retail news in context, analysis with attitude

On MNB's Facebook page, responding to a series of pieces about the importance of engaging with consumers via social media, reader W. Patrick McSweeney wrote:

Nice piece ... about how a woman got the attention of Victoria's Secret to create a bra for breast cancer survivors. I'm surprised they hadn't thought of this before, but glad the company is taking the idea seriously -- especially as we prepare for the 26.2 with Donna The National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer.

And another reader chimed in:

I think Coke and Victoria Secret are smart to listen to consumers and be part of the conversation.

I continue to be really impressed by the savvy reaction of the Victoria's Secret people when it comes to acknowledging and embracing the attempts by its customers to influence product development.

Go figure. It may be that Victoria's Secret's two most important assets are its ears.

Continuing comments on the subject of JC Penney's travails from an MNB user:

What a shock!  JC Penney went to EDLP pricing and sales volumes are down.

I doubt this is a surprise to Johnson, after all (as you pointed out) JCP was not exactly a thriving enterprise before he took over.  His company would have had to attract an unachievable number of new customers to overcome the discount pricing in the first year.

I certainly do not know their overall discount to EDLP, but I do know that their Arizona bluejeans are down 38% from regular retail price, as I have purchased those jeans both pre and post EDLP pricing.  That's a lot of margin to make up with increased volume even if their promotional pricing in the pre days reduced the difference 20% or so.

The bigger issue may be quality.  The jeans in the pre days were close to Levi quality, and the EDLP jeans are a far cry from that quality.  Given a quality difference, the discount pricing basically ends up a bait and switch tactic used by other department stores for years... some were even taken to court over it.

Given their position in the market, it seems to me it would take much longer than a year to rebuild.  Going back to some promotional discounting mixed with EDLP pricing just seems more confusing than ever.

I think Johnson knows he is not comparing Apples to Penneys, and I think he should stay the course, but he should keep an eye to consistent quality... whatever that level may be that attracts customers.

Responding to last Thursday's FaceTime about how Netflix is changing the world, which referenced the current issue of GQ, MNB user Mark Raddant wrote:

Thanks for that thought of the day—and also the excuse to buy that issue of GQ.  (It may never be too early to contemplate the merits of the 100 most beautiful women of the century...)

This article also plays into TV networks’ increasing bids for sporting events—since they are the ONLY form of entertainment which is severely diminished by watching after the fact, to the point where we are willing to indulge the commercials.

It's called exploiting one's differential advantage. And it is an excellent point - sports and news end up being not only the ultimate reality TV, but the only kind that require immediate, in the moment viewing.

Retailers, if they are to succeed, have to find their own versions of news and sports.

The other day, writing about the convergence of various technologies, I wrote about always packing my bag with a MacBook Pro, iPad, iPod Classic, and iPhone.

Which led one MNB user to write:

I own several Apple computers, devices (iPhone 5/iPod Touch x 2), and accessories (Apple TV, Airport Extreme Base Station), however my issues with the iPad in general are two-fold.

• The iPad is a great device, however for price of the device they are NOT very practical in the grand scheme of things.  For the amount of money Apple will charge for their new 128GB iPad ($929), I could in theory pay an additional $170 for a new Mac Book Air ($1,099) and get the capability to increase storage via USB port (USB Storage Drive/External HD), a keyboard and more potential memory.  The ability to input files/music/movies, etc. via a USB drive on a computer versus having to connect the iPad to another computer via iTunes is a huge advantage in my opinion.

• Paying for mobile connectivity on the iPad seems a bit outrageous versus a AT&T/Verizon connect card for a Mac/PC.  Obviously a lot of people are using their iPads in lieu of a computers so they would ultimately need mobile internet access if this was the case.  I’m already paying for a Verizon connect card, so I figure I don’t need to pay an additional $20-$30 a month for mobility for an iPad.
Quite frankly Apple is a corporation of control freaks.  That’s why they won’t allow USB drives/micro SD/SD card slots (Adobe Flash) in any of their smaller devices (iPad/iPod/iPhone).  They don’t mind holding their consumers hostage by forcing them to pay more for increased storage on these devices and obviously their consumers are paying for the nonsense.  That being said, I have a love/(slight) hate relationship with the company, although I firmly believe most of their products are second-to-none. 
By the way, how could you possibly need all of those devices (4) when you travel?!  My iPhone 5 (64GB) has virtually replaced everything, as I can listen to music, watch movies (albeit on a much smaller scale/screen), play games (“Hill Climb Racing”), and do email in a flash!!!!  While I’m traveling of course and not all at once.

I recognize that I'm overdoing it a bit. But I use the laptop to research and write MNB as well as work on other writing projects ... I use the iPad primarily as an e-reader (I like the Kindle app), though I also will watch movies and TV shows on it ... I like using the iPod to plug into the rental car so I can listen to my own music, or podcasts by either Tony Kornheiser or Alec Baldwin (who has an NPR interview show that is fantastic) ... and then my iPhone has the obvious uses. (Just to show you how nuts I am, depending on my travel itinerary I'll sometimes throw my Garmin in the bag ... I prefer its mapping software to that offered on my various i-devices.)

On another subject, MNB user Norm Krause wrote:

Your comment, "Companies have to choose the places where they can create for themselves a differential advantage," is spot on.

I worked for President's Choice International (Loblaw-Toronto) in the U.S. Office and I can remember Dave Nichol saying in the meeting  (circa 1990) that "Marketing is the Art of Differentiation." He preached "Anyone can give away Tide" but he wanted to ratchet up the food business and change food producers to make products that were better than the National Brands at costs that were competitive.The PC label is still very strong in Canada.

(President's Choice grew in the U.S. for about 6 years until Loblaw Canada bought other Canadian retailers and abandoned the U.S. market.)

On the subject of Super Bowl ads, one MNB user wrote:

I loved all your comments today about the sexism in the Super Bowl ads. You missed the one that had me wondering -- why were all the farmers they extolled in the Dodge Ram ad men (almost all the great farmers I know who sell at our farmer's market happen to be women)? And yes, why does smart have to look like that goofy guy and not the beautiful woman? I hate Go Daddy's ads in general, anyway.

Kudos for pointing those out. These things have a lot of power, even if it's subliminal (especially because of that, probably).

And somehow, I missed all the really good ads -- maybe they were on while we switched over to watch Downton Abbey during the third quarter!

I said the other day that while I found the Go Daddy kissing commercial to be "a little disgusting," I sort of liked it because Walter was having the best 30 seconds of his life.

Which led one reader to respond:

A LITTLE disgusting? Seriously Kevin, I just lost a lot of respect for you with your view of this commercial. It was flat out disgusting and inappropriate. Period. Go Daddy has a history of using women in provocative ways to pimp their products-which is web hosting. Danica Patrick and Jillian Michaels simulate stripping down because the suits at the company insist, even though they protest. Other commercials are just as bad.
But this one is way past the line. The actor that portrayed the young man appear to be underage. In addition, I don't expect to see ten seconds of a sloppy tongue kiss between a twenty something woman and a young boy in a prime time commercial. That would be something I expect to see in an R rated movie.

Funny ads are supposed to make you laugh-like the Got milk ad and the Bud Lite ads. Good ads are supposed to stick in your mind-like the Cowboys herding cats from 2006 (for EDS). Good ads are supposed to tug at your heartstrings like the Ram/Chevy ad with the Paul Harvey voice over, the Jeep/USO ad with the Oprah voice over, the Clydesdale ad. The Go Daddy ad just made me want to reach for a gallon of brain bleach.

You're entitled to your own opinion.

But just to be clear, that "underage" young man was 34 years old.

Regarding the decline in the US fertility rate, which has enormous implications, one MNB user wrote:

Totally agree.  This is a global problem not just in the USA.  Less balance in the age groups of people creates a spiral which remains to be seen if you can pull out of it ... Populations that are shifting older have predictable patterns.  Emphasis on Health Care, Social Benefits in financial ruin, loss of Global Power.  The list goes on...

No wonder why the baby categories have been falling for several years.  What categories are next that are dependent on younger generations?  Cereal, Soda, Salted Snacks, Candy?

Another reader wrote:

This makes you think differently about the role of immigration and how America could sustain its “balance” with new waves of immigrants similar to other times in our history.  The more we embrace this truth, the more we can continue to be THE country that people around the world dream about.  The land of opportunity.  The more we reject it, the quicker our decline.


From another:

I thought your article to declining fertility rates in America was very interesting. I've heard these statistics before and as a young professional female I feel these articles always fall short of what is really happening. We're seeing more women become more educated but with education comes opportunity. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of women feel compelled to win in the workplace and utilize their education but current work conditions do not encourage women to have kids. As a nation our maternity leave and childcare policies are far behind others. Don't get me wrong, the shift is starting but until women can balance work and 3 children they won't. Ultimately, more could be done to encourage childbearing (even with a 50% divorce rate) if there were a more encouraging community to support such a shift.

Another MNB user offered:

Although the population will age, I doubt very much we'll see a decline in the US.  Immigration will more than make up for the decline in American birth rates.  Worldwide, the fertility rate is sufficient for population growth.  The demographic cliff is more about a more diverse population rather than declining.  Also, Universities in the US are attracting more and more foreign students, so even with the decline in domestic college age citizens, the competition to get into top schools remains fierce.

Again, I agree about the importance of immigration. But I do think that one of the things we need to do is start stapling green cards to college diplomas earned by foreign students.

And from yet another reader:

This is the second article I've read in as many weeks that talks about the declining fertility rate in the US. I think you nailed it with your comment about parents being more concerned with their own personal happiness and therefore having smaller families. But I would also add that feeding into that is the notion that kids require a) a lot of money (not true!); and b) a lot of parental time (again, not true!).

As a mother with four children between the ages of 4 and 10, I wish I'd had such information when I was pregnant with babies number three and four, as I got a surprising amount of "You're having another?" looks from people and comments (especially with #4, given at that point, we had two girls and a boy). Maybe now those of us with more than 2 kids will get some respect--after all, we've done our part to keep the population numbers up!

And on another subject, one MNB user wrote:

I say “AMEN!” to your response to the reader who accused you of taking a “cheap shot” at the Catholic Church.

And another wrote:

I say, Amen!  Well said.

MNB user Mike McGuire wrote:

I love your daily content and find it very useful, but don’t often have a reason to send you an email directly.  Your comments on the Catholic Church could not have been more spot on and it is wonderful to see this in a public forum.  I agree with 100% of what you said – and can’t remember the last time I agreed with 100% of anything that anyone said.

Thanks for all of your factual insight as well as, more importantly, your editorial take on issues both retail and also social.

In what apparently was one of the more controversial statements I've made here on MNB, I said the other day that I hate Brussels sprouts.

Roy St. Clair responded:

Have you ever tried roasting Brussels sprouts (split in half) drizzled with a nice balsamic, salt & fresh ground pepper, and topped with fresh grated parmesan?
Or in a slaw prepared on the stove with crumbled bacon, cider vinegar, a little spicy mustard?
They’re pretty damn good.

MNB user Jill M. LeBrasseur wrote:

Just had to write in to let you know that Brussels Sprouts are one of my favorite veggies!!! You should try them roasted with some shallots, bacon, and chestnuts – a perennial Christmas side dish at our house. And if you live in Delaware like me then you can get them (and anything else) without paying sales tax! Even from Amazon! Just another great reason to call the first state home!

Another reader chimed in:

As a card carrying member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty and Demeanment of Brussels Sprouts in America, I ask you to desist in your YUKKING of this wonderful vegetable.  High in vitamins such as K and C, they are also useful in the fight against high cholesterol and cancer.  And if cooked right, they’re durn delicious too!  I’ve recently converted my wife, a notorious ABSer (anti-brussel sprouter) with a variety of recipes including a citrus based sauce and her favorite, pan fried split Brussels using EVOO and a healthy dose of garlic and herbs.

And MNB user Bryan Silbermann wrote:

My friend, your tired and listless response perhaps betrays an upbringing marked by being fed vegetables cooked to death.  Forbes has the trend to basic veggies, including Brussels sprouts, right on the money.  Witness this item being offered in so many white table cloth restaurants, where chefs have learned to get diners to look beyond the tired assumptions of Boomers raised by parents with limited knowledge of cooking.  This wonderful vegetable cooked in many delicious ways is (dare I say it?) sprouting up all over the place and getting rave reviews.  Why?  Because chefs understand the human need to take basic, good for you foods, and turn them into something unexpected that pleases the palate.  From California to Connecticut, tasty Brussels sprouts offer a lesson in food marketing: it’s not the food, it’s how you prepare it that makes all the difference.  Flavor rules!  Yuck is out.

There is nothing tired and listless about my dislike of Brussels sprouts. I actually feel rather strongly about it.

BTW...I also hate beets. (And egg salad. And liverwurst. If I'm making a list.)

Finally, an email I just got this morning:

The weatherman has predicted a crippling blizzard this weekend for the northeast with 2-3 feet of snow.  As a regular MNB reader, the first thing I thought of was….if they used Subway’s Foot-Long Subs to measure the snow… won’t really be that bad out.

Just brilliant. A perfect MNB email.

KC's View: