Published on: October 9, 2015
We had a story the other day about antitrust questions being raised about the proposed Staples-Office Depot merger, but I argued that the new competitive environment - Staples and Office Depot compete not just with each other, but also with Walmart, Amazon and countless other venues both physical and vertical - means that regulatory officials have to begin thinking differently.
But MNB reader Celeste Kososki disagreed:What’s really at stake in the Staples/Office Depot merger is the contract side of the equation. So far, to the best of my knowledge, none of the competitors you mention have mega supply contracts with such entities as the federal government or numerous fortune one hundred companies like these two merging entities do. Your list of competitors are applicable to the retail side, not the contract business and that’s where the Herfindahl Index comes into play.
Someone at the FTC finally woke up.
Is there some rule saying that Walmart and/or Amazon cannot try to get those government contracts? Maybe the government would save some money...
On the other hand, one has to wonder if Staples and Office Depot are even being competitive these days. MNB reader Jerome Schindler wrote:Got an email this morning from Staples, offering $10 off my next purchase if I would participate in a survey. I have been a member of the Staples rewards program for over 20 years and get their weekly promotional emails. So I clicked on the link.
The first survey question asked the participant to check the box indicating your age.
I checked the "65 and over box".
Clicking "next" I got a message that essentially said that my age group did not qualify for the survey. No $10 off next purchase for old people.
I have been a very good customer of Staples over the years, even in the seven years after I turned 65. In fact, in addition to some office supplies (and school supplies for my grandchildren), within the last month or so I have purchased a HP laser printer, a top of the line AC1900 wireless internet router, and a 2016 At-A-Glance desk appointment book, all at Staples.
At a minimum they should have exercised some transparency and stated in the email that the survey offer was only valid for persons under the age of 65.
On other subject, Michael Sansolo's column about credit card craziness, MNB reader Mark Heckman wrote:Providing small retailers the choice between expensive technology upgrades or assuming more credit card risk is unacceptable. In my view, those like Inmar that are investing in private label payment systems like Merchant Customer Exchange LLC (MCX) continues to make sense, the more that the big credit card services become increasingly onerous.
And regarding Walmart's layoffs, one MNB user wrote:I believe you are right on target with your assessment that Walmart’s staff reduction is about savings. There is an old but true axiom, “You cannot save yourself into prosperity.”. Unfortunately too many top executives believe cutting staff means savings, ergo, more profit. Not so fast, when you cut staff you cut far more than line entries on the debit side of the ledger, you cut part of yourself off and how valuable that missing part(s) are will definitely show up sooner or later.
I indulged in an anti-vaping rant yesterday, prompting MNB reader Daniel Hogan to write:I smoked from when I was about 16 until I was 22 because I was a teenager and it was “cool”. I started vaping at 22 because obviously smoking is terrible, and my grandmother was in her final days of stage 4 lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking. I started with a higher nicotine level, slowly decreasing to lower levels, and about 6 months ago after 2.5 years of vaping I stopped completely. Vaping worked, and it’s worked for many of my peers.
Unfortunately, it has become appealing to young people, but so is essentially everything else that adults are able to do that juveniles cannot. While there is no long term research available to determine how vaping impacts one’s health, I know how my body felt from cigarettes and from vaping, and I physically felt so much better after the transition. Additionally, I felt even better after quitting vaping. I had a great conversation with my dentist about it when I made the switch, and he was very enthusiastic about the health benefits of vaping vs smoking. The percentage of American’s who smoke is at its lowest rate ever.
CVS has stopped selling tobacco products and focused on helping users quit (as all pharmacies should), and has set the stage for other retailers to do the same (I’m pretty sure it was MNB where I read the news about Price Chopper’s new Market32 stores abstaining from selling cigarettes). I see lots of positives from vaping, because I’m now nicotine free because it exists.
First of all, congratulations. I don't want to minimize the importance of what you did.
That said ... if vaping were being sold only as a way of getting people to stop smoking, I'd be far less critical. But I think that they're being sold as something very different ... and I still find that to be offensive.
Finally, I got the following email from MNB reader Brian Blank:So…Jet and Bed Bath & Beyond….
I love the blue card. I don’t really need home things all that often, but I’m glad BB&B is there when I do. We hoard the blue cards when they come, and I have even taken to keeping a stash in my car “just in case”. So maybe I cherry pick, but also let me put it this way: because of the cards, they will often get my money because I’ll go there for something that may have caught my eye in a Kohl’s or Macy’s ad.
As for Jet, if it weren’t for your coverage, I’d have never heard of them until last week when I received both a direct mail advertisement and an FSI in the Sunday paper. Let me recap that: the company that fancies itself the 21st century disrupter to Amazon, the Original Disrupter, is making themselves known through junk mail and newspaper inserts. I don’t know if that qualifies as “irony” or simply “cluelessness”.
I am firmly loyal to Amazon Prime and can’t really see changing that. (I’d say THAT is the reason Jet dropped the $50 membership buy-in: the customers who might do that, already subscribe to Prime and have no reason to add another paid membership, especially for a service in its infancy with no proven track record of having everything, and at the right price, as Amazon does.