retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, I raved about two stories that John Oliver did on Sunday's "Last Week Tonight," on HBO - one about Olive Garden and the other about tone-deaf corporations.

Which prompted one MNB user to write:

I watched the first three episodes before concluding it was the most intellectually dishonest show I'd ever seen. That wouldn't be so bad, if he were just trying to be funny. But, he fails at both comedy and edification. Needless to say, I don't watch any longer. Unfortunately, I now think less of you and MNB for heaping such high praise on such insipidity.

Well, I feel bad about that. Especially because I don't think less of you for having a different opinion than I do.

The thing is, sometimes people think something is "intellectually dishonest" and "insipid" because it is a position different from one that they hold. Sometimes, those people occupy elected office, which explains a lot about our politics. (It is one of the reasons I enjoy my occasional forays into academia … I love the non-judgmental, free exchange of ideas that can take place in a college classroom.)

I'm a little surprised about the "intellectually dishonest" accusation, though, simply because it seems to me that "Last Week Tonight" has tried to look at some issues that one would not normally associate with a comedy show. Net neutrality, for one thing. The high cost of a college education, for another. Or subjects like native advertising (about which I thought he was devastatingly on-target), income inequality, payday loans, corruption at FIFA, and Argentine debt restructuring. On this past show, I must admit, it struck me that Oliver - who is a Brit - delivered a fairly even-handed explanation of the whole Scottish independence vote situation, to which I must admit I was only paying vague attention. I thought I learned something, which was pretty good for 11 pm on a Sunday night. In fact, I almost always learn something when I watch "Last Week Tonight."

But, hey. Just because I hold one opinion doesn't make me right. Though MNB reader Pam Samaniego would agree with me about the program:

We really enjoyed John Oliver when he sat in for John Stewart on the Daily Show last year, and his new show is even better.

The show format allows for more than the obvious one-liner, and we love his insightful commentary on both serious and ridiculous issues.

It’s a must watch in our household.

And this MNB reader would agree specifically about the Olive Garden story:

I have to agree! On a recent trip to visit a college with one of my children, we decided due to time and unfamiliarity with the city to eat at a close to the hotel Olive Garden. The food has always been acceptable in a pinch for us, but this time it was enough to add Olive Garden to the never eat there again list.

All 4 of our meals were lacking for various reasons and no one could eat theirs completely. Olive Garden has definitely cut corners, increasing the amount of breading, reducing the portion inside the breading, and not maintaining quality staff. This was so bad that the waitress got the manager to compensate us for part of the meal. It was the worst meal I ever had at a restaurant without exaggeration.

The only thing that surprises me about this email is why you ate four meals there.

But I guess there are people who think that John Oliver is on-target.

Are we all intellectually dishonest and insipid?

Gosh, I hope not.

Will you think less of me for even posing that question?

I guess I'm willing to take that risk.

Yesterday, MNB reported that Walmart and Best Buy have decided not to accept Apple Pay, the new mobile payment system developed by Apple.

Instead, reported, "both retailers are getting behind a mobile technology group that’s owned by retailers, called the Merchant Customer Exchange. MCX is in turn launching a mobile wallet application called CurrentC coming in 2015, which will only require a software download instead of checkout scanners, and can be used on any iPhone or Android phone already in use, instead of just the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus." And the Washington Post wrote that the decision by Walmart especially sets up "a high-profile race to define how Americans will pay for products in the future."

MNB reader Jeannine Wilkins responded:

In my mind the key is if Apple Pay (or CurrentC) will actually protect users from cyber fraud.  Since retailers don’t appear to be able (or willing to invest the required dollars) to protect their customers from cyber fraud then customers may well seek out other options that can protect them.  I’d need to learn more about CurrentC but off the top of my head I’d trust Apple to come up with a  solution before Walmart, but then I can’t imagine trusting Walmart on any matter which I’ll admit is a personal bias.  This is just my personal opinion but I’ll be doing some research on it and I’m looking forward to hearing what shoppers have to say.

