retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I wrote last week that it is hard to imagine that Amazon could ever be broken up for antitrust reasons, as is being suggested by a group of authors upset with the power that the e-tailer has in the publishing business. But MNB user Leo Martineau responded:

Nobody ever thought that Bell Telephone could be broken up but we witnessed the birth of the baby Bells, so anything is possible.

Responding to last week's piece about Netflix pressured to provide the same family leave benefits to warehouse workers as it is offering office and tech employees, one MNB user wrote:

I was trained many years ago as it related to HR- “that you cannot do for one what you cannot do for all”.  Certainly compensation and incentives may vary with experience and expertise, but as in this case you are destined to alienate a segment of the workforce when you designate a privileged class.

On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

I saw your article regarding your son’s work requiring him to be on-call.

When I was in college (1986-1990) I worked my junior and senior year at a women’s clothing store called Fashion Gal.  I worked mostly nights and weekends—probably 20 hours a week total.  We would have usually 1-3 days where we would be on call and have to call in an hour before the on call shift.  I hated it as it was impossible to make any other plans for the evening until you called in at 5pm to see if you needed to be there at 6pm.  I’m surprised this practice still exists.

On a completely different, and selfish note, I noticed you referenced your son getting into sports broadcasting.  My son is 14 and obsessed with the NFL.  He thinks he wants to be a sports broadcaster someday.  Any words of wisdom such as classes to focus on, jobs/internships to go after when he’s older, degrees to pursue, extracurricular activities?  Any feedback would be very appreciated!

I have three words of wisdom:

Internships. Internships. Internships.

Make sure your kid goes to a college where the communications department has an aggressive approach to internships with local media outlets, including a post-graduation placement program. It is the single most important thing he can do ... and it is an area that many colleges are incredibly lax about. (This doesn't just go for sports broadcasting, by the way ... it goes for every field of endeavor.)

From another reader, about the same on-call practice:

I have a great job at nowhere near a minimum wage, so I am lucky, but fair is fair.  Knowing about that labor practice also puts that company on my “Cold Day in Hell” list.  And any other I so hear about.  Well, put, Kevin, just cause you can, doesn’t mean you should.  What happened to social responsibility?   Did they selectively define that?  I googled just to see what kind of social hype American Eagle has about their homage paid to social responsibility. They devote a lot of lip service to community and the like in their AEO Better World.

AEO, that better world and your contribution to it starts at home, folks.  Take note or wither.

From another reader:

I don’t understand having employees “be on call” in retail (for emergency services, sure, but not retail).  In a former life, I spent 15 years working in fast food.  I never worked anywhere that required being on call.  What was required was that management pay attention to trends, times, and business patterns.  You wrote a schedule based on your best estimate of how many employees you would need for certain days and times of day.  You forecasted.

Was your forecast 100% accurate?  Heck no.  If you scheduled too many people and business was a bit slower than expected, you usually had a volunteer or two who were willing to leave early.  Or, you’d have them do some extra cleaning – do a detailed clean on the restrooms for example.  If you didn’t have enough people, the manager would have to come out of the office and work the front line with everyone else.  Everyone would have to hustle just a bit faster.  On rare occasion, you’d get on the phone and see if an off-duty employee was available to come in and help.  But they weren’t sitting at home waiting for a phone call.

So, how well does American Eagle know their customers and their shopping patterns?  Is it possible that today’s consumers are that unpredictable?  Or is “on call” just an easy way to write a schedule?

Lazy management, I think, is the culprit.

And from yet another reader:

I had heard about the practice of employees being on call without any sort of compensation for doing so.  No surprise that when you treat your employees like dirt they are going to return the favor by not showing up consistently - thus the need for on call back ups.  I worked similar retail jobs while I was in college and if I was unexpectedly called in, I most likely would have been boozed up.  That would have solved that problem quickly.

On another subject, from another reader:

I laugh when I see the non-GMO seal on olive oil and blueberries since neither have ever been GMO.  It’s an interesting ethical issue.  We don’t want to  make people think that GMOs are unsafe, and yet consumers are confused and assume that the seedless watermelon or the purple carrot must be GMO (they are not!)  Perhaps we should take a cue from nutrition claims.  Over twenty years ago regulators were concerned about proliferating “Fat Free” claims on foods that never had fat.  Think of a “fat free” sticker on a branded banana.  Instead, the brand can say something like:  “This banana, like all bananas, is a fat free food”.  Clunky, but gets the message across and would reduce the tendency for marketers to plaster “non-GMO” on foods that could not possibly be GMO.

MNB reader Ken Wagar chimed in:

Probably no way around it today but it is giving in to often non science based paranoia. Gluten Free, GMO free, Fat Free, Sugar free, No artificial ingredients, soy free, tree nut free, peanut free, dairy free, soy free, pesticide free, low sodium, no added sugar, natural, organic, free range, gestation pens not used, eggs from cage free buildings, no listeria as far as we know, cook to internal temp of 165, no artificial colors or flavors…….soon the label will have no space for anything else. That's a lot to put on a label for an apple or a banana and a million other items.

I hope they leave an aisle or section in the store for "food that tastes great."

And another:

One of the watch-outs in labeling requirements from past experience is the tendency for companies to simply label items in a way that ensures they are covered from a legal standpoint.  As a result, the consumer often does not have better information.  For example, it is likely that companies will label GMO products with something like “May Contain GMOs” just to be sure they are always in compliance.  The companies will do this to legally cover themselves when it is impossible to prevent with 100% assurance that no GMOs reach the processed products.  To do it any other way will open them up to massive lawsuits should something go wrong sometime in the future.  In labeling requirements, unintended consequences tend to be the rule.

And another:

Strangely enough (or maybe not) products labeled No GMOs that do not have a GMO counterpart could get the FDA to act. As you point out “gluten-free” claims appear on items that do not inherently have gluten such as vegetables. Those “gluten free” labels should also in smaller print have a statement that says something like no tomatoes contain gluten. I could see the FDA saying you can label No GMO’s but if no carrots are genetically modified than you also must state that no GMO carrots exist.
KC's View: