retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader, reacting to our story about how sandwich chain Jimmy John's is asking even low-wage workers to sign non-compete agreements so they can;t work at many other fast food chains after leaving Jimmy John's.

I think your reaction was rather tepid. I would be somewhat more strenuous.

I remember asking, somewhere around 4th grade, what the difference was between a serf, and a peasant.

And I vividly remember my teacher describing how a serf was not allowed to leave their land. If the land was sold the serf went with it. Basically, a peasant had no rights but could always quit. A serf couldn’t even quit and go somewhere else.

Jimmy John's wants to bring a form of serfdom to 21st century America. Really, can we afford to tolerate this sort of nonsense?

I travel and see these places all over. I will never ever patronize them.

I agree. I was kind of tepid in my analysis. For which I apologize.

To be honest, this has been kind of a long-week travel-wise, plus I've had a bad cold … when I wrote MNB several nights this week, it was after mega-doses of Day-Quil and then Ny-Quil. I was a little zoned out … I'm just glad I was cogent.

Responding to statements made by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon this week, one MNB reader wrote:

In reading your piece on Walmart CEO  Doug McMillon's comments to the investing community, I couldn't help but shake my head and laugh out loud.  It seems to me he missed one important point (probably on purpose), and one point he made, made me wonder if he has ever actually been inside a Walmart store.

The point he missed; strolling the aisles looking for that great assortment he mentioned, and seeing gaping holes.  Walmart maintains a theory of great assortment.  In practice, not so much.  Shopping their stores is an exercise in frustration and futility.  And forget about voicing your concerns to WM corporate.  You send them a letter and it apparently goes straight to the deep six file.  No response, no acknowledgement, no concern.  Sadly, this is also the case when you take the time to write to compliment one of their employees.  They never acknowledge it, and never contact the employee.

The point that made me scratch my head: "Re: experience… Experience is about customer service. From our associates in stores to our engineers and data scientists, we’ll invent new ways to surprise and delight customers.”  Really?  He said this with a straight face?  Has he ever stepped foot into one of his stores?  The bar of "experience" is set so low at Walmart I would be surprised and delighted if just once I didn't wait in line 15 minutes to get to a cashier who never makes eye contact and never says a word to me until the order is totaled.

Baby steps, Mr. McMillon, baby steps.

From another reader:

Walmart CEO McMillon’s reference to inventing new ways to “surprise and delight customers” bares no resemblance to the reality in his stores.  But that’s okay, their sales allow them to be creative in describing themselves and their investors are only interested in their return.
Smaller operators, however, who make similar claims about their “experience” should be wary, because in reality it often doesn’t exist any further than in the mind of their CEO and during pre-arranged store visits and orchestrated grand openings where everyone is on their toes and everything is sparkling clean. 
In the end,  the operators who create a real customer experience – morning, noon and night – even when no one is watching --  in-store, online or both--will be the ones who are successful in the minds of customers.

On the subject of HBO's decision to offer its programming online, and not just on cable, one MNB reader wrote:

Count me among those who is ready for the walls to come tumblin' down. Just recently our local cable provider rejected the pricing demands of Viacom and pulled all its channels. Viacom really is not a "power" any more in my opinion and I didn't watch the bulk of their channels.

But, they do have Comedy Central and I no longer have access to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, a real body blow to the soul. And, African-American friends are lamenting the loss of the Black Entertainment Network.

Obviously, we have been discussing "what to do." I think the move to major providers offering an a la carte menu you can stream - particularly through a "smart" TV - might over time send cable companies the way of Blockbuster.

It really is about the customer and I am one customer who finds the current (make that "old") delivery model meeting fewer and fewer of my needs and desires.

And from another reader:

I heard an interesting tidbit about this story on Entertainment Weekly radio this morning.  The HBO Show “Game of Thrones” is the most pirated show in the world.  I would think that a big part of this move is in hopes that a percentage of people currently pirating their shows would pay if it is available in this new format. The decision makes sense on every level and their revenue potential is astounding.  It won’t take long before many others follow their lead as quickly as possible.

And another:

This is HUGE!  We discontinued our  cable service (Time Warner) in July 2013 and haven’t looked back.  We considered getting cable back in March of this year solely because the latest season of “Game of Thrones” was coming back to HBO, however my brother was kind enough to let me use his HBO Go access (he never watches HBO online), which I am able to connect via Apple TV (“Thanks Bro!”).  If HBO Go had been optional as a stand-alone service at the time, we would have gladly paid $14.99 or whatever the cost would have theoretically been for it.  Their original content is outstanding and I frankly believe this is a great move for them to add revenue in a time when more and more cable subscribers are “cutting the cord”.  On the flipside of HBO’s decision, I wonder if the cable companies will retaliate by slowing down bandwidths?!
The only thing I miss is some of the College Football games that are exclusive to ESPN, but other than that, it’s great not draining over $125 a month into a cable bill (more $ for beer!).  Netflix/HBO Go have single-handedly replaced.  The notion that customers will be able to $14.99 (my assumption since that’s what the advertised cost is via Time Warner Cable for HBO) a month directly to HBO for their fantastic programming is another crushing blow to the cable companies. 
I’ve been saying for years that the only way the cable companies can ever make cable TV affordable for the average consumer is to offer a tier system (i.e. Package  A starting at $19.99; choice of 15 non-premium channels and so on and so forth).  The drawback to this rationalization is that many of the lesser-watched channels (i.e. C-SPAN, Lifetime, Oxygen, etc.) would very likely be eliminated altogether, especially if very few subscribers were including these channels into their package choices.  This would be to the subscribers’ advantage and cable’s detriment since many of us never cared for the majority of programming offered.  Just a thought…..

KC's View: