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    Published on: July 18, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    When I launched MNB, more than 13 years ago, I wrote and talked a lot about the "MNB community." I wasn't being being arrogant, at least not purposefully so. I really believed in the ability of the internet to help foster and nurture community, and I hoped that this would be something that MNB could do … even as I started out with a readership of just a hundred or so people culled from what we used to call a Rolodex.

    Today, I am overwhelmed. With the death of my younger sister from cancer and my reflections about her here on MNB have come so many emails and old-fashioned notes that it is almost impossible for me to absorb. The vast majority have come from people I have never met in person, and who don't know me, save for what they've learned from MNB. Still, they have sent messages that have ranged from the simple ("I'm praying for your sister and your family," and "my condolences") to long messages about hope and love and sharing of pain. I've heard from many people whose lives have been touched by cancer, sometimes through the death of a loved one and sometimes because they are fighting the disease even as they sat at the keyboard. It has been extraordinary. And humbling. And yes, Eye-Opening.

    With good reason, we see and hear and read about a lot of the bad things that the internet can enable. Violent images, extreme passions and ugly discourse that do nothing to raise the level of thought and feeling among our friends and neighbors and fellow citizens. Sometimes, it is enough to foster a level of despair, as if we're circling the drain, unable to break free from the negative currents that envelop us.

    I'm here to tell you that today, at least, I feel no such despair. I feel like I have an abundance of friends - and not just in the Facebook sense. I feel like when a community is created, the members of that community respond when one of their friends is in pain.

    Good feelings matter. Words matter. Community matters. And I am lifted by all of these things, and by you.

    Thank you.

    Now, can I tell you one more favorite story about Debbie? (It is one that I shared when I spoke at her memorial service, but I did not include it when I wrote about her earlier this week.)

    The year was 1974, and I was preparing to go off to Los Angeles to study at Loyola Marymount University. My family was taking me to the airport on a hot, late summer evening … and when I say "family," I mean everybody. For reasons I cannot recall, everybody was going … my parents, my brothers and sisters, even assorted aunts and uncles and my grandmother. It was like I was going off to war, and nobody expected me to return. There were so many people that we had to go in at least two cars.

    Here's what I remember as if it were yesterday. At the airport, only one of the cars got there on time - luckily, the car in which I was riding. The other got stuck in traffic, and I was really worried about leaving for California without saying goodbye to everyone. But Debbie was in the car that I was in, and as we waited at the gate - back in the days when people could actually walk you to the gate - and I paused, Debbie, clearly and without hesitation, looked at me and said, "Kevin, get on the plane."

    When I paused yet again, she repeated: "Kevin, get on the plane."

    I used to think she just wanted to get rid of me, and maybe she did. But I also think that she was clear-eyed about what needed to be done, and unambiguous about expressing it.

    I'm going to miss that.

    Debbie was a great wife, mother, and sister, as well as a great friend and woman. I think that she would appreciate the note that was sent to me by one member of the MNB community, who simply quoted Dr. Seuss:

    "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened!!!"
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    The Christian Science Monitor breaks the news that Amazon Prime members who sign up for the guaranteed two-day shipping program do so to save money, they're actually spending more because they are members - "$538 per year … 68 percent more than the $320 per year that non-Prime respondents said they spend on Amazon," according to one study.

    In fact, the story says, "every perk, every app, and even every piece of Amazon hardware is designed with a singular purpose: to draw you into the Amazon ecosystem, by way of a Prime subscription. Prime subscribers are the heart of Amazon's business model because they're an extremely loyal group of customers … If a Prime customer is going to spend 68% more money at Amazon, then Amazon has every incentive to try and sign up as many Prime customers as possible. Amazon doesn't disclose its Prime subscription numbers, but investment firm Piper Jaffray estimates the Prime population at around 21 to 23 million, according to the Motley Fool. The investment blog posited that the more Prime subscribers Amazon has, the better chance it has of bringing its substantial shipping costs down, and its stock price up."
    KC's View:

    This makes Amazon pretty much like every other retailer, I expect … retailers with frequent shopper programs almost always are going to sell more to people who are members of those programs. They are, by definition, "best customers."

    And Prime is the best kind of frequent shopper program - there is a tangible benefit, and people actually pay to be part of it.