MNB reader Sharese Alston wrote:

You took the words out of my mouth!  As a consumer, I should be able to use Apple Pay AND CurrentC if I want, when I want.  I think all retailers should realize that MOST consumers aren’t going to use ApplePay OR CurrentC.  With all of the hacking and privacy concerns as of late, it will take some time before this is commonplace.  I love technology, and pre-ordered an iPhone 6, but I am still not sure if I will use it. I’m on the fence, but I can tell you I trust Apple’s security and infrastructure much more than Walmart or Best Buy….or any of the others, generally speaking.  And NO, I don’t know why, I just DO!

MNB reader Marcel DeHart wrote:

It’s pretty simple, you limit my choices in how I pay, I will limit my visits to those who don’t.

From another reader:

This whole thing reminds me of the VHS vs. BETA wars that occurred in the late 70’s.  I have no idea who’ll win…


MNB reader Don Skiver wrote:

I’ll be honest with you, I would rather they come up with a universal or standard way to pay.  Reminds me when we had to choose between Beta and VHS.  I just want a safe, inexpensive (free to me), easy way to pay for things.  I don’t want to have to load all my accounts on twenty different platforms . . .  I’m guessing I’m not the only lazy American . . .

MNB reader Gary Loehr chimed in:

It seems that this may be the new battleground between the credit card companies and retailers.  It looks like CurrentC would avoid high transaction fees by cutting out the credit card companies. This area will also test the balance between convenience and security.  In the past security was a given, so convenience was the area of differentiation.  Security is no longer a given.  Will these mobile payment providers start to go to market with a security message?  It could be a compelling market position.

And, from another reader:

I agree with your assessment “retailers probably ought to offer as many payment options as possible”, but do it in a manner that gets them the most coverage and Apple is not a player any more.  Apple is waning in popularity and is almost irrelevant in the Hispanic community.

Walmart has to think globally on the solutions it implements and for a company who used to innovate and lead from the front, it’s becoming irrelevant.  I’m not saying they don’t have a great product nor have a loyal following, they do.  Just saying they were a company known for innovating, creating markets that never existed and being able to consumerize complex technology with intuitive interfaces has now become a “me too” company with no face (i.e. Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Larry Page, etc). They’re slow to change and have no vision.

Check out the NFC technology that is vendor agnostic and can be incorporated into the hardware which is the same technology used in credit cards.

I'm not sure I completely buy the "Apple is not a player anymore." I'm a little skeptical about the whole Apple Watch thing, but the fact that the iPhone 6 models sold out even before they were in stores suggests that maybe there's some life in the old Apple yet.

I was intrigued by the assertion that Apple is almost irrelevant to the Hispanic community, so I went to a Fox News story referenced by this reader, and saw that it reported the following…

For one thing, the story says that "in Latin America, 80 percent of Mexicans, 86 percent of Argentinians, and 90 percent of Brazilians use Android cellphones."

Okay, that sounds persuasive. Of course, adding to Apple's problems there are the import tariffs, which make its product line very expensive, and in Argentina, the story says, "the government has all but banned the iPhone, making it clear to mobile companies that they can’t sell their products in the country unless they are made in Argentina." So maybe the problem isn't entirely one of Apple being irrelevant to Hispanics.

Furthermore, Fox News writes, "in the United States, where there’s Apple Store galore, Latinos aren’t buying into Apple, either, even though as a whole they use smartphones and tablets more than anyone else. According to Experian Marketing Services, among Hispanics 53 percent of adults use Android and 34 percent have an iPhone – a bigger divide than among non-Hispanic adults (48 percent Android vs 38 percent iPhone)."

So that's 24 percent of Hispanics using iPhones and 38 percent of non-Hispanics.

Sounds like a difference to me … though not exactly the stuff of irrelevance. And since, if I recall correctly, Apple current has a market capitalization that is higher than Walmart and GE combined, I'm not sure it is entirely fair to say that Apple is "waning in popularity," even if these are not the halcyon Steve Jobs days.

That said, I'll stick with my original observation, which you actually agreed with - that “retailers probably ought to offer as many payment options as possible."
KC's View: