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    Published on: January 24, 2017

    by Michael Sansolo

    More than ever the ability to stand out from the crowd - to be distinct - is becoming an essential element of business success.

    Let’s take an absurdly simple, yet incredibly important example: too often in customer service situations I get the sense that the “thanks” I hear are being given with all the sincerity that politicians make promises. It’s just a word that people are trained to use and it’s said with all the energy and passion of “here’s your change,” “next” or “how did you enjoy your meal.”

    So when someone breaks through that noise and actually makes you feel appreciated, it is rare, meaningful and special. And that’s what happened to me this weekend and it took only three unexpected words.

    Here’s what happened. My wife and were having lunch at our closest Wegmans store, as we frequently do before shopping. As we finished our meal, a smiling staffer named Vicky came to our table and asked to collect our trash. I told her that was unnecessary as the trashcan was only 20 feet away, but she would have none of it.

    Why was that? Because in her words, “You deserve it.”

    Think about that phrase and keep in mind that my wife and I did absolutely nothing to deserve anything special. Yet the phrase lingered with us. We actually spent a few minutes trying to figure out exactly what made us deserve special treatment. (Believe me we tried hard and unsuccessfully to come up with reasons. For instance: “Maybe she reads MorningNewsBeat” was one suggestion.)

    The more we discussed it, the more we realized what Vicky had done. She had turned a simple bit of customer service into something memorable, something that stayed with us and something that actually made us feel appreciated. It was no big deal, but it was a reminder of why we drive out of our way to go to Wegmans.

    All it took were three words: “You deserve it.”

    Now there’s a chance that Vicky says that to every single customer she meets and if that’s the case, more power to her because she is breaking through with a unique phrase. In fact I hope her supervisor has witnessed Vicky’s interactions and applauded her for what she does.

    What’s more, I hope that Wegmans, which I know has excellent training, encourages staffers to find different phrases and words to exchange with customers instead of the usual monotone “thanks.”

    And that’s exactly why I share this story. In today’s hyper-competitive world, customer interactions at store level are going to get ever more important - especially as e-commerce makes it increasingly easy to shop anyway you want. As traditional retailers look for ways to fight back we’ll correctly hear all kinds of discussion about omni-channel offerings, analytics and personalization of the customer experience.

    But let’s hope we don’t overlook the simple and obvious power of making the customer feel special and appreciated. Little steps like that could go a long way to reminding shoppers that we care and want them to keep coming back.

    Trust me, they all think they deserve it.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    Longtime MNB readers won't be surprised by this Eye-Opener. It has to do with "Star Trek."

    Amazon's voice-activated Echo/Alexa system has, until know, been awakened by the use of one of three words: "Alexa," "Echo," or "Amazon." You choose one of the three in the Alexa app, and from then on, as long as you precede every request with that word, the system responds.

    Now, there is a fourth wake-up word.


    And "Star Trek" fans are thrilled.

    You see, that's how Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) would interact with the onboard computer system. Including when Picard would order a cup of tea from the computerized replicators, saying, "Earl Grey, hot."

    What's interesting about this - beyond the fact that it has enormous emotional appeal to Trekkers like me - is that it is yet another indication of how much Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos has been influenced by "Star Trek" in its various television and movie iterations. (Remember, Bezos actually had a cameo appearance as an alien in the most recent movie, Star Trek Beyond.)

    Bezos also is an enormous supporter of the notion of space exploration, having spent a considerable percentage of his personal fortune on a company that is preparing to boldly go where few have gone before. And when his company invests in drones and other sorts of technological solutions to problems, one can imagine that Bezos is thinking about one of Picard's better lines, that "everything is impossible until it's not."

    That's a critical insight into Bezos' character and strategic thinking. He does not see things as impossible, just as problems to be solved and challenges to be met.

    Which is one of the Eye-Opening reasons that Amazon keeps growing, and can be so difficult to combat.

    By the way, I just said to the Echo on my desk, "Earl Grey, hot." And it responded to me by saying that the "replicators currently are offline."

    Not only is Amazon smart and savvy, but the technologists and marketers there have a sense of humor.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    Motor Trend reports that Walmart is partnering with automobile dealership groups, including AutoNation, to begin selling cars.

    The program begins April 1 in Walmart Supercenters in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, and Oklahoma City. If successful, the company foresees a national expansion within two years.

    According to the story, Walmart's CarSaver program allows car buyers to "select their desired new or used vehicle and apply for financing and insurance. Walmart will host CarSaver kiosks inside 25 of its Supercenters at launch, although customers can also go through the process on their own online or by calling an 800 number. After this initial stage, CarSaver links the customer to a local dealership so they can complete the transaction."

    Walmart's CarSaver program gets a a $350 piece of the action in most states, but in others will charge a subscription fee.

    Meanwhile, Barron's reports that Amazon is "pushing more aggressively" into the auto parts category.

    In recent months, the story says, "the online retail behemoth has signed deals with auto parts makers Robert Bosch, Federal-Mogul , Dorman Products , and Cardone Industries ... That should send a chill down the spines of executives at auto parts retailers like Auto Zone and O’Reilly Auto Parts."

    The story notes that Amazon seems to be significantly undercutting traditional auto parts stores on price, and even is offering same-day delivery in a number of markets. And, "it’s even paying the parts makers more than they generally get from retailers. In the short-run that could hurt Amazon’s results. But in the long-run it will only cement Amazon’s reputation as the 'everything store,' and could give it a chance to get even more access to the average consumer’s wallet."
    KC's View:
    The lesson here is that as Walmart and Amazon do battle with each other, they are going to be looking for new categories in which they can disrupt traditional players and generate growth and revenue. I have to wonder if the list of categories is going to get smaller, which is going to make the competition even more intense ... which, I think, is only going to create more collateral damage among the traditional retail class.

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    Bloomberg has a story suggesting that reports of McDonald's being re-energized by all-day breakfast may have been overstated.

    While the initial consumer reaction to the ability to buy an EggMcMuffin all day long was enthusiastic, "now the effect is waning ... While overall earnings beat analysts’ estimates last quarter, domestic same-store sales fell 1.3 percent."

    The story goes on: "The slowdown from all-day breakfast leaves McDonald’s in search of its next big source of U.S. growth. The company is looking to technology, such as touch screens and mobile ordering, to help fuel domestic sales. But it’s not clear how quickly that will pay off, said Michael Halen, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence."
    KC's View:
    Technology will help, but I do think that constant innovation around food will be the thing that will help McDonald's the most. It is important that the company stay within its core competency - burgers and fries - but I'd be looking for ways to explore that category more effectively.

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    The Seattle Times has a good story about Denise Moriguchi, the president and acting CFO of Uwajimaya there, who next month will move into the role of president/CEO.

    Her ascension, the story says, "marks a transition to the third generation of leadership for the family-owned chain that’s become a community institution during its 89 years in business.

    "Moriguchi, the first in her family to earn an MBA, will be taking over an enterprise that’s come a long way from its humble beginnings. Her grandfather, Fujimatsu Moriguchi, an immigrant from Japan, founded the company, selling fish cakes from the back of a truck in Tacoma. These days, the company has four Pacific Northwest retail locations with a fifth — a smaller-format store called Kai Market in South Lake Union — scheduled to open this spring."

    Moriguchi's "first task as CEO will be to come up with a brand strategy and strategic plan to define the company for itself and for a city that’s changing rapidly," the story says, "with big influxes of newcomers who may not know anything about Uwajimaya." And she has to continue the work of growing the company after having survived a recession that was very tough on the company; she also has to expand the company's appeal without alienating its core constituency.

    You can read the story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    Bloomberg reports that the Delaware Supreme Court has given Walmart shareholders "a second chance ... to pursue their claims that it is unfair to throw out their lawsuit over an alleged bribery scheme at the company’s Mexican subsidiary." A lower court "dismissed the case based on a legal doctrine that bars litigation of claims that have already been litigated elsewhere."

    In Delaware, however, the Supreme Court "asked the Delaware Chancery Court to take another look at the shareholders’ claims, saying the 'importance of the Due Process issue merits closer examination'."

    The story notes that "Wal-Mart is facing several investor lawsuits in the wake of news about probes by U.S. authorities into whether it bribed government officials in markets from Mexico to India and China. The company could be facing more than $600 million in fines to resolve the investigations, according to Bloomberg News."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    Advertising Age has a story noting that Coca-Cola has chosen a new ad agency - Anomaly - to handle creative for its Diet Coke brand, which is seen as being a significant move because of the company's stated desire to reposition the brand.

    The story notes that "Diet Coke, which is the top-selling diet soda in the U.S., has struggled in recent years along with all diet sodas. Dollar sales fell 3.7% in 2016, according to Nielsen data cited by Wells Fargo. No. 2 Diet Pepsi had a worse year, plummeting 10%. Six of the top nine diet sodas experienced a sales drop for the year, according to Wells Fargo."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    • Albertsons announced that Narayan Iyengar has been selected as Senior Vice President, Digital Marketing and e-commerce, responsible for "leading all aspects of digital marketing including loyalty programs, shopper marketing and the overall digital presence, as well as the e-commerce business, including home delivery." He joins Albertsons Companies from the Walt Disney Company where he was the Vice President of e-commerce and Digital Travel Trade.

    • Rite Aid Corporation announced that Ken Black, the company's current group vice president of compensation, benefits and shared services, has been named senior vice president and chief human resources officer, effective immediately. He succeeds Dedra N. Castle, who is leaving the company for personal health reasons.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2017

    This year's Oscar nominations are out, and here are the nominees in the major categories...

    Best Picture
    Hacksaw Ridge
    Hell or High Water
    Hidden Figures
    La La Land
    Manchester By the Sea

    Best Actor
    Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
    Denzel Washington, Fences
    Ryan Gosling, La La Land
    Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
    Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

    Best Actress
    Isabelle Huppert, Elle
    Ruth Negga, Loving
    Emma Stone, La La Land
    Natalie Portman, Jackie
    Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

    Best Supporting Actor
    Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
    Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
    Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea
    Dev Patel, Lion
    Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

    Best Supporting Actress
    Viola Davis, Fences
    Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
    Naomie Harris, Moonlight
    Nicole Kidman, Lion
    Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

    Best Director
    Arrival, Denis Villeneuve
    Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson
    La La Land, Damien Chazelle
    Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
    Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

    Original Screenplay
    Hell or High Water
    La La Land
    The Lobster
    Manchester By the Sea
    20th Century Women

    Best Adapted Screenplay
    Hidden Figures

    The 2017 Academy Awards will be on Sunday, Feb. 26.

    It is worth noting, as Variety does, that "with Manchester by the Sea, Amazon Studios has made history, becoming the first streaming service to land a best picture Oscar nomination. The awards love justifies the digital giant’s decision to fork over $10 million for the rights to the indie drama. That deal, announced exactly a year ago, was one of the biggest in the history of the Sundance Film Festival."
    KC's View:
    Once awards season is over and the exclusive theatrical window has closed, it'll be interesting to see how long Amazon has Manchester By The Sea exclusively on its site, not making it available to the likes of HBO or Netflix. I'd bet it'll be awhile ...