    In fact, I think you could argue that a retailer that is not offering a program that incentivizes best customers to buy more, especially when 21st century technology allows for so much tracing and customization, isn't really taking advantage of the tools that can allow it to differentiate itself.

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    Starbucks chief digital officer Adam Brotman told the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference that the retailer "will soon begin testing a new service that will allow customers to place an order from a mobile device and pick it up in the store," the magazine reports.

    According to the story, "Brotman said that Starbucks will be rolling out the program in a single undisclosed market 'later this year.' Customers must be a member of the company’s loyalty program to use the digital service. Brotman said that the coffee chain must demonstrate that it can create a 'seamless connection' between the digital ordering experience and the in-store pick-up. If all goes well, Starbucks will take the program national. 'If it’s done right, it could power the company to a whole next level,' said Brotman. 'But if it’s not it could hurt the brand. When we feel that it’s great then we’re going to roll it out nationally'."
    KC's View:
    Starbucks, let's remember, is a retailer where the CEO's main job is figuring out how to be relevant in the digital age. And there is no doubt in my mind that they'll figure how to make this both seamless and effective.

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Netflix has stopped shipping DVDs on Saturdays, "a move that could save the company 10% annually on shipping costs."

    The company is not commenting on the change.

    The story notes that "last year the U.S. Postal Service considered ending Saturday mail delivery, leading to a report that said the change could make Netflix more profitable. Ultimately, the USPS backed off its plan to end Saturday deliveries, but Netflix has gone through with it."
    KC's View:
    One of the things that always has distinguished Netflix is how new DVDs seem to show up even before you think they could have received the old one you mailed back. I suppose that this new policy could slow things down and affect customer happiness … but I'm guessing that Netflix probably looked at the numbers and saw that Saturday was a low-shipment day, just because of when people generally watch and return DVDs.

    That said, it always is a little worrisome when companies reduce customer service to save money.

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    A friend of mine sent me an email with a link to a video, sponsored by Always, the sanitary pad brand, that speaks to the issue of how girls view themselves. It is very good, and I immediately showed it to my wife and daughter - both of whom are girls, and who both appreciated the sentiments.

    In my friend's email, he said that he was sending the video to parents of girls. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that the video also ought to seen by boys, and parents of boys. It is about going beyond expectations, about not living within other people's boundaries, and about not settling. And that's a message that certainly transcends gender.

    It's called "Like A Girl." Enjoy it … as both a smart piece of filmmaking and intelligent advertising by a relevant brand.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    Ad Week reports on new brand rankings from research firm YouGov BrandIndex indicating that Amazon remains the nation's best perceived brand, followed by Subway, YouTube, Ford and Netflix.

    Filling out the list are Samsung, Walgreen, Apple, Lowe's and Google.

    The biggest shift in the rankings? Target, last year "No. 7 best-perceived brand among consumers, " dropped all the way down to 21 … a decline no doubt related to the the data breach that put its customers financial data at risk and so far has cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    • The Boston Globe reports that "Market Basket’s co-CEOs, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, wrote a letter to employees Thursday, threatening to fire anybody who walks out on the job in support of ousted leader Arthur T. Demoulas.

    "But employees at the company’s Tewksbury headquarters appear ready to put their jobs on the line."

    The situation just adds to the uncertainty at Demoulas, where two sides of the same family have been arguing over expenses and investments and whether money is best spent on growing the company and rewarding the workforce or on rewarding some members of management.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) have forged an agreement, unthinkable during the early personal computer wars when they were sworn enemies, that is designed "to create simple-to-use business apps and sell iPhones and iPads to Big Blue's corporate customers.

    According to the story, "The deal underscores Apple's push to expand the reach of the iPhone and iPad into the business world—beyond their traditional base among consumers. IBM, meanwhile, is hoping Apple's simplicity and popularity will help stem eight consecutive quarters of year-over-year revenue declines, as it moves more of its business software onto the mobile devices used by employees … The two companies said they hope to use the expertise of IBM's consultants and relationships with corporate customers to create business apps that offer the simplicity - a hallmark of Apple products - of today's consumer apps. The apps will draw on IBM computing services such as security, device management and big-data analytics."

    • The Pioneer Press reports that Supervalu CEO Sam Duncan told shareholders this week that "Supervalu didn't buy Rainbow stores in the Twin Cities because it wanted more supermarkets. It wanted the business of being their supplier."

    According to the story, Duncan said that the transaction was strictly "a wholesale play … That is it. We wanted that business as our wholesale customer."

    And, Duncan added, ""I have no desire to be a big retailer -- none. We are a great wholesaler, that's what we're good at. That's what our focus is going to be for this company, it's the largest part of our organization."

    The story notes that when it comes to retailing, "Supervalu has been there, done that. In 2006, Supervalu made a bold -- and ultimately disastrous -- deal for the Albertson's grocery empire that gave it a coast-to-coast retail presence, but left it with a debtload that nearly sunk the company. In 2013, Supervalu sold off most of its traditional supermarket chains in a bid for survival. Since then, under new ownership and new leadership, things are looking up."

    • The Prairie Star reports that "the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) … is proposing to require that all makers of raw ground beef products keep records in order to further protect consumers by ensuring retailers can trace sources of ground meats … Retail outlets regularly make ground beef by mixing cuts of beef from various sources. This proposal, if finalized, will require them to keep clear records identifying the source, supplier, and names of all materials used in the preparation of raw ground beef products."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    • Loblaw Cos. announced yesterday that Galen Weston, executive chairman of the company, also has been named president, effective immediately. The company said that Vicente Trius, who has been president since August 2011, is returning to Brazil for family reasons.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    …will return next week. I promise.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    I'm going to be in Portland enjoying what I like to think of as my "adjunctivity" (team-teaching a marketing class at Portland State University with the great Prof. Tom Gillpatrick) until August 1 … and it occurs to me that this would be a great time to try and grab a beer or glass of wine with local members of the MNB community.

    I'm thinking Nel Centro, located at 1408 SW 6th Ave, Portland, … on Monday, July 28 … say, from 5:30-7 pm? No need to RSVP…I'll just be there, hanging around outside by the fire pits, looking forward to meeting with anyone who would like to hang with me.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 18, 2014

    Begin Again is a lovely little fairly tale of a movie set against the New York music scene, written and directed by John Carney, who also gave us the highly regarded Once, which also had music at its core and has been adapted into a highly successful Broadway musical. There have been some criticisms that Begin Again is derivative, that it mines some of the same territory as Once - but since I never saw Once, I had no such problem with it.

    The movie focuses on two characters looking for a new start in life, and find it in each other. Mark Ruffalo plays a formerly hotshot music producer whose personal and professional lives are in radical disarray, and Keira Knightley plays a British songwriter who was dumped by her singer boyfriend, played with callow swagger by Adam Levine, as soon as he hit the big time.

    The movie makes New York look great and filled with possibility, has a bunch of sharply etched performance cameos from the likes of Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener and Yaslin Bey, and best of all, has some highly hummable, get-me-the-soundtrack songs. Ruffalo and Knightley keep the whole thing from getting too sentimental by believing whole-heartedly in their characters, and I just generally found the movie to be a pleasant respite from hot summer evenings. Begin Again doesn't forge any new cinematic ground, but it is a nice movie about mostly nice people trying to make their way in a world that isn't always nice.

    I think that's worth something.

    One of the real pleasures of being in Portland in July is the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival, held each summer on the banks of the Willamette River. This year, I've discovered that its going to cost me a bunch of money, because I've begun downloading music from bands I've never heard of - like the Rose City Kings, and Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble. I know absolutely nothing about the blues, but I know that when I listen to them, my feet want to move and my spirit soars.

    Making it even better this year was the fact that while we were sitting back listening to the various acts, I had the opportunity to finish reading "Leavin' Trunk Blues," the second of Ace Atkins' Nick Travers novels. This one, published in 2000, takes New Orleans music historian/detective Travers to Chicago as he tries to solve a murder dating back to 1959, for which a blues singer named Ruby Walker was convicted, though she maintains her innocence. It was great reading the book with the Waterfront Blues Festival providing the soundtrack, and it totally got me in the mood for "The Forsaken," the fourth of Atkins' Quinn Colson novels, which comes out next week.

    That's it for this week. It's been a tough one … but you helped to get me through it.

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

    KC's View: