retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about how bay boomers are “particularly self-conscious” about the words used to describe them, and different people feel differently about different words.

    The Journal writes that “labels constantly evolve, says Jeremy Wallach, an anthropologist who specializes in linguistics and teaches in the Department of Popular Culture at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University. A once-acceptable word or phrase accumulates negative connotations and is replaced by another. ‘Aged’ evolved into ‘senior citizen,’ which evolved into ‘older adult.’ Some, like ‘geezer,’ were never acceptable.”

    Among the words now being bandied about to describe baby boomers: “Perennial.” “Vintage” “Golden ager.”

    “Generational labels, which cover people from different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, are especially imprecise,” the Journal notes. “There are healthy 80-year-olds and frail ones. The 60-plus population includes the so-called Greatest and Silent Generations, referring to those born in the early 1900s to 1945, who think and feel very differently about age and propriety.”

    I had to shake my head a little ruefully when I read this story; it seemed so emblematic of what’s wrong about the culture in general and my generation in particular. We’re more concerned about what we’re called and how we’re defined by others than who we are, what we do, and how we do it.

    (They accuse millennials of being self-absorbed, but I don’t think they have any corner on the market for narcissism .)

    I have to admit that I’m as guilty of this as anyone. The other day I was out jogging, and there was a young fellow walking several dogs in the opposite direction. I said, “Good morning” (I’m a friendly guy), and he looked at me and responded, “Good morning, sir.”

    “Sir?” When did that happen?

    I got over it, though. I’ve had to, since I’ve noticed that I get called “sir” more and more lately. I had to make a decision - be offended by it, or just realize that people are just trying to be polite. The latter seems like a far better way to go.

    Perhaps this concern about self image is inevitable. After all, we were raised in a world where branding became more prevalent than ever, largely because of the dominance and influence of mass media. We’ve been taught to define ourselves by the products we eat and drink, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the homes we live in and the furnishings we buy for them. We’ve been told to think of ourselves as a brand … and it becomes hard to differentiate between how we define ourselves by the brands we buy and use, or how our individuality is reflected by the brands we buy and use.

    And so of course the words used to describe us matter. Even if they shouldn’t.

    And the brands that are being marketed to us have to keep these concerns in mind, understanding that the wrong word or attitude can alienate an existing or potential customer. (Hint: Don’t start a cold call by saying, “Hello, Senior.” That’s a conversation starter that, at least in my home, pretty much ends the conversation.)

    Brands have to keep their Eyes Open. And their ears. And their minds.

    By the way … the Journal article made mention of a few other terms for aging baby boomers.

    One of my least favorites: “Fall risk.”

    One of my favorites: “Lucky.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    by Michael Sansolo

    There is no surer sign of today’s frenetic pace of change that the realization of how quickly a technology passes from gee whiz to groan or a phrase moves from offering joy to causing eyes to roll.

    In the late 1980s the notion of getting email was so welcome that the famed America On-Line greeting, “You’ve got mail,” could hold its own as the title for a romantic comedy. But back then, AOL was THE internet (remember that?) and the notion of getting email could actually make us happy.

    Not so much any longer. Now, most of us probably drop more emails into the spam folder unread than we ever thought we might receive back in 1989.

    This shift should make you question whether your marketing and communication efforts are keeping pace.

    Because basically today no one wants to hear “you’ve got mail.”

    BBC Capital wrote recently about the stunning change in communication, dumping e-mail in the dead letter pile, as texting has taken over. As the BBC article explained, texting is now viewed as the fun way to communicate. Email, on the other hand, is where you get endless offers from companies, spam and, of course, a pile of unwanted messages that await you every single time you are out of the office for a single day.

    In other words, texting is fun and emailing is homework. A number of university professors interviewed by the BBC offered an important glimpse into the future. Students, they say, view email as formal communication, whereas texting is personal and humanizing.

    That’s a message we all need to listen to before we run out and ruin texting now. (Just think of how jaundiced our view of social media became in the blink of an eye. Facebook went from fun to marketing to cynical in a sprint.) More than ever, businesses need to understand these new forms of communication to avoid missing entire population segments.

    But it’s just as important to understand how to avoid improperly or overusing those new links to keep yourself out of the spam pile and to make sure you are viewed as important, useful and trusted. And let’s remember that email’s fate is sure to hit texting at some point if it gets overused and marketed.

    Already we see how networks like SnapChat, What’sApp and Instagram are winning the traffic lost by Facebook and others. Staying current never has been easy, it’s just that much harder when the target audience moves so incredibly fast.


    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . 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: September 4, 2018

    Bloomberg reports that there is evidence that Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods is having an impact on bringing in new customers and sales to the grocer.

    According to the story, “In more than 100 places around the U.S., the upscale grocer gained foot traffic at the expense of Trader Joe’s, Walgreen and Dollar Tree Stores in the past year, according to Sense360, a Los Angeles company that tracks location data from millions of smartphone users.

    “The data, which covers Whole Foods locations within one mile of competing stores, demonstrate that Amazon can lure loyal Prime members to physical stores with discounts.”

    In addition, the story says, “The number of shoppers who visited a Whole Foods at least six times in the past year increased to 11 percent in August from 9 percent a year earlier, according to surveys by consumer products research firm Tabs Analytics. Amazon has been targeting its discounts and credit card reward at its millions of Prime subscribers, intensely loyal customers who pay annual or monthly fees for subsidized shipping and other perks.”

    And, Bloomberg writes, “Initially industry watchers believed Amazon would force other grocers to lower prices and sacrifice profit margins; in fact, the opposite has happened, with food prices rising and profits growing, says William Kirk, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. Whole Foods is a niche, urban chain with only about 470 stores and little overlap with Walmart’s 4,000-plus stores and Kroger’s almost 2,800 locations that are mostly located in suburban markets.

    “Both companies have fully recovered from the initial Amazon scare, and strong food sales are fueling investor optimism in Walmart, the biggest U.S. grocer with 25 percent of the market compared with Amazon’s less than 2 percent. The threat from Amazon is far more pronounced for Trader Joe’s Co. and other regional urban supermarkets.”
    KC's View:
    I think it is critical for retailers to remember one important thing about the Amazon-Whole Foods construct - they are just at the beginning. Whatever they’ve done are just the initial baby steps as Amazon tries different approaches and promotions designed to test the limits of what works and doesn’t, and the limits of what customers respond to and don’t.

    I do know this. I have a Whole Foods within walking distance of my house - I use it as a convenience store as much as anything - and I’ve completely gotten into the habit of using the Amazon-Whole Foods app to get discounts. And when I’ve asked checkout personnel how many customers are doing the same thing, they almost always respond that the vast majority are … this behavior has been quickly adopted, it seems.

    The question that retailers need to ask themselves is not so much about what has happened already, but, “What’s next?”

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Kroger is expanding its partnership with delivery service Instacart, with plans to have it available in 120 metropolitan markets around the country, or roughly 1600 of its stores.

    The story says that “Kroger customers will be able to use the new service via the supermarket's web site or mobile app. Customers choose items they want to purchase then arrange to have it delivered to their home.

    “Under pressure by digital juggernaut Amazon, which delivers a selection of groceries, Cincinnati-based Kroger has ramped up its home-delivery options with a series of distribution services. While Kroger has signed Uber and Shipt to provide delivery in some markets, the latest deal makes Instacart the grocer's major delivery service.”

    TechCrunch writes that this deal “builds on Instacart’s momentum, following partnership deals with chains like Albertsons, Aldi, Sam’s Club, and Loblaw.

    “In all, Instacart is now available to 70 percent of all households across the country. Last year, the company announced its goal to reach 80 percent of U.S. households by the end of 2018, and its most recent funding round seems to be propelling the startup to achieve that goal.”

    And, the Dallas Morning News reports that Kroger is expanding its new Kroger Ship service - which is a “ stock-up service for its 4,500 Kroger-branded products and … 50,000 other center-aisle groceries, household cleaning products and pet foods,” delivered via FedEx or the US Postal Service (USPS) in one to three business days - to the Dallas marketplace.

    At the same time, Kroger announced that it is partnering with the university of Cincinnati’s 1819 Innovation Hub to operate an innovation lab that will serve as a “destination for thinking, making, doing, discovery, and delivery.” The lab will be staffed by engineers and software developers, and will offer a student co-op and internship program.

    "Kroger's new partnership with the University of Cincinnati is one more way we are investing to create the now and future of retail," Kroger's Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer Chris Hjelm said in a prepared statement. "This innovative collaboration is driven by Restock Kroger and provides the Kroger Technology team another creative space to partner and develop solutions to redefine the grocery customer experience."
    KC's View:
    I applaud Kroger for being aggressive about this stuff, but my concerns about the Instacart alliance remain.

    If it is just a short-term solution for Kroger, that’s fine … sometimes you have to make such moves in order to jump start the system, while simultaneously looking for longer term solutions that will allow it to really own the delivery experience, not outsource it to a company that also is doing business with competitors. Instacart ought not be anybody’s long-term solution … its business model is god for Instacart, but not sustainable for anyone else.

    Unless, of course, Kroger is toying with the idea of buying Instacart. In which case it is only everyone else doing business with Instacart that ought to be concerned.

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart has been informing some of its products are out of stock, even when they are not, because these are items are seen as too expensive to ship.

    According to the story, “The new system, introduced earlier this month, has led to a decline in sales at some companies that sell their products on walmart.com, according to executives at Walmart suppliers. Some suppliers weren’t warned of the change in advance, said these people. Under the new system, suppliers will have to stock their products at more Walmart warehouses around the country to keep sales steady, according to an executive at a large food company.”

    The Journal goes on: “The shift is part of a test, Walmart said, to see if it can deliver more products via ground shipping, a cheaper option than air shipping, in two days or less. It also aims to reduce what it calls split shipments—online orders that arrive in multiple packages from different warehouses … The test applies to products shoppers buy most, including household cleaners, nonperishable groceries, pet food and cosmetics.”

    When certain products are said to be out of stock, the story says, Walmart will recommend alternative products from closer warehouses.

    The Journal writes, “Walmart has tried several new tactics over the past year to make its growing online business more profitable as it faces pressure from investors to show a return on the billions of dollars it has spent to expand its e-commerce business.

    “Over the past year Walmart asked suppliers to sell bundles of products and pricier items to make up for the cost of shipping. It raised online prices and started listing the lower in-store price for each item, but it quickly changed tack after consumers found the practice confusing. Some online prices are still higher than in stores.”
    KC's View:
    So, in essence, Walmart is lying to customers because it does not want to deliver on the promise it is making?

    This strikes me as disingenuous at best, and a symbol of something less than a total commitment to e-commerce at worst.

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    Amazon has opened its second and third Amazon Go checkout-free stores in Seattle.

    The second opened last week on Fifth Avenue near the Seattle Central Library … less than a mile south of the original Amazon Go. The third, opened this morning, is about a half-mile north of the original, deeper into the South lake Union neighborhood in which Amazon has been building an enormous corporate campus.

    Unlike the 1800 square foot first store, the Seattle Times writes, where “Amazon packed a little bit of everything … from convenience-store staples like chips and drinks to limited grocery fare and beer and wine,” the second store, “smaller at 1,450 square feet, loses the liquor aisle as well as grocery staples like milk and bread. It also doesn’t have space for an in-store kitchen, and will have its fresh food supplied by an Amazon kitchen facility in Seattle.”

    The third store is the largest of the three units, at 2,100 square feet.

    The second and third stores are likely to generate more business from office workers than the original, which is adjacent to residential neighborhoods.
    KC's View:
    Sense a little bit of momentum here? I do … and I think the notion of checkout-free retail is about to get a lot more interesting.

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    The New York Times has a piece this morning arguing that predictions of the death of retail may have been premature, that “Americans have started shopping more — in stores.”

    Strong sales - at some stores - have grown out of “a roaring economy and an optimistic consumer. With more cash in their wallets from the tax cuts, Americans have been spending more.

    “The boom also reflects a broad reordering of the $3.5 trillion industry, with fewer retailers capturing more of the gains. Stores that have learned how to match the ease and instant gratification of e-commerce shopping are flourishing, while those that have failed to evolve are in bankruptcy or on the brink.”

    You can read the story here.
    KC's View:
    It has long been the argument here that only a fool would suggest that bricks-and-mortar retail is doomed. It is just mediocre, uninspired, undifferentiated retail that is endangered. You either rise to the occasion, or you die.

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    Western New York-based Tops Markets announced last week that it will close 10 underperforming stores as part of ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, a move that comes “following a comprehensive evaluation of its store portfolio and in connection with its ongoing financial-restructuring process.” Tops said it will continue “to focus on strengthening its financial position so it can invest further in its [existing] stores… and compete more effectively in today’s highly competitive and evolving market.”

    Tops currently runs 169 stores, and has five franchisees.
    KC's View:
    Closing unproductive stores is important, and restructuring one’s financial position is critical. To me, though, the most important question that Tops has to answer is how it is going to change its culture and retail brand to reflect where it needs to be in 2025 and beyond. “Culture of innovation” is easy to say, but incredibly hard to do. At the same time, just shoring up the base and focusing on a return to fundamentals is just delaying the inevitable …

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    Campbell Soup announced last week that it plans to sell “its international operations and refrigerated-foods business, abandoning efforts to expand into fresh food … Campbell is looking for buyers for its Bolthouse Farms, Garden Fresh, Arnott’s and Kelsen brands, which together generate $2.1 billion in annual revenue,” according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

    The story says that “what remains of Campbell will be U.S.-focused, with revenue split nearly evenly between its lackluster soups, meals and drinks segment, and its more promising snack business, putting pressure on management to improve those operations.” The company also is “leaving the door open to a full sale,” the Journal writes.

    The story makes the point that this is a direct repudiation of the fresh foods strategy espoused by former CEO Denise Morrison, who resigned earlier this year after her efforts largely underperformed.

    Interim Chief Executive Keith McLoughlin told analysts last week that “we had too many initiatives that made the company unnecessarily complex. We lost focus within our products and brands.”

    In addition, Campbell has been under pressure from activist investors to sell the company.
    KC's View:
    It seems to me that the Denise Morrison strategy was correct, at least in terms of being in synch with where customers are going, but it may just be that there wasn’t enough time to make it work, or perhaps the implementation was flawed.

    I have to imagine that this is just a precursor to the whole company being sold …. that this is about getting out of a tough spot and maximizing shareholder returns, not about building a vital, forward-looking and innovative enterprise.

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    “California lawmakers rallied enough votes Friday to pass the nation’s toughest net neutrality law to prevent Internet providers from favoring certain websites, setting up a fight with federal regulators who voted last year to erase such rules,” the Washington Post writes, adding that the bill would “prevent Internet providers from blocking, slowing or favoring certain websites. It would bar providers from collecting new fees from apps and sites as a condition of reaching Internet users. And it would make it illegal for carriers to exempt apps from consumers’ monthly data caps if doing so could harm competing start-ups and small businesses in ‘abusive’ ways.”

    The Post frames the larger debate this way:

    “The bill seeks to turn California into the leader of a widening state-led backlash against the FCC, which did not respond to a request for comment … More than 20 states are suing the FCC to overturn the agency’s decision on net neutrality. Nearly three dozen states have introduced bills to replace the defunct regulations, and three states have already approved them.”

    The Trump-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in rolling back Obama-era net neutrality regulations, has said that those rules reflected the ”heavy hand” of government excess that only served to inhibit innovation and research at telecom and cable companies. Those who object to this move argue that it will mean that companies with deep pockets will be able to pay for faster access to consumers, which is not in the public interest.
    KC's View:
    The lines between the two sides of the issue have been fairly specific, with content companies like Amazon and Google favoring net neutrality, and distribution companies like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner lobbying for deregulation. I’m with the content guys, and have argued consistently and persistently that retailers ought to be siding with the internet companies, lest the distribution companies exercise way too much control over how efficiently and effectively they can communicate with online shoppers.

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    • Amazon announced that it is expanding its partnership with Sears, in which it provides full-service tire installation and balancing for customers who purchase any brand of tires - including DieHard - on Amazon.

    The program was first tested at 47 Sears Auto Centers in eight metropolitan areas, but now will be available at Sears stores nationwide.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    Business Insider reports that Walmart is expanding its toy selection in the run-up to the end-of-year holiday shopping season, both in-stores and online, as it looks to try to bring in customers who in past years would’ve patronized now-defunct Toys R Us.

    “Many of the changes Walmart is making to its toy section,” the story says, “which it is calling its ‘America's best toys shop’ initiative, are permanent and will last even after the holiday season is over.”


    Business Insider reports that Walmart “is launching a premium outdoor store curated by Moosejaw. The store will sell high-end brands of hiking boots, camping gear, and outdoor apparel.

    “The new site is part of a broader strategy to expand Walmart's online assortment and attract higher-income shoppers … Initially, most of the inventory will be fulfilled by Moosejaw, which Walmart acquired last year for $51 million. Over time, Walmart plans to add products from other specialty outdoor retailers and brands.”


    TechCrunch reports that Walmart is expanding on an existing relationship with Handy that sells “in-home installation and assembly services in over 2,000 of its brick-and-mortar retail stores.” Now, the story says, Walmart is offering customers on its website the same sort of access, giving them “the ability to add Handy services to their cart at checkout. This allows customers to order in-home installations for things like mounting TVs, or get help with assembling their furniture, among other things.”

    The rollout, according to the story, will continue through September.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    MLive reports on the opening of Meijer’s new Bridge Street Market in Grand Rapids, a 37,000 square foot store that “will boast an array of fresh and prepared foods, including meat and deli products, and 2,000 local, artisan groceries and national brands … The market boasts 22-foot ceilings and a "pedestrian friendly design," that includes three garage-style doors that open along the sidewalk on Bridge Street.”

    According to the story, “It's planted in the midst of a bustling section of Bridge Street, which has seen a slew of development in recent years, including New Holland Brewing's Knickerbocker restaurant and The Sovengard, both of which opened in 2016.”


    • Kroger announced last week that it will ban the use of single-use plastic bags in its stores by 2025, saying it will “transition from single-use to reusable bags and ultimately eliminate 123 million pounds of garbage annually sent to landfills,” USA Today reports. “That would quadruple the amount of plastic the retailer currently recycles.”


    • Coca-Cola last week announced that it will spend $5.1 billion to acquire Costa Coffee, a British coffee shop chain.

    Business Insider reports that “analysts say the move is likely to have a major impact on Starbucks, especially as it looks to grow in China, a region that both coffee chains are looking to expand in to drive sales.”

    The move also enables Coca-Cola to better “compete with PepsiCo, its biggest rival, which has a partnership with Starbucks to distribute its ready-to-drink products to stores.”

    And, USA Today reports that Coke also is acquiring Moxie, described as “a long-lived and beloved New England soda brand that is the official state beverage of Maine.” Coke is acquiring the brand, the story says, “from Coca-Cola of Northern New England, an independent bottling partner of the larger company that's in Bedford, New Hampshire.”

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.


    Business Insider reports that Dunkin’ Brands is expanding the experimental name change of its flagship business - from “Dunkin’ Donuts” to just “Dunkin’” - “ to 30 more Boston-area locations and 20 nationwide locations.

    “The name change is a small part of a major rebrand that includes adding cold-brew taps and digital ordering kiosks.”

    However, the story also notes that longtime customers and traditionalists have complained about the change, saying they are “worried what the change means for their favorite chain.”


    • The New York Times reports that there is a new legislative proposal in England that would make it illegal to sell energy drinks to young people, with one sticking point being whether it should apply to people 16 and under or 18 and under.

    “A government statement on the proposal said that two-thirds of children ages 10 to 17, and a quarter of those from 6 to 9, consumed energy drinks,” the Times writes. “And it cited concerns including childhood obesity and the effects of caffeine and sugar on behavior in school … The government said that one 250-milliliter can of energy drink often contained around 80 milligrams of caffeine — the equivalent of a cup of coffee or nearly three cans of cola — and up to 60 percent more sugar on average than regular soft drinks. It said excessive consumption among children had been linked to headaches, sleep problems, stomach aches and hyperactivity.”

    The Times notes that “many supermarkets and other major retailers in Britain already decline to sell energy drinks to children. But they remain readily available from smaller stores and vending machines.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    • SpartanNash announced the retirement of Ted Adornato, executive vice president and general manager of corporate retail. He will be succeeded by Tom Swanson, currently vice president of merchandising and marketing for SpartanNash's Corporate Retail, who will become senior vice president and general manager of Corporate Retail.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    • “We are citizens of the world's greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world … We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

    "We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”

    - Sen John McCain, in his farewell message to the nation


    • “If no one ever took risks, Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor.”

    - Neil Simon
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2018

    Before I went on hiatus, we had a story about how Oprah Winfrey now is out with her own line of frozen pizza, albeit with crust that is one-third cauliflower, which keeps down the carbs. The story described the entry this way:

    “The brand, called called O, That’s Good! and manufactured by Kraft Heinz, consists of ’11-inch pies, which serve five people, (which) come in Five Cheese, Uncured Pepperoni, Supreme and Fire Roasted Veggie flavors. The suggested retail price is $6.99. Each serving contains 280 to 330 calories and 3 to 5 grams of saturated fat’.”

    Several MNB readers reacted the same way.

    Mike Freese wrote:

    Serve 5 people???!!! Not if I'm one of them.

    And, from another MNB reader:

    Kudos to companies that continue to create healthier versions of traditional comfort food… but on what planet is an 11-inch pizza going to feed 5 people??

    Agreed. Completely.



    And, on another subject, from another reader:

    I have picked up on your call for manners and respect for the message recipient...even when it involves Alexa.

    This last week, my wife & I both agreed our family would speak to Alexa with respect or not at all.  So we had one of those "enough is enough" moments when our youngest was commanding & demanding Alexa for dinner music.  It was a mood killer, but more importantly we both looked at one another as if to say "since when did we allow this behavior to become acceptable".  After an uncomfortable dinner of explaining why we believed Alexa deserves to be treated like any other person, we had a deep and morbid discussion as just the adults on how desensitized our society had become delivering pain through words and acts.

    Maybe,  at some levels that contributes to some of the terrible events in our news cycle.


    I’ve been arguing for some time that Amazon ought to offer a civility protocol as an option for its Alexa-based systems. If you don’t say please and thank you, your requests are politely ignored.
    KC's View: