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    Published on: January 10, 2013

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    There's nothing like going into a store and having a moment of delight and surprise. That's what happened to me the other day, and go figure, it happened at the Apple Store.

    The funny thing is, it had nothing to do with the products. Or the Genius Bar.

    It actually had to do with checking out.

    Now, Apple has for a long time had no central checkout counter. Instead, t-shirted employees are all equipped with iPhones and they use those to check people out. It can be very efficient, especially on crowded days.

    But it got even better the other day.

    I was in the Apple Store, picking up chargers for my iPhone and iPad. No matter how careful I am with them, it always seems like they are vanishing. I knew what I was looking for and the layout of the store, so it took me about 30 seconds to navigate my way through the crowd and grab the small white boxes I needed.

    I found a nearby Apple employee and asked him if he would check me out. He grinned, and said, "I can. But you really don't need me to if you have an iPhone.

    Which, of course, I did.

    And then he showed me how, by using the Apple Store app on my phone, I could check myself out by scanning the bar codes on the boxes, email myself a receipt, and go on my merry way without even talking to an employee.

    Now, they must have some sort of security system, with random checks at the front door, to make sure they are not being stolen blind. I asked the fellow about that, and he seemed pretty confident that shrink wasn't going to be a problem. I also think the system works only for relatively low-cost stuff - I wasn't going to be able to use self checkout for, say, a laptop computer. Which makes sense.

    It was just a very cool moment, and yet another illustration of how far the retailing experience has come, and how consumers are being empowered by retailers that are trying to find new and delightful ways to accomplish old procedures.

    I loved it. Can't wait to try it again.

    That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Just what the world needs to combat the globesity epidemic - a talking fork.

    The Associated Press reports that at the International Consumer Electronics Show 9CES) in Las Vegas, entrepreneurs from a French company called Hapilabs are showing off a gadget called the HAPIfork, which "contains a motion sensor, so it can figure out when it's being lifted to the mouth. If it senses that you're eating too fast, it warns with you with a vibration and a blinking light. The company believes that using the fork 60 to 75 times during meals lasting from 20 to 30 minutes is ideal.

    "Between meals, you can connect the fork to a computer or phone and upload data on how fast you're eating, for long-term tracking."

    The only limitation is that the HAPIfork "has no clue about the nutritional content of your food or how big your forkfuls are. It can't tell if you're shoveling lard or stabbing peas individually."

    At least for now.

    The HAPIfork is not available immediately, the AP writes. "The company is launching a fundraising campaign for the fork in March on the group-fundraising site Kickstarter.com. Participants need to put down $99 for a fork, which is expected to ship around April or May. Those forks will connect to computers through USB cables."

    I have to admit that this sort of worries me. This could be the beginning of the rise of the machines ... when forks start telling us how to eat, spoons eventually will start telling us not to eat that ice cream, and then we'll start building robots to help run the world, and then suddenly we're building something called Skynet to let them communicate with each other, and then the whole world is going to hell.

    It all starts with talking forks. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that Amazon.com is extending its Prime shipping service to Canada.

    The service gives Prime members who pay an annual fee of $79 per year unlimited two-day shipping. However, in Canada there are certain limitations - members in the nation's rural areas, such as the Maritime provinces, will get unlimited shipping for $79, but without the two-day guarantee.

    The story notes that "Amazon Prime has been offered in the U.S. since 2005, and recently expanded to include a free e-book lending service for Kindle users and a television and movie streaming service to its subscribers." Those extra services will not be available in Canada. For now.
    KC's View:
    I think I was more surprised here to see that Canada consumers did not have access to Amazon Prime until now.

    This strikes me as the natural next move in the ongoing battle being played out between Amazon and bricks-and-mortar retailers such as Walmart and Target that are looking to expand their footprints in Canada. It is just the beginning of what will be a pitched battle for shoppers' hearts, minds and wallets.

    I do know one thing. I never thought about it before, but I can know add one more criteria to the list of things I want and need in any place I am going to live. (To this point it has included things like access to live theater, state of the art movie theaters, places to jog and bike, terrific restaurants and great places to buy food.) Now, add "must be able to get two-day delivery from Amazon" to the list.

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    In an interview with columnist Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune, hedge fund expert Edward Lampert - who is moving from being an investor and chairman of Sears Holdings to being the retailer's CEO, replacing Lou D'Ambrosio, who is leaving because of a family health issue - said that it is okay that he is not a traditional merchant.

    "The most successful guy in retail right now is Jeff Bezos, and he was a (Wall Street) hedge fund guy," Lampert told Rosenthal. "I think a lot of times when people talk about merchants it's almost a nostalgic look back at the time where the world moved at a very different pace and information was very different."

    "Trying to move the volume of products we're talking about from place to place to get it ultimately into the customer's hands, to price these items, to market these items, I think the retail business is incredibly complex," Lampert said. "But if you get it right, it's a beautiful thing."

    He continued: "I'm not denying that there are still great merchants. But to operate a company of the size of Sears Holdings or Wal-Mart or Target or Home Depot or Lowe's, you need a combination of skills, and each of those skills needs to be sufficiently strong."

    Lampert also seemed to distance himself from Sears' recent mediocre performance: "Five years ago, we put in place a more distributed leadership structure. Despite what people may have said or written, there is a difference between a chairman role and a CEO role, and I've never been in the CEO role in this company."
    KC's View:
    Forgive me, because I'm sure it must seem like I'm beating up on Fast Eddie, but this strikes me as the height of self-delusion.

    He could have said that Bezos is his hero, and that he hopes he can be half the merchant that Bezos is. But to suggest that they are just a couple of hedge funders who have similar skills and expertise, and to imply that he is in Bezos' league when it comes to retailing, strikes me as the height of arrogance. It is a crock.

    Give me a break.

    Fast Eddie has done nothing to produce any sort of fast growth during the decade he's owned the company. This is not to say he cannot turn things around at Sears and Kmart ... just that he better learn that the current retailing environment is tough enough to humble anyone. Look at Ron Johnson ... he proved himself to be a master retailer at Apple, and he's found JC Penney - which has some similarities to Sears - to be an entirely different challenge.

    Fast Eddie ought to go back to peddling hedge funds and think twice about comparing himself to people like Jeff Bezos.

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    • The Washington Post reports that Walmart has changed its mind and will send a representative to a meeting today at the White House, where Vice President Joe Biden is holding a series of sessions on the subject of gun violence. Originally, the retailer said it could not send anyone to the meeting because of scheduling conflicts.

    The meetings are slated to include not just Walmart, the nation's biggest seller of firearms and ammunition, but also gun rights advocate groups that include the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the victims of gun violence. The debate over gun regulation has heightened in recent weeks in the wake of the slaughter of elementary school students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

    Walmart continues to be a member of the Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership, a group created by Mayors Against Illegal Guns to urge retailers to adopt stricter gun-sales rules.
    KC's View:
    I'm glad Walmart changed its corporate mind on this. My feeling is that when the White House calls, you go. And if there is a scheduling conflict, you iron it out in favor of the White House, no matter who happens to be sitting in the Oval Office.

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    • Tesco said yesterday that its UK same-store sales for the six weeks ending January 5 were up 1.8 percent, which analysts pointed to as being evidence that it may be getting its UK business back in gear, though CEP Philip Clarke cautioned that it is only a six week period and sustained and sustainable growth needs to be achieved.

    At the same time, the Financial Times reports that Tesco "confirmed that Chris Bush, its UK chief operating officer, had been appointed UK managing director, allowing Mr Clarke to step back partly from the hands-on role he had taken in the attempt to re-energise its British arm."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    • The San Francisco Business Times had a story saying that "at the rate it’s going, online grocery shopping is poised to grow at an annual rate of 9.5 percent — with the potential to become a $9.4 billion industry by 2017, according to market research firm IBISWorld.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that "Giant Eagle's promotion promising to 'lock' prices on certain items -- first introduced last October -- has resonated with consumers enough that the O'Hara grocer plans to try another round. The company today said it will guarantee that prices on certain items won't change at least until spring, although this time around the grocer isn't giving a specific cut-off date. The first promotion was officially set to end Jan. 2."

    Giant Eagle has said that the price-lock program represents a "multi-million dollar investment."

    • The Seattle Times reports that Starbucks plans to challenge the decision of a bankruptcy court to award ownership of Tully's Coffee to an investor group led by actor Patrick Dempsey that bid $9.15 million for the company.

    According to the story, Starbucks says "it plans to back a filing in which Tully’s franchisee AgriNurture outlines why it believes AgriNurture and Starbucks’ bids should be accepted ... Together, Starbucks and AgriNurture have offered to buy all 47 Tully’s locations for $10.56 million. Starbucks wants 25 of those stores, which it would rebrand Starbucks ... The filing said that during last week’s auction, Dempsey’s lower bid was chosen because of concerns about whether Green Mountain Coffee Roasters would consent to the deal. Green Mountain bought Tully’s wholesale business and the rights to its name in 2009."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    • Daymon Worldwide announced the appointment of Kimberlee Marsh as Division Vice President, North America Private Brand Development, and a member of the company's Executive Leadership team. She joins Daymon Worldwide from Kellogg, where she was serving as Vice President Sales for the company’s Eastern Region.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    Yesterday, early readers of MNB saw a story that referred to Michael Gilliland as founder of Whole Foods and Sunflower Farmers Market. It was changed later in the day, but of course, Gilliland was the founder of Wild Oats, not Whole Foods.

    That was a 3:30 am goof, and I apologize for writing one thing while I was thinking something else.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    Yesterday, as it does every year, the Baseball Writers of America released the results of their voting on players eligible for the baseball Hall of Fame. Yesterday, for just the eighth time in its history, the writes voted nobody into the Hall, a move seen as a stunning rebuke to players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs during their careers to bulk up both their bodies and their personal statistics.

    Barry Bonds, who holds the career Major League home run record, received just 36.2 percent of the vote. Roger Clemens, who won an unprecedented seven Cy Young awards as a pitcher, garnered 37.6 percent of the vote. To get into the Hall, 675 percent of the writers' vote is required.

    Craig Biggio got the highest percentage of votes, 68.2 percent; Biggio was never linked to steroid usage, and it is generally believed that he will make it into the hall in the future.

    The Wall Street Journal notes that "there will still be an induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer. The veterans committee voted to induct former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, former umpire Hank O'Day and former third baseman Deacon White in December. All three died during the 1930s."
    KC's View:
    I found this to be the most satisfying Hall of Fame vote in memory, because it clearly demonstrated that actions and cheating have consequences, even if they are only symbolic. Being recognized by the Hall of Fame is not a right. It is a privilege. And I think that the cheating by people such as Bonds and Clemens needs to be put under the spotlight, and that they need to be hit where it hurts - their egos.

    In my view, the justifiable banning of Pete Rose from baseball and the Hall of Fame has hurt him in ways that are almost incalculable. When you see his pathetic visage in interviews, as he appears at card shows and sells his autograph and peddles whatever small amount of celebrity he has left, you know that the fact that he is not in the Hall of Fame eats away at his soul.

    I hope that the denial of Hall of Fame status to people like Bonds and Clemens has a similar impact on them. They shamed themselves and they shamed the game that is, in the words of the great Robert B. Parker, "the most important thing that doesn't matter."

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    The 85th annual Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and the nominees in major categories are:

    Best Picture
    Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Silver Linings Playbook
    Zero Dark Thirty
    Lincoln
    Les Miserables
    Life of Pi
    Amour
    Django Unchained
    Argo



    Best Actor
    Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
    Denzel Washington, Flight
    Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
    Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
    Joaquin Phoenix, The Master


    Best Actress
    Naomi Watts, The Impossible
    Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
    Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
    Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
    Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild


    Best Supporting Actor
    Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
    Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
    Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
    Alan Arkin, Argo
    Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln


    Best Supporting Actress
    Sally Field, Lincoln
    Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
    Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
    Helen Hunt, The Sessions
    Amy Adams, The Master


    Best Director
    David O'Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
    Ang Lee, Life of Pi
    Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
    Michael Haneke, Amour
    Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild


    Best Adapted Screenplay
    Argo
    Bests of the Southern Wild
    Silver Linings Playbook
    Life of Pi
    Lincoln



    Best Original Screenplay
    Amour
    Django Unchained
    Flight
    Zero Dark Thirty
    Moonrise Kingdom




    The Oscars will be awarded on Sunday evening, February 24, and will be hosted by Seth MacFarlane.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 10, 2013

    Supervalu this morning announced that it will sell five of its retail chains -
    Albertsons, Acme, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s and Star Market stores and related Osco and Sav-on in-store pharmacies - to AB Acquisition LLC, an affiliate of a Cerberus Capital Management-led investor consortium which also includes Kimco Realty Corporation, Klaff Realty LP, Lubert-Adler Partners and Schottenstein Real Estate Group, in a transaction valued at $3.3 billion. 

    In addition, a Cerberus-led investor group will acquire up to 30 percent of Supervalu's common stock, paying $4 a share. The stock closed yesterday at $3.04.

    According to the announcement, "following the closing of the Transactions, Supervalu will be headed by grocery retail veteran Sam Duncan, as President and Chief Executive Officer, replacing current President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Wayne Sales.  In addition, effective upon the closing of the transactions, five current Supervalu directors will resign.  Immediately following the closing of the transactions, the size of the Board will be reduced to seven members from the current ten members."

    Duncan is the former chairman/CEO of OfficeMax, and the former president/CEO of ShopKo Stores.

    The non-executive chairman of the new board will be Robert Miller, who is the president/CEO of Albertsons LLC, the Albertsons stores that have been owned by Cerberus, and the deal reunites the Albertsons chain under one ownership.

    Supervalu has been closing stores and conducting a strategic review of the company while examining its options. Cerberus has been viewed as the most likely player in any acquisition of all or part of the company.
    KC's View:
    I have to wonder if this is just the first step, and if at some point Cerberus may start selling certain assets off as a way of raising cash and paying down debt.

    It is early ... but I suspect that all the moving parts are still moving, and we're going to see additional moving of pieces around the chess board.