business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email regarding our story about Amazon’s new toy catalog:

I have a 9 and 6 year old and they received the Amazon catalog yesterday.  They pulled their pens out and circled all that they wanted from Santa this Christmas.  Since they only watch YouTube and Netflix they don’t see that many toy commercials.   My son noticed the Amazon Smile logo and realized it was an Amazon catalog.  And promptly said “Mom this is great, I know I’m going to get all this stuff for Christmas, ‘cause Santa orders from Amazon.”

Needless to say Amazon has created future customers.
These are also the kids who think you can get anything delivered the same day: groceries, dinner, toys = just ordered it from your phone.

Also got this email from MNB reader Chris Risk:

Kevin – you missed another piece about this catalog and how they just ever so simply raised the bar – but did it in a way that made you remember. Amazon put a page in the middle with stickers. My kids LOVE stickers. I’m constantly peeling them off EVERYTHING. But this means they can take the stickers and stick them next to the presents they want, and mum and dad can check through for inspiration. It also means they don’t have to get a marker pen to circle the ones they want – as stickers are removable, marker pens can often leave a more lasting impact when used by a 3 year old! Catalog experience = elevated.  That Bezos is gonna make some money someday.

Probably right.

On another subject, from another reader:

Thinking about Dollar Shave and their product vending machines… what a novel way to sell high theft items with less packaging!

Good point.

I got a lot of email about yesterday’s FaceTime commentary about my Mustang’s manual transmission.

MNB reader Arthur Bernstein wrote:

Been a regular reader of yours for years, but gotta say you hit the nail on the head in your FaceTime column about the decline of manual transmissions when you said “It probably depends on how profitable and regular those customers happen to be”.

I’m in the market for a new car, preferably with manual, and I wouldn’t call myself a particularly profitable customer for auto manufacturers as I tend towards the more economical side, but it sure seems like a large % of the relatively few models left where you can still get stick are either performance (i.e. muscle) cars or things with brand names like BMW, Audi, etc, which come with higher price tags and an implied higher level of disposable income – just the kind of customers that it might be worth continuing to support.
A generalization I know, but just reinforcing that your assessment was spot on.  And as someone who still drives a manual and really like how more connected to driving I feel when doing it, I hope they stick around!

From another reader:

Personally I love manual transmissions. My first car was a 68 Charger that my Dad and I converted into a manual from an automatic. Not an easy task! Almost every vehicle I’ve owned since then has been stick. The fact that my next car might not be available that way makes me a bit sad. ( I know this wasn’t the point of your article.. but just wanted to give a shout out to stick shift drivers..)
And from another:

All I know KC is I love driving a stick shift, it feels like I'm driving the car and not the other way around!

MNB reader Philip Bradley wrote:

I was really tuned in to your piece on the stick shift this morning (and the fact that your two sons can’t drive stick!) - this is from a Dad who insisted that my then 16-year-old daughters take their driver’s test in my stick shift Honda, as opposed to their mother’s auto transmission Oldsmobile.  Their classmates were astonished: “You have to take your driver’s test with a STICK SHIFT?!”  And this was in the mid-80s!!  I finally gave up driving a stick car five years ago, partly because I’ve remarried, and my wife can’t drive stick; and partly because the traffic in Minneapolis is so heavy at times that slush is a godsend.

I really like how you used the anachronism of the stick shift as a business lesson—thanks again for finding interesting and instructive business lessons in all aspects of daily life!

MNB reader David White wrote:

I also have a stick (I'm 57), took it to have a oil change...the guy asked me to drive it in because he couldn't drive a stick...that's ok...been when he came back to the waiting room he informed me it was time to have automatic transmission serviced...I told him " sure...let me know when you find it!" Afraid I'll no longer be doing business with them!

Will I live to see the day when no manual transmission are available....guess I'm a dinosaur…..

But not all by yourself.

And, from another reader:

Your ‘Face Time with the Content Guy’ on Manual Transmissions and the need for corporations to continue to serve dwindling consumer bases and what you referred to as “Antiquated” technology got me thinking as well.

I wouldn’t call Manual Transmissions antiquated technology, but different technology that evolves along with newer technology.  Early transmissions were 3 on the tree, with clunky clutches and as Automatics began to take off, manuals were often offered as a money saving alternative.  Today we have 6 or more speed manual transmissions, with tight gear ratios, rev matching, better performance, and a driving experience that the true aficionado would never give up. 
I’ve written to you before about my BMW 340i; 3 liter, twin turbo inline six with the sweetest six speed manual you can imagine.  I paid quite the premium for that car and to borrow from another car company’s ad from a few years back, when I turn on my car, it sure does return the favor.

Move past cars and there are a host of “antiquated” technologies that still have a huge following. Analog record albums are once again making strong headway with true audiophiles.

E-Books and Tablets are a lot more convenient than Books and newspapers, but there’s still a lot to be said for holding a newspaper or actual book in your hands that I don’t think will go away anytime soon.
Sailboats were supposedly made obsolete over 100 years ago by the steam engine, but tell that to all the recreational sailors out there who love their cruising boats and are willing to spend money for the experience.  I remember getting to the destination on a sailing cruise, and the skipper of a powerboat who had landed just after me was bragging how he got where he wanted to go 4x faster than me.  My reply was no, I was where I wanted to be the minute I stepped aboard, it was the journey and experience I was after, not making time to the destination.  I think driving your Mustang is a similar experience.

Agreed, Businesses need to understand their customers and where it makes sense to invest and cut back.  They also need to understand who their customers are, and in some cases who their future customers may be.  It wasn’t all that long ago (at least from my perspective) when convertible tops all but went away.   Somehow a whole new generation figured out how much fun it is to drive with the wind in your hair.

KC's View: