retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader:

In Your Views, a reader commented that Out of Stocks = Lost Business . . . and you wondered if it is even more relevant today, simply because e-commerce companies often don’t have the same out-of-stock issues.

In my personal experience, it’s VERY relevant.  I have food allergies (dairy, eggs, nightshades) which means I buy a lot of non-mainstream food items.  Several retailers carry items that I can eat, but they are often out of stock.  I recently went in to our local Natural Grocers with a shopping list with 9 items on it.  They were out of 6 of them.  Years ago, I just did without.  Now, I go home, power up the laptop, and order a case of it from Amazon.  I now have a list of things that I no longer put on my shopping list; I just order them online.  My online list continues to grow as I add things I just don’t want to wrestle with, even if it is in stock.  My case of coconut milk arrived safely on my doorstep just yesterday.

Pay attention.

I was critical yesterday of some of the conditions at my local Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop, using it as an example of a store that is bringing its D-game to a competitive environment that requires an A-game.

MNB reader Peter Talbott wrote:

Looking at the photo of your local Stop & Shop, it’s easy to see how out of the relative affluence of Fairfield County and the continued dearth of premium shopping available, that Stew Leonard’s was born and continues to thrive.

I’m sure Stew Jr. saw that picture of dirty cart corrals yesterday and did two things. First, he pumped his fist and said that he was glad it wasn’t his store. Second, he went out and checked to make sure that his shopping cart corrals were in good shape, and showed the picture to his people as an example of how not to do business.

To be honest, I hope that every retailer did that yesterday. That was the point of running the story.

From MNB reader Phil Herr:

The Westport, Connecticut, Stop & Shop store is almost as bad. Rather than being an agent for the customer, they have chosen to see the customer as a “target”. So many free-standing displays clogging the aisles, hangers on refrigerator cases and last month, entire cases of Cheerio’s new flavor stacked on the check-out lanes. Taking space where you are expected to unload your cart.

Wegmans, please come to Connecticut!

Yesterday, MNB took note of a San Francisco Chronicle report that UK supermarket chain Marks and Spencer has begun marketing a safer avocado - one with no pit and tender skin, that can be eaten whole, and does not require the use of a knife. This apparently is a big deal, especially with the growing popularity of avocado toast - there has been a trend toward hand injuries, including severed fingers and sliced tendons, because of difficulties people have had cutting up avocados.

The story and comment prompted an email from my friend Karen Caplan, CEO of Frieda’s:

We giggled when we read the weekend about this “new” avocado coming from Spain…..according to our company records, Frieda’s introduced Cocktail Avocados back in 1966.  They are actually the “Aborts” of the Fuerte variety (now, Hass is the the most widely grown).  The total crop in a season might be a few hundred pounds, but we always enjoyed selling “guacamole in a tube.”

Thanks for the history lesson … I love Frieda’s, as well as the whole Caplan family.

Yesterday, MNB reported that Mario Batali, celebrity chef turned retailer - he is a partner in Eataly USA - has been accused of sexual harassment by four women, and has admitted his guilt while stepping away from his restaurant and retail businesses as well as his co-hosting duties on ABC’s “The Chew.”

I commented:

Inexcusable. And I’m sure just the beginning within the retail industry.

I know this. I love Batali’s Tarry Lodge restaurant in Westport, mostly because I’m pretty much addicted to the black fettuccine with rock shrimp, fennel and chilis. But I’m not going back. It is a small protest, but my own.

I got several responses along the same lines.

MNB reader Peter Becker wrote:

Totally your right to boycott Tarry Lodge but by doing that you end up punishing the people who work there and have nothing to do with Batali’s behavior.

From another reader:

Not going back hurts the employees.  He on the other hand is finished (albeit with a lot of money) forever. He is getting what he deserves.

And another:

I think I have been following MNB for just about as long as there has been MNB and I don't actually recall ever disagreeing with an opinion but you finally came up with one.

First I want to say Mario's behavior and for the most part all the rest of the accused is reprehensible and inexcusable PERIOD! 

On the other hand I recently booked a room at the Residence Inn in downtown Chicago specifically because of its close proximity to Eataly and I have every intention of going through with the trip. Mario has $250 million in the bank. Boycotting his establishments will do much more to harm the employees at the bottom of the food chain than it will Him and they have committed no crime.

I think these are all fair observations, and they make me rethink my protest.

The problem is, how does a consumer make his or her disgust known if not through some sort of boycott? But you’re right - it probably hurts employees (some of whom may already have been victimized by him) more than him.

I’m conflicted. But thanks for making me think about what was, to be honest, a knee-jerk reaction.

On the same subject, from MNB reader Sandi Snowberger:

Good grief.  Maybe I’m too old and thick-skinned.  Yes, I do not know the situation, but getting tired of hearing about it.  Soon we will be mutes and be arrested for our thoughts like Minority Report.

Twice we voted a man into the office of President who did MORE than harass women.  NOW it is unacceptable.

Only twice? I’d bet it was a lot more often than that.

But I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you about what has become the ubiquity of this story. It is an important story, it deserves to be told over and over, and people need to lose their jobs because of their bad behavior.

I’m with US Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis, who said: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” As far as it is relevant to MNB’s field of play, I intend to provide as much sunlight as possible.

Finally … we took note yesterday of a Seattle Times report that Amazon, that city’s largest employer, “appears to be seeking the smallest number of new employees in the city in years after a feverish, four-year growth spurt that more than doubled its head count … Open job postings at Amazon’s headquarters, which stood at more than 9,000 as recently as June, have declined sharply and steadily in the last few months.”

I commented:

There seems to be general agreement that the city of Seattle, despite the fact that Amazon has helped to make it a 21st century city with enormous growth and prosperity, has not invested enough in the care, feeding and nurturing of the company, which is why it has begun looking to see if there are greener pastures elsewhere.

The interesting thing is that while there may be general agreement about this fact, some see it as a positive (because Amazon has enabled a housing boom that is seen as hurting the middle class) and some see it as a negative (because Amazon is, well Amazon).

One MNB reader responded:

Kevin, I think you have trouble pointing out the truth.

Here are just a few:

$15.00 min wage
Construction Impact Fees
City tax rate of 10.10%
Gun laws
Government Overreach

Does not shock me at all Amazon is slowing hiring.

I don’t think I have trouble with the truth. Your truth, maybe…

A couple of things. First, there was a Fortune story earlier this year that said the following about cities with the highest minimum wages:

They’ve consistently found that higher wages boost worker pay and haven’t led to either job loss or a slowdown in economic growth.

Employers see big benefits, too. Workers stay on the job longer, reducing turnover and training costs. They’re also significantly more productive, according to researchers studying wage increases in the United Kingdom.

There are big benefits for broader society as well. Poverty goes down, as does reliance on public assistance programs—one of the few things both Democrats and Republicans can agree is a net positive. Also improved are infant health and adult mental health outcomes, including a significant reduction in depression. (At a time when one in six Americans pops an anti-depressant every day, this seems particularly important.)

And while there have been some studies suggesting that the Seattle minimum wage has been stifling to the local economy, there also have been stories debunking those studies.

As for construction impact fees … if they’re having an impact, you can’t tell by the number of construction sites in Seattle. I remember reading something about how Seattle has more construction cranes than any other city in the country. (Not per capita. More in total.)

You certainly could be right about the high local taxes and the subject of government overreach. On the other hand, Seattle seems to be a solidly blue city where there is little chance of a political shift. (Taxes may be too high and government too involved for you … but not, apparently, for local residents of a city that I think is one of the nation’s most interesting.)

But gun laws? Really? You think that Seattle’s gun laws are partially responsible for a hiring slowdown - possibly/probably temporary - at Amazon?

I’m pretty comfortable with suggesting that you’re mistaken on this one … and that you are like a hammer that thinks everything is a nail.
KC's View: