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    Published on: September 26, 2014

    These days, it seems like Anheuser-Busch is getting more mileage out of dog-themed commercials than those with Clydesdales.

    Such is the case again this week, with this new commercial featuring a man and his yellow lab which simultaneously promotes Budweiser beer and delivers an anti-drunk driving message. It's already had more than 16 million views on YouTube.

    I just think it's good work … and besides, I'm a sucker for a yellow lab. (We have two at home - a purebred named Buffett, and a mixed bred rescue dog named Parker. Names that anyone who has read MNB for any length of time will appreciate.)

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    The Washington Post reports that Macy's is about to "add 4,000 iBeacon devices to its 786 stores across the country. These gadgets use a low-energy Bluetooth signal to send special offers to nearby smartphones that are equipped with the Shopkick app, a popular deals platform that Macy’s has partnered with to deliver its coupons … Macy’s made this investment as part of a broader strategy to attract more millennial-generation shoppers, who have become crucial to boosting the retailer’s business as spending at department stores has dipped well below its 2001 peak."

    The story goes on to say that "while iBeacon technology has been trumpeted as an innovation on the cusp of transforming brick-and-mortar shopping,  few retailers have fully embraced it. Companies such as Lord & Taylor, American Eagle and Duane Reade have tested it in a limited number of shops, but Macy’s appears to be the largest retailer to be integrating the technology into all its stores."
    KC's View:
    If the goal is to deliver more targeted and relevant promotions to shoppers, it seems to me that the iBeacon technology is one of those game-changers that more and more retailers will adopt. It's simple, really … the customer gives you permission to deliver offers and relevant information about products that you actually are looking at. Doesn't get any better than that.

    I think we're going to see more and more companies - in every retail segment - embracing this technology, and the pressure will be ramped up on other companies to either jump on board or figure out how they're going to compete with it. But ignoring this capability will not be an option.

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    The Toronto Star reports that Loblaw there "is preparing to pilot a grocery click-and-collect program, which will allow shoppers to order online and pick up their completed order at stores.

    "The Loblaws at 301 High Tech Rd. in Richmond Hill has been set up with a bright orange click-and-collect area that includes assigned parking. Customers will be able to have the groceries they chose and pay for online, loaded into their vehicles." The story says that a total of three Loblaw stores will be testing the program in the near future, but the company has declined to provide further details.
    KC's View:
    I cannot for the life of me understand why retailers wouldn't be testing concepts like these. There are so many permutations - store pick, warehouse pick, click-and-collect, home delivery - that need to be tested to see what customers find to be most relevant and see what retailers can make work economically. But not exploring these options? That strikes me as putting one's head in the sand.

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    The New York Times reports this morning that the development of drones as a commercial tool continues, as German logistics company DHL is planning a monthlong test of a drone - called a parcelcopter - to "ferry medicine to Juist, a sparsely populated island off the northwestern coast of Germany."

    To be clear, DHL is not seeing this as a program with mass implications. The story says that DHL see the drones as being "used in special situations — in remote locations, for example — where it is more cost-effective to use an unmanned aircraft than to send a delivery van or a bike messenger … The deliveries will take place when alternatives, like the local ferry or aircraft services, are not available. When DHL’s drone, which weighs just under three pounds, lands on the island, one of the company’s couriers will then deliver the packages to local residents, a spokeswoman said."

    That's different from the approach being taken by companies such as Amazon and Google, which believe that there is a much broader potential for the use of drones as delivery vehicles. To this point, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) disagrees with them, banning such uses, which is why they are testing the technology in Canada and Australia.

    Still, the FAA may be becoming a little less intransigent.

    Variety reports that the FAA has said it will allow the use of drones on TV and movie locations, granting a waiver "to six aerial photo and video production companies to use the unmanned aircraft in production. The FAA determined that the drones do not need an FAA certificate of airworthiness based on a finding that they do not a pose a threat to national airspace users or national security."

    According to the story, "The FAA approval comes with restrictions: the unmanned aircraft can be used only in closed sets. A certified pilot must operate the drones, and they will be allowed to got up to 400 feet, within sight lines. Productions must give the FAA notice of their use, so the agency can inform air traffic control in that region."

    Variety noes that while productions filmed outside the US - like Skyfall - have used drones for filming, this is a first for inside the US.
    KC's View:
    It is hard for me to imagine that the FAA won't at some point allow some limited testing of drone delivery services in the US … in some markets and in some cases, it will just make sense. The film production waiver is just the first step in chipping away at traditional ways of doing business, and continued development strikes me as inevitable.

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    Here are some numbers that may well blow you away:

    "The Diffusion Group (TDG) is releasing a white paper today that concludes that Netflix streaming has increased 350% over the last ten quarters, from 2 billion hours at the end of 2011 to 7 billion hours at the end of the second quarter this year. The average streamer watches 46.6 hours of Netflix content monthly, according to Netflix’s own analysis of things -- up from 28.3 hours during Q4 in 2011."

    That report comes from Media Post, which concludes that Netflix has managed to make itself an almost irreplaceable part of the entertainment landscape: "Buying HBO, when cable was newer, was usually presented as an option for film buffs or true television addicts. Subscribing to Netflix is just an ordinary thing, nearly an assumed cost as part of the broadband experience."
    KC's View:
    That's absolutely true. I don't know that I use Netflix's streaming service frequently enough to justify the cost, but I'm always happy to know it's there, just in case I get a craving for some movie, and am doing research for a project and need to see something so I can get the reference right. A lot of people seem to feel the same way.

    And that's the sweet spot for a brand, isn't it?

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    GeekWire reports that "Amazon is opting to fight a lawsuit filed earlier this year that alleges some prices on Amazon Prime-eligible products are inflated to help cover the cost of shipping, even when delivery is supposed to be free.

    "One motion filed by Amazon asks the judge to throw out the lawsuit, and another asks the judge to force the plaintiffs into arbitration."

    The story notes that "Amazon is  accused of encouraging vendors who use Amazon to ship items (referred to as Fulfillment by Amazon or FBA) to mark up their prices to essentially cover shipping charges. In their latest filing, lawyers for the plaintiffs allege that Amazon 'had a wink-and-a-nod understanding with its FBA vendors to increase Prime-eligible product prices by including shipping charges'."
    KC's View:
    I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea what the legal machinations might be. But at some level, I imagine that Amazon simply cannot let these accusations stand. They have to fight, not settle. Because to do otherwise would be to concede that its core value proposition is not everything it has been cracked up to be.

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    The Telegraph has a story in the UK about how the Tesco accounting scandal has brought to the nations' attention how business is done between retailers and manufacturers, and specifically to the practice of slotting allowances.

    "It is not flattering," the story says.

    The Telegraph goes on:

    "Many people’s reaction to the discovery of a £250m black hole in Tesco’s accounts has been astonishment – not just at the chaos engulfing one of Britain’s biggest companies but the fact that a retailer can rely so heavily on income from suppliers.

    "The £250m shortfall in profits for the six months to the end of August was equal to roughly a quarter of Tesco’s expected profits, which turned out to be pure fantasy. In time, we will discover whether this was because of fraud or, as appears more likely, a highly aggressive approach towards suppliers from a desperate management team trying to prop up falling sales.

    "However, for many consumers, the revelation that suppliers pay retailers to hold promotions and place their products on prominent shelves was eye-opening in itself. The assumptions that supermarkets simply pay suppliers for each batch of products delivered have also been destroyed. Tesco and its main suppliers operate through credit accounts, where the supermarket can remove and pay in cash at will.

    "This crisis is an indirect result of the woeful oversight of retailer supply chains in the UK. Perhaps something can be salvaged from this sorry mess: regulation of the relationship between retailers and suppliers needs to improve dramatically."

    In other words, there could be some legislation coming down the pike that could significantly change the balance of power between retailers and manufacturers … and you can read more about it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    Marketing Daily reports that two different surveys are projecting a major sales bounce for Halloween this year, largely because the holiday falls on a Friday.

    According to the story, "The National Retail Federation forecasts spending this year will total $7.4 billion, with a record 67.4% of revelers planning to dress in costume. And a report from the International Council of Shopping Centers is even more upbeat, estimating that spending will come in at $11.3 billion."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    • C&S Wholesale Grocers said yesterday that it has hired Christopher Brown to be its new senior vice president of independent sales. The announcement said that "Brown has spent his career in executive leadership roles in the distribution and supply chain industry, servicing independent retailers and regional chains. Most recently he served as an executive consultant working with national distributors and regional retailers. Prior to that, he spent 11 years with Nash Finch Company, serving as EVP, Procurement/Merchandising and EVP, Food Distribution, before being named President/Chief Operating Officer."

    Reuters reports that Sears Canada CEO Douglas Campbell, described as the "turnaround specialist" who was supposed to revive the business there, is resigning "for personal reasons."

    Campbell joined the company a year ago, and now is expected to leave before the end of the year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    Regarding the move by Walmart to partner in the offering of low-cost checking accounts, one MNB user wrote:

    Interesting article on Walmart’s latest foray with Green Dot into the financial services industry.  While I’m aligned with your concerns over Walmart’s potential to gain a significant foothold in yet another business segment I find myself sympathizing with them on this one.  My sympathy is driven less by any sort of favoritism towards Walmart as it is by an overwhelming desire to see the banking industry challenged by someone that they fear.  Whether its Walmart, or any other non-traditional banking entity, I’m in favor of new ways to provide financial services in a customer-centric way that will disrupt the traditional banking industry.  If for no other reason, it will hopefully force the traditional banking industry to relook at their current model and modify it to meet the needs of their customers.

    MNB user Karen Shunk wrote:

    It seems like Wal-Mart is targeting the under- or un-banked so I think their primary competition will be check cashing joints and payday lenders rather than banks.  I am not a Wal-Mart customer, due in part to where I live (DC), but I think they could really be doing their customers a big service.  I will be very interested to see how this rolls out.

    From MNB user Steven Ritchey:

    I have concerns about Wal-Mart being in the banking business also.   They are too big, too powerful, and too frequently I don’t see any corporate sense of right and wrong.  It seems to be “if it’s good for Wal Mart, it’s right, it doesn’t really matter what it does to anyone else.”  However, like you, I think banks, particularly large, powerful banks need some real competition, it’s just I get the picture of two evil empires fighting each other.

    Also got a lot of responses to my piece yesterday lamenting the discontinuation of Apple's iPod Classic. Among them…

    MNB user Brian Blank:

    Like you, I am also beside myself at the demise of the iPod Classic.  I wasn’t an early adopter of the iPod.  I was intrigued by it, but—at the time—it didn’t really have a place in my life.  Now, I came of age during the reign of the Walkman, so personal portable music is in my blood, but when the iPod was first out, the only time I had to listen to music on the go was in my car, and I had my CDs and mix tapes.  But then one day I was in the Apple Store and happened upon the accessory that changed everything:  the cassette adapter.  It plugged into the headphone jack and had a cassette tape-looking thing at the other end of the cord that fed the audio signal through the tape deck in my VW.  My life was forever changed.  Suddenly, I had this thing smaller than my wallet (which admittedly is very George Costanza-ish) that contained my entire music library and would shuffle it at random.  No more tapes filling up the storage cubbies in my car.  No more planning out which 6 CDs I wanted to have on a road trip.  My next car had Aux input built into the car through a jack in the center console.  My current car has a USB port that links the iPod (the same one, although the screen has some dead spots now) directly to the stereo interface AND powers it so I don’t have to plug it into the cigarette lighter (as we old people still call the power tap in a car).  My iPhone is not an adequate replacement—there isn’t enough storage for my whole library, especially not with having to share with apps and photos and whatnot.   Like you, I can see myself picking up a remaining Classic while I can ‘just in case’.
    Meanwhile, I wonder if “Taps” is available from iTunes…

    From another reader:

    I feel your pain!  When mine broke some years ago, I decided not to fix it, although it was tempting, because some breakaway products shouldn't ever be totally gone.  That's why I keep a number of my old Apple computers on my hardware history shelf in my home office- including some notable breakthroughs like a 512k Mac and an early Lisa.  As a movie fan, I bet you remember that Will Smith still carried an iPod classic on his journey through a dystopian, apocalyptic future on a quest to preserve the written Word.

    Don't get me started on why I keep my classic 1988 Porsche 944 turbo S with 260k miles that I bought new…

    And another:

    Like you, I was very attached to my iPod Classic—until the battery died. At that point, Apple gave me a brand new iPod Classic for the cost of a new battery (about $60 I believe). That was great but, as I became more and more attached to my iPhone, I found the iPod got less and less use. Since my phone is always with me, and all my music is on the phone, there was less reason to also carry the iPod around. I finally stopped doing that and left it in my desk.
    I appreciate your relationship with your iPod and the idea of getting a new backup to have when that one dies. However, the battery in your backup will have a limited life span—hopefully, less than your remaining life span—and you probably won’t be able to replace it at that point. I think that you may want to simply move on.

    And still another:

    Couldn't agree more.   I still use mine and love having all 6000 songs with me at a touch of a button or spin of the wheel.   My guess, Apple is short sighted here giving another company an opening here for a small very potable MP3 type of device that will hold the music history we want at our fingertips, and not our phone.

    One of the things I said yesterday was that I was bereft by the discontinuation, which prompted MNB reader Tom Diefendorf to write:

    I am bereft because "Longmire" has been canceled.  Don’t know if you knew that.

    I did know that. And I agree.

    What really ticks me off is that "Longmire" gets higher ratings than "Mad Men," but it is the wrong people who watch it. In other words, older people.

    Like me.

    When the hell did this happen?
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    In Thursday Night Football action, the New York Giants trounced the Washington Redskins 45-14.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2014

    I guess it was a week for vague disappointments….

    Lee Child is out with his newest Jack Reacher novel, "Personal," and while it shows every bit of the skill and driving storytelling that we've come to expect from him, I would only rate this as a B+ effort.

    I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it was because I could see some of the twist and turns coming from a mile away, which makes me think that maybe it was even more formulaic than usual.

    "Personal" has Reacher tracked down by the US government after a sniper has taken a shot at the president of France; it seems likely that the shooter was someone that Reacher put in prison years ago, and the powers-that-be think that Reacher is just the guy to track him down again. The story takes him from Arkansas to Paris and London, and is filled with the kind of observational tidbits from all those places that make you believe that Child has done his research.

    To be clear, it was a fun and entertaining read, and one of those books I hated to put down because each chapter makes you want to read the next one. (Hard to imagine higher praise than that.) But I walked away wanting more, hoping that Child is going to break some new ground with his enduringly popular protagonist. Maybe next time.

    This Is Where I Leave You is the new black comedy from director Shawn Levy, based on a Jonathan Tropper novel with which I am unfamiliar. And it has an amazing cast - Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Connie Britton, and Timothy Olyphant.

    The problem is that with that kind of cast, the movie should have been way, way better. Not that the cast doesn't do fine work - they're pretty much all excellent, with Bateman, Fey, Britton, Fonda and Olyphant especially doing some subtle, touching acting. But the script is so over the top that it subverts the actors time and again, instead of working with them and allowing their stories to breathe.

    The story is a simple one. A man dies, and his grown children come home for the funeral and, as per his request, sit shiva for one week … which puts them all in the same house with their mom for the first time in decades. They all have their disappointments and have made their compromises, and the movie is designed to throw them all in an emotional blender and see what emerges. But instead of the result being tasty, somehow the flavors don't all work together, and I walked away from This Is Where I Leave You rather disappointed. I don;t want to give away the plot points, but the best I can suggest is that if you want to see it, you wait for this this one to be available for home viewing.

    That's it for this week.

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

    KC's View: