retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    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.

    Y'know, I spend a lot of time on the internet, spend a lot of time reading about internet companies and social media, and even so, sometimes I get a nice surprise about how technology, when combined with a little marketing moxie, goes a long way toward making life easier.

    That's what happened to me recently. I've mentioned on MNB from time to time that I'm DIY challenged - I'm not very handy to have around the house, and my expertise begins and ends with changing lightbulbs. (And there are a couple of recessed light fixtures here in the house that I find a little challenging.) I have a friend who used to come over and help me do stuff; all I had to do was call him and tell him I'd gotten in some new beer, and he'd come over with his tool box But he moved to Florida, and since he did, things have been sort of falling apart around here.

    Recently though, I resolved to do something about it. Not by taking home repair lessons, but by going to Angie's list, paying for a membership, and looking for recommendations that would help me find someone to help me get some things done. It took me about two minutes to identify a local business called Mr. Handyman that seemed to have great references, and so I sent them an email.

    Within a couple of hours, I had a call back, and I explained how I'd found them and that I had a small carpentry project that needed to be done and, if it went well, I'd have other things for them to do. The fellow I spoke to explained that while he understood the notion of an audition, it would be more economical for me to come up with a list of things to do. They charge by the hour, but the fees get lower with every passing hour, and if the list was such that it took a few visits, the lower fees would apply.

    That sounded good to me, and a couple of days later, Jimmy showed up - early. And he knocked off about six or seven projects in about three hours, even finding ways he could do the carpentry project that would save me money on both materials ands labor. He was great - easy to work with, very communicative, and he made the visit stress-free. It cost me about $300, more than a six pack of beer, but some of the best money I've ever spent.

    That speaks a lot for my notion that smart businesses end up being more than a source of product, but a resource for expertise … and that's what Mr. Handyman now is for me. I'm already pulling together a second list of things to do, and I'll ask for Jimmy without hesitation. They've become a go-to resource for me.

    One other note. It ends up that Mr. Handyman is a franchise … and the local franchise was bought by a guy who was not a DIY expert himself, but rather a refugee from the corporate world who knew that he could provide the marketing expertise and then find accomplished contract workers - like the incomparable Jimmy - to do the actual work. It may not be curing cancer, but I think it's brilliant.

    This may not sound like an epiphany on the way to Damascus, but that's sort of what both Angie's List and Mr. Handyman have provided for me.

    Back in the old days, one would've gotten a reference from a neighbor, and just hired a local fellow to do the work. But the old days are over, and customers are finding new ways to get recommendations, obtain products and services, and finally, turn us into advocates for these new businesses. Sounds like a win-win-win to me.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    The methodology may be questionable, but the conclusion is certainly Eye-Opening.

    NBC News reports this morning that a new study from Princeton University suggests that Facebook has "already reached the peak of its popularity and has entered a decline phase," and will lose 80 percent of its user base between 2015 and 2017. At some point in the neat future, the study says, Facebook will be about as relevant as MySpace.

    Yikes.

    Now, the logic behind the conclusions is, well, unusual. The researchers compare Facebook's viral nature to an infectious disease and say that, like disease, users eventually will become immune to its charms and move on. Though, to be fair, they put it in far more scientific language:

    Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological model ... Idea manifesters ultimately lose interest with the idea and no longer manifest the idea, which can be thought of as the gain of “immunity” to the idea.

    There are folks who disagree with the conclusion and the logic behind it, though it should be noted that Facebook has seen its user base growing older, and young people move on to other sites.

    The study also doesn't account for Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, who surely will be doing his best to prevent the study's conclusions from becoming reality.

    That said … the folks at Facebook should see this study as an Eye-Opener. And probably do. In fact, the issue of relevance is probably something they focus on every day.

    I think it would be good for every company to have Princeton researchers predicting their imminent demise. It would focus their minds. Because the fact is that every business is just one bad move or one missed trend away from being obsolete.

    And we all have to behave that way.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    The Associated Press reports that despite the vote by lawmakers this week in New Hampshire that defeated a GMO labeling bill, as many as two dozen other "states from Rhode Island to Hawaii are considering laws to require labels on food items containing genetically modified ingredients."

    The push for GMO labeling has come in fits and starts. Connecticut and Maine have passed such laws, while California and Washington State have defeated them. And even in Connecticut and Maine, the laws that have been passed contain provisions that prevent them from taking effect until enough other states pass their own GMO labeling laws.

    As the story notes, "Seventy percent of processed foods contain at least one ingredient made or derived from genetically modified crops, known as GMOs, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. The industry-backed Grocery Manufacturers Association puts the number between 70 and 80 percent.

    "Genetic modifications to a plant can improve its quality, hardiness or resistance to pests or disease. Scientific studies have found no evidence that GMOs are more harmful than foods without genetic modifications, but those pushing for label requirements point to the value in the information itself."

    The story goes on to say that "the issue may be decided in Washington, where both sides are pushing for a federal standard on how GMO foods are labeled. The Food and Drug Administration, which says all genetically engineered foods must meet the same requirements as traditional foods, now allows producers to voluntarily label their items as genetically engineered or not." But, "some businesses aren't waiting for government action. Whole Foods announced last year that it plans to label GMO products in all its U.S. and Canadian stores within five years. And General Mills recently announced it would no longer use GMOs in its original Cheerios recipe."
    KC's View:
    I know that people on either side of this issue would not agree with this characterization, but I've really tried to be even-handed in my approach to this. I've tried not to demonize the concept of genetic modification, and I certainly think there is a role for it in how we produce food; I'm anything but anti-science. But I also think that transparency is critical, and the desire - even by a relatively small percentage of the population - for labeling ought to be respected.

    What really bothers me, though, is when I read passages like this one from the AP story:

    …Last month the Grocery Manufacturers Association wrote to the FDA asking whether foods 'derived from biotechnology' could be allowed to be labeled 'natural.'

    The association represents Monsanto Company, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble and hundreds of other companies. It notes that GMOs have been on the market for two decades, and include soy, corn, sugar and other items commonly used in a variety of foods.


    This is where some people in the industry totally lose my sympathy. Because in their minds, it now isn;t enough not to have labeling. No, they want to be able to label foods with GMOs as being "natural."

    This word, of course, is one of the more meaningless and misleading terms used in the food industry, but allowing these companies to use it in this manner would be an utter joke … and just the request indicates just how far these companies are willing to push their luck.

    I'm dubious that it will happen, but I hope the FDA smacks them down, and hard.

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    Yahoo! News reports that Apple has dropped from the number two ranking it has achieved for the past two years in a consumer electronics brand customer satisfaction survey conducted by Forrester Research. Amazon has consistently maintained its number one ranking, but this year, Apple has fallen behind Samsung, Microsoft and Sony.

    According to the story, "The study gauges consumers’ satisfaction level with consumer electronics brands by posing three questions: 1) How enjoyable were they to do business with? 2) How easy were they to do business with? 3) How effective were they at meeting your needs?"
    KC's View:
    I'm not entirely surprised by this. I'm an enormous Apple fan and user, but even I have to concede that the company has not been as innovative over there past few years as it was during the Steve Jobs heyday. Maybe this was inevitable. I'm certainly not going to be transferring my loyalties, though, because its products continue to be easy to use and totally relevant to my life.

    I am, however, a little surprised that Microsoft and Sony are ranked more highly, but this may be more a matter of relevance - I don't use any of their products, but I have to be careful not to extrapolate too much from that. I totally get the Samsung rating.

    But here's the other surprise, at least to me: isn't it interesting that Amazon is considered, within the context of this survey, as being a consumer electronics brand? I'd call Amazon a lot of things, but not that.

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    Consumer Reports is out with a study saying that in "recent tests of sodas and other soft drinks, varying levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), a potentially-carcinogenic chemical byproduct of the production of certain types of caramel color, were found in all of the samples that listed caramel color as an ingredient. Twelve brands of sodas and soft drinks from five manufacturers - including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Goya - were tested … While there are no existing federal limits on the amount of caramel color allowed in food and beverages, products sold in California that would expose consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI in a day are supposed to carry a warning label under the state’s Proposition 65 law."

    The story goes on to say that "in its tests, Consumer Reports found that 12-ounce single servings of two products purchased multiple times during an eight-month period in the state of California–Pepsi One and Malta Goya–exceeded 29 micrograms per can or bottle. While we cannot say that this violates California's Prop 65, we believe that these levels are too high, and we have asked the California Attorney General to investigate.

    "After we informed PepsiCo of our test results, the company issued a statement that said that Proposition 65 is based on per day exposure and not exposure per can. It also cited government consumption data that shows that the average amount of diet soda consumed by people who drink it is 100 milliliters per day, or less than a third of a 12-ounce can. For that reason, they believe that Pepsi One does not require cancer-risk warning labels—even if the amount of 4-MeI in a single can exceeds 29 micrograms."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    There is a worth-reading piece on Slate that looks at the issue of income inequality in America through an interesting prism, suggesting that "innovative product ideas languish in semi-obscurity or simply can’t get financing because in general we don’t have the kind of broadly rising incomes that would support new products."

    In other words, inequality stifles innovation.

    After that comes the inevitable next question: what is the future of an economy in which innovation has been stifled.

    Good question.

    You can read the entire piece here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    • Walmart US president/CEO Bill Simon reportedly will announce new initiatives that will encourage US manufacturing, leading to job growth, in a speech today to the US Conference of Mayors, meeting in Washington, DC.

    The proposal reportedly will go beyond the company's previously announced plan to spend an additional $50 billion on US-made goods over the next 10 years.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    USA Today reports that Amazon has "denied reports that it is planning a new pay-TV service." Spokesman Drew Herdener tells the paper that "we continue to build selection for Prime Instant Video and create original shows at Amazon Studios, but we are not planning to license television channels or offer a pay-TV service."

    MNB yesterday took note of a Wall Street Journal report that Amazon "has approached big entertainment companies about licensing their television channels for a possible new online pay-TV service, in what would be a significant expansion of the company’s online video efforts." The story noted that Sony and Google are considering similar initiatives, and that Amazon's discussions are still "in the early stages," with no sense of whether or when the project might come to fruition.
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure we can take this denial entirely at face value. It may not be likely in the short-term, but it probably isn't impossible.

    Besides…I got a bunch of emails yesterday from folks who could hardly wait to sign on, so frustrated are they with the cable companies.

    So there's an appetite.

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    • In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "Target Corp. laid off 475 employees on Wednesday and said it will not fill 700 open positions as the company struggles with the fallout from a massive theft of consumer data as well as stubbornly sluggish sales." Most of the cuts are reported to be at headquarters level, though Target is not confirming that.

    According to the story, "Target employs 11,000 people at its flagship offices on Nicollet Mall and a total of 14,000 corporate employees in Minnesota."


    Courthouse News Service reports that shareholders have filed a class action suit against Starbucks claiming that the company "mishandled a coffee distribution dispute with Kraft, costing the company billions of dollars when an arbitrator dealt a 'crushing blow' awarding Kraft $2.8 billion in damages."

    The dispute took place when Starbucks wanted to take back its distribution rights from Kraft, which turned around and sued Starbucks, which then led to the arbitrator's decision.


    • The National Grocers Association (NGA) has announced that voting is now open for its annual Creative Choice Awards Contest, which recognizes and honors the best marketing and merchandising programs among independent retailers. Judges have determined the finalists in 16 different categories.  To vote and determine the best of show for both Marketing and Merchandising programs,  click here.

    Winners will be announced at the Creative Choice Awards reception at the NGA Show on Monday, February 10, in Las Vegas.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    • McDonald's has announced that it has hired Deborah Wahl, most recently the chief marketing officer at PulteGroup Inc., as its new CMO. She succeeds Neil Golden, who has announced his retirement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: