retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Sean Weiss:

The story about extending the life of produce struck me as the perfect opportunity to make a reference to the classic National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.
Clark Griswold explaining his breakthrough  - “Yeah it's a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It's semi-permeable. It's not osmotic. What it does is it coats and seals the flake, prevents the milk from penetrating it.”
So if it doesn’t work out for this produce company, they can always apply their product to the bottoms of metal saucers for one heck of a ride.

Extra credit for the movie reference.

And, on another popular subject, from another MNB reader:

Kevin, Just in follow on to the discussion of Technology, Jobs, and Obsolescence...

A comment from one of your readers on buggy whips...The "poor buggy whip maker" that fell to the onset of the auto industry - maybe. Its worth reminding that "buggy whip" makers became the largest providers of belts and other fasteners done in leather and rubber at the time to the auto industry. Its also worth noting that carriage makers, companies such as Fisher and Beaudette, became huge suppliers of chassis to the auto industry. In fact, anyone that owned a General Motors car years ago might remember the seal on the instep of the door "Body by Fisher". The Fisher family absorbed Beaudette carriage and eventually Fisher was absorbed as a division of General Motors. Not so obsolete at least in their time.

You'll remember the Clint Eastwood line and a slogan of the military, "Adapt, Improvise, Overcome". Many companies in that era did just that.

The reality is that it really is the mantra today - adapt, improvise, overcome, or be run over.

Retailers today are doing all they can do to adapt, improvise and overcome the challenge to the pace of pace of technology that is outpacing most organizations' abilities to adapt to it and apply it.

Nevertheless, a couple of examples: 

Christmas shopping at a Nike store, the sales clerks on the floor were both equipped with the same device where they could handle your sale right there on the spot. (If paying with any form of card payment).  The same was true at Old Navy. Both retailers had more sales people on the floor generating more sales and fewer cashiers. Nike clerks could also take care of anything you needed not stocked at the store by ordering it through a large touch kiosk and ship it to you in two days - free shipping.

Both cases overwhelmingly increased the ability to push more sales through the store, but greatly improved the experience and utilized in-store and on-line sales instantly for the customer.

We take the short view too often when we see technology as a job killer. I'd suggest both of these examples had the same if not more staff - never less. Doing a great job of maximizing technology to increase sales and provide an over the top customer experience.

I can say this, both retailers had smiling and happy associates that seemingly were loving the technology that was creating not just a better experience for the customer, but making it easier for everyone to help and have fun doing it!

MNB reader Tom Murphy had an observation about Sears Canada's decision to try groceries as a way of driving sales:

Just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!


And, the following email from MNB reader Larry Ishii:

I very much enjoyed your news item regarding the doors of the first Ben Franklin store that Sam Walton opened.

So many of our population would not even know what Ben Franklin was (as a retail store that is).

There is no doubt that Walmart is an important part of our American history, particularly our American retailing history.

I recall a favorite story that I once heard Jack Shewmaker tell when he was on the Board of Directors for The Vons Company in So. CA. He told the audience that he had a meeting to meet and interview with Sam Walton but apparently had the wrong date and left the Walmart office.

Jack was later contacted by Sam Walton and Sam agreed to meet Jack at a location somewhere half way between the Walmart office and wherever Jack was on his drive.

The rest is history.
I might not have been completely accurate with all the details but the real point has to do with the sort of man that Sam Walton was and his willingness to meet in the middle for mutual benefit – in this case literally.

MNB reader John Rand had some thoughts about the strains that the holidays seem to be putting on UPS and FedEx:

I can’t speak for others, but yesterday I was filling in a couple of blank spots on the family gift list, which included searching through both Google and Amazon. And at one point I identified an item available through Amazon Prime, and an identical item that was a little less expensive, from a perfectly reputable but substantially smaller digitally-capable outlet.
I went with Amazon Prime, simply because it is already getting close to the holiday, and I KNEW that every shipper in the universe has consistently underestimated the increase in volume year over year. And I knew that Amazon had clout, would use it on behalf of Prime members (me!) and I would rest easier knowing the item would arrive in time, even if it cost a few bucks more.
That is a BRAND value for Amazon. It’s called trust.

KC's View: