retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Interesting email from MNB user Catherine Storer:

I was in Lowes this past week a lot after just purchasing a home. While there we couldn't find a specific drill bit and had to ask for assistance.

The very nice worker guided us to a clearly marked section, grid, bin, etc  (very similar to a warehouse)  and then said that eventually the entire store will be accessible via GPS on my smartphone.

The concept , the way he briefly explained it, would be for me to access the app, list what it is I need and it will tell me where to go to get it.

Which I thought was really cool .  And a great time saver walker around in a New Home Daze. I'll be going back I'm sure and I hope one day I can use this app.

Regarding the use of lockers by Amazon and now Walmart, one MNB user wrote:

I found this story intriguing (convenient pick-up locations only make sense, and will foster customer loyalty) but even more intriguing was your insight:

"I continue to believe that the enormous number of US Post Offices out there could be the mother lode of locations ... to use them as delivery depots."

Not only could this be a "game-changer" for retailers, but it could be a game-changer -and maybe even a saving grace- for the US Post Office. If the US Post Office were to charge the retailer even a small amount, say a 25c fee, for every order held there, the revenue could dig them out of the grave into which they've been slowly but surely sinking ... provided, of course, that said revenue was handled properly... Here, I hold my tongue.

Re: Walmart's consideration of a plan that would have its shoppers actually dropping off products and packages to other customers, as a way of saving money on delivery services, I wrote last week:

admire Walmart's willingness to consider ideas that certainly appear to be "out of the box." But in this case, I have real questions about this is a good idea or even workable.

Maybe this is my cynical, Northeastern, urban-oriented self speaking, but I don't want some stranger to have my stuff in his car or truck, and I certainly don't want him or her coming up to my door. And I'm not sure that it makes sense for Walmart to entrust products - for which they bear responsibility until I take ownership of them - to people they don't know and have not vetted.

This strikes me as a nightmare waiting to happen on all sorts of levels.

One MNB user responded:

You know, picking on Walmart is sort of like shooting fish in a barrel. It seems as though once they built their logistics empire, little else has gone well. They tried to be like Target in fashion and failed miserably. They consistently rate amongst the worst in-store experiences--at least from the consumer's perspective. And somehow they managed to show same-store sales losses throughout the "great recession". So I was not surprised to learn yesterday of their attempt to compete with Amazon by allowing online customers to pick up their orders at their retail stores. So much for convenience. Instead of the merchandise arriving in two days, or available close by in a locker, they expect their internet customers to drive to their giant, loud, cluttered stores and wander around looking for their stuff. BUT, I must say that today's news of Walmart tinkering with letting their customers deliver internet orders to other customers almost instantaneously does solve for the very complex logistical challenges that Amazon has been working on. It truly could be a case of disruptive innovation. Then again, I'm not so sure that I'd want to be interacting with the Walmart demographic that is desperate enough to deliver packages for a buck or two.

From another MNB user:

I don't shop at Walmart because the stores are poorly merchandised-at least the one by my house, and I've never had a pleasant experience in one of them. I sure as heck wouldn't entrust a complete stranger nor do I want one knocking on my door to deliver an online purchase. I'll stick to my two day free shipping from Amazon delivered by my guy in brown.

From another reader:

So I'm supposed to deliver stuff for Walmart, but I'm hung over, so I give the address to my halfwit cousin, Earle, who has no delivery training, but excellent experience as a part-time burglar. He's big and a strong, and certainly could carry a flat screen TV up three flights of stairs to the live-alone single woman who ordered it. What could possibly go wrong?

Walmart's legal department must be having conniptions over this ridiculous idea.

But another MNB user offered:

In many areas of the country suburban life is still a trust based way to live.  In the burb I am in, it would be great for my trusted neighbor Anne to pick up my “package” of things and Walmart after she is done shopping.  At the Scottsdale Walmart – a parking lot full of mercs, jags, and vettes – many trustworthy people shop and the store team is great.  The store is spotless with nice wood floors.
For the right region this is a great idea.

And another MNB user wrote:

I think it's a good idea -- but it needs some tweaking.  Have customers sign up to make deliveries for other customers, but background check and badge them first.  Then allow and post reviews from the customers receiving the deliveries. And I would start with a program for transportation challenged customers (disabled, elderly, etc.) to kick off the program with a value-to-society angle before broadening it out.  With that approach, you could have charitable organizations doing the deliveries in the first phases of the program.

And MNB user Ken Fobes wrote:

Shame on you, Kevin J. Don’t know if Walmart’s latest initiative will fly or not, but your negative attitude is not like you. They are thinking “out-of-box” and we’ll never know if that will work or not as long as people immediately dismiss ideas without giving them due diligence and the “old college try.” I’m sure that there were doubters about Apple focusing its efforts on developing the iPad, iPhone ... but thanks to Steve Jobs and his willingness to step out front with new ideas and risk failure, Apple is the most valuable company in world.

Yeah, but he didn't have the guy down the road deliver his ideas. He created Genius Bars.

MNB user Barb McLaughlin wrote:

This isn’t your April fools story, are you trying to get us early?


MNB user Tal Vance wrote:

"Maybe this is my cynical, Northeastern, urban-oriented self speaking, but I don't want some stranger to have my stuff in his car or truck, and I certainly don't want him or her coming up to my door."

I think you "nailed it" about your problem with this idea…

I yam what I yam....

MNB took note of a couple of studies last week that focused on women, and commented:

I do think many women make better leaders. And I have to wonder if the reason men feel intimated by them is that they know it ... and that's why many women live in a kind of fear that society will find a way to put them down again.

Which led one MNB user to write:

Very perceptive on your part Kevin.  By the way, am I the only one who noticed that the newly named executive team for Albertson's LLC has only one woman?


Finally, MNB last week had a piece about the consequences that companies can face when their CEOs take political/cultural positions that can be seen as polarizing. This led to a discussion of gay marriage, and one long email defending traditional views of marriage by MNB user Steve Kneepkens.

One MNB user responded:

Thanks for presenting Mr. Kneepkens’ point of view.  It was hilarious the way he stated the “exceptions” for marriage without children to be OK for a definition of marriage, but only for heterosexuals.  So Mr. Kneepkens gets to become the arbiter of rights to the “exceptions” only he deems acceptable?

Your second offered opinion (from an MNB user) was far more interesting, since they related the historic expansion of inclusion to be the dominant force of history as liberal thought progressively assigns rights to those previously excluded.  I AM a liberal, and as such I will be interested to see how history continues this expansion beyond gender equality to the expansion of some sorts of rights to those unable to speak for themselves since they aren’t born yet.  The issues are substantially different, and yet history’s trend is obvious: those excluded are destined to be considered, and finally someday, included.

From another reader:

While I enjoyed your commentary, the "second email" responder yesterday may have been the perfect response to the Steve Kneepkens diatribe and those that fall into his camp. I do not want to assume what Mr. Kneepkens position on sociopolitical issues would have been at different points in history but certainly his view of fairness and equality regarding marriage would raise the question of how he would have responded, having lived in the appropriate time without the evolved history as a guide, to the Suffrage Movement, Civil Rights, Emancipation et al. I would hope he would be offended by the suggestion that he would not have supported those struggles and in that offense a sense of perspective might be gained, but I do not hold out much hope in that regard.

MNB user Chuck Jolley wrote:

You might respect his position but I cannot.  He represents a narrow and small-minded attitude that inhibits progress.  I suppose he's entitled to his opinion but I have to exercise my right to condemn it.

And then, there was this wonderful email:

Busy, busy day.  I hate when I can’t read MNB until the end of the day.  At least I didn’t have to skip it all together.  As always, so much good information and perspective.

Then, I get to the Your Views section and “whoop, there it is!” some more back and forth on gay marriage.  Have been thinking about my dad a lot today and this exchange brought him even closer to me.  Dad was a good man.  But, as he would have been 92 this June, he was raised with a host of prejudices.  God bless him, though, he was open to new ideas.  Now, he didn’t lose all of the misconceptions. Still, he came a long way.  I watched him gain respect for African Americans as they became part of his workplace.  Same thing with women—and especially as I decided to essentially follow in his footsteps (we even worked together for two years). 
Then, the last transformation.  My first marriage ended and I came back home (not their home; just my hometown) with my 8-month-old daughter.  At the same time, our church hired gay partners as our choir director and accompanist.  Over time as my ex was pretty crummy as a father and my dad saw how wonderful these guys were with their children (from previous “straight” marriages when they were trying to fit in), my dad told me, “I’d rather see them take care of your daughter than her own dad.”  He died just after the elections in 2004.  He had my daughter (then 16) help him fill out his absentee ballot as she sat next to him in his hospital bed.  When they got to the amendment to ban gay marriages, he told her to be sure to mark that “no” and said, “that’s a very bad thing.”  Unfortunately, it passed.  But, after that amazing moment, I knew it was going to be only a matter of time.  The amendment will be overturned here.  Sooner or later.  I hope it’s sooner.

I talked with a lot of people about this issue over the weekend, and there seems to be a general agreement that the gay marriage debate is changing from a cultural argument to a civil rights argument with almost unprecedented speed. It reminds me of when the Berlin Wall fell ... one day it was there, and then, suddenly, it was gone in a sweep of geopolitical momentum that could not be stopped.

I know this is a hard issue for a lot of people, because this is one of those places where there seems to be a conflict between civil rights that would seem to be guaranteed by a democratic society and the tenets of many religions.

But I cannot help but think that the people fighting the battle against same-sex marriage on legal terms are sort of like those guys who found themselves on an island after World War II, not knowing that the war was over and still engaging in battles and skirmishes irrelevant to how the world really is.
KC's View: