retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to the story about Walmart's new campaign to emphasize "the real Walmart," one MNB user wrote:

To me what I hear Bill Simons saying is, we have lost the trust of the customer due to all the changes and assortment cuts, and this lack of trust have cost us business. That you may have heard that some of our associates are not happy, have had benefits and hours cut, but we are proud to tell you that we want to hire returning Veterans (who we may not hire full time or pay benefits as they get Veterans benefits).

Come on, they been wanting to do this… Walmart can do anything they want, whenever they want, there is a reason their laying this “pipe” now.

Such cynicism.

I like it.

Love this line from an MNB user about JC Penney and the small fortune they've paid out to executives who have now been sent packing:

Per the piece on Ron Johnson, Michael Francis et al, it occurs to me that while, from a merchandising philosophy they were committed to a change to EDLP, from an organizational comp perspective they were just fine keeping Hi-Lo.


On another subject, MNB user Mike Sommers wrote:

In response to the Rainforest Initiative fan that wrote in saying  non-GMO companies should form an organization to validate and certify non-GMOs.  It exists, it is call The Non-GMO Project, founded in 2008.  Grocery stores now even have Nom-GMO week where all these products are displayed and promoted.  At this point in time, it seems consumers would need to have their head in the sand if they aren't at least partially aware that this movement is happening....or maybe it's because I live in Boulder, CO.  I would just hope that people would educate themselves on this issue and support companies and products that are non-GMO.

From another reader:

You know what drives me wild about the GMO conversation? In a day and age where people are constantly complaining about “nanny state” intervention, there isn’t an outcry that Big Ag is basically making health decisions for the whole country. We did not elect them to an office where they should have that kind of ability, especially when their unquestioned loyalty comes first to their board and bottom line.

Most frustrating to me, they clearly are also (1) confused and (2) missing a huge opportunity. (1) Confused because they seem to think that knowing a product contains GMOs will mean people won’t buy it, while I am quite sure that the majority of people will only use GMO content as one datapoint in making a purchase decision. We’ve all been eating GMOs for years, and only the wealthy and seriously discipline will actually cut them out completely. I mean, I would always prefer to eat organic food, but it’s simply too expensive for my budget to go all organic all the time. I research and decide on where I think I can get the biggest bang for the buck. (2) Missing an opportunity because if people find out something contains GMOs and are looking for alternative products, someone needs to develop alternatives - and test what people are willing to pay for the difference, which, if the impact of GMO labeling will be so big, seems like it would be considerable.

We got some criticisms of Michael Sansolo's column yesterday. One MNB user wrote:

Your summary of the future connect session encapsulates everything that is so frustrating about these sessions.

Publix's Mark Irby suggests that the social web has forced companies to listen more, understand the changing nature of value and recognize that today shoppers, not marketers, are in control. The problem with this thinking is that forward leaning retailers have been doing these things since well before the advent of Facebook or Twitter. (i.e., Trader Joe's, Central Market, or Whole Foods). Heck, Trader Joe's built their brand on the premise of listening to their customers. And people have been discussing the whole "shopper is in control thing" for more than a decade.

Whenever I hear that social media is changing blah blah I always challenge people to point to very specific things that have changed (what has happened, what have you done, and what was the outcome) and rarely do they have anything concrete to point to. 

To be fair, these discussion are to be expected. Because there's not much else to speak to at a conference other than change, right? Which is why we get these zingers from Doug Stephens:
"One study Stephens cited spoke of how most school-aged children will likely work in careers that don’t currently exist and that even college freshmen study a significant amount of material that is obsolete by the time they graduate four years later."
Egads!!! How, I ask, is this any different than 40 years ago? Most of us older folks work in careers than never existed in the 50s, 60s or 70s. And much of what I learned in college was obsolete before 1900. Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought the point of education was two-fold--to socialize our kids and teach people how to think. But I guess I'm wrong, now it's time to train people for a world that doesn't even exist yet. Sure hope we guess correctly!

And from another reader:

I realize that you need to make bold statements in order to be heard above the crowd…but…you should really think about this statement, “shoppers, not marketers, are in control”  1) Social Media has given a louder voice to shoppers, but it takes marketers to interpret what they are saying to make changes, 2) please understand that many shoppers use exaggeration for the sake of emphasis, similar to you, in order to get likes…it takes marketers to extract the exaggeration to determine what they really want, 3) SM is still just a tool in a toolbox full of marketing tools…let’s not exaggerate its importance (have you ever tried to measure the impact of an SM strategy or tactic in any meaningful way that produces a quantifiable ROI???, 4.) Sure SM is important…but its true impact is yet to be discovered, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves by overstating its current importance… just yet! 5) SM managers think they have just discovered the shopper, yet a good marketer has always listened too, respected and provided shopper needs and wants…SM just makes it easier. Problem with many organizations is that they have been poor marketers in the past and SM is showing them much more quickly just how poor they are at understanding the shopper.

OH, and by the way, even before SM, the shopper was in control…SM has just speeded up the conversation and ability of marketers to listen more clearly and more often.  So, yea…SM is changing everything…but marketers still need to be in control to protect the brand promise

I asked Michael for his thoughts:

Why don't I respond to both e-mails in one shot.

First, the mea culpa: yes I made a bold statement (as did Mark Irby and Doug Stephens) and for what I would argue was a very good reason. You have to be bold to call attention to important changes. Both of these readers make great points, but I'd still stick with my main premise: the world is changing like never before. It's not all because of social media, but all technologies on top of a vastly shifting economic and demographic climate that challenges so many fundamentals that guide all of us. Those very successful companies mentioned by the readers are among those that are finding a way to progressively deal with these shifts.

Second, let's deal with the two main points. Do I think this period of change is so vastly different than others we've faced? I'd argue yes. Even for an industry that is always in constant change, this new combination of forces packs a stunning punch. The power consumers wield today is like nothing we've seen before and it's only growing. Simply put the pace of change has picked up considerably. To the second point about what students learn that is quickly obsolete, I'd argue that it has never been more true. Certainly there are always lessons to be learned from the past as I mentioned in my column. Ethics, customer service and the basics of management don't change, even as the tools we employ do change.

But the points Irby and Stephens made - on how new technologies have fundamentally changed so much of our world already - demand attention.  Again I'd support Stephens' point that we are comfortable changing incrementally, but that's not enough in a world changing exponentially. Change is hard, but understanding it and adapting to it are simply necessary today. So yes, my statement was bold. It was meant to be that and provocative.

Got some email about the discussion of whether JC Penney's willingness to embrace gay culture - via Mothers Day and Fathers Day ads that showed same-gender parents - had fueled resentment and even some boycotting within the Christian community. My response to this assertion was that I'd heard little or nothing about this impacting JC Penney (which has plenty of real problems); my initial response was a little glib, which I felt bad about, though I argued that while I may have been less than thoughtful, I think I was right ... and that I find it hard to know how much to tolerate what I view as intolerance. (Not much, I think. But I'm a work in progress.)

One MNB user responded:

I just want to tell you how grateful I am to start my work day with a view that reflects my own beliefs.  Sometimes working in an environment that is, at best, tolerant of who I am, weighs heavy on my spirit.  I am a gay woman, and I work for a company that, in no uncertain terms, defines marriage as between one man and one woman (in our benefits package).  The amount of hate I see at work is small, but when it happens it is painful.  When confronted with such issues, the majority of my co-workers seem to believe that we should all tolerate the intolerance; we should tolerate hate.  The very idea that we should allow things just because they are legal (as suggested by one reader) seems far from what is right.  But I am off topic.  I wanted to thank you for bringing your political views into the business discussion.  You have brought the issue of gay rights to the attention of those that may not have otherwise been aware.  Thank you!

Again, I don't think of my opinions in this regard as being political in nature. To me, it is about fairness and decency.

From another reader:

It is tricky terrain and while your gig seems very cool, I don't always envy the need to balance informing, opining and entertaining in a way that keeps most folks coming back.  I have a hard enough time trying to write a Holiday letter that will simultaneously amuse my friends but not offend my in-laws.

As they say in The Godfather, this is the life I have chosen. Wouldn't have it any other way.

Still another reader offered:

Your response last week, while certainly flippant, did not cross the line. You only gave them a roadmap of places to avoid if they choose to live by a discriminatory creed.

There are issues where reasonable minds can disagree. Abortion. Taxing v. spending. Gun laws.

There are others where there is no reasonable debate. Earth isn’t flat. Tobacco Kills. Gays & Lesbians exist. Gay marriage doesn’t affect heterosexual marriage.   Climate change is real.

While I have strong feelings on the first group, I respect that there can be reasoned debate from those with the opposing viewpoint.  The second list encompasses statements of fact; suggesting one needs to be tolerant of someone’s intolerance is baffling. Americans have First Amendment rights, both religion and speech, to preach and practice bigotry. When they believe that protection affords them the right to project their bigotry upon others, they are wrong, history will judge them as such, and they shall be called out for it.

MNB user Tal Vance wrote:

"Intolerance" in any form should ALWAYS be called out...keep it up.

MNB user Glenn Cantor chimed in:

After reading your “On Thoughtful Reflection” as well as your response to the comment about cannibalism in Jamestown, I thought of a bumper sticker I recent read.  It stated, “Sarcasm, The Body’s Natural Defense Against Stupidity.”

MNB user Chuck Jolley wrote:

I saw too much hate and intolerance in the readers' response that took you to task for your usual wit and sarcasm.  It's something that's becoming more frequent: a plea to allow the those people their free speech rights to express their intolerance.  Along with it comes a dismissal of political correctness.  I suppose the intolerant have their rights but I don't wish to hear their comments which often border on or cross over to hate speech.  Better that they keep it within their tight-knit community and not cloak it as permissible because it is nobly 'anti-politically correct.'

Another reader wrote:

With the current issues involving the LBGT community and how there are still groups that are working against them instead of trying to work with them I am reminded of what I have read in history books and viewed in movies based in the 50’s and 60’s about issues involving race.  There was a time in this country’s dark history that it was OK to hate African Americans, they were viewed as lesser human beings, and I’m not saying that people still don’t think that way but I will say that in most of this country that attitude is no longer tolerated.

There was an early episode of "Mad Men" in which Pete was speaking with a television manufacturer about the fact that their product was bought by African Americans more than anyone else and they should develop a marketing campaign around that demographic.  The owner was very offended that there was even a suggestion that African Americans would purchase his equipment and stated in no uncertain terms that he would not try to sell to them.  I imagine that there are still companies today that feel this way about different segments of our population and I would guess that they will have difficulties surviving in a tolerant society.

Evolution is a fact of life, all things evolve when survival is necessary, or they die.

Customers may choose to stick with those companies that choose not to embrace everyone equally but only time will tell if those companies will still be around and thriving in the future.

And ... Just to clarify: I'm not black, I'm not gay but I am a Christian whom tries to love and support all without seeing race, color, sexual orientation or whatever difference there may be.

And MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

As for JC Penney and the gay references.  I’d forgotten about the commercials also.  But, to be honest, I don’t care what  your sexual  preferences are, doesn’t matter to me.  Whenever I read or hear gay  bashing I remember a passage from one of Robert B. Parkers Spenser novels, I think it was "Paper Doll," when the gay detective Lee Farrell finally figures out that his being gay really isn’t an issue for Spenser.  The conversation goes something like this.
Farrell: "So it really doesn’t matter to you that I’m gay."

Spenser: "Got nothing to do with me."

Farrell: "So why does it matter so much to others?"

Spenser: "Makes them feel important."
I know the quotes aren’t exact, but the idea is there.  Whether or not someone is gay, has nothing to do with me, it doesn’t affect me.  In short, it’s none of my business, what they do and who they do it with, provided it’s with a consenting adult.

Which brings up another favorite Spenser line: “I don’t care if you have carnal knowledge of a Chevy Tahoe, as long as that Tahoe is a consenting adult”.
I understood what you were  trying to say last week.  Did you go over the line, maybe, but I’ve been reading you for a long time, I also remember that  you have relatives who are gay. I know that will color your thinking a bit, and I try to remember the total person when I read their writing.  It helps that for most part I get your cynicism and sarcasm and recognize them as such.

I also get that your politics are a lot more complicated than most people think, I know that because mine are also.  I lean to the left, but am also a big proponent of people taking responsibility for themselves wherever possible.

Finally, on a lighter note, yesterday I commented about the fact that Chinese food authorities have uncovered a conspiracy to sell rat but label it as lamb:

What's Chinese for "Oy"? 

Well, Dominic M. Hansa wrote:


I learn something every day.

And another MNB user wrote:

While you're at it, what's English for "Oy"?

There are lot of words that one can use instead of "oy." Most of them, however, cannot be posted on a family website.
KC's View: