retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Okay, I promised email about let's get to it...

One MNB reader wrote:

Like President Obama admitting a few years ago that he didn’t know how to use an iPod or Hillary Clinton recently revealing that she hadn’t driven a car in decades, Sen. Graham highlighted the fact that persons at the highest level of government and business aren’t like you and me.  What with tightly-packed schedules that take up all their waking hours, large staffs that attend to their every need, and the news media scrutinizing their every word and action, they don’t—and can’t—live normal lives.
Sen. Graham (like Hillary Clinton with her e-mails as Secretary of State) might also have been acting out of an abundance of caution.  Knowing that one false step in an e-mail could end his political career, he may prefer to communicate orally as much as possible and thereby avoid leaving a paper or electronic trail.  As a lawyer, I often wish that my clients would follow that practice.
As an aside, I think you were wrong in calling Sen. Graham a Luddite.  The original Luddites were weavers who destroyed textile machinery they thought was putting them out of work.  So, I think the term should be limited to persons who want to stop the use of new technology (persons opposed to GMOs, perhaps?) and should not be applied to persons like Sen. Graham, who aren’t opposed to new technology, but simply choose not to adopt it themselves.

Fair points. Of course, that means that we end up with politicians who parse their words, edit their thoughts, and couch every movement within a political context that has more to do with getting re-elected than serving their constituencies.

Of course, this is probably why I couldn't get elected dogcatcher.

From another reader:

Remember, hardly anyone under the age of 25 uses email – unless of course they are forced to (such as submitting college papers, etc.)  Most adolescents and young adults communicate strictly via Twitter, Facebook, Instant Messaging, etc. 

Of course, I’m guessing Graham has never even heard of Twitter, Facebook or Instant Messaging – never mind ever used them.

And from another:

Without trying to sound political, isn't the key issue with Sen. Lindsey Graham not writing emails is that he hasn't done anything on which he can actually put his name?  I have the same view about Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, just to be fair.  None of these folks have anything meaningful to say....

This may be true. But on the other hand, he's provided Jon Stewart with fodder. Gotta appreciate that...

One MNB reader the other day compared Graham's anti-email stance as similar to when President George H.W. Bush seemed surprised when he saw a supermarket scanner, which prompted MNB reader Ron Margulis to write:

I have to take issue with that last comment in today’s Your Views on the first President Bush. I was there at the NGA conference when this incident occurred and the NY Times reporter who said the president was amazed by the scanning technology got it only half right. President Bush was impressed with the scanner, but not because he hadn’t seen one before. Rather the NCR scanner on display employed 3-D technology which was brand new at the time. I have seen this issued raised time and time again, and as one of few the people who was actually there (the NY Times reporter wasn’t — the White House allowed only four journalists and the dispatches were pooled), it is annoying to see the truth constantly distorted.

Point taken.

Michael Sansolo had a column the other day that mentioned the lousy reputation that the food industry seems to have among truckers, and the impact that could have on the industry long-term. Which led one MNB user to write:

This was very interesting ... I didn’t know this and found that to be an eye opener. I have a brother who drives a truck and left a construction company to go to work for a large national grocer. He stayed very briefly and quit—said the conditions and the work were not worth the upgrade in pay and benefits! He went back to hauling construction materials.  Thanks for the perspective.

On the subject of the nutritional supplement controversy, MNB reader Bob Norman wrote:

I find myself not only enjoying MNB every workday, but very much agreeing with your point of view about most things. The NY AG / dietary supplement “scandal” is one area in which I find your cynicism to be quite off-putting. I write this knowing very clearly that I am biased towards the industry, since I’ve been working in it for about 20 years and using supplements for twice that long. I know that there are, in fact, manufacturers who truly know what they’re doing, do follow the rules (or go beyond the rules in good ways), and make sure that what is listed on the label is really what’s in the bottle!

Our company has no connection with the four retailers named in that legal action, nor with whoever makes their products. However, my gut has told me from the first morning this news became public that the end result would be that the AG used faulty testing methods and that the manufacturers and retailers would be vindicated. I expect that, in the end, the AG will at least apologize, if not face a lawsuit. It’s certainly true that there are bad apples playing in every industry, including the dietary supplement space, but it seems unlikely that manufacturers of the size that would manufacture for the four large retailers would be cutting such obviously testable corners.

Your piece today about GNC is, I think, the first of several steps that will show that the products were what they claimed to be. Unfortunately, the industry keeps getting nailed by the media much more than it gets praised. So many Americans depend on supplements, along with good diet and exercise, to help them stay healthy longer, and with a very low adverse event record.

Fair enough. First of all, nobody should agree with me all the time ... so I'm glad we found a subject on which we can constructively disagree.

I've said from the beginning that if the NY AG's office is proven to be wrong on this, I will cheerfully apologize for having been wrong.

On another subject, MNB reader Shelley des Islets wrote:

In response to a reader's recollection of a student missing a class due to the time change, and your agreement that automated timepieces remove the excuse, you wrote: 

I think the only things that don't change by themselves are old fashioned wrist watches, microwave ovens, and car clocks.

In addition to our microwave (and HD radio/docking station and coffeemaker), we keep regular, round-faced, battery operated wall clocks in all the public areas of the house.  While it's nice to know the time when we've had a power outage (for above-mentioned electric clocks), the real reason is so that our children will grow up with a solid grasp of a host of colloquialisms that their peers cannot understand:  "a quarter 'til,' 'a quarter after,' 'half-past,' 'ten 'til,' 'clockwise,' 'top of the hour,' etc.  At least the switch from sun position to sundial and clockface left us with 'high noon' still understandable as the high point of the sun's trajectory (except for Daylight Savings time).

