retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    Tomorrow, Saturday, is the 15th anniversary of the first day I wrote MorningNewsBeat. (Yes, I know, I wrote that I was coming up on MNB's 16th birthday the other day. I got confused.)

    To put that into context, it is just half as long as Johnny Carson was host of "The Tonight Show," and five times as long as the original run of the very first 'Star Trek" TV series.

    Longest job I've ever had. Best job I've ever had. (My boss is a pain, but sometimes one has to look past that stuff.)

    I'm not big on numbers, but there are certain metrics that I'm fond of, like the idea that MNB has posted something like 14 million words, and a minimum of 36,000 different stories over the years ... and that we now have a subscription base of more than 35,000.

    That's pretty cool.

    Thank you for your loyalty and time and willingness to pay attention each day and respond with the thousands of emails that I get each year. (I'm guessing on the scale of roughly 50,000 over the past 15 years.) If you didn't keep reading, I wouldn't get to keep writing. And you've even stuck with me when occasionally I've gone too far ... by providing the light by which I find my way back.

    And, thanks to the great sponsors who have supported MNB through the years. love doing this, but not enough to do it for free ... and the MNB sponsors enable me to pay the mortgage and occasionally indulge in a decent bottle of wine. To them I say, "Cheers!"

    I'm not necessarily shooting for Johnny Carson's record, but I am thinking I'd like to do this for another 10 years or so ... which would get MNB to 25 and me to 72.

    At least.

    Because, as I often say, I cannot imagine giving this up ... because for me at least, MNB, almost every day, has been an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    Marketing analysis company Cassandra is out with a study saying that teens and Millennials "will not be lining up at 5am on Black Friday to score the biggest deals of the year. They’ve been shopping for the holidays all year and are significantly less motivated by doorbuster deals than generations before them."

    Indeed, the company says that while younger generations are willing to "get out from behind their screens," there are a number of approaches that will factor into whether specific stores are chosen by teens and Millennials.

    Cassandra says that younger shoppers are looking for stores that "integrate digital within the physical space," that "create design-focused destinations," and "provide a sense of home."

    Retailers that rely on "old standby" approaches, the company says, "need to rethink their marketing plan."
    KC's View:
    Not new news, but certainly worthy of repeating. Young people aren't anti-store, but they want stores that are relevant, resonant and compelling. If retailers think they can come to market with the same-old formulas, they are sadly mistaken, and likely doomed to obsolescence.

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    Amazon announced this morning that it is offering Prime members the ability to access special holiday deals by using its Echo/Alexa system.

    The process is simple. Prime members with the system say, "Alexa, what are today's deals?" Alexa says what they are, and asks if you want to buy them. If you say yes, the order is placed.

    According to the announcement, "First ever voice shopping weekend includes deals like Amazon Tap for $79.99, a 32-inch Samsung 1080p LED TV for $119 and $15 off a Philips Hue LED starter kit that works with Alexa. Exclusive Alexa deals start today through Monday -- customers who purchase an Alexa deal at $10 or more in value between now and Cyber Monday will also receive a bonus $5 Amazon gift card."
    KC's View:
    I tried it this morning, and it worked perfectly. The products I ordered will be delivered on Sunday. Who could ask for anything more?

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    The New York Times reports that McDonald's has "announced changes that could reshape the diner’s experience, saying that it would expand its digital self-serve ordering stations and table service to all of its 14,000 American restaurants.

    "The company said once people order at one of the stations — sleek, vertical touchscreens — they will get a digital location device and can take a seat. When their burgers and fries are ready, the technology will guide a server to the table to deliver the food with a big smile and a thank you."

    The Times goes on to say that "customers will still be able to order food the old-fashioned way, at the counter. But the move to self-order systems and table service is one way to address one of the biggest problems the company’s restaurants have faced in recent years: slower food delivery to customers, caused by more items on the menu. The thinking is that customers will be more willing to wait if they are sitting at a table instead of waiting at a counter ... The company also announced that it would roll out a mobile order-and-pay system that would also change the way customers get their orders, including customers ordering from their cars."

    And, the Times writes, "Much of what is coming to the United States has already been tried in markets like Canada, Australia and Britain, where roughly one-quarter of transactions are done on in-store screens."
    KC's View:
    I was considering being my usual dismissive self, and asking whether it was more likely that the hamburgers would taste like actual meat, or that the employees will deliver the items with a big smile and thank you.

    But that would be mean. is reasonable to suggest that the whole "smile and a thank you" thing may be hard to deliver on, since this represents a major change in operational structure for McDonald's and its many franchisees. I suspect there will be some potholes in the road, but it'll be interesting to see how this plays out nationally.

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    The New York Times reports this morning on how a number of malls and stores have concluded, "after spending several years rushing to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day," that "opening on Thanksgiving is too much of a headache."

    According to the story, "Office Depot, Mall of America and the electronics store HHGregg have all announced they will be closed on Thanksgiving. Other retailers like Sears will open fewer stores, and of the locations that do open, many will have shorter hours. The companies give different reasons for the shift - employees should be able to spend time with family, for one - but the overriding message is clear."

    That message can be seen in the numbers: "The number of people shopping on Thanksgiving Day has been declining," the Times writes. "Last year, 34.6 million adults shopped on Thanksgiving, down from 43.1 million in 2014 and 44.8 million in 2013, according to annual surveys from the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, and Prosper Insights & Analytics. In 2014, total sales for the Thanksgiving weekend fell 11 percent from the previous year, according to the most recent year-over-year comparison from the retail federation."

    The story notes that it has been pressure from online retailers such as Amazon - open 24/7, 365 days a year - that pushed many retailers to cut prices more sharply and open earlier on Thanksgiving. And for some, promotions-driven companies such as Walmart and Target, the strategy remains in place.

    But elsewhere, "Retailers are now rethinking whether the potential benefits outweigh other headaches."
    KC's View:
    I guess it is unlikely that anybody is going to go as far as REI, which is not just staying closed on Thanksgiving, but also Black Friday.

    Listen, retailers have to do what they have to do, and I understand the whole "we have to compete effectively with Amazon" thing. But as someone who always has thought that Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year, I'm glad that there is a trend moving away from opening on that day. Just seems appropriate to me.

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    • Walmart said yesterday that its third quarter profit was down eight percent, to $3.03 billion, from $3.3 billion during the same period a year ago. Revenue rose just 0.7 percent to $118.18 billion, on same-store sales that were up just 1.2 percent.

    The Associated Press reports that "while online sales improved ... the company said it was hurt in part by falling food prices."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Amazon plans to expand its video streaming service to about 200 countries and territories, "taking direct aim at rival Netflix." According to the story, "Amazon Prime Video is only available now in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Austria and Japan, with a planned launch in India."

    According to the story, "A global expansion of Amazon’s video service would introduce a formidable competitor to Netflix around the world. Netflix is already available world-wide except for a few countries with stringent regulations such as China or authoritarian regimes like North Korea. The streaming juggernaut expanded into 130 countries in January, reaching a near-global footprint of more than 190 countries.

    "While Netflix competes with many local players, Amazon’s presence means another deep-pocketed tech company with strong Hollywood connections will be vying for a piece of the streaming market—courting audiences who can typically afford to pay more for entertainment."
    KC's View:
    Just another expansion of Amazon's ecosystem, and another step on its path to world domination.

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    We've had some discussion here on MNB in recent days about the extent to which a number of businesses - including PepsiCo, New Balance and GrubHub - have created controversy through political comments made in the wake of the presidential election.

    Yesterday, an MNB reader passed along another example. Bill Penzey Jr. CEO of the spice company that bears his name, wrote on Election Night that the "open embrace of racism by the Republican Party in this election is now unleashing a wave of ugliness unseen in this country for decades. The American people are taking notice. Let's commit to giving the people a better choice. Our kindness really is our strength."

    He got some feedback. in fact, lots of it. And so he returned to the internet this week with a clarification that also served to double down on his original comments:

    "Since I ask you to read my emails, I feel it's only right that I read each of your replies. In sifting through those replies it was clear that, though not intended, a good number of people seemed to sincerely believe that in my statement I was calling all Republicans racists. In the emails of those Republicans who voted for someone other than the party's nominee, I sensed genuine pain at having the strength of character to not go along with what was happening, but nonetheless be grouped in with those who were. I apologize for writing something that caused you pain; that is not the person I want to be. You are your party's future, and you deserve my admiration and respect, and your country's as well.

    "For the rest of you, you just voted for an openly racist candidate for the presidency of the United States of America. In your defense, most of you did so without thinking of the consequences of your candidate's racism, because for most of you the heartbreaking destruction racism causes has never been anything you or your loved ones have had to experience. But the thing is elections have their consequences. This is no longer sixty years ago. Whether any of us like it or not, for the next four years the 80% of this country who did not just vote for an openly racist candidate are going to treat you like you are the kind of person who would vote for an openly racist candidate.

    "You can get angry at everyone else for treating you like you just did the thing you just did, or you can take responsibility for your actions and begin to make amends. If you are lucky and younger family members are still coming over for Thanksgiving, before it's too late, take a moment and honestly think about how your actions must look through their eyes. Simply saying 'I never thought he'd win' might be enough. But if you have the means, leaving a receipt from a sizable donation to the ACLU or the SPLC accidentally laying around where you carve the turkey, might go over even better.

    "Or, just do what you do best and volunteer. Through our customers' support, we've given away a lot of our Penzeys Pepper, the Pepper with heart. More often than not, those we meet cooking and serving food to feed those in need are Republicans. You really are a good bunch, but you just committed the biggest act of racism in American history since Wallace stood in the schoolhouse doorway 53 years ago. Make this right. Take ownership for what you have done and begin the pathway forward."
    KC's View:
    The first thing I want to say here is that I think (though I'm not entirely sure) that this probably will be the last of these stories. I've received a number of emails this week from people who suggested (in civil and friendly tones) that MNB should get out of politics and "back to business." To be fair, I've probably received as many emails from people who have appreciated the stories and commentary about PepsiCo, New Balance and GrubHub and want them to continue for as long as appropriate. (I've also gotten emails from some people who think that we should genuflect at the altar of Donald Trump, some who think that everything that is wrong with the US is directly attributable to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, some who have lashed out at Trump as the embodiment of evil, and others who think it is all the media's fault.)

    To me, this is very much about business, and therefore completely consistent with what MNB has done for 15 years. But I also don't believe in beating a dead horse, nor in engaging in circular discussions that simply rehash arguments. I'm not sure that's helpful to anyone.

    Now, regarding this specific story...

    Some folks will find the comments to be offensive and will immediately swear off the use of Penzey's spices. Others will make a beeline for one of Penzey's stores or its website. (The reader who forwarded me the comments would fall into the latter group.)

    What Bill Penzey Jr. said, in my view, is the kind of thing that only a guy with his name on the door of a privately held company can say. I think what bothers me most about the comments is that they didn't seem helpful. He may want to say that he wasn't labeling all Republicans as racists, but if one believes, as I do, that enabling racism is as bad, then it is hard to escape the reality that this was exactly what he was doing. And, unlike the controversies that enveloped PepsiCo, New Balance and GrubHub, this one was deliberate. He didn't just throw wood on the fire. He threw gasoline.

    This does not strike me as helpful. I'm not sure it is good for Penzey's company, and I'm not sure that it is even good for the public discourse. As I said when this whole discussion began a week ago, there are rough seas ahead ... I'm not sure anything or anyone is served by dropping depth charges into the water.

    In Penzey's case, I think he was simplifying a situation that is anything but simple. There is a piece in the New York Times this weekend pointing out that there are parts of Wisconsin where the very same voters have cast their ballots for Barack Obama, Scott Walker (the Republican governor), Tammy Baldwin (the state's openly lesbian Democratic senator) and now Donald Trump. That doesn't sound like racism to me ... it sounds like people who are yearning for a solution to a problem. Whether any politician can solve that problem, or can make practical 21st century solutions politically palatable, is another issue.

    I also wrote (I think several times this week) that "companies and corporate leaders need to be careful. Words matter. Deeds matter." The same goes for political leaders.

    To once again quote from the Leonard Cohen song "Democracy" (which seems like a good place to end (probably) this discussion...

    Sail on, sail on
    O mighty ship of State
    To the shores of need
    Past the reefs of greed
    Through the squalls of hate
    Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on...

    And now we'll move on. For the moment.

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    • The Houston Chronicle reports that Albertsons-owned Randalls "has launched at-home grocery delivery in the Houston and Austin areas. The online- and app-based delivery service ... uses a fleet of 25 new temperature-controlled trucks."

    The story notes that "Randalls' service is the latest in a line of grocery convenience services that have arrived in the Houston area during the past two years, including home delivery and curbside pickup."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    • In Florida, the Sun-Sentinel reports that Lucky's Market plans to open new "natural and organic" stores in Plantation, Florida, just west of Ft. Lauderdale, and Neptune Beach, Florida, just east of Jacksonville.

    According to the story, Lucky will have seven stores "in Florida following the simultaneous Dec. 7 openings in Plantation and Neptune Beach. The other Florida stores will be in Gainesville, Tallahassee, Naples and Orlando. Another is planned in Melbourne early next year."

    Kroger made what it called a "meaningful investment" in Lucky's earlier this year.

    • Investment firms New York-based KKR and Chicago-based Victory Park Capital reportedly have acquired Cardenas Markets and Mi Pueblo, two California retailers that cater to the Hispanic marketplace. Terms of the deals were not disclosed.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    • The Phoenix Business Journal reports that Doug Sanders, executive chairman of Sprouts Farmers Market, is leaving the company to become CEO of Truno, a Lubbock,Texas-based retail technology company.

    Sanders joined Sprouts in 2002 and served as president/CEO until 2015, at which point he became chairman.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    Responding to yesterday's FaceTime video about the pleasures of patronizing a local butcher shop, MNB user David Peterson wrote:

    I think you are right on with smaller local shops taking business away from conventional grocery stores that have gotten too big and time wasting to navigate through them.

    People are gravitating back to the smaller stores that the big boxes drove out of business.

    It is like cracks in the sidewalk – stores get bigger and pave over the smaller stores and eventually the smaller stores break through and grow like weeds coming up through the cracks…

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I loved the story about where you are now buying fresh meat and fresh fish. I only wish that these kinds of small stores would come back in a big way in America, because of the personal service, the friendliness of the shop owners, and they value you as a customer. Where I live in a semi-rural area, it is not possible for a small store to set up shop. I have found that a certain big chain store where I shop, I have befriended two of the butchers, and when I ask for special cuts, they are more than happy to do so. A good butcher really likes showing off their meat cutting skills and making their customers happy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    In Thursday Night Football, the Carolina Panthers defeated the New Orleans Saints 23-20.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2016

    Only one thing to say this morning ... Happy Birthday to Mrs. Content Guy. (The actual date sis Sunday.) She's the love of my life, who keeps me young and honest. Not necessarily in that order.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: