and looking toward the spring, and the start of my fourth season with an organization that gave me maybe the greatest gift an athlete can get:

    "A chance.

    "A chance for a fresh start. A chance to prove that maybe I could be somebody on a big league mound, an authentic and trustworthy pitcher, not just a retread with a weird name and an even weirder pitch — a man who was so in need of financial stability that he had to get talked out of taking a guaranteed contract to go pitch in Korea.

    "The Mets gave me that chance almost exactly three years ago, and I will always be grateful to them for that. Only God could’ve written the narrative that has played out in the three years since. That is what I want to focus on, and what I want to hold in my heart.

    "I am not going to lie to you, though. The trade was hard for me at first. This is where my heart was, where I wanted to be, where I lived out a story of redemption and felt that every one of you shared it with me in some form or fashion. I loved pitching for you. I loved your passion, the way you embraced me from the start, and the way you seemed to appreciate the effort I was putting forth. Every time I’d walk off the mound after an outing, I’d look in your faces, the people behind the dugout, and felt as if all your energy and support was pouring right into me — even when I was lousy. It gives me chill bumps thinking about it even now."

    You can read the whole column here. At the very least, it is a nice piece of writing by a guy who is a class act.

    Published on: January 2, 2013

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

    United Press International reports on a survey by Pollock Communications finding that "51 percent of the 200 registered dietitians queried predicted consumers would continue to demand natural and simple foods, minimally processed with few ingredients. Half of the dietitians said low-fat and low-carb diets were out for 2013 -- good news for bread, pasta and rice lovers."

    In addition, "Dietitians, social media and smartphone apps were the top three resources used for nutrition advice, the survey found. Consumers would continue to focus on eating high-quality calories -- foods with more nutrition per bite -- 57 percent of the dietitians said."

    • The New York Times this morning reports on continuing skepticism about the efficacy of energy drinks, which continue to grow in popularity.

    "The drinks are now under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration after reports of deaths and serious injuries that may be linked to their high caffeine levels," the Times writes. "But however that review ends, one thing is clear, interviews with researchers and a review of scientific studies show: the energy drink industry is based on a brew of ingredients that, apart from caffeine, have little, if any benefit for consumers."

    While manufacturers sometimes make extravagant claims, "a dearth of evidence underlies such claims," the Times writes. " Only a few human studies of energy drinks or the ingredients in them have been performed and they point to a similar conclusion, researchers say — that the beverages are mainly about caffeine.

    "Caffeine is called the world’s most widely used drug. A stimulant, it increases alertness, awareness and, if taken at the right time, improves athletic performance, studies show. Energy drink users feel its kick faster because the beverages are typically swallowed quickly or are sold as concentrates."

    • The Associated Press reports that unionized employees at Raley's have ratified a new two-year contract that "includes wage and benefit concessions for about 7,000 workers, including employees working at Raley's stores that operate under the Bel Air and Nob Hill Foods names ... The new contract has employees temporarily giving up bonus pay for Sunday and holiday shifts, and paying more for health care. But workers were able to preserve the core of a health plan that's considered one of the most generous in the grocery business."

    • The Williston Herald reports that Coborn's is acquiring Mike’s Super Valu in Watford City, ND, an independent that has served the market for almost three decades. According to the story, "Coborn’s previously announced plans to build five new grocery stores in western North Dakota, including a Cash Wise in Watford City. The employees of Mike’s Super Valu will transfer to the new Cash Wise when it opens in the summer of 2013."

    • The New York Times this morning reports that Zipcar, the pioneering car-sharing company, will be acquired by Avis Budget Group for about $500 million. The deal is expected to close this spring.

    I love Zipcar, and I hope that Avis doesn't screw it up. I am skeptical that this move is a good thing for Zipcar, and fear that what Avis really would like to do is kill a business model that threatens it. I hope I'm wrong.

    • Concord, Massachusetts, has become the first community in the United States to ban the sale of plastic water bottles that are 16 ounces or smaller.

    The ban was approved by town meeting last April, and went into effect on January 1.

    There are ways around the ban. One is to simply refill existing bottles. Another is to buy the bottles at nearby towns. Or, you can just buy a plastic water bottle that is larger than 16 ounces, since those are not banned.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    • The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that Supervalu has reached a confidential settlement in its case against Leon Bergmann, who was president of the company's independent business organization before resigning and subsequently taking a job with California-based Unified Grocers. Supervalu had said that Bergmann was in violation of a non-compete clause in his contract.

    • Core-Mark Holding Company announced that it has promoted Christopher K. Hobson, the company's Vice President of Marketing, to Senior Vice President of Marketing and William Stein, Vice President of the U.S. Distribution (East), to Senior Vice President of U.S. Distribution (East).
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    On the evening of Monday, January 14, during the annual National Retail Federation (NRF) Show in New York City, MNB will be hosting a special retailer-only reception that is sponsored by Balance Innovations and WorldPay. (Michael Sansolo and I can promise terrific wine and beer, splendid food, and sparkling conversation...and maybe even a cameo appearance by Mrs. Content Guy.)

    If you are a retailer attending NRF, please let me know ASAP (email me at kc@morningnewsbeat.com . There are just a few slots left on our retailer-only guest list, and we’d love to have you join us.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 2, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 2, 2013

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    KC's View: