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    Published on: October 3, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    It probably didn't seem like a big deal. It certainly wasn't at the top of anybody's to-do list.

    But it got a lot of attention from customers at Newark Airport's United Club lounges last week when they stopped serving alcohol at the bar there for two days.

    "This wasn't the result of some cost-cutting measure or attempt to rein in drunk, unruly passengers," the Chicago Tribune reports. "It was an administrative error: somebody at the airline never renewed its liquor license."

    The Tribune goes on: "The Chicago-based airline has spent the last year trying to win back once-loyal business travelers who abandoned the airline over frequent delays.

    "It has made progress by improving its on-time performance, unveiling new lounges and business class seats and reaching new labor contracts that are expected to increase employee morale and service.

    "But this week's hiccup — at one of the airline's most important and busiest airports — just shows how many obstacles it still needs to overcome."

    It also shows how important it is to pay attention to even the little stuff. It almost doesn't matter how many planes arrived on time last week, since the item that made the news was the liquor license story.

    Little things matter. You have to pay attention. Because they can be, for better or worse, Eye-Openers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    The New York Times this morning reports that tomorrow, Google is expected to unveil its entry in the artificial intelligence/connected home area.

    According to the story, "The Google Home device, which looks a little like an air freshener, is expected to go on sale later this month. Google Home is powered by what Google calls the Assistant, which uses artificial intelligence to understand what users are saying and respond conversationally with the best answers. Google introduced a messaging app last month that incorporates the Assistant, and the company plans to add the feature to its latest smartphones and tablets."

    The Times points out that the unveiling - and the sale of the Assistant later this month - is designed to provide an answer to Amazon's Alexa-based technology, as provided in its Echo device, which "vaulted" Amazon ahead of Google (and Apple) in this area.

    "Given the newness of the market for artificially intelligent home gadgets, Google has plenty of time to close the gap," the Times writes. "The company believes it can win over consumers with a smarter digital assistant that builds on its stronghold in search and years of research in artificial intelligence."
    KC's View:
    The story goes on to point out that "Amazon says tens of thousands of developers are creating skills for Alexa, more than 3,000 of which have been released so far. And thousands of developers are working to incorporate Alexa’s voice capabilities into their hardware products. Last month, GE Appliances announced an Alexa app that lets people preheat a connected oven with voice commands."

    The connected home will become a reality far faster, I think, than most people would have expected. Customer-facing businesses have to start preparing for this trend now.

    I know this because I asked my Echo, and Alexa told me so. (Just kidding.)

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    Business Insider reports on Costco CFO Richard Galanti's comments during an earnings call last week, when he disputed the notion that Costco is in away way Amazon-proof.

    "We don't buy that for a minute," he said.

    Galanti did not argue with a recent study suggesting that "Amazon's Prime membership program is growing at the expense of traditional warehouse club brands like Costco and Sam's Club."

    "At the end of the day, we will expect that. The internet in general is going to take its percentage of different categories," Galanti said, adding that "our value proposition is best served for us when it's in-store getting members to come in and buying when they can see everything there that we have.

    Business Insider writes that Galanti said that "Costco will continue to focus on improving its in-store experience while slowly expanding its online presence - although he doesn't see the company offering on-demand delivery service, like food deliveries, anytime soon."
    KC's View:
    When I say "mostly reality-based" in the headline, I'm referring to the fact that Galanti is smart enough to realize that Costco is not Amazon-proof. In fact, nobody is Amazon-proof.

    I do think that Costco, while continuing to add value in-store, has to develop its online offering as well. And Galanti seems to completely aware of this.

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal has a piece this morning about Walmart CIO Karenann Terrell, who has as her core responsibility leading the retailer's Walmart Technology group.

    The story notes that "Wal-Mart gets more than half its U.S. revenue from food and groceries, an area that has been slow to shift online. But with overall sales weak - a revenue drop in fiscal 2016 and a lowered forecast for the current year - Wal-Mart plans to restore growth in part by reinventing its online grocery business, allowing customers to place orders online and pick them up in stores."

    As Walmart scales up its click-and collect business to the majority of its stores, Terrell says that "the expectations for the customer are different than for somebody parking their car and walking in and browsing. Making the online-to-store experience easy and seamless when they come to the store, sign in through the kiosk and pick up is critical."

    But, she adds, "We’ve observed that online customers have a very, very high level of satisfaction - above 90% - while for those shopping in the store, it isn’t nearly at that high level. We wanted to dig underneath and find out why. The convenience of online ordering, coupled with the special treatment online customers get when they come in person to pick up their orders, leads to a more satisfying experience."
    KC's View:
    I think it is very interesting that Walmart finds that its online shoppers tend to have a better customer experience than the people who actually go into its stores. That would be alarming to me, if I were working at the still largely store-driven Walmart.

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    The Seattle Times reports that in an effort to make its Prime offerings even more robust, Amazon is adding access to Twitch, described as "the gamer-oriented site it acquired a couple of years ago."

    In a blog posting, Twitch said that "members of Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime membership program would also get special benefits on Twitch, including discounts on games, ad-free video streaming and 'game loot,' such as special videogame characters or even free games."

    This move, the Times writes, "shows how the company is aggressively pursuing younger people, whose shopping habits are still evolving and where Amazon can leave a lasting imprint."
    KC's View:
    The story puts this move into even sharper relief when it says that "this doesn’t sound exciting until the moment you need to decide between going to the store for toilet paper and playing another round of ‘Overwatch'."

    Which is exactly the point.

    I think it matters that most companies, with their online approaches, are simply trying to sell more stuff. Amazon, on the other hand, is trying to develop an ecosystem that has the potential for being far more powerful if it all works and comes together.

    Amazon may be making games available to its best customers ... but in no way is it playing games.

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    Forbes has a story about how mature retail companies such as Walmart, Target and Macy’s are embracing a "think like a startup" mentality, trying to reinvent their cultures so that people will "think different, get out of the box, empower young employees and break some rules."

    This approach has taken various forms. Some have opened technology offices in Silicon Valley so they can absorb some of that psychic energy from the tech community, as well as have access to the kind of innovation and intelligence that comes out of that world. Others are partnering with or investing in startups that can help them over the hump.
    KC's View:
    Very hard to change the culture of an existing business, but clearly that's what some of these customers are thinking. But if they end up corrupting the startup cultures of the companies they are acquiring or in which they are investing ... well, they're going to be disappointed with the results.

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    The Financial Times reports that 60 "large investors" who claim to have lost the equivalent of close to $200 million because of the accounting irregularities that roiled Tesco are expected to file "the first collective lawsuit against the supermarket in the UK."

    Tesco's accounting problems, which also prompted a federal investigation of its practices, were related to the company's systematic understating of costs and overstating of revenue.

    According to the story, "A group of asset managers, hedge funds and pension funds, including UK and international investors, will file the lawsuit in the UK within the next four weeks, according to Bentham Europe, the litigation funder." And, FT writes, "Tesco is likely to face other lawsuits in the UK. Last year, a US law firm, Scott & Scott, set up a vehicle - Tesco Shareholder Claims - to allow UK and European shareholders that want to seek damages to band together and file a joint lawsuit."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    • The Seattle Times reports that "it looks like the mysterious construction going on at the site of a former Chinese restaurant in Ballard might be an project after all.

    "An application filed with the city of Seattle for work at 5100 15th Ave. N.W., the home of Louie’s Cuisine of China until it closed in 2014, describes 'storage racks insulation plans on main floor for Amazon'."

    The filing adds to the speculation that Amazon may be ready to build a small grocery store - or grocery delivery depot - there.

    "The site plan filed with the city, titled 'Project X,' shows a 9,860-square-foot structure with eight parking spots for cars," the Times writes. "It doesn’t seem to be a walk-in store: only 415 square feet are classified under 'retail' in city documents, while most of the rest is storage."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    Interesting piece in the New York Times about how restaurant sales seem to be down because people are returning to the kitchen, an option seen as both less expensive and healthier.

    "Such words strike terror into the heart of the restaurant industry," the Times writes, "which has blamed a crash in food prices that has made groceries cheaper for its woes. Egg prices, for instance, hit a 10-year low this summer, and beef prices are lower than they have been in more than three years."

    Still, it remains "unclear whether these changes add up to a temporary change or the start of a major reversal in where people eat."

    It is worth reading the Times story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    • The Sun Herald reports that "a growing list of national retailers say they will stay closed" on Thanksgiving" and "start their big sales on Black Friday."

    Among the companies saying they'll be closed on Thanksgiving are Nordstrom, Costco, Home Depot, Gamestop, BJ's, Lowe’s, Pier 1 Imports, Petco, PetSmart, and Sam’s Club. The story says that other retailers, such as Kohl’s, Target and Wal-Mart, "are expected to begin announcing their hours in about a week."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    Got a lot of email last week in response to my pieces about having visited all the major league baseball parks, and the business lessons learned from the adventure. Here are just some of them...

    MNB reader John Phillips wrote:

    Took a tour of all of the east coast ball parks last year. I totally agree with your assessment on the new Yankee Stadium. Citi Field was so inviting and inclusive from the food court to the stadium set up. A really great job on their part- they should be proud of that park. The seats are really excellent. I thought Yankee stadium was too exclusive (for the average fan). If you weren’t part of one of their inane clubs you were excluded from much of the good food and the stadium. The interior set up of the stadium was poorly conceived.

    I would have included Dodger stadium with the rest as part of your ranking. To me,Fenway (104 years old) and Wrigley (a younger 102), are completely unique and distinct from a historical perspective and you have a different sensory experience than you do in Dodger Stadium. One other key point is you have to “rough it”  sometimes in Fenway and Wrigley whereas you get pretty consistent weather in LA.

    I look forward to your next bucket list activity (perhaps visiting all of the teams spring training facilities)!

    It isn't exactly bucket list stuff, but I do have two short term goals. I want to go to Alaska because it is the only US state I haven't been to, and I want to go to Antarctica, because it is the only continent I haven't visited.

    MNB reader Ryan Murphy wrote:

    I enjoyed reading your recent post ranking baseball stadiums.  I used to live five blocks from Wrigley Field and am a bit biased myself.  I can relate to your taste in stadiums.

    I moved down to Florida about a decade ago and live in a small town in the Tampa Bay area.  It just so happens that I'm in the epicenter of spring training sites.  I'm about twenty minutes from the Phillies, Blue Jays and Yankees and about an hour from the Tigers (Lakeland, home of Publix) and Pirates (Bradenton).

    This may sound like blasphemy, but I've come to enjoy spring training games more than the regular season (the Maddon-less Rays and Tropicana Field may have something do to with my preference).  Nothing beats being so close to the field and players, seeing young players hustling to make the team, and occasionally getting a glimpse of a retired legend.  And you can't beat the weather.

    If you can find your way to this area in the spring, I'd enjoy the opportunity to take you to a game.  I don't work in the retail industry (I'm in healthcare technology), so I won't be able to talk shop.  I came across you blog after seeing you speak at a conference in Las Vegas years ago and have been a fan for a long time.  Even though I'm not in retail, your blog has lots of lessons apply to any industry, which is why I'm still a reader.  I'd appreciate the opportunity to thank you in person in a venue you'd enjoy.

    In the spirit of your recent post, I've ranked the local spring training stadiums for you.  All of them are great - you really can't go wrong, but I have my preferences:

    5. Yankees - Tampa, FL
    Replica of Yankee Stadium with the gables and all.  NY-style pizza.  It's a larger stadium and there's always a good crowd, as there are lots of local transplants.  Off of a major road near the airport in Tampa.

    4. Phillies - Clearwater, FL
    A relatively newer park with lots of amenities, including a Tiki bar in the outfield if you like that.  Philly cheesesteaks galore.  Much of the outfield has a berm which is a great place to relax.  Always a good crowd here as well - Philly fans travel.  And Larry's restaurant nearby is full of Philly nostalgia.

    3. Pirates - Bradenton, FL*
    Might be the oldest stadium in the area, built in the 1920's in the middle of a neighborhood.  No lights so only day games.  Going there feels like turning back the clock.  The "coziest" of the nearby parks.  However, they did a renovation last year and I haven't been since, but I've heard good things (hence the asterisk).

    2. Tigers - Lakeland, FL
    Many think that the stadium and surrounding "Tiger Town" is the crown jewel of the Grapefruit League.  Stadium is gorgeous stucco and tile.  You can see the practice fields and complex from the stadium, putting the training in spring training.  A large, comfortable outfield berm (I know this because I took a nap for a couple innings out there once).

    1. Blue Jays - Dunedin, FL
    Nestled in the heart of little Dunedin, the stadium is the most intimate of the local spring training venues.  It's small and you are right on top of the action.  You can literally stand right beside players as they warm up in the bullpen.  Does not have large concourses, Tiki bars or other amenities that you find in some of the other parks - but that's part of the charm.  They bring their vendors down from Canada and the most colorful beer vendor I've ever seen works these games (slinging Molson, of course).  What puts this stadium over the top is the location.  Downtown Dunedin is a short walk away with lots of good bars and restaurants in a laid back Florida atmosphere (nearby Dunedin Brewery has some good brews).  It draws a good size crowd, but you can still get a ticket on gameday (unlike Yankees or Philly), and they're all friendly Canadians.  A renovation is being discussed so if you want to see it in it's current state now is the time to come.

    If you're interested, you've got an open invitation.

    You have a deal. We'll touch base early next year.

    By the way, I'm a big fan of spring training. A couple of years ago, I did a piece about one spring training trip that I took that had a lot of meaning ... and you can access it here.

    From MNB reader Jeff Gartner:

    I really like the Great America Ballpark in Cincy (our oldest daughter and her family live there). It's small and intimate like Wrigley, with great sight lines, and you feel closer to the field.

    MNB reader Mary Schroeder wrote:

    I agree with both your first and last ranking, as well as your decision to remove the classics from contention.  I’ve never been to Fenway, but how can you possibly compare anything with Wrigley?

    One thing about the Oakland Coliseum, with BART right next door it’s a challenge on game days getting home to our part of the East Bay from the Financial District.  One day as usual, the train was jammed.  Suddenly the packed car started to quiet and you heard it…a four or five year old was looking out the window at the park with his A’s hat on backwards singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.  We all sat or stood and listened to him.  Many a smile, a little humming, a tear or two and a lousy commute turned into the best one ever.
    My, probably only, one shining memory of the Coliseum for baseball.

    MNB reader Rich Gillmore wrote:

    While I quickly glanced at your rankings of Baseball parks, I of course quickly jumped to the list.  I searched up and down several times and almost began to panic.  “How can he rank stadiums and not give Dodger Stadium a spot?” and “I just lost all respect for this guy” ran through my mind.

    Once I calmed down and actually went back to read the details I couldn’t agree more.  Dodger Stadium is not comparable to the 27 you have ranked.  It is an “experience” just to sit there and witness the tradition and grandeur of this icon.  It won’t be the same without Vin in the box to salute during the 7th inning stretch, but it will always be what baseball is supposed to be.

    I love Dodger Stadium. There's a pic above of Mrs. Content Guy, my son Brian, and me there ... and I'm wearing my treasured Brooklyn Dodgers cap.

    MNB reader Jeff Moore wrote:

    What was it about Petco Park that you ranked it 3rd?  I find that surprising…. Especially being the Cardinal and Baseball fan I am.  Absolutely agree though on AT&T!

    I do think that one of Petco's great advantages is that when the game is over, you walk outside and you are in San Diego. It also is just a beautiful ballpark, with great food ... terrific beer ... and I just love how it is nestled into downtown. And did I mention it is in San Diego?

    MNB reader Jim Swoboda wrote:

    It would be interesting to see your list including the three you omitted, of the best of the old which are no longer here, e.g., Tiger Stadium, Comiskey, etc. ?

    I specifically avoided ranking the oldest three so I wouldn't have to choose. (I'd probably say Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and then Wrigley Field ... but then I'd think about it and reverse myself for various reasons.)

    As for the old stadiums ... I have to say that I probably have the softest spot in my heart for the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I remember going there on a lousy day, walking up to the box office with Bob Hughes, a friend/co-worker, and getting front row seats right behind home plate for next to nothing. I also fondly remember the old municipal Stadium in Cleveland, but mostly because I went to an Indians-Orioles game there that was played as it snowed in April, and there were about 200 of us in the stands - the vendors would come up to us individually to ask if we wanted or needed anything. And Earl Weaver, who was managing the Orioles at the time, kept walking onto the field and looking up in disbelief. I also loved Candlestick Park - I remember going there one weekend for a Sunday doubleheader - I had the flu, I sat in the upper deck, it was a gorgeously sunny and warm day (go figure...that wasn't always the case at Candlestick), and I sat there and healed for 18 innings.

    Ah, memories.

    And finally, from MNB reader Ken Wagar:

    I sure don't share your passion for the game of baseball in spite of growing up during a similar time and spending time at a number of Redlegs games both in old Crosley Field and in Riverfront. I lived in that area and was a fan during the years of the Big Red Machine. But somehow the game lost it's fascination for me. I haven't been to a game in decades and have little interest in the game today. Soooo ... my first reaction to the Vin Scully report and the Baseball Park rankings was sort of a why is Kevin wasting space on this stuff?

    Then I stepped back and thought about things that I am passionate about and experiences with my father that had an incredible impact on my life and the things I like to do and realized that I have been blessed to have a passion for road trips on blue highways, national and state parks, and flora and fauna that is equal to or greater than your passion for baseball and that the moments I most remember and value of my father were while doing such things with him.

    I also realized that these are the things I hold most dear to my heart and are the stories I most often tell to others. I visit, enjoy and rank National and State parks and scenic highways and byways much like you do the ballparks, I have a bucket list of places yet to see and a list of places to which I want to return.

    So I have to apologize for my initial thoughts about your baseball postings and compliment you for your passion with respect to the game and everything to do with the game. I realize it's not about the game or my travels or anything else except for having passion, following that passion, and honoring important memories of family members, and in particular for your passion and mine, time with our fathers.
    I sincerely hope you continue to pursue your passion with regard to baseball and I thank you for your postings regarding the game as it provides insight into who you are as a person.

    Thanks, and no apologies necessary.

    By the way ... Vin Scully went out like a champ yesterday, when he called the final regular game of the season between the Dodgers and Giants. You can see it here.

    Class act, all the way.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2016

    The Major League Baseball postseason is set...with the Boston Red Sox winning the American League East, the Cleveland Indians winning the AL Central and the Texas Rangers winning the AL West. The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays won the AL Wild Card spots, and will play each other on Tuesday for the right to face off against the Rangers.

    In the National League, the Washington Nationals won the NL East, the Chicago Cubs won the NL Central and the Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL West, with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants earning the Wild Card spots. The Mets and Giants will play Wednesday for the dubious honor of playing against the dominant Cubs, while the Dodgers and Nationals will play each other on Friday.

    And, Week Four of National Football League action...

    Colts 27
    Jaguars 30

    Bills 16
    Patriots 0

    Titans 20
    Texans 27

    Lions 14
    Bears 17

    Panthers 33
    Falcons 48

    Seahawks 27
    Jets 17

    Raiders 28
    Ravens 27

    Browns 20
    Redskins 31

    Broncos 27
    Buccaneers 7

    Rams 17
    Cardinals 13

    Cowboys 24
    49ers 17

    Saints 35
    Chargers 34

    Chiefs 14
    Steelers 43
    KC's View: