retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Regarding my criticisms of Target earlier this week, MNB user Brian Blank wrote:

So…I’m sensing a theme here:  Target stores in the Northeast have serious issues.  Like your recent experience in Connecticut and your reader’s experience in New Jersey, my local experiences here in central Connecticut have been mediocre for some time and have gotten worse over the past 1-2 years.  Out-of-stocks are at absurd levels, no matter when I’m in the store—worse than Walmart and Stop & Shop, who both have issues as well.  At least once the merchandise I needed was in the back room, but no one bothered putting it out—and it was an item that comprised the lion’s share of an endcap display on the main ‘racetrack’ aisle.  Like others have noted, it is very common to walk into the store and find few or no carts available, and the rack for the hand baskets is almost always empty.  (Insert obvious hell-in-a-hand-basket joke here.)

Compounding these day-to-day operational problems are examples of utterly clueless merchandising and missed opportunities.  When a customer walks into the New Britain, CT store, directly in front of the shopper (just past the empty basket rack and  empty cart corral) is an expanse of shelves that gives the appearance of being empty, even if it isn’t.  Tiny bottles of nail polish are arrayed there amidst massive white space.  It is the opposite of attention-getting—except in a negative way (“This store is empty.  Are they going out of business?”).  As for missed opportunities:  last fall I was in suburban Atlanta for a wedding, and had to run into the Target that was next door to my hotel.  Right inside the door, where the shopper pauses to decide forward for soft-goods or right for home/pharmacy/CPG, there was a prominent alcove merchandised as a ‘boutique’ for local college teams’ merchandise (tees, sweatshirts, etc).  I have never seen an effort like that in a New England (or Midwest, for that matter) Target store.

In fairness, I must point out one problem that Target has addressed (at least in this market—can’t say if this is nationwide):  prices.  A couple of weeks ago, I had the adventure of doing major stock-up trips to both Walmart and Target in the same day, and having gone to Walmart first, I saw that Target had brought quite a few of its prices down to be in line with Walmart’s—and on at least one item was actually undercutting Walmart by $3 and change—on an everyday price, not a promotion.  This was my first trip into a Target since news of the data breach, so I was quite surprised.  Last year, I was seeing such a price differential that I started going to Target ONLY for specific items/brands that aren’t available at Walmart because even with the 5% Target Card discount,  they were still way higher than the same/comparable item at Walmart.

On the subject of GMO labeling, MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

I find politics entertaining…when the Feds try to regulate something…the opposition stands up and shouts…the individual states should deal with the issue not the Feds…or when the states try to regulate an issue…the opposition stands up and shouts…the Feds should regulate this, not the states.  Quite frankly, sometimes I wish neither would do anything, because either’s actions typically mean somehow I’m going to take it in the shorts…

Good Luck at PSU…and I’ll bet a beer that Oregon has a GMO Initiative on the ballot this November…

As Mark Bittman stated, “the goal is to eat healthier and to eat foods that are sustainably grown.”  GMO labeling allows me to choose foods that do not contain herbicides…even though my government, the food industry, food manufacturers, and herbicide manufacturers assure me that eating herbicide is not harmful to my health. Please let that be my choice.

From another reader:

The argument against GMO labeling that food costs will increase is weak.  What was the cost incurred when other labeling requirements were initiated?  I would argue, though I don’t know for a fact, that nutrition labeling increased the cost per household by far more than GMO Labeling is slated to.  Regardless of whether it was more or not, the labeling empowered citizens to take control of their health and make informed choices on which products to purchase.  GMO labeling is no different.

And another:

Not sure where it’s going to end up but seems similar to all the confusion around organics back when they first came out.  I cannot see how each state would impose their own version of GMO labeling that would be an absolute nightmare someone needs to step in.  I think it’s just something as simple as the labeling that alerts consumers of certain items that were packed in an environment that could lead to a trace of peanut in the ingredients which is much more critical since some people have life threatening allergies to peanuts.  Maybe for all the tree huggers it should also say “GMO free but contains soybeans sprayed with 10 times the amount of herbicide than genetically engineered soy beans – enjoy!”

Responding to our story about how FedEx is going to change its pricing in a way that could have a negative impact on e-commerce, one MNB user wrote:

Weight and cube impact shipping costs? Welcome to supply chain. This will be the biggest hit to e-tailers since sales taxes.

And another:

You will hear from people far smarter in logistics than I but this makes sense. Trucks often cube out before they weight out and ignoring the former means lost revenue for Fedex.

And still another:

I understand why Federal Express and UPS want to encourage shipping smaller packages.  When the full space of an airplane or delivery truck are considered, it is more profitable to fit as much as possible into the finite spaces.  The result is going to be that average people will see it as sport to see how much they can cram into smaller boxes.

MNB reader Ken Hayden wrote:

How many packages do you get that have more "filler" than product? I get lots. Big box with lots of crumpled paper or styro peanuts or those bags of air as "filler" to prevent damage. Multiply all those boxes filled with mostly nothing with how many are on FedEx trucks and planes and you have a pretty big bunch of ....useless emptiness taking up space. Space that is increasingly becoming needed for FedEx to remain competitive and efficient. 

Not in every case, but there are many instances where items could be packed into smaller boxes and save much space. Could result in more packages on fewer trucks. A win for everyone even the environmentalists. Fewer trucks could result in fewer drivers so maybe not a win for everyone, but more packages could result in more handlers.

KC's View: