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    Published on: September 26, 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 was a story on the BBC the other day about a new food trend that seems to have taken root in Greece, and is expected to be exported to London in the near future.

    It is called "Cookisto," and it is an online community of local cooks in Athens who, when they make too much food for that evening's dinner, can post descriptions of what they've made and sell portions to local residents who may want a home-cooked meal but don't have the time, ability or inclination to make it themselves.

    According to the story, "the site has attracted 12,000 cooks in Athens in the last few months. What began as a master's degree thesis ... has now become a reality in crisis-stricken Greece, and is due to launch in London next month."

    The Greek site (in English) can be seen here.

    The UK site can be seen here.


    The story goes on to quote innovation consultant Rachel Botsman as saying that this is part of the "'revolution' of collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy. Since the global financial meltdown, 'people have reverted to old market behaviours that involve trust - swapping, sharing, renting, bartering'."

    In Greece, people who have used the Cookisto system say it isn't about the money they can make selling meals or save by purchasing them at reasonable prices, but about establishing a greater sense of community.

    Which is a really interesting notion, because that's what really good stores do. You don't just feel like a shopper when you're there, but part of something bigger and even more important. It is about connections, not disconnections. It is about coming together, which in a country like Greece that has seen its economy ravaged over the past few years, is increasingly important.

    It will be interesting to see if there are any differences between how Cookisto has been received in Greece and how it will be accepted in London, since I think it is fair to say that Greeks are generally seen as better cooks that the British.

    I've only been to Greece once, but it was a wonderful few days. (The story, which has to do with what Greeks do after work and a 25-course meal, is available only on the video version.)

    Anyway, Cookisto is what is on my mind this Thursday morning, and I think it has the potential of being a big idea.

    As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Good piece from National Public Radio about how outdoor retailer REI has changed its return policy, moving from an unconditional anytime-anywhere-forever policy to a one-year limit on returns. NPR compares that to LL Bean, which continues to take back anything it makes...forever.

    REI made the decision, according to the story, because management got tired of being taken advantage of: "Two years ago, REI noticed that the number of people returning really old stuff was increasing. Some customers talked about their returns on social media, which led to even more people bringing in their old junk to get refunds. It was hurting profits."

    LL Bean, on the other hand, is relentless and cheerful about taking back products, believing that most customers are honorable and that, in the end, its policy is the best possible advertising it could have. (Full disclosure: LL Bean is my idea of a trendy designer. I've shopped at REI, but not nearly as much over the years.)

    Steve Fuller, CMO at LL Bean, says "his company is sticking to its policy," NPR reports. "He says he's never been in a meeting where someone questioned the value of the guarantee. The only question he gets is whether the company talks about it enough.

    "If anything, L.L. Bean seems to be welcoming the customers REI might be willing to let go. Behind its store counters, the guarantee is written in giant text. And there are a few reasons why this may be better business for L.L. Bean. Many of its sales are mail order, so it's less convenient for customers to return stuff. And, Fuller says, the crazy return stories are great marketing for the company."

    It is an interesting comparison. It is hard to cast REI in a negative light - a one year return policy is hardly a small thing, and the company certainly has a right to protect itself.

    Still, I have to say that I respect LL Bean's position, because it seems rooted into two things that I think retailers need to have - respect for the customer, and a sense that the bottom line is not always served by short-term decision-making.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart "is cutting orders it places with suppliers this quarter and next to address rising inventories the company flagged in last month’s earnings report." Bloomberg says it has seen an email from the company to a supplier in which the cuts were described.

    According to the story, "U.S. inventory growth at Wal-Mart outstripped sales gains in the second quarter at a faster rate than at the retailer’s biggest rivals. Merchandise has been piling up because consumers have been spending less freely than Wal-Mart projected, and the company has forfeited some sales because it doesn’t have enough workers in stores to keep shelves adequately stocked."

    Indeed, in a separate story, Bloomberg suggests that the reason that Walmart decided to convert 35,000 part-time employees to full-time status was to deal with the inventory issue: "Wal-Mart is adding staff to please its customers, not its employees, its critics, or the government. It’s worried about losing individual item sales and, ultimately, alienating its customers altogether. In the long run, the only way a brick-and-mortar store can survive is by having the things people want to buy at the moment they want to buy them. Amazon, with its endless ambition and relentless customer focus, is Wal-Mart’s long-term competition."

    While Walmart spokesman David Tovar tells Bloomberg that the order pullback isn’t “across the board” and is happening “category by category,” in a subsequent interview with CNBC he walked that back, saying that "the entire story is misleading" and the claim that Wal-Mart is cutting orders because inventories were piling up is "completely false." Tovar added "that the company has hundreds of inventory categories and that it is constantly managing inventory levels based on consumer demand in different markets."
    KC's View:
    Reminds me of the definition of a "gaffe" in politics - it's when someone actually tells the truth.

    Seems to me that there are two ways to deal with this story. One is to deny its accuracy. And the other is to embrace it, saying that the availability of data makes it possible to do things like this ... and that this is the mark of a smart, sophisticated retailer. But by going into denial, Walmart puts itself on the defensive, when it could have ended all the stories and speculation by making the story work in its favor.

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    Chicago-based Jewel-Osco reportedly "is getting rid of self-checkout lanes from some of its stores," according to a story in the , which reports that the move is related to the company's desire "to reconnect personally with all of its customers despite the higher costs the shift entails."

    The story notes that "theft is also a concern driving some grocers away the unmanned checkouts, as are hassles such as liquor and other purchases that require an employee to step in."

    The chain, owned since March by an investment consortium headed up by Cerberus Capital Management, is not saying how many of its stores eventually will be affected by the policy shift.
    KC's View:
    Not to doubt the idea that Jewel-Osco wants to get friendlier with its shoppers, but I wonder if the installations being pulled from stores have so much mileage on them that they are not worth fixing, and the company doesn't want to spend money replacing them.

    Y'think?

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    At the same time as the US Postal Service (USPS) is saying that its precarious financial situation requires that the cost of a first-class stamp should go up three cents to 49 cents, a move that would raise $2 billion in additional annual revenue, comes a Reuters story saying that the USPS is paying more than a half-million bucks to a futurist to provide "analysis and recommendation on the future of stamps."

    The futurist: Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve.

    The precise cost: $565,769.

    The rationale: "As part of its ongoing innovation efforts, the Postal Service regularly seeks advice and counsel from mailing industry, marketing and innovation experts," says USPS spokeswoman Toni DeLancey. "This is an important activity that helps the organization anticipate changing mailing and shipping behaviors, as well as long-term changes to the evolving communication marketplace it serves."
    KC's View:
    I hereby volunteer to provide this sort of insight to the USPS in exchange for 10 rolls of Forever stamps. Doesn't take much research, or even much insight. Just a little common sense, and some experience using email and ordering online.

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    Agri-Pulse.com reports that "nine national or regional meat and livestock organizations from the United States, Canada and Mexico have appealed the Sept. 11 decision by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to deny their request for a preliminary injunction to block implementation of USDA's May 2013 final rule on country-of-origin labeling (COOL)."

    In that decision, the judge ruled that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) could require labels on packages of beef, pork, poultry and lamb sold in U.S. stores to include more specific information about the meat's country of origin. While the judge decided against the imposition of a preliminary injunction that would have delayed COOL implementation, the case itself needs to be decided - though likely not until 2015.

    According to the story, "The industry groups' attorneys ... believe that Jackson applied the wrong legal standard regarding the First Amendment and compelled speech because the mandated labels at issue are not voluntary deceptive advertising."
    KC's View:
    Some people continue to treat transparency as if it is the enemy.

    They are, IMHO, making a big mistake. Embrace transparency, and you'll be on the right side of history. Fight it, and you put your reputation at risk.

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    The City Wire has a story speculating that "the Wal-Mart Board of Directors meeting scheduled for later this week may include the selection and announcement of Doug McMillon or Bill Simon as the new top boss at Wal-Mart Stores," succeeding the current CEO, Mike Duke. "Rumors have swirled for months that the 63-year-old Duke would step down as CEO before the end of the year and his 64th birthday on Dec. 7," the story says.

    According to the piece, McMillon, CEO of Walmart International, is considered the favorite, in part because his recent international experience give shim the grounding necessary to deal with global expansion, plus deal with ongoing allegations that Walmart had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bring officials in various countries to speed its expansion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    USA Today had an interview with Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, in which he was asked what he thought his legacy would be as one of the most significant figures in technology history.

    His answer: "I think about the things we do as big team efforts … team invention. I'm flattered. But I don't spend any time thinking about it that way. I very much think about the future, and I don't spend any time thinking about the past. I'm having fun, and I love my job. I love the fact that we here as a team at Amazon have so many people counting on us, customers, shareholders, we count on each other. It's very motivating to wake up in the morning and know that there are a bunch of people counting on you and that they want you to invent pieces of the future — show me something new."
    KC's View:
    Love that. "Invent pieces of the future." Just another word for fomenting change, as opposed to resisting it. Which is what a lot of retailers do, because it scares them.

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    TheNewYorker.com has a blog posting that looks at a new movie, OMG GMO, that is designed to be an indictment of genetically engineered crops, but that the writer says is "aggressively uninformed," a "message of fear and illiteracy," not to mention intellectually lazy and lacking in any connection to reality.

    We talk about this issue a lot here on MNB, and I wanted to make sure that - in the interest of spotlighting both sides of the issue - this analysis got some play here.

    Check it out here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    USA Today reports that PayPal has launched a new financing business, called PayPal Working Capital, that "will offer loans to online merchants, through Utah-based WebBank, that will be underwritten based on their PayPal sales history. No credit check is needed, the company noted.

    "PayPal said that merchants will be able to get the loans in a few minutes and the money is re-paid when the businesses generate sales that are processed through their PayPal accounts. Rather than charging an interest rate, PayPal charges a fixed fee for the financing, the company added."

    The story goes on to say that "banks and other providers of loans for merchants pulled back after the 2008 financial crisis, leaving an opening for alternative sources of financing. The combination of fast-growing online shopping and a lack of credit for small businesses has created strong demand for new types of financing among sellers that ply their trade on Amazon.com, eBay.com and other online marketplaces."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    • The complaint often is that legislation can hurt business. But apparently it also can create business opportunities.

    Like in California, where Los Angeles will impose a ban on free plastic shopping bags on January 1, 2014, in addition to requiring that retailers charge 10 cents per paper bag. There are expectations in many quarters that the state of California could follow LA's lead.

    Which has led a company called Command Packaging to invest up to $25 million to create what it calls a "Smarterbag," made from recycled agricultural plastic, that is bag ban compliant, will cost 10 cents a bag, and reusable an estimated 125 times - making them both environmentally and economically viable.


    Advertising Age reports that "more than half of marketer and agency professionals surveyed by Advertiser Perceptions predicted they would increase ad spending in digital media during the next 12 months, far more than the share predicting the same for traditional channels such as cable TV (31%), broadcast TV (20%), magazines (14%) and national newspapers (11%)."


    • The Birmingham News reports that Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) has made an initial minimum bid of $16.13 million to acquire 43 remaining Belle Foods stores in the deep south, though the company says it would close or sell 13 of the stores if the bid is accepted. "AWG has assembled a group of buyers and operators for the different stores, according to court filings."

    The bid is said to be a "stalking horse" effort against which any other bid will be measured. The story notes that "Belle Foods’ primary creditor is C&S Wholesale Grocers, a competitor to AWG in the wholesale grocery business. Belle Foods owes C&S $38.3 million for financing and goods and another $3 million in other claims."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    • Sears Canada announced that its CEO, Calvin McDonald, has resigned, and will be succeeded by COO Douglas Campbell. McDonald is said to be joining an as-yet unnamed an international company.

    The company says that the move comes "just as the department store chain restructures amid intensifying competition from U.S. retailers such as Target Corp and Wal-Mart Stores Inc ."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    ... will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    • Team Oracle USA won the final race yesterday to bring home sailing's America's Cup ... a remarkable feat, considering that last week, the American team was down 8-1 to Team New Zealand.

    The writes that "in the end, Oracle won by 44 seconds. The team had come a long way since crashing its first boat, struggling with foiling and being penalized two race points and losing key team members after a rules violation."

    Team USA's captain, Jimmy Spithill, said that "a lesser team would have folded, but his team became stronger."



    • In Major League Baseball, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Minnesota Twins 1-0 to clinch the American League Central Division title for the third straight year.

    The Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics already had clinched the AL East and West division titles, respectively. All that remains to be decided in the American League is which two teams will be the wild cards - at the moment, it is between the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals.

    In the National League, the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers have clinched the titles in the NL East and West divisions. Three teams in the NL Central - the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are all vying to see which one will win the NL Central and which two will be wild cards.
    KC's View:
    I got a few emails the other day from Pittsburgh Pirates fans who wondered why I had not taken note of the Pirates clinching a playoff berth for the first time in more than two decades.

    I suppose it was my old fashioned way of looking at things. I sort of don't approve of the wild card system, so I ignored the clinching of a spot. Win the division, or at least have something nailed down, and I'll take note.

    Though I'll grant you that the Pirates and their fans have something to celebrate.

    And yes, to those who asked, I've been to PNC Park. Took my son there a few years ago on one of our road trips. We loved it. Might even make my top-10 stadiums list, which I'll post as soon as I go to the four that I've missed so far - in Houston, Miami, Tampa and the Bronx.

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    The 13th annual Emerging Trends in Retailing conference will take place on October 30th at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development adjacent to the Sam M. Walton College of Business on the University of Arkansas campus, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

    In just a few hours, you can learn about the demands of long-term planning, gain insights into the consumer and the current economy, and see the future of e-commerce, from a roster of speakers and panelists that includes Duncan Mac Naughton, EVP, Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer, Walmart U.S. ... Jeffrey K. Schomburger, President of the Global Walmart Team at Procter & Gamble ... Dina Howell, Worldwide CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi X ... and Brian Monahan, Vice President of Marketing, Walmart.com.

    The opportunity is extraordinary. The access is unparalleled. And you can learn more about how to attend by clicking here. Now.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    The 13th annual Emerging Trends in Retailing conference will take place on October 30th at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development adjacent to the Sam M. Walton College of Business on the University of Arkansas campus, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

    In just a few hours, you can learn about the demands of long-term planning, gain insights into the consumer and the current economy, and see the future of e-commerce, from a roster of speakers and panelists that includes Duncan Mac Naughton, EVP, Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer, Walmart U.S. ... Jeffrey K. Schomburger, President of the Global Walmart Team at Procter & Gamble ... Dina Howell, Worldwide CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi X ... and Brian Monahan, Vice President of Marketing, Walmart.com.

    The opportunity is extraordinary. The access is unparalleled. And you can learn more about how to attend by clicking here.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    RETAILER TO RETAILER tactical education sessions on Merchandising, Fresh Foods, Operations, Financial Controls, Digital Marketing and Store Management.

    EXPANDED EXPO FLOOR with more suppliers and pavilions in categories such as Produce, Meat, General Merchandise & Health Care, and Technology.

    OPENING GENERAL SESSION featuring Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Bob Woodward.

    CHAIRMAN’S DINNER AND GALA with entertainment by award-winning country stars Thompson Square!

    For more information please visit www.TheNGAShow.com .
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2013

    RETAILER TO RETAILER tactical education sessions on Merchandising, Fresh Foods, Operations, Financial Controls, Digital Marketing and Store Management.

    EXPANDED EXPO FLOOR with more suppliers and pavilions in categories such as Produce, Meat, General Merchandise & Health Care, and Technology.

    OPENING GENERAL SESSION featuring Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Bob Woodward.

    CHAIRMAN’S DINNER AND GALA with entertainment by award-winning country stars Thompson Square!

    The NGA Show: February 9-12, 2014 ... Mirage Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information please visit www.TheNGAShow.com .
    KC's View: