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: March 17, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Give Albert Gifford an A for English, and an A+ for gumption.

    In the UK, the Daily Mail reports that 15-year-old Gifford recently wrote to Tesco to complain that its own-label orange juice cartons described the juice as being made with the "most tastiest" fruit.

    Which, no matter how good the juice is, happens to be a lousy use of English.

    So he wrote to company management, but apparently did not get a reply until his complaints got an airing in the media. At which point, Tesco wrote back to him to say that it apologized for the lapse and would change the wording on future cartons.

    Gifford is now quoted as saying that he's happy with the response, though a little disappointed that Tesco didn't send along any coupons. "I'm pleased with the result," he said, adding, "I don't think supermarket packaging should be wholly responsible for teaching young people English grammar - but I can't help thinking that 'every little helps'."

    I think this is great - and I wish that more businesses would be called on their misuse of the English language. (I say this as someone who welcomes emails from people who point out my misspellings, and try to correct them as fast as I can.)

    For example, I hate the sign in many stores that says "10 items or less." It ought to be, "10 items or fewer."

    Can we start fixing things like this? Now?
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    The New York Times reports that attorneys general from more than two dozen states "sent letters on Sunday to five of the country’s largest retailers, encouraging them to stop selling tobacco products in stores that also have pharmacies." While the letters did not threaten legal action if the stores do not comply, the story suggests that "if the retailers did not act voluntarily, a push for reform or litigation could be a step down the road.

    The attorneys general are looking for the retailers to follow the lead of CVS, which recently announced that it will stop selling tobacco in its stores, saying that such sales were inconsistent with the role it is carving out as a healthcare provider. The letters were sent to Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, Walgreen and Rite Aid.

    “There is a contradiction in having these dangerous and devastating tobacco products on the shelves of a retail chain that services health care needs,” the letters said.

    The Times writes that "the group of attorneys general, led by Eric T. Schneiderman of New York and Mike DeWine of Ohio, represents 28 states and territories, including New Hampshire, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Utah, Puerto Rico and Guam."
    KC's View:
    Tobacco is a legal product, and I'm not sure that it makes sense to spend a lot of time and energy trying to force these retailers to stop selling it. But I do think that because tobacco is a product that is totally inconsistent with the notion of health, retailers that want to have a legitimate and credible image in this area will have to seriously consider whether they want to be selling it. Not everybody will get out of the category, but some will … and I think they will be the winners in terms of brand equity in the long run.

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    GeekWire reports that ShopRunner, which "offers free two-day shipping across a number of online stores, including GNC, PetSmart, Neiman Marcus, Toys R Us," is responding to Amazon's decision to raise prices for its Prime membership by offering free memberships to new customers who are unhappy with the Amazon move.

    “If anyone feels that Amazon isn’t filling your needs, you are welcome to try ShopRunner,” says Fiona Dias, ShopRunner’s chief strategy officer. “It is our guess that there is a fairly decent chunk of Amazon Prime members who will decide it’s not for them anymore.”

    ShopRunner will ask new customers to prove that they have been Prime users, and are guaranteeing that when the year is up, they will only be charged a $79 annual fee for a ShopRunner membership.
    KC's View:
    Smart move. If they can even pick off a few Prime customers, it'll be worthwhile. But I continue to believe that the vast majority of Amazon shoppers won't be switching or even ending their Amazon memberships, simply because Amazon has become an important part of their lives.

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    Advertising Age has an interview with Mark Addicks, chief marketing officer at general Mills, in which he talks about how traditional mass marketing techniques have given way to digital micro-marketing that is far more targeted and can be far more effective.

    "One of the most exciting things about digital," he says, "is that for the first time you can start to see markets and you can actually get to markets that you never could before because you had to make these choices based on the channels by which you could market, like network TV. The sheer size and scope of those, and the costs, required that you could only market to certain markets: They had to be big. They had to be broad. They had to be able to deliver a certain amount of purchasing power to justify the expense.

    "Now with digital you can really start to get these micro markets in new ways that we never could before."

    That means, for example, being able to market Cheerios not just as heart-healthy, but in a far more targeted way to people with specific health needs and issues, speaking to them in terms of their needs and desires with greater focus.
    KC's View:
    Agreed. Totally. We've been saying this for a long time here on MNB … the businesses that compile actionable information about their shoppers and then actually use it in targeted and effective ways will be the winners in the new economy. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind.

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    Fast Company reports that Adam Fleischman, the man behind the Umami Burger chain, next month will launch his next "culinary adventure, a not-entirely-appealing-sounding fast-casual outlet called ChocoChicken that's set to open its first outpost in L.A."

    Chocolate chicken? Really?

    Fleischman describes the product this way: "It uses chocolate kind of like an umami ingredient to enhance and make the chicken more savory. Rather than make a dessert-mash-up sweet concoction, it's really a savory concoction. It's almost indescribable. It's really the perfect food. You bite into it and it's crazy juicy, not dried out. We have a brining process that we do for a day. The outside is really dark because of the chocolate. It plays with your mind, because you think it's going taste one way, but then you bite into it and you're like, 'Wow, this is so different from what I thought it would be--but really delicious.' It just tastes like happiness."

    The menu also includes, according to the story, "appropriately off-kilter sides like white-chocolate mashed potatoes and bacon biscuits served with sauces that include, a bit worryingly, something dubbed ChocoKetchup."
    KC's View:
    Sounds awful. But also awfully tempting. And next time I'm in LA, I'm going to do my best to try some ChocoChicken. Because I don't think I can resist.

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    The New York Times this morning reports that "Guinness USA has dropped its sponsorship of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York, joining protests of a ban on public expression of gay pride."

    The story notes that the parade's organizers have said that while gay rights groups could march, they could not carry signs or otherwise identify their sexuality or political cause.

    According to the Times, "Guinness’s decision was applauded by gay rights groups that had threatened to boycott its products. The Stonewall Inn, widely regarded as the birthplace of the gay rights movement, canceled plans to cease selling Guinness starting on Monday … With Heineken USA having withdrawn on Friday, Guinness’s decision leaves Ford Motor Company as the parade’s last big sponsor," according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (Glaad).

    Along the same lines, the Times writes, "The Boston Beer Company, which makes Samuel Adams, dropped its sponsorship of Boston’s parade."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    CityWire reports that Walmart opened its "Walmart To Go" convenience store concept quietly over the weekend, describing it as "a hybrid format — part traditional convenience store, part grocery, part quick serve restaurant. Walmart partnered with Bentonville Butcher & Deli, one of the more popular names around in terms of quality meat, to operate a quick serve meat counter in the back of the store. Fresh deli sandwiches or hot barbecue brisket, ribs, smoked chicken and traditional sides were available by the plate or by the pound."

    In addition to selling pizza, sandwiches, smoothies and doughnuts, the store also features a mini grocery that "includes five wide aisles that contain hundreds of packaged foods and non-edible items from breakfast cereals to dog food and diapers."

    The store also "features six gas pumps out front with a covered awning that sports the Walmart sunburst on the underside. One unusual feature is a large awning that connects the pump area to the front door. Ice, Blue Rhino propane and Red Box are all positioned outside the store under awnings. There is a picnic area outdoors to seat those wanting to eat onsite."
    KC's View:
    As I've said here before, the consistent problem that I've seen in many of Walmart's small store efforts is a lack of specificity - they seem to be cobbled together by committee and don't represent any sort of vision of what a small store should be. Maybe that's a problem being solved by Walmart To Go … but I need to be convinced.

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    24/7 Wall St. has a piece about the nine retailers that are closing the most stores in the US, forced to do so in some cases by competition (from both online and bricks-and-mortar stores) and in other by mergers and acquisitions that lead to efficiency-driven closings./

    The nine retailers cited are Abercrombie & Fitch, Barnes & Noble, Aeropostale, JC Penney, Office Depot, RadioShack, Sears Holdings (which includes both Sears and Kmart), Staples, and Toys R Us.
    KC's View:
    I have a bias here, and I want to be upfront about that. But there's only one store in this entire list that I use with any frequency - Staples. But I don't need to use it … there just happens to be one convenient to my office, and so I take advantage of it from time to time. The rest of them could pretty much vanish tomorrow and I'd never miss them.

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    • The Sacramento Business Journal reports that a local start-up called ShoppingScout.com "lets users enter their location and compare prices for common grocery items at local stores," and the creators say that it "can save consumers up to 40 percent on shopping expenses."

    According to the story, "The prices come from in-store auditors and web crawl data, as well as a from a crowdsourcing effort that lets users contribute updates to the website's prices."
    KC's View:
    The argument, which perhaps better could be called wishful thinking, is that manufacturers will love it because they'll be able to track pricing, and retailers will love it because it'll help them understand shopper behavior. But I'm not sure these arguments will fly outside the consumer community.

    Not that it matters. This particular system may be focused on Northern California, but the fact is that these kinds of systems allow shoppers to make price-based decisions all over the country … which ramps up on the pressure to a) be sharp on price (though you never can be lowest on everything), and b) make sure you have differentiated products and services that make price less important, or at least not always the deciding factor. If retailers allow themselves to be forced into a corner by services such as ShoppingScout, then they're playing the other guy's game, and they can't win.

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • Hips don't lie, apparently even about yogurt.

    Advertising Age reports that Shakira has replaced Jamie Lee Curtis as Dannon's Activia spokesperson, as the company trades in an advertising approach that stressed digestive health for one that tries to grow the brand's sex appeal with footage that "shows the pop star in a 'fantasy forest where she is showered with swirls of gold stardust and dances to express how good she feels inside,' according to a description of the ad provided by Dannon."

    The campaign is called "Dare to Feel Good."

    I dare. I dare. Because while I'd never heard of Shakira before "The Voice," now I'd pretty much follow her anywhere. And yes, Mrs. Content Guy knows…


    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Quiznos, the sandwich chain, has "filed for pre-packaged bankruptcy protection on Friday after struggling with high debt and stiff competition for years," saying that such a move could cut its debt by more than $400 million.


    • The Associated Press reports on how the United States and the European Union are negotiating a trade agreement in which the EU "wants to ban the use of names like Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States. The argument is that the American-made cheeses are shadows of the original European varieties and cut into sales and identity of the European cheeses … U.S. dairy producers, cheese makers and food companies are all fighting the idea, which they say would hurt the $4-billion domestic cheese industry and endlessly confuse consumers … Concerned about the possible effect of changing the labels on popular foods, a bipartisan group of 55 senators wrote U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week asking them not to agree to any such proposals by the EU."

    Nice that the Congress can get bipartisan about something…


    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Lands' End is scheduled to be spun off as a separate business by Sears Holdings on April 4. Sears bought Lands' End for $1.9 billion in 2002.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    • Mitch Leigh has passed away at age 86. Leigh is the composer who wrote the music for "Man of La Mancha," which means that he is the guy who came up with the notes for "The Impossible Dream," probably one of the great iconic songs of the American musical theater. But he also wrote the music for another familiar little ditty - as a jingle writer in the advertising business, he wrote the music for a well-known commercial: "Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee."


    • David Brenner has passed away of cancer, at age 78. Brenner was an observational comic who never 'worked blue' but was a longtime fixture on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," appearing more than 150 times while also carving out a long career as a stand-up comedian as well as a mentor to comics such as Steve Martin and Richard Lewis, who described him to the New York Times as "the godfather of hip, observational comedy."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 17, 2014

    Some email about the decision by Amazon to increase its Prime membership from $79 a year to $99…

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Bastards!!!!  Quite frankly I didn’t feel that this was “breaking news”, however it did prompt me to open your email immediately and ultimately go to MNB.  You got me there, KC!  No one likes price increases, however this is minuscule in the grand scheme of things.  For $99 customers are still getting a fantastic value with Prime, especially when you consider that customers get a Netflix-like streaming service (although it’s still not on-par with Netflix in terms of content yet in my opinion) and of course the 2-day shipping (I often get packages the next day since their DC is relatively close) if you order a lot of goods from Amazon, which is an incredible value.  I know that Amazon theoretically “loses” money discounting shipping for Prime users as well, especially since they’ve kept the subscription rate constant for nine years.  I don’t see a lot of Prime users canceling because of the hike.

    From another reader:

    Great idea to suggest that Amazon could have added some sort of continued commitment statement, the announcement of some additional “goodie,” or even a recap of what’s included in a Prime Membership.   But, that’s what always happens when the law department writes the memo.

    From MNB reader Skye Lininger:

    Just really quick about the Amazon Price change. I got an email this morning as well. My membership expires in August but they said I will pay the $79 in August 2014 and that my rate won’t increase until August 2015 to $99. Interesting how they are rolling it out. I will have 8 more months at $79 than you will.
     
    “Your 2014 annual renewal will remain at the original price of $79. On August 18 2015, your membership will renew at $99/year.”Hi Kevin,
     
    This morning I stopped by my local Fred Meyer to buy an electric toothbrush. I found a Phillips Sonicare for $149.99. Just for the heck of it, I opened the Amazon app on my iPhone and scanned the barcode. Available for Prime delivery at $129.99. Since $20 isn’t nothing, I asked the customer service person if they would price match. He checked, came back and said they would price match some items like electronics, only from other local stores (not online), and not in the HBA category. I pointed out that this was an electronic product, even though it was merchandised near the pharmacy; and that Phillips was pretty much an electronics company. He was polite but unpersuaded as he watch me press “Purchase” on my phone. Today is Thursday, my new toothbrush will arrive Saturday. The people at Freddy’s are unfailingly nice and helpful. I’m a big Kroger fan. However, 20 bucks is 20 bucks. Their policy about price matching seems unclear, even to them.

    What are your thoughts?


    I think that you either match or you don't. When retailers try to split hairs, all they end up doing is convincing shoppers that they should split and go somewhere else.

    Besides, your story illustrates just how meaningless the $20 price increase … just the money you saved on a toothbrush paid for it.

    MNB reader Don Goodwin wrote:

    I think one should give some thought to what constitutes breaking news.  While the story is interesting, it surely could have waited until tomorrow morning.  This will be blown up by the media, but a non issue next week.

    Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.

    My feeling was this - that it was a story that I wanted to know about immediately, that I had the capacity to share immediately, and so, I did the breaking news alert.

    Hard to imagine that many folks would find fault with the decision…
    KC's View: