retail news in context, analysis with attitude

On the broad subject of change, one MNB user wrote:

I get it.  Buggy whip makers hated it when the “horseless carriage” came to be.  So did the railroad . . . stagecoach companies . . . and blacksmiths.  Similarly, medical doctors took a big chunk of the local barber’s business (you know . . . blood-letting) . . . and today Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners are taking over for the traditional family doctor.

Progress always creates a set of winners and a set of losers.  Winners see the opportunity and seize it.  Losers can become winners, if they get with the program. My question is: In the emerging economy, will the vast majority of our population be able to be a winner?

Will there be access to affordable, effective education and training for those who need it? Don't you think it was easier for the buggy whip maker to learn how to bolt on a car part than than it was for later auto line workers to learn how to program a robot?  What about those who simply do not have the ability to learn the skills required?

In this never-ending quest for more-and-more automation (usually focused on lowering costs), how many people will be left behind?  Not because they are lazy or in denial. But, because they truly cannot participate?

Plus, as automation gets more and more sophisticated, every non-human intervention seems to be displacing a larger number of people without creating--or inspiring--associated jobs.  (It takes service departments with plenty of employees to maintain and repair cars--more people than it ever did to fix a buggy whip.) And, so many consumers seem perfectly happy to avoid human contact when they shop, bank, etc.  How is this sustainable?

No, progress is not “evil.”  But, from time to time, we have to acknowledge "just because we can doesn’t always mean we should."  We have to remember that sometimes we can’t pull back from the brink. 

Of course, automation isn’t the equivalent of splitting the atom leading to the most potent weapons of mass destruction.  The ethical questions may not rise to the level of those associated with cloning or genetic engineering.  But, this continual focus on getting (or producing) everything for the lowest possible price and finding more and more ways to take people (read: cost) out of our daily living . . . there will be consequences. Some positive, possibly.  But, in the long run, will they outweigh the negatives?  I'm not so sure.

From another reader:

I don’t doubt the impact of Amazon on brick and mortar stores. I am a prime member and we have wayyy too many boxes in our attic storage as testimony of our usage… But I used to spend thousands annually at Macys and used to love to shop there. I had the high level star rewards card.. It was also my go to place for gifts, for my clothes, bedding, kitchen, gifts, etc.  But over and over during recent years the quality of clothes went into the toilet and I found myself just not going.  I used to go there for kids clothes and baby clothes gifts and after the last three visits I came away empty handed – it was all Chinese, and predominantly skull goth and slutware. FOR LITTLE KIDS!  Really?    I needed two baby presents yesterday. I didn’t even bother to go to Macys this time.  Far cry from my fav store and #1 place to shop. Between the scarce service and the crap they are buying, the perfume assault when you walk in, and dizzying noise, visual and otherwise, I don’t need them. They became irrelevant.   Used to be a great store.Don’t blame Amazon.  Macys did this to themselves.

And another:

I always laugh when people associate “the fear of the future” or “fear of technology” with any form of technology objection.  Personally I fear neither and embrace both. Yet also have the foresight to recognize a future problem currently coming to fruition. Please wake up to the fact that not ALL technology is good and don’t be fearful of people who would want to classify you as fearful for objecting.
Also, use of the buggy whip example is embarrassing. Henry Ford and the industrial revolution created job! Amazon is killing jobs!

Still another MNB user wrote:

Thank you for bringing attention to David Ignatius' article (in the Washington Post, about jobs that are vanishing in the new economy and the business/public policy challenges this creates).

I have been saying for years that 80% of the jobs are going away. There are some people who soften that number to say only 50% of the jobs are going away. Regardless, you are correct in saying that the politicians, at all levels, have their heads in the sand about the implications.

MNB reader Nancy Peterson wrote:

I agree with your POV on change.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we can just ignore technology, ignore global markets, etc.    Ultimately you will be left behind.   However just how a truck driver can learn how to be more relevant is quite the challenge.  I agree with the Washington Post columnist that politicians need to address the real issue, the “automation bomb.”  Of course, in the current political climate, this is simply not going to happen.

One MNB user wrote the other day that failure to recognize that Amazon is a job killer "will only lead to more unemployment, greater need for federal assistance and a further widening of the salary gap between rich, poor and the middle class Amazon is helping to destroy."

Leading one MNB user to comment:

Federal assistance, for what? The government is going to do what? Except maybe job training. The irony is as a manufacturer we are still struggling to hire in both GA and VA. We only manufacture in the United States but struggle to find people willing to work?
And as far as a trade, the supermarket industry is fast losing qualified technicians to work on refrigeration systems, a job with training that can pay six figures and yet the average age is well into the high 40’s and 50’s
Always appreciate MNB, I will stay anonymous on this email but the “Amazon is evil” and the “there are no jobs” drives me crazy.

Another MNB reader wrote:

The idea that e-commerce is a “threat” to retail explains much of the confusion. E-commerce is a fact and evidence of change that has always been a part of retail. Some retailers have made e-commerce a distraction and excuse while others have adapted while never forgetting the main things. When I look at Amazon – I don’t see technology; I see an outstanding customer service provider who always thinks I am right and strives to provide an exciting transaction every day.

MNB user Robert Dyer wrote:

Regarding the focus on e-commerce growth and the need to continue to cover it, I agree with the need to keep future-focused.  Those retailers that are not at least considering the impact to their business need to do so, while weighing the costs and benefits of doing so.  That said, we cannot ignore the many customers that still come into our doors to shop.  Whether they do so because they just like to shop or they do not participate in the internet economy due to heavy mobile and cable internet cost, they are still a large customer base.  I was reminded to this as I passed a regional mall this past Sunday, that was absolutely packed with cars in the parking lot coming into the back-to-school clothes shopping season.  Or, as I walked a Walmart and observed the crowds of parents and children packing the aisles purchasing their school supplies, backpacks, shoes, and apparel.
I think that innovations in in-store merchandising that enable easier shopping, along with focused marketing events, continue to drive incremental sales for those retailers that put their focus on where the customers are.

Our general position here is that a) I am not anti-store, and b) I am pro-relevance.
KC's View: