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    Published on: November 23, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    In the spirit of the season, I'd like to offer you a look at a new Amazon commercial that, in my view, is a near perfect reflection of the idea of what America is and should be.

    It is about brotherhood.

    And about the ability to order products online and get them quickly.

    Not necessarily in that order.

    I think Amazon hits all the right notes with this commercial.


    KC's View:

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    by Kate McMahon

    Imagine. There was a time when American consumers looked forward to Black Friday as a welcome way to kick off the holiday shopping season.

    But times have changed. According to new research, social media vibes about Black Friday have done an about-face.

    In fact, the majority of Twitter conversations about Black Friday last year focused on anger, sadness, fear and despair – not great bargains or a rewarding experience.

    Crimson Hexagon, which (in addition to sounding like a great name for a band) tracks social media intelligence, has analyzed millions of social posts between 2010 and 2015 to gauge consumer perception about Black Friday. It found that in 2010, more than half the posts were positive, and only 20% deemed negative. Fast forward to a major mood swing in 2015, when nearly 40% were negative and only a third positive.

    It is not hard to imagine that Black Friday attitudes could erode even more this year.

    Not surprisingly, the research confirmed consumer frustration about Black Friday shopping “insanity” and fears of being trampled over a laptop or a 42-inch television. Shoppers also felt the discounts weren’t any better than regular sales and were annoyed that commerce cut into Thanksgiving Day, particularly for retail employees.

    This tweet was typical: “Black Friday is out of hand. It is interrupting Thanksgiving and people are fighting over TVs.”

    It’s important to note that among the most outspoken online critics of the Black Friday brick-and-mortar experience were Millennials - the very generation that shops and aggressively comments online.

    It is not hard to imagine that as Millennials age and become the center of the mass marketing target, their attitudes will marginalize Black Friday even more.

    That said ... The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects 137.4 million Americans to shop online or in stores over the four-day period beginning on Thanksgiving, up from 135.8 million next year. The NRF said 74% of those surveyed plan to shop on Friday.

    I think the most telling numbers will be the split between brick-and-mortar vs. online Black Friday shopping this year. According to the retail researcher ShopperTrak, last year’s in-store sales on Black Friday plunged by $1 billion - from $11.6 billion in 2014 to $10.4 billion in 2015. The drop was attributed to a 14% increase in online sales that day. Cyber Monday sales are expected to increase once again.

    The Black Friday event that ruled retail 20 years ago has been upended by e-commerce. The challenge for retailers, I think, is moving forward from that outdated, one-day “Super Bowl of Shopping” model to a strategy for a winning holiday season, online and in-store.

    It is not hard to imagine that 20 years from now, Black Friday could be a completely obsolete construct.

    Comments? As always, send them to me at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    The New York Times this morning reports that a federal judge, Amos L. Mazzant III of the Eastern District of Texas has ruled that the Obama administration's Department of Labor "exceeded its authority" when it expanded "by millions the number of workers who would be eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay," raising the salary limit to salary limit below which workers automatically qualified for overtime pay to $47,476 from $23,660.

    Mazzant issued a nationwide temporary injunction preventing implementation of the rule, and the Times writes that it seems likely that he will strike down the rule permanently once he has considered the case on its merits.

    As it happens, Mazzant is an Obama administration appointee.

    The Times writes that the Department of Labor responded to the ruling by saying it "strongly disagreed” and was considering an appeal, though it would have to move quickly since there are less than two months left in the Obama administration before Donald Trump in inaugurated. It seems unlikely that a Trump administration would defend the overtime increase rule.

    And the Times notes that the injunction "was hailed by business groups who argued the new rules would be costly and result in fewer hours for workers."
    KC's View:
    Beyond the appropriateness of the rule as a Labor Department dictate, I actually think that this shows how the system is supposed to work. The administration appoints judges who bring an independent eye to cases, even to the point that they contradict - based on their reading of the law - the very administration that appointed them.

    As for the rule itself ... I'm not sure what the number should be, but it does occur to me that the previous $23,660 ceiling is just three grand higher than the national poverty level for a three-person household. My point being that $23,660 doesn't go very far these days, and that when people have to work overtime for that sort of salary without any extra pay, it doesn't seem very fair, and certainly creates an environment in which employers can exploit employees. As to whether the Labor Department should be making such changes ... well, I guess this a decision up to the courts.

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon is continuing to explore the possibility of streaming live sports - though it remains to be seen whether it would charge for specific events or sports, or provide access to such sports to customers who already are members of Amazon Prime.

    It also is possible that Amazon could provide and/or charge for access to events on a case-by-case basis. Amazon is not commenting on the report.

    According to the story, "In recent months, the e-commerce giant has been in talks with heavy hitters like the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Football League for the rights to carry live games, according to people familiar with the matter. It also has talked with soccer, lacrosse and surfing leagues, the people said."

    The Journal writes: "If Amazon is successful in breaking into the premium-sports market, it could pose a significant threat to traditional pay TV. While streaming services offer a wide array of TV shows and movies, it is hard to find live sports outside of traditional broadcast and cable outlets. That’s why pay-TV executives have long referred to sports as the “glue” that keeps millions of customers paying for relatively pricey bundles of cable channels.

    "Amazon, meanwhile, is also racing to compete against rival tech giants like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., as well as BAMTech, a spinoff of Major League Baseball, which are seeking sports rights to beef up their video offerings. But as traditional pay-TV comes under pressure, and even big sports properties like the NFL suffer TV ratings declines, big leagues are eager to entertain new bidders that might be able to continue driving up their rights fees."
    KC's View:
    This clearly is where things are going, and there is no reason to think that nay major sport would spurn a big check written by the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Google, or any other tech company. (After all, it is this addiction to the big bucks that has led to World Series games being broadcast at times when a lot of little kids can't watch them live.)

    The thing is, for the next generation of viewers, they won't even see this as a big deal. Going to Amazon to watch sports will be just as natural as going to CBS or Fox.

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    Interesting piece in the New York Times about how "soft drink companies and their lobbying group, the American Beverage Association, spent $38 million to defeat election-season proposals to impose taxes on sugary drinks in four cities: San Francisco, Oakland and Albany in California, and Boulder, Colo. The companies lost all of those fights. Now, seven cities around the country have a soda tax."

    The Times goes on to write that "one way the companies have tried to get ahead of the tax efforts is by vowing to reduce the calories in their products. In September 2014, they committed to reducing calories 20 percent nationwide by 2025 and focus on 10 communities where rates of obesity, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes are among the highest."

    However, new research - that was commissioned and paid for by the beverage trade group - indicates that there is a long way to go before they meet that calorie reduction goal.

    The Times reports: "The average American consumed an estimated 199 calories a day from beverages in 2014, when beverage companies made their pledge, and that fell to 198.7 calories a day the next year, according to research by Keybridge Public Policy Economics, an independent firm paid by the beverage association to conduct the study.

    "That is a decline of less than 1 percent, far off the pace need to reach a 20 percent drop over a decade. To achieve their 2025 goal, the companies must reduce calories to 159.2 calories per person per day."

    That said, the efforts are continuing. "The companies are offering several alternatives to traditional soda, and have retooled older products to reduce calories," the Times writes. "This has often been done quietly, with subtle changes to the drinks."
    KC's View:
    At the end of the day, if I as a consumer want to consume fewer sugary drinks, it is up to me to drink fewer sugary drinks. I have no big problem if cities, as a matter of public policy, try to educate people about the health impact of too many such drinks, as long as they understand the limits of such legislating. I think it is smart for companies to get ahead of the game by diversifying in smart ways. But in the end, I drink what I decide to drink. It is up to me.

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is out with a national consumer survey saying that almost "three in five (59%) U.S. fuel consumers report feeling optimistic about the economy, a 13-point jump over the prior month, and the highest level of economic optimism reported since NACS began tracking this metric in 2013. This increase in optimism was noticeable across all demographics and regions and was a stark reversal from each of the past seven months when a majority of American fuel consumers have been pessimistic about the economy.

    "While the U.S. election results no doubt caught the attention of the nation, Americans also took notice of declining gas prices. U.S. gasoline consumers report a median gas price of $2.15 per gallon, a five-cent drop from October. Three in four Americans (75%) say that gas prices impact their feelings about the economy.
    "With optimism up, gas prices down and the election over, Americans say that they will travel and spend more over the holiday season. Nearly three in ten (a record 28%) consumers say that they will drive more this coming month, a sharp increase from the 20% said so this time last year. In addition, 30% of consumers say that they will increase their overall spending this coming month, another record for this time of year."
    KC's View:
    Even people who voted for people who did not win in the recent elections are feeling optimistic, if only because Americans are, by nature, essentially an optimistic bunch. We want to believe that everything is going to work out.

    So this does not surprise me. But I also believe that a certain kind of underlying cynicism is part of the American character ... we hope and expect things will go well, but never are surprised when we are disappointed. Shocked, sometimes, but never surprised.

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    • Campbell's Soup said that it has invested $32 million in a company called Habit, a San Francisco-based company that is described as developing technology to use people's DNA to develop nutrition recommendations.

    Bloomberg reports that "samples of store-brand aloe gel purchased at national retailers Wal-Mart, Target and CVS showed no indication of the plant in various lab tests. The products all listed aloe barbadensis leaf juice - another name for aloe vera - as either the No. 1 ingredient or No. 2 after water ... Aloe’s three chemical markers — acemannan, malic acid and glucose — were absent in the tests for Wal-Mart, Target and CVS products conducted by a lab hired by Bloomberg News. The three samples contained a cheaper element called maltodextrin, a sugar sometimes used to imitate aloe."

    Target did not comment on the finding. Walmart and CVS said they'd been assured by the manufacturers that the products were as labeled. And the manufacturers disputed the Bloomberg report.

    Bloomberg goes on to note that "there’s no watchdog assuring that aloe products are what they say they are. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t approve cosmetics before they’re sold and has never levied a fine for selling fake aloe. That means suppliers are on an honor system, even as the total U.S. market for aloe products, including drinks and vitamins, has grown 11 percent in the past year to $146 million..."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    Arkansas Business reports that Harps Food Stores president/COO Kim Eskew has been named the company's new CEO. He succeeds Roger Collins, who is retiring from the job after 17 tears as CEO, though he will remain as chairman.

    Eskew joined Harps while still a college student at the University of Arkansas, and worked his way up through the company, becoming president/COO in 2008.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 23, 2016

    This is Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, which I always think is the best holiday of the year - just food and football and family. (And almost certainly a movie or two at some point…) Maybe even a little Christmas shopping, though definitely not on Thursday and I'm sleeping late on Black Friday before going for a jog.

    For the first time in years, I won't be making Thanksgiving dinner ... my 22-year-old daughter, Allison, has become quite the accomplished cook, and she'll be making a rib roast obtained at the local butcher shop that I told you about last week. (Nobody in the household likes turkey very much, so we've established our own traditions.) The wines will be from Oregon, from my friends at Willamette Valley Vineyards and Carlton Cellars there. Like I said. Tradition.

    In keeping with tradition, MNB will be on hiatus for the four-day weekend.

    Have a great holiday ... a great weekend ... and I'll see you Monday, November 28.

    KC's View: