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    Published on: May 11, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    As I write this, I'm eyeing the suitcase at my feet that I've packed for the week-long trip on which I am about to embark. Of course, it wasn't just a matter of packing it. I had to drop off and pick up my shirts from the laundry. Wash my jeans and assorted other objects. Pick out a blazer and a couple of sweaters, since it is supposed to be chilly where I'm going. And make sure I have enough for six days.

    And I have it easy ... since I pretty much wear the same thing every day when I'm on the road - jeans, dress shirt, blazer. It doesn't matter what I'm doing ... the uniform is the same, and the colors don't vary wildly. Mostly, that's because I'm all about low maintenance when it comes to this kind of stuff.

    Well, now there's an app that apparently will let me reduce even the modest amount of work that I do when packing for trips. And let other people, for whom packing is much more complicated, avoid a lot of the anxiety that goes with it.

    Tech Crunch reports that this app, called Dufl, is set up so that the frequent traveler "never has to pack a bag or clean their travel clothes ever again."

    Here’s how it works, according to the story:

    "An interested user downloads the Dufl app and signs up. Soon after, a Dufl-branded suitcase will appear at that user’s door, ready and waiting to be filled with the clothes that the user most commonly travels in. Dufl then picks up the bag through its partner FedEx, takes inventory of all the clothes in your suitcase and takes professional photographs, and repacks the bag with the precision of a Four Seasons housekeeper.

    "Now that the virtual closet is set up, users have the option to book a trip. They simply tell Dufl where they’re going, which hotel they’re staying at, and virtually pack through the app, choosing the clothes they’d like to have with them on this trip. Dufl ensures that the user’s suitcase beats him or her to the hotel, and when the trip is over, Dufl has FedEx pick up the used luggage and take it back to Dufl’s central storage location.

    "Dufl washes or dry cleans the clothes, puts them back in your virtual closet, and you arrive home with no laundry to do or even a bag to drag along behind you. Storage in the virtual closet costs users $10/month, and each trip costs a flat fee of $100, which includes shipping to and from your destination, as well as cleaning and folding the clothes."

    Now, one would have to have a lot of faith and/or confidence in Dufl in order to take that first trip without a bag ... since it would be a little tough to show up at that first hotel and find out that you don't have any clean underwear. But I think this is an interesting idea ... though I must confess that it is hard to imagine the company making enough money at it to make the business model sustainable.

    That said, I've signed up, and await the email giving me more information about testing a system that is designed to help me solve a problem that I didn't really know I had.

    I'm skeptical ... but I'd love to have my Eyes Opened.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2015

    Reuters reports that Ahold and Delhaize, two European supermarket companies with major presences in the eastern US, "have begun discussions at the highest level on a possible merger."

    The two companies have not commented on the report.

    The story notes that "Ahold has a market capitalization of 15.5 billion euros ($17.36 billion), double that of Delhaize with 7.53 billion euros."

    And MarketWatch reports that "a combination would create one of Europe's largest food retailers with around 54 billion euros ($60.6 billion) in annual sales. It would also create a strong player along the U.S. East Coast, where both companies generate about 60% of their total revenue."
    KC's View:
    Not the first time that this has been rumored, but some of the coverage over in Europe suggests that this could be different, that management from the two companies are more likely to make it work this time around.

    I suspect that here in the US, at least, it will create some queasy feelings at the various offices of the two companies, as people worry about who will be left without a place to sit down if the inevitable game of musical chairs takes place in the event of a merger. There's probably some geographic conflicts, but not so many that it would make a tie-up unworkable ... and , as one MNB reader suggested to me in an email yesterday, in a lot of ways they are all the same store, going after the same kinds of customers.

    I also have to wonder if the mere willingness to talk about a merger suggests that both companies might to be open to selling off some or all of their US holdings to another entity, if it would be more profitable to do so. This could be just the opening salvo in a far more complicated scenario, at least here in the US.

    Published on: May 11, 2015

    In Ohio, the Journal-News has a story in which the reporter tested Kroger's online shopping service, and found both good and bad.

    The good: the reporter saved an estimated $40, not because of low prices but because the shopper managed to avoid impulse purchases such as ice cream and was much more specific about what he wanted to buy. And, he writes, "The experience was super convenient. That’s obviously the main draw of this service. I didn’t spend an hour of my life in a grocery store. I didn’t spend time fighting for a parking spot in the crowded lot. I didn’t have to track down an associate to ask when the spaghetti squash would be re-stocked or wondering if I overlooked the aisle with the pizza sauce. I selected an hour time slot to pick up my groceries Monday from the Liberty Twp. location, and when I arrived the groceries were loaded up in my trunk then I was on my way home about five minutes later."

    There were negatives, such as the inability to pick one's own fresh foods. "I wasn’t able to order blueberries, living lettuce or the type of pineapple I normally purchase," he writes. "A few other dry items, too, seemed unavailable. I asked Kroger about this and they told me they’re actively seeking feedback on improvements they can make to the system before rolling it out.

    "Some things were still out of stock. It would be great if Kroger could alert you before you arrive to pick up your groceries what you’re not going to get so you could chose a replacement ahead of time. The website does give you an option to allow the employees to automatically replace out-of-stock items with a similar product, but I declined."

    To be fair, the story notes, "The location is the first of Kroger’s 2,640 supermarkets to test online ordering." But a rollout is planned.
    KC's View:
    It has been more than nine months since MNB exclusively reported that Kroger was testing an early iteration of an e-grocery site that it could roll out to its various banners. And while top management there has been a little skeptical about the channel, it also seems to have realized - correctly, I believe - that it was not something that could be ignored, especially as both Amazon and Walmart position themselves to do e-battle in the segment.

    Nothing the reporter says seems like a deal killer ... and I think that Kroger will continue doing what it does so well - working out the kinks and testing new iterations as it gets ready to make a splash in the e-grocery space.

    Published on: May 11, 2015

    Reuters reports that "a federal judge has rejected a bid from a group of banks and credit unions suing Target Corp over its 2013 data breach to block the company's proposed $19 million settlement with MasterCard Inc."

    The plaintiffs in this case were arguing that the settlement is a "sweetheart deal" designed to limit their ability to make related claims. The judge said that while the settlement did not seem "altogether fair or reasonable," it did not seem to represent "serious misconduct" and so he could not interfere.

    The Wall Street Journal writes that "Target’s data breach in late 2013 compromised 40 million credit- and debit-card accounts. A group of small banks and credit unions had asked the court to allow them to pursue additional compensation for losses that they incurred as a result of the breach. The $19 million settlement, announced last month, includes a traditional provision that prohibits banks that participate in the pact to seek other reimbursement claims. Small banks were hoping to block part of the deal in an effort to remove that provision."

    The Reuters story says that "under the proposed agreement, announced in March, MasterCard-issuing banks have until May 20 to accept a percentage of the money from MasterCard. If they accept the deal, they must drop further claims against Target as part of the settlement. Banks that reject the deal would continue to pursue their own allegations against Target. Lawyers for the banks have estimated the total losses at more than $160 million, with approximately half for fraud and half for the cost of reissuing nearly nine million credit cards."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2015

    The monthly consumer sentiment index developed by the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters was 95.9 during April, which was the second highest level since 2007. The report says that the April number was up 3.1percent from March 2015, and up 14 percent from the same month a year ago.

    However, the MarketRealist website points out that this reading was contrary to the Conference Board's April consumer confidence index, which was 95.2, down from 101.4 the previous month.

    The story says that the University of Michigan/Thomson Reuters numbers point to the possibility of "higher spending on discretionary items like apparel and accessories, footwear, and home furnishings," while the Conference Board numbers suggest the likelihood of mediocre short-term financial performance.
    KC's View:
    So much for definitive studies.

    Reminds me of a joke.

    There's a shepherd out in the countryside with an enormous flock of sheep. He's standing by the side of the road, when a car comes along. Guy gets out, looks at the sheep and turns to the shepherd.

    "I'll make you a bet that I can tell you the exact number of sheep in your flock. If I can't, I'll give you $100. If I do, you give me a sheep."

    The shepherd agrees, the guy looks out over the flock, and in about 10 seconds he says, "749."

    Well, the shepherd is astonished. "That's exactly the number!" And he tells the guy to pick out any sheep he wants.

    The guy does so, and as he's walking back to his car, the shepherd says, "Hey, I'll bet you double or nothing that I can tell you exactly what you do for a living." The guy agrees, and the shepherd says, "You're an economist with the federal government."

    Well, now it is the guy's turn to be astonished. "That's exactly right! How did you know?"

    And the shepherd says, "Put down my dog and I'll tell you."

    Published on: May 11, 2015

    Interesting piece about food consumption in the Washington Post, posing a question about how public thinking on food gets shaped.

    "Every year, researchers publish hundreds of academic studies about the health effects of various foods - chocolate, kale, red wine, anything. Those studies, in turn, become fodder for  newspaper articles, books and blog posts.

    "But how much of this torrent of information is worth the trouble? Surprising little, according to a number of key researchers.

    "In recent years, these skeptics have caused a stir by poking big holes in the nutritional science behind popular diet advice. Even the findings published in distinguished health journals have come under fire.

    "Collectively, their work suggests that we know far less than we think we do about what to eat."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:
    One of the observations made in the piece is that "all scientific knowledge is provisional," and that as we learn, we adjust our conclusions.

    That can be frustrating when it comes to nutrition and diet, because it seems like the scientific conclusions are changing almost daily. But it also seems to me that some of this is not brain surgery ... that it is not hard to know how to eat intelligently, even if it often feels hard to do so. At the same time, speaking only for myself, it also seems important to eat for pleasure, not just sustenance.

    Which may be what the scientists recommend, but not what I'm willing to do.

    Published on: May 11, 2015

    Reuters reports that "revenue from shipping and package delivery services helped prop up the United States Postal Service's finances in the second fiscal quarter of 2015, but the agency continued to lose money as mail volumes tumbled."

    According to the story, the USPS lost $1.5 billion in Q2, which was an improvement over the same quarter a year ago, when it lost $1.9 billion. But, without a retiree health benefit pre-funding mandated by the US Congress, the USPS says that it would have lost just $44 million in the second quarter.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2015

    • In Canada, the Financial Post reports that at Loblaw, "health and nutrition is becoming an increasing focus for the food purveyor, which will soon begin to 'reward' members of its PC Plus program for eating healthy food."

    Meanwhile, at the Shoppers Drug Mart chain that Loblaw acquired a year ago, the loyalty program "is going digital and will begin to resemble PC Plus by sending targeted offers to customers based on the goods they typically buy."

    The broad goal for the two chains is to place a greater emphasis on both fresh foods and health, and to draw a direct, thick line between the two, believing that this is where the customer wants them to be.

    • The New York Times reports that Monsanto has made a $45 billion bid to acquire agricultural chemical giant Syngenta, which the company rejected as inadequate ... The deal would create an agricultural behemoth, combining Monsanto, the world leader in seeds and genetically engineered traits (like herbicide resistance), with Syngenta, the largest producer of agricultural chemicals."

    According to the Times, Monsanto "appears to be trying to get back into a business it largely abandoned. That is a possible acknowledgment, some analysts say, that the biotech seeds might not be the engine to carry the company forward much longer."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2015

    ...will return.
    KC's View: