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    Published on: November 27, 2018

    by Michael Sansolo

    In case anyone hadn’t noticed, the Internet is a pretty cruel place.

    That spirit of candor bordering on meanness permeates everything - including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and that’s something no business can ignore these days.

    The strange kerfuffle at the parade involved a singer, who I must admit I do not know, named Rita Ora. In her key close-up moment on the parade broadcast, Ora “sang” what I guess is one of her best-known songs. The problem is she clearly wasn’t singing.

    Even though I don’t know her or her songs, I could tell she was lip-synching and badly at that. Her gestures on specific words were consistently on the wrong words and every close-up simply made it increasingly clear that she wasn’t singing live. It was just awful television. (It is possible that the problem was with her audio feed, but that doesn’t really matter to the viewer.)

    Twitter lit up quickly, trashing her and her “performance.” It got so ugly that John Legend (yes, I know who he is) came to her defense, explaining that the conditions - an absurdly cold day, plus the logistics of a parade marching down New York City streets, don’t make for a plausible singing environment. He explained that lip-synching is standard order to protect the singer’s voices and pretty much everyone’s ears. Nothing else is really possible.

    (Except for Kelly Clarkson, who sang live. No lip-synching. Score one for her.)

    Ora thanked him publicly for the explanation and assured her fans that in her concerts she is really singing.

    Needless to say, there are business lessons to draw from this story.

    First, we all need to understand the unforgiving nature of today’s interconnected society. We’ve all seen how quickly a customer service error can go viral. (Just Google anything about United Airlines!) It’s a reminder that we are all on stage all the time these days - which underlines the enduring importance of motivated and well-compensated front line staff. Sass a customer today and there’s a good chance you are a trending topic on Twitter or YouTube in no time. More than ever we need to maintain professionalism and composure.

    But the reality is that missteps will happen and that’s where Legend and Ora provide a lesson in responding. They didn’t lie or blame others, such as Macy’s or NBC. They simply admitted what happened, honestly explained the problem and moved on.

    That’s the type of response that stops a viral moment in its tracks and helps restore or repair a reputation. Mistakes will happen, and when they do we need to just face the music, so to speak, and admit the truth. Lack of honesty and authenticity fans the flames of the Twitterverse.

    It’s a whole new world and not always a kind one. But it’s the world we all inhabit and we cannot afford to forget it.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . 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: November 27, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    It was with some amusement over the weekend that, while watching football, I saw a commercial for Facebook’s new Portal, a piece of hardware that enables people to have video chats in which the camera actually shifts with them as they move around the room; it is described as having an “always-listening microphone and always-watching camera.”

    The product seems pretty cool. Even the commercials - the one I saw over the weekend can be seen at left - seem cool.

    There’s just one problem. Facebook at this moment seems like the absolutely wrong company that you’d want to have an always-listening microphone and always-watching camera in your home or office. For a variety of reasons too numerous to enumerate here, Facebook has demonstrated itself to be remarkably tone-deaf when it comes to consumer privacy concerns and its own role in protecting its customers from having their personal data exploited by bad actors.

    My favorite assessment, not surprisingly, of Facebook’s issues came from Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times, who argued that we should’ve known about Mark Zuckerberg’s character and Facebook’s intentions when we watched The Social Network, the 2010 movie written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher:

    “Watch it again and you’ll be reminded that Mr. Zuckerberg didn’t start out by describing his creation with lofty phrases characterizing it as 'a social mission to make the world more open and connected,’ which is the way he often refers to it now.

    “His journey to moguldom began ignobly, with, a meanspirited site that encouraged his fellow male students at Harvard College to rate women on campus by their looks.”

    In other words, it may be fair to say that Facebook was/is more exploitive than enabling.

    Which is to day, exactly the wrong company to allow to have an always-listening microphone and always-watching camera in your home or office.

    I liked the commercial. But it took me about two seconds to say, “No freakin’ way.”

    Except that I didn’t say “freakin’.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    Amazon announced this morning that it has opened its third Amazon Go checkout-free store in Chicago, in the Ogilvie Transportation Center at 500 W Madison St. … about a half-mile from each of the other two Go stores operating in the city.

    A fourth