Published on: March 10, 2017
Yesterday, we posted an email from an MNB reader that attacked me for being blind to what he said were "the evils of Amazon" and the damage it is doing to the country. He wrote, in part:You and people like you need to: 1) stop thinking you’re more important than you are. 2) Stop thinking you’re busier than you are, you’re not, and 3) open your eyes to what’s happening on an almost weekly basis to brick and mortar retailers (HHGregg and Gordmans in the last two weeks.)
Easy to blame the retailer, and they have plenty of culpability, but if you refuse to place at least some blame on Amazon, your obsession has blinded you to reality...and what’s coming next.
MNB reader Mary Schroeder responded:Well, Shame on You Kevin. The evils of Amazon are all your fault. Not only are you forcing children to think like machines but you think you’re important.
I’m hoping whoever wrote this was just having a bad day and in need of venting. I gave up b*tching for Lent and I do miss the venting opportunities that provided.
That aside, absolutely Amazon has an effect. You can’t be that large and NOT have some sort of effect. It’s incumbent upon all of us to act and react accordingly…not sit aside like retail road kill and watch the end approach. The key is to act, react and repeat as necessary.
Just an observation (not a b*tch session).
In fairness to the original MNB reader, this is part of a long conversation/debate that we've been having about whether Amazon is evil or not. He thinks it is, and I disagree. I think Amazon represents the kind of progress and innovation that I wish America were capable of in all aspects of public policy ... and that companies that do not adapt and meet the challenge have only themselves to blame.
I suspect he thinks I should burn in hell for such statements. (I'm kidding. I think.)
But it is, I think, a respectful and legitimate discussion. I'm thrilled when people write in to challenge me for my ideas and statements. It keeps me honest, and it keeps me thinking.
On another subject, got the following email from MNB reader John Rand:Interesting to read about the diversification of the hotel industry.
A lot of parallels in my mind between hotels, airlines, and supermarket organizations in the way they evolve – or don’t. Maybe it is a universal business process of change.
I have been a ridiculously frequent traveler for many years, averaging over 100,00 air miles in just domestic flights most years, and many dozens of nights in hotels. I used to be able to rely on certain airlines, certain hotels, as marques or brands that provided something better, different, and above all reliable.
Gradually that has changed. The planes became crowded and more impersonal and we all know how degraded that experience has become. Hotels that used to make you feel sort of “at home” have redesigned their rooms to be “cool” but often far less functional. (Whatever happened to having drawers so you could unpack a little?)
The loss of room service may not be a huge loss to some (I recall you saying you really don’t miss it yourself) but when I cruise into a new town at odd hours from another time zone, especially in a suburban or airport-area location, and my blood sugar is low (I am “mildly” diabetic but it still requires some fundamental management) and they no longer have food available – that is simply not a feasible place to stay. And some pretty big chains are doing exactly that, glossing over the fundamentals, reducing staff and services, putting a gloss of plastic fashion on top of a downward spiral of experience.
So they reduce what they offer and yet still charge more. They reduce the personality and service component to save money. They make rooms and planes that are cheaper to furnish and clean but less comfortable. They nickel-and-dime you to death.
And people flock to Airbnb or other alternatives, they move to budget hotels because they might as well save money when they can’t get a better quality experience for the higher price at the formerly “better” chains. And the brand value of the offer goes down.
There is a parallel here. The retailers who are most at risk almost always have lowered their standards. Cheapened their dedication to quality execution. Lowered the return to the customer for the dollar spent. And imitate each other in the process to where they are all at risk of becoming one indivisible lump of mediocrity. Once great retailing brands become unreliable, then irrelevant, then a source of sad amusement, then dead.
The ones who succeed move down to Value or up to Quality. There is no middle ground.
MNB took note yesterday of a Bloomberg
report that Starbucks has been losing market share this winter - in February it was down to an 11 percent share of all the restaurant chains evaluated by research form xAd, compared to 12 percent during January.
A variety of factors were cited in the report, including aggressive promotions from competitors. But one of the other issues cited - that got the attention of several MNB readers - was negative public reaction from some quarters to positions taken by CEO Howard Schultz that are seen as anti-Trump administration, including the hiring of refugees at stores around the world.
One MNB reader wrote:I haven't had a Starbucks drink since Shultz made his statement public. I feel great and in sure that they don't miss my $25 per week.
I think voting with your wallet works.
And another MNB reader wrote:I’m sure their support of refugees over American Vets is taking a toll.
That’s the difference between us. I’ve decided to feel good about the fact that they’re hiring thousand of veterans in the US, as opposed to feeling bad about the fact that they’re hiring thousands of refugees around the world. (The decline in store traffic may mean that I am in the minority in this.)
And by the way, the legal definition is a person who, "owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."
In other words, a refugee is someone who has been displaced from their home country for a variety of political reasons, and cannot return safely.
In general - and I'm sure there are some bad dudes who slip through - this seems like a group worth helping. And more importantly, hiring ... so they can help themselves.
Somehow, we as a culture have managed to conflate the words "immigrant," "illegal immigrant," and "refugee." I'm not sure how this has happened, but I am pretty sure that it is inaccurate.
Starbucks said it would hire 10,000 veterans and vet spouses in the US, and they're reportedly close to 90 percent to their goal. It may be politically facile to say that the company is less committed to vets than to refugees, but it also strikes me as factually inaccurate when you look at the numbers.
One other thing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that "the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
I'm not even sure these are opposing ideas - the notion that Starbucks can be committed to vets and
be committed to dealing with the plight of refugees. But I see absolutely no reason that it cannot do both. And in fact, it seems entirely in character for the company to want to do both and to commit resources to both.
Unless, of course, this possibility does not fit with a pre-conceived narrative.
Along these lines, an email from MNB reader Mark Boyer:I struggled how to write this for fear of being labeled for or against a political persuasion; that would miss the point. My concern is, “When did we decide to stop being civil as a society?” I suspect there wasn’t a specific moment in time when the pendulum swung so dramatically from one side to another, but however it swung, it’s not good.
I hope we can someday return to civil discourse. When impressionable people see that it is seemingly okay to smear and mock and threaten boycotts and belittle someone or some business so openly in public it doesn’t give me much hope for a civil society. That’s unfortunate. Someone once told me if you don’t like something, either become a positive force to affect change, or quietly move away and find an alternative better suited to you.
I do think that we're not in a period when many people will "quietly move away" from people and issues with which they disagree.
Maybe that's okay.
It makes me think about a quote from Robert Bolt's "A Man For All Seasons" that I reference here from time to time. It is a point in the play when Sir Thomas More, faced with execution if he will not agree with King Henry VIII's decision to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn just because he is the king
, and because to disagree with the king is seen as being disloyal to the nation, makes the following statement:“If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we'd live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes.
But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all... why then perhaps we must stand fast a little --even at the risk of being heroes.”