When our youngest responded to a question about when we would leave the house to do something, she said, "I want to leave at 47 or 48."  My partner and I blinked, and then laughed to discover we both translated it to 'about a quarter 'til' or 'about ten 'til.'  Our daughter had left out the hour reference, which we would have too, but used those digits because they made sense to her.

We want our kids to understand references in books, culture, (older) movies, instructions, etc. that they will run across.  Digital clocks do not create those references nor provide any understanding of them.  I haven't heard new references emerging--but I imagine I will as the clockface disappears from our daily world.

Just an odd rumination I thought I'd share.  Thanks for the daily fodder!

It's interesting ... all my kids wear watches ... and they all have traditional faces. I have no idea why, but they can tell time the old fashioned way, and they like having wristwatches in addition to their iPhones to tell them the time.

Regarding a study saying that restaurant spending has edged past supermarket spending, MNB reader Brian Todd wanted to put the numbers in perspective:

I don’t dispute people are eating away from home more these days but just to be clear, the numbers Yahoo used showing foodservice sales outpaced grocery stores were seasonally adjusted by the government. The actual numbers, which we prefer to use, show grocery store sales at $50.9 billion and all eating & drinking places at $48.2 billion. Even so, the latter was up a whopping 13% from a year earlier -- the largest such gain since February of 2004. So people are definitely eating out more either way, including Millennials who do so more than other segments.

And according Food Institute analysis of consumer expenditure data from the 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics,   Millennials spent $50.75 weekly for food consumed away-from home, while Baby Boomers spent $47.67 – 6.5% more despite Millennials having overall expenditures 14% below those of Baby Boomer.

MNB the other day took note of a Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) study suggesting that "consumers in the all-important 25 to 45 age group ... are increasingly demonstrating loyalty to the stores they use for household grocery purchases."

I commented:

I wonder if this is actual loyalty to a compelling shopping experience or two ... or if it has more to do with habit, and a preference to do other things with their time than shop.

Again, my default skepticism kicks in. I'd guess the latter ... though it would depend on the part of the country, and the exact stores that seem to be benefitting from this trend.

One MNB reader responded:

I definitely fall into the “camp” of people that would rather do other things with my time as I shop, in the traditional manner, at only two brick-and-mortar stores.  However, what I can’t find at those two outlets, or feel I can get a better value on things I do buy, are increasingly going into my digital shopping experience (which I can do when I have idle time like my daughter’s martial arts lessons) via Amazon and Instacart.  Intuitively, I feel like many in the survey supplement “traditional” shopping with a virtual experience based on a mix of convenience and value.

That would be my sense, as well.

I wrote a piece yesterday about how HBO is looking to compete with Netflix and Amazon in the streaming realm, which reflects an enormous change in how people - especially young people - consume content ... which, I think, will affect how they acquire and consumer pretty much everything.

MNB reader Rich Heiland chimed in:

I agree totally with your piece this morning on cable. However, I disagree with your implication that it's the younger generation alone.

I am 68. I do not plan retiring any time soon, however my wife and I are starting the discipline of living on what we think our retirement income will be annually. One of the things I am looking at is cable, which I now pay $180 a month for. We plan to travel a lot at some point and do I want to pay $180 a month for something I won't watch part of the  year?

I am looking at a basic cable package plus internet service and exploring such things as Netflix, HBO, the new limited satellite package and even my laptop. I can attach my laptop to the smart TV and watch a lot of stuff directly off it (can't zap the commercials but I can live with that) and picture quality is excellent. I figure I can cut that monthly bill by $100 or so at least and still have plenty to view.

I suspect it will be a combo of the younger consumers ditching traditional packages for the reason you note, but also older folks leaving traditional companies with the sandwich in the middle.

Agreed. I'm right there with you. And there was a story in Variety yesterday about how Showtime is moving in the same direction as HBO.

Not very good news for traditional cable companies ... who may see themselves disrupted right out of business, or at least see their virtual monopolies collapse. And the thing is, do you know anyone other than a cable company executive who will shed a tear when this happens?

Not me. And not anyone I know.

We wrote yesterday about a Business Insider story about how Walmart is trying to shut down a parody site called that, in fact, features a picture of a horse in front of a Walmart. That's it. No whiny copy. No insults. Just a picture of a horse. In front of a Walmart.

The story noted that Walmart has sent the site owner, Jeph Jacques, a cease-and-desist order, claiming that the site infringes on its trademarks. Jacques, on the other hand, says that the site is parody, and therefore protected.

I commented:

While I'm sure that there are trademarks to be protected, Walmart should've found a way not to turn this into a bigger story than it was.

In fact, they should have had some fun with it. Like maybe finding Jacques' address and delivering a couple of tons of Sam's Choice oats to his front yard, with a note of best wishes to the horse.

Talk about having the last laugh...

MNB reader Lisa Malmarowski agreed:

Oh man, I wish someone would start a site with a horse and our store. We'd have so much fun with it. Talk about free advertising! Walmart is missing a fun opportunity.

From another reader:

Agree about the horse story, especially since the Walmart in my home town has a buggy stable for the Amish to park their horses while they shop.

On second thought, if Walmart had sent the guy a couple of tons of hay and/or oats, the note should have read as follows:

This is for you. And the horse you rode in on. Love, Walmart.

They're missing a big opportunity here...
KC's View: