retail news in context, analysis with attitude

On the subject of driverless vehicles - which are getting a lot of attention these days, as Kroger tests them to deliver groceries to people and Walmart tests them to deliver customers to its stores - MNB reader Stacy McCoy wrote:

I’m pretty sure we all agree that the debate in this arena is not a question of “If” just a question of “when”. And honestly, I think I would prefer a driverless vehicle with a company logo showing up in my driveway for a delivery, over some of the questionable characters that have been making deliveries to my door… unmarked cars / vans, no uniforms – nothing to suggest they are there to make a delivery until they drop a package at my door. I usually just let my dog bark at them until they leave before I open my door to retrieve the package.

On the subject of legislation that would ban the imposition of overdraft fees on banks, introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) because of studies showing that they hit poor people far harder than the more affluent, one MNB reader wrote:

In addition to overdraft fees being a cash cow for banks, there is the fee for failure to make the required minimum payment on a credit card balance.  If a person has a $3,000 credit limit, and fails to pay a $10 minimum payment on a current statement balance of $500, that account gets hit with a fee of about $35 give or take.  Yet that cardholder could charge up to another $2,500 to that card.  I suspect that the majority of failures to make that minimum payment is due to oversight or a statement that was lost in the mail.  I may be wrong, but a person who is unable to make that payment could make a purchase with the card greater than the minimum payment, and then return that purchase before the statement due date and get a credit on the account that would be considered a payment and thus avoid the fee.  But my JPMorganChase stock has done very well so I sincerely thank all the suckers paying those fees, in addition to the 24% interest on their unpaid balances.

MNB reader Mike Bach has some thoughts about another subject:

With employment levels pretty high, few of thinking about the next recession today. In fact, it’s more common to read that Millennials are getting lots of choices in job selection, which hopefully is allowing for wage appreciation.

But, Millennials are likely to be most impacted when the next recession comes around.

The average net worth of a family headed by someone born in the 1980s is 34% below what is expected, due to the Great Recession, according to a new study from the St. Louis Federal Reserve. The study found that loss to be higher than any other age group surveyed, and the discrepancy continued well after the end of the recession — primarily because the generation carries debts but is less likely to own an appreciating asset.

Although millennial-headed families are unlikely to own real estate, they are still heavily in debt, with student loans, auto loans and credit card debt.

Which is going to have an enormous impact on the economy, because it restricts spending and investment. If you sell stuff for a living, that’s a problem.

Regarding Amazon building a new DVR that presumably will fit into its broader ecosystem, one MNB reader wrote:

At first I was excited to hear about Amazon getting into the DVR business but after thinking about it, I've backtracked to the other side of the fence.

Amazon has built its world around search and allowing people to find items quickly. In the Amazon Prime Video world, they've totally dropped the ball. Their search functionality is stuck in the 90's. With movies, it's mostly about either knowing exactly what you want by name or endless scrolling through their pre-selected suggested videos.. With today's technology, allowing people to filter using filters should be easy. Have you ever tried searching for videos via ratings? (Meaning PG, or R,  TV-14 or TV-MA not 5 stars vs 1 star). You can't. Have you noticed the suggested videos are usually a top 20ish selection and not their entire catalog of items for that genre?

If they use this same mentality for their DVR service, good grief! Customers will spend half their time scrolling  trying to find the latest episode. Amazon does a lot of things right, but their Prime Video is awful. I"m taking a wait and see approach.

Fair enough.

We had a story the other day about Walmart seeking new sources for some products because of concerns about tariffs on certain categories being imposed by the Trump administration. MNB reader William Whipple responded:

Walmart deserted middle-America for “cheapest price” foreign goods - glad to see them squirming!

Writing about a story we had the other day about decisions and strategies embraced by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, which seem to be working out, and the decision by some upper level women to leave the company, one MNB reader opined:

The point with this announcement is not that Doug McMillon is only 51.  The point is that Walmart has a severe problem with attracting and maintaining talent, both male and especially female.

I have worked at Walmart, as well as with many other retailers.  The pressures placed on Walmart by the financial community is immense, and filters into the organization in Bentonville, and most people know their work life at Walmart can end very quickly, and often does (based on historical examples).  There are really good people at Walmart, but organizationally, they are a really tough place to work.  If you are a top performer, male or female, you will most likely be sought by other organizations and when the call comes, Walmart makes it very easy to make the decision to leave.

From another reader:

Have to admit, Mcmillon has done a great job. Definitely what Walmart needed, somebody not from the old boy network.

Just from the boy network. Not the old boy network.

Michael Sansolo wrote yesterday about E-Mart, a company in South Korea that sells a “One a Day banana” pack that includes bananas at different stages of ripeness all in the same container. The consumer thereby gets bananas reaching ripeness on different days, so they can be consumed at the perfect time for each one.

Michael thought this was a terrific and highly consumer-friendly idea. But MNB reader Aaron Gottschalk responded:

I disagree and think the banana pack is another sign of the millennial generation needing all things created and catered and so what's next?  The multi-level peach pack?  The slowly and surely ripening watermelon for single users who want that taste of freshness every day for a week on end? The perfect apple that bounces when dropped?  The self healing zucchini in which a blemish or soft spot never occurs?  

Nope, I don't agree that we need to have bananas available at different stages of ripeness.  I can only imagine the marital strife and the daily race to the homemade banana tree to get the perfect banana, leaving either the overripe or the hard green one for the partner who slept in.  Being one who is up hours before my wife I believe I would feel so guilty everyday I might give up bananas altogether.M

I think you may have an over-developed sense of guilt. But maybe that’s just me.

MNB reader Phil Britton wrote:

And then there are a weird few of us who actually like bananas best when they hit the "leopard" stage!

I don't see how this can work, though, since wouldn't the ripe banana in the package would cause the others to ripen faster?

MNB reader Chris Weisert wrote:

Been doing it for years. Never really thought I was ahead of the curve until I read this….

And MNB reader Jim Hornecker wrote:

Well, the idea certainly has a peel.


Yesterday’s Eye-Opener was about how Mondelez has, after more than 100 years, redesigned the packaging of its Barnum’s Animal Crackers box. Responding to pressure from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Mondelez has changed the box’s graphics so that the animals no longer are portrayed as being behind bars. Now, the zebra, elephant, lion, giraffe, and gorilla are all shown as roaming free.

PETA argues that “the new box for Barnum’s Animals crackers perfectly reflects that our society no longer tolerates the caging and chaining of wild animals for circus shows.”

I said I liked the idea, and that it is long overdue.

But MNB reader Bill Chiodo wrote:

Thanks PETA for solving life’s BIG PROBLEMS.

Methinks I detect a bit of sarcasm.

I get your point. This is a small thing. But sometimes, it is important to do small things, and this struck me as a nice statement about animal welfare. No more, but no less.
MNB reader Gary Loehr wrote:

Great idea to show the animals in a natural and humane setting.  Just don’t get rid of the string.  As I recall, that didn’t go well in the past.

I wrote the other day, commenting on a story about the importance of food quality over food variety, that “life’s too short to eat crap.”

Prompting one MNB reader, who clearly has been paying attention to my various rants over the years, to write:

Crap=Brussels Sprouts?

Not at all. I recognize both their quality and appeal. I just don’t like them.


Regarding the case of the fellow in Colorado who, having won a case in which he argued that he should not have to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding because of his religious beliefs, and now is arguing that those same religious beliefs mean that he should not have to bake a birthday cake for a transgender woman celebrating the “birth” of their new identity. (The requested cake would’ve had a blue exterior and a pink interior; I hope I’m getting the language right.)

I’ve been saying that I believe that religion should not be used as an excuse for intolerance and discrimination.

MNB reader Drew Steverson wanted to follow up on an earlier exchange:

You usually are an intelligent and thoughtful guy, which is why I find it worthwhile to write to you on occasion. I want to point out what appears to be an incomplete argument. One which leaves you seeming to justify your own position without considering fully the opposing position as presented.

Mark Phillips wrote to you regarding his custom advertising displays, stating that he would not print pornographic content. Your response, if I might paraphrase, was “the cake wasn’t pornographic.” I find at least two problems with your argument.

First, you have missed the point entirely. Instead of looking to the underlying message, you have seized upon a single term in what was meant to be an illustration of a deeper idea. It is a textbook example of missing the forest for the trees.

Second, you actually support Mark’s argument while stating that you disagree. Let’s dissect that. You state that the reason there is no equivalency is because the cake isn’t pornographic. Implicit in that statement is the acknowledgement that if the cake were pornographic then it would be acceptable to refuse to make it. Why is that? Pornography is not illegal, so long as the subject(s) and consumer(s) are consenting adults (and the medium for distribution takes required precaution to prevent unauthorized content and/or consumption). So why is it acceptable to refuse to create pornographic content? The answer: moral objection.

In your response you have supported the right to refuse to create content which you find morally objectionable. This is exactly the point that Mark tried to illustrate for you (see point 1 above). The equivalency between Mark’s illustration and the situation in question is one of morally objectionable content. Mark finds pornographic advertising displays to be morally objectionable and therefore refuses to create them. The baker finds gender transition cakes to be morally objectionable and therefore refuses to create them.

Let’s be clear. I say that I believe that religion should not be used as an excuse for intolerance and discrimination. I am making what I believe is an ethical and moral point here. I recognize that this may or may not be a legal point; that will be up to courts and lawyers, and I am neither.

I also recognize that people will argue that they should not be required to adhere to my sense of ethics and morality, in the same way that I will not be bound by other people’s. That said, I believe that truth is truth, and for me, an essential truth is that intolerance of what other people are is wrong, and that religion ought not be used to justify intolerance.

I still maintain that it is a false equivalency to suggest that a person who is transgender is the same as a person who is a pornographer. Or a Nazi. Or a racist. Or a misogynist. Or a pedophile. Or a homophobe.

I understand that not everyone agrees, but for the life of me I cannot understand why. Because all of these other things are beliefs/acts that diminish other people, that promote cruelty, that have ugly and despicable actions at their core.

Someone once wrote that God judges people from the inside out; people judge other people from the outside in. That seems pretty accurate to me.

The transgender person just wants to be who he or she is. The person who marries someone of the same gender just wants to love and be loved, and make a commitment to that love. For the life of me, I cannot see why anyone who would to equate it with all that other stuff.

Then again, maybe I’m just out of step with where the culture is. But I think it is more likely that I am in step with where the culture is going, though it is proving to be a long and painful path.

My dad, who in many ways was as conservative about these things as they come, loved the Biblical verse that says, “God is love. And he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him.” There were times in his life when, even though his instincts might’ve taken him in another direction, he found solace and guidance in those 16 words.

This discussion was started by something as small as a cake, but as big as personal intolerance cloaked in religious belief.

On this one, I’m going with my dad:

God is love.
KC's View: