retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story the other day about manufacturer concerns regarding counterfeit products being sold on Amazon, which led MNB reader Alex Jackson to write:

We (Frieda’s) stopped selling our products on Amazon because of this exact reason and Amazon didn’t do anything to help. We had to go to the 3rd party supplier and ask them to stop. They were apologetic, but whether they actually stopped, we don’t know.

Just last week, someone said they recently bought our Dried Chiles on Amazon. Again, we don’t sell on Amazon…

It’s even more disturbing that Amazon doesn’t help the suppliers stop the counterfeiting.

On another subject, MNB reader Brian Blank wrote:

You called out Safeway and Harris Teeter in regards to seeing if their seafood ratings with Greenpeace suffer as a result of their recent acquisitions by Albertson’s and Kroger, respectively.  Be fair…it will also be worth noting (even more so, I think) if Albertson’s and/or Kroger learn from the best practices of Safeway and Harris Teeter, which I would hope they will.

Fair enough.

It was no my intention to suggest that these companies will lower their standards as a result of being acquired. In fact, it is a measure of how smartly acquisitions are done when one can see the degree to which the best policies survive, no matter where they started.

Responding to my coverage of speeches given at the Portland State University/Center for Retail Excellence executive forum last week, one MNB reader wrote:

I noted with interest all of the various people from Proctor & Gamble and Kroger at your conference suggesting that things are different than ever and we need to understand the points of disruption and follow the consumer outside the retail channel and be utilizing data metrics and stay relevant on social media and so forth.

And while I absolutely agree that this is necessary for brands and retailers that want to stay relevant into the future, I have yet to ever see a single example of how this is being executed with any success. The common example that gets a lot of attention is the ability to better target promotional offers to customers by way of coupons, but again, I have yet to see anyone talking about verifiable success. I'm thinking success here would be someone who walks to the podium and states with conviction "We have been test marketing our (big) data-driven promotional strategy at 25 stores in three markets and we've seen a 10% lift over a six months. Boom, we win!" Similarly, brand managers will point to their social media strategies   --  some seemingly more effective than others -- but I've yet to see a best-in-class example that has yielded concrete $$ outcomes that has caused the industry to shift their strategies. As in "THIS IS WHAT WORKS. GOODNIGHT."

I'm not saying that examples of success are easy to achieve. But if we are to believe in the data science behind much of this, where is the scientific evidence of success? Giving away 2x more coupons surely doesn't - on its own -qualify. And It's great for Mile Ellis (for whom I have nothing but utmost respect) to say "We're going to increase disruption and make people really uncomfortable" But where is the scientific evidence that doing so has generated extra $$$?

I think a better way of framing this issue would be to say "Folks have been trying strategies in this area for some time, and many more are pursuing these strategies with ever more zeal. But we've reached the inflection point where talking about this stuff and creating new strategies is no longer enough. If you can't come back to this conference next year with a solid example of how your strategy has shown demonstrable sales increases in controlled case studies, you have lost the game. And furthermore, you will not be asked to speak on this panel."

Maybe the best wake-up call would be an empty panel with an open discussion framed around the proclamation "We are all losing at this game. How can we save our company and our jobs? And how embarrassing would it be to be seen drifting out of the sky attached to a golden parachute?"

That might truly drive home the seriousness of inflection and disruption.

We've had some discussion here about student college loan debt, which prompted one MNB reader to write:

Student loan debt--not only do we get to pay dearly for educational choices, but it's fair to say that I busted my tail to get through school and have a relatively successful career--successful enough that I now can't even deduct from taxes the interest I pay on the student loan debt. I'm not a policy wonk, but this just doesn't sit right with me...I work hard, get an education and based on income, don't get to reap the tax benefits of hard work? Harrumph!

I'm with you.

There's a story in the Times today that says that the colleges with the highest levels of student debt also happen to be the colleges with the highest paid administrators.

Which strikes me as typical. Unsurprising. And profoundly upsetting.
KC's View: