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    Published on: January 17, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    eMarketer has a story saying that it is projecting that "4.55 billion people worldwide to use a mobile phone in 2014," and that "between 2013 and 2017, mobile phone penetration will rise from 61.1% to 69.4% of the global population."

    The story goes on to say that "the global smartphone audience surpassed the 1 billion mark in 2012 and will total 1.75 billion in 2014. eMarketer expects smartphone adoption to continue on a fast-paced trajectory through 2017. Nearly two-fifths of all mobile phone users—close to one-quarter of the worldwide population—will use a smartphone at least monthly in 2014. By the end of the forecast period, smartphone penetration among mobile phone users globally will near 50%."

    Seeing these numbers made me curious, so I checked … and apparently while the first smart phone was invented about 20 years ago, it was only 10 years ago before the term "smart phone" was popularized.

    That kind of adoption rate, I think, qualifies as an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    Starbucks is under fire this week because of what seems to be a lack of security measures embedded in its iPhone application.

    According to various stories, the Starbucks app stores user names, email addresses, passwords and geographic data in what is called "cleartext" - if you plugged someone's iPhone into your computer, you could access that info fairly easily. Which, especially at a time when a data breach at Target is making major headlines, seems fairly risky.

    Starbucks has promised to engineer an update that will fix the problem and create greater security, while saying that it has no evidence of any customers actually being affected by the vulnerability.
    KC's View:
    I can tell you that this update appears to have come through this morning, which probably is a good thing, since the Starbucks app is one of the most oft-used on my iPhone.

    I'm not overly worried about this security problem, though I'm a little surprised that any company would be quite so lax in protecting personal information. I don't think that this is a mistake that many retailers would want to repeat.

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal has a story this morning about how one of the interesting byproducts of the plethora of ways to access music is that traditional radio broadcasters are actually cutting back on the variety of music they play.

    "Faced with growing competition from digital alternatives, traditional broadcasters have managed to expand their listenership with an unlikely tactic: offering less variety than ever," the Journal writes. "The strategy is based on a growing amount of research that shows in increasingly granular detail what radio programmers have long believed—listeners tend to stay tuned when they hear a familiar song, and tune out when they hear music they don't recognize.

    "The data, coupled with the ballooning number of music sources competing for listeners' attention, are making radio stations more reluctant than ever to pull well-known hits from their rotations, extending the time artists must wait to introduce new songs."
    KC's View:
    I'm not a radio programmer, so I could be wrong about this. But…

    This may be a short term method of getting people to stop on one radio station, but it doesn't strike me as a logical strategy for growth. If I want to listen to one song over and over, I can simply program my iPod that way … but radio actually allows me to hear new songs, new artists, even new forms of music.

    I recognize that I'm not the target audience here. But one of my favorite satellite radio stations is The Pulse, because I end up hearing songs I've never heard before, which I often end up downloading to mu iPod.

    In some ways, what the radio stations is doing strikes me as similar to the misguided strategy advocated by the Post Office, where they wanted to compensate for declining usage by eliminating one day of service. When the USPS went in another direction - delivering on Sunday - it struck me as much smarter. You get new customers by offering more and differentiated content, not less of the same content.

    It is, I think, an interesting metaphor for what retailers need to think about.

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    Some stories related to the Target data breach…

    CNN reports that the Department of Homeland Security has distributed a warning to US retailers, telling them about sophisticated malware that potentially could affect a large number of stores. "The malware infects individual point of sale devices. It monitors data processed on the device, then transmits that data outside of the retailer," according to the story. And, CNN reports, at least part of the code is written in Russian.

    • Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that "the computer network at Neiman Marcus was penetrated by hackers as far back as July, and the breach was not fully contained until Sunday, according to people briefed on the investigation … The company disclosed the data theft of customer information late last week, saying it first learned in mid-December of suspicious activity that involved credit cards used at its stores."

    Neiman Marcus officials are saying they know of no connection between its breach and the one that took place at Target, and have not estimated how many customers may have been affected by its breach, though it appears to have gone on much longer.

    • This week, customers have been receiving an email from Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel that reads as follows:

    As you may have heard or read, Target learned in mid-December that criminals forced their way into our systems and took guest information, including debit and credit card data. Late last week, as part of our ongoing investigation, we learned that additional information, including name, mailing address, phone number or email address, was also taken. I am writing to make you aware that your name, mailing address, phone number or email address may have been taken during the intrusion.

    I am truly sorry this incident occurred and sincerely regret any inconvenience it may cause you. Because we value you as a guest and your trust is important to us, Target is offering one year of free credit monitoring to all Target guests who shopped in U.S. stores, through Experian’s® ProtectMyID® product which includes identity theft insurance where available. To receive your unique activation code for this service, please go to and register before April 23, 2014. Activation codes must be redeemed by April 30, 2014.

    In addition, to guard against possible scams, always be cautious about sharing personal information, such as Social Security numbers, passwords, user IDs and financial account information. Here are some tips that will help protect you:

    • Never share information with anyone over the phone, email or text, even if they claim to be someone you know or do business with. Instead, ask for a call-back number.

    • Delete texts immediately from numbers or names you don’t recognize.

    • Be wary of emails that ask for money or send you to suspicious websites. Don’t click links within emails you don’t recognize.

    Target’s email communication regarding this incident will never ask you to provide personal or sensitive information.

    Thank you for your patience and loyalty to Target. You can find additional information and FAQs about this incident at our website. If you have further questions, you may call us at 866-852-8680.

    KC's View:
    I have to admit that I'm sort of underwhelmed by the Target email … and fascinated that I've gotten it in my email box, since the last time I used a debit card at Target was in September 2012. (I did an MNB piece about it that you can read here.)

    I have this feeling that this is going to be an enormous hairball for retailers and consumers. And I think it is going to get worse before it gets better.

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    Advertising Age reports that as Netflix continues to invest in differentiated content as a way of creating as competitive advantage - in essence, choosing to compete with HBO and other content providers rather than just being a place where consumers can access other people's content - its next big effort will be a series about Marco Polo.

    The new series will be shot in Malaysia, and is expected to be available to viewers by the end of the year.

    Netflix has seen real success with its "House of Cards" TV series, which will see its second series available for streaming next month. Instead of rolling out its series one episode at a time, it makes all the episodes available at once, allowing viewers to consume content at their own pace.

    The strategy has prompted companies such as Amazon and Hulu to come up with their own series as a way of differentiating themselves.
    KC's View:
    When you read "differentiated content" in stories like these, think "private label." Because that's precisely what it is.

    Published on: January 17, 2014 reports that Amazon may have found a new way to generate revenue out of its delivery lockers, which are located in places such as convenience stores as an option for people who don't want products delivered to their homes or workplaces. (When people make the purchase online, they get a code number. When they get to the lockers during an assigned time window, they enter the code on a pad, a locker opens and they collect their stuff.)

    The innovation: advertising that the company appears to be selling to outside companies.

    The story says that the ads "could signal that Amazon is getting more serious about the locker program. After all, it’s unlikely it would enter into advertising contracts with consumer brands if they weren’t committed. It also marks a new revenue source for Amazon — a good-sized billboard in front of a retail store that should attract attention of customers the moment before a purchase.

    "The lockers also provide Amazon with one of its few physical touch points with customers, so it’s interesting to see the company turning over a portion of that landscape to advertisers."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    CNN reports that Walmart has entered into a partnership with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida workers rights group looking to improve pay and working conditions in the tomato-growing business.

    According to the story, Walmart has promised "to strengthen and expand its Fair Food Program, which consists of a commitment from corporate buyers to pay an additional penny per pound of tomatoes that then gets passed on to workers. There is also a human rights code of conduct that deals with safety, dispute resolution and other issues … As part of the partnership, Wal-Mart says it will work to expand the Fair Food Program to other crops besides tomatoes."
    KC's View:
    Forgive me, but isn't it a little early for April Fools stories?

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    • The Idaho Statesman reports that Boise-based Albertsons "plans to close 26 stores around the country by next month. At least three more stores, including one in Idaho, will change ownership because of previous agreements."

    The affected units include 11 stores in Southern California, two in Las Vegas, one in Albuquerque, N.M., one in Phoenix, Ariz., five in Washington, two in Oregon, two stores with the Acme Markets banner in Pennsylvania, and two stores with the Shaw's banner in Massachusetts.

    • The Detroit News reports that Meijer Inc. "is offering customers flu and strep throat testing — and even store-written prescriptions for those ailments — at a select number of pharmacies … It’s the latest example of how pharmacies and big box stores with prescription services are getting into the business of minor medicine."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    • Ready Pac Foods, Inc. announced that it has named Bob Estes, most recently a Division CIO at Nestlé USA, to be its new Chief Information Officer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    Russell Johnson, who famously played the Professor on the various versions of "Gilligan's Island," has passed away after having suffered from kidney failure. He was 89.

    Johnson's death leaves only two surviving members of the original cast - Tina Louise and Dawn Wells, who played Ginger and Mary Ann, and who became not just characters in a show but also cultural barometers of female sexuality.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a shooting at a Martin's supermarket in Indiana that left three people - including the shooter - dead.

    I commented:

    Schools. Shopping malls. Retail stores. It never seems to stop. To be honest, I am not a product of a gun culture, so some of this stuff is beyond my experience. I am sympathetic to the constitutional issue, though I am not a constitutional absolutist (not even on free speech guarantees) …. and I know that sensitivities on this issue run so high that Ive hesitated in the past to comment.

    But I'm tired of hesitating.

    I figure it is only a matter of hours before someone stands up to suggest that if all the checkout people had been armed, this might not have happened. Which strikes me as utterly nuts.

    MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

    I am a product of gun culture in a way - grew up in a rural area,  hunted, popped tin cans with a 22 pistol. I no longer own guns but would like to able to for sporting purposes.

    I mention that to point out I have seen nothing in any regulations, laws restrictions proposed that would in any way limit my ability to do the things with guns I used to. I stress, I have seen nothing that would limit my ability to own and use guns for the purposes I used them for. 

    What I have seen are sensible attempts to limit what happened in Martin's  and certainly what happened in the texting-at-a-movie shooting.

    If not for the NRA I honestly believe we would have realistic gun control.

    MNB reader Chuck Jolley wrote:

    It was only hours after the theater massacre in Colorado that people were saying if everyone in that theater was armed, the shooting would have stopped immediately.  Makes sense; 150-200 people in a panic, shooting randomly in a darkened theater would have definitely stopped the gunfire quicker.  150-200 dead people can't continue shooting.

    One MNB user responded:

    The NRA suggests the way to handle school shootings is to arm teachers. As a Store Manager, would the NRA expect me to arm myself and the other salaried staff to deal with a possible shooting? I am just saying…

    I suspect that it is precisely what the NRA expects.

    From another reader:

    Amen.  We are NOT a better society because we can all carry guns openly.  We are actually condoning, even encouraging, violent behavior.  And now a guy was shot dead in a movie theatre just for arguing and throwing popcorn at another person.  Do we really want to live in a society where there is this kind of behavior?

    And another:

    Very creepy that we just had “Violence in the workplace” training yesterday at Supervalu.
    While most of us thought of it as one of those trainings you go through, last night’s news reminded me of the importance. Who of us would remember what to do in the heat of the moment?

    And still another:

    “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  The argument is that don’t let the bad guy get a gun.  That is impossible to do, merely look at Chicago for proof.  The problem is these “bad guys” need to be identified sooner.  Not very easy to do.

    It's the hard that makes it worth doing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2014

    I'm not one of those people who thinks that Oscars and Oscar nominations can be equated with quality. Sometimes, the nominees and winners are responsible for transcendent movies, but not always … and my list of movies that "will win" and my list of movies that "should win" usually have nothing to do with each other.

    Which is a long way of getting to this morning's point - that Inside Llewyn Davis may be one of the best movies not nominated for the Best Picture award, with Oscar Isaac's performance in the titular role easily one of the best of the year, despite the lack of a nomination.

    In some ways, the lack of recognition - and popularity, I'm afraid, since Inside Llewyn Davis has not exactly been setting the box office on fire - isn't all that surprising, since the movie, directed by brothers Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, essentially is about failure.

    The movie takes place in the early sixties, as Davis tries to gain traction and energize his career as a folk singer. It almost all takes place in New York's Greenwich Village (save for an entertaining side trip to Chicago that sends in an epiphany for Davis), and the period feeling is flawless. But Davis's problem is that he has alienated almost everyone around him in his single-minded pursuit of artistic excellence, and his artistry may be out of synch with what audiences want at this particular time. (That said, the soundtrack is wonderful.)

    Inside Llewyn Davis has a challenging and thought-provoking structure; the Coen brothers, as they've shown in such films as Fargo, Blood Simple, No Country For Old Men, O Brother, Where Are Thou? and The Big Lebowski, are willing to take the creative road less traveled. I can tell you this: Inside Llewyn Davis is easily one of the best movies of the year, and you should go see it.

    "Bull River" is the new novel by Robert Knott, who is continuing the Robert B. Parker series of westerns about lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch; the first, "Appaloosa," was turned into a film of the same name by Ed Harris, who directed and co-wrote the movie with, as it happens, Robert Knott.

    I find myself having mixed opinions about Knott's work. He doesn't strike me as a natural novelist, but on the other hand, I have profound respect for anyone who can write one. And oddly enough for someone who is a screenwriter, I think his strength seems to be atmosphere and context rather than plot. As I read the book, I found myself vividly seeing the places and people he described, almost tasting the dust whipped up by winds cutting across open plains, though sometimes I found the narrative a trifle meandering.

    The book takes Cole and Hitch on a long journey, tracking down bank robbers, trying to rescue a kidnapped woman, figuring out the truth about two brothers with dicey pasts, and reluctantly using a charismatic Mexican criminal to aid them in their quest. Everything is interconnected, but at one point, toward the end of the book, Knott spends time explaining what it all means … and my first thought was that since I'd read the book, he didn't need to do that quite so baldly. It is almost as if he doesn't quite trust his own skills.

    All in all, though, I enjoyed "Bull River." Cole and Hitch are agreeable company, and I'd love to see them brought back to life on the screen again … one of the things I did while reading the novel was listen to the terrific Appaloosa soundtrack while doing so. Knott is not as good as Ace Atkins, a natural and accomplished novelist who is continuing Parker's Spenser series of novels (the next one, "Cheap Shot," will be out in May), but he's getting better with practice. Maybe next time out, he can tackle a plot that is a little more self-contained, along the lines of High Noon; it;'d be an interesting challenge, and I'd love to see what he'd do with something like that.

    Ironically, tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of Robert B. Parker's death, working at his desk in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The obit I wrote at the time can be read here. I continue to miss his unique voice and, ultimately, I'm glad his characters continue to live on and have new adventures.

    That's it for this week.

    Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: