retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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 for the week of August 19, 2013.

This will be the last FaceTime before Labor Day, and so I thought I'd catch up on some stories that have grabbed my attention over the past few weeks but somehow haven't found their way into MNB. And, go figure ... each one reminds me of a movie.

Remember that line from Forrest Gump about how "life is just a box of chocolates, you never know what you;re going to get."

Well, that goes double in the Uk, apparently. There was a story in the Daily Mail there about how teenagers shopping at a Tesco found maggots crawling around inside a box of Cadbury Caramel Nibbles. According to the kids, the maggots smelled of fungus - though to be honest, I have no idea what fungus smells like - and they were disgusted when the maggots started crawling on their hands and clothes. They ran out of the store, as did a whole lot of other customers. That British thing about keeping a stiff upper lip only goes so far...

To be honest, I held off on reporting this story because I was reasonably sure that within a matter of days it would be reported that the maggots actually were put there by the teenagers. But it's been almost a week, and all the media seems to be reporting is that Tesco has apologized for the problem.

I'll bet. It's amazing, though, how the world has changed. When I started out as a newspaper reporter back in the late seventies, I remember a politician I covered telling me that he didn't mind bad stories because "today's newspaper wraps tomorrow's fish." That's a great line, but no longer true ... not only does news stay around forever, but it goes all around the world like a flash. Which is why companies cannot afford to be anything but on top of their games.

I also thought it was interesting to read the story in the New York Times the other day about how some independent bookstores, facing extraordinarily tough competition, have turned to the crowdsourcing trend as a way of staying afloat. From the Times story:

"In San Francisco, a campaign for Adobe Books successfully raised $60,000 on Indiegogo.com in March after the store faced a rent increase and nearly went out of business.

"In Asheville, N.C., the Spellbound Children’s Bookshop collected more than $5,000 when it appealed to customers for help moving to a new location.

"In the Flatiron district of Manhattan, Books of Wonder raised more than $50,000 in an online campaign last fall after the recession and other losses depleted its financial resources."

I'm not sure this is a sustainable business model. But I do think that the idea of tapping into the loyalty of consumers is a smart one, especially for venues like independent bookstores where there is enormous emotional support even as the financial support seems to move over to retailers like Amazon.

It seems to me that what's really important is what happens next ... how do these and other stores convert the short-term donations into long-term consumer support by offering shoppers products and services that the competition cannot. It isn't enough to be local ... you have to be local and better.

Still, it gives me an idea for a sequel to You've Got Mail, a movie that came out only 15 years ago, and yet in terms of how it portrays the book business, now seems hopelessly out of date. it's been a crazy 15 years...

Finally, there was this story from the Times that may partly explain why the US Postal Service is in so much trouble. Apparently, since 2001, the Post Office has been taking pictures of every letter and package mailed in the United States. That's 160 billion photos - last year alone. And then, those photos are provided to law enforcement authorities when they are needed in criminal cases.

Talk about Big Data. Hell, talk about Big Brother.

Which leads me to another movie reference: If you haven't seen it, you need to watch Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 masterpiece, The Conversation, which, amazingly enough, he made in between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part Two. Talk about being on a roll! Today, when issues of personal privacy, national security and corporate overreach are very much in the news, The Conversation looks at themes that are extremely current, even though the movie is almost 40 years old.

And by the way, if you've seen The Conversation, watch it again. it's worth it.

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

KC's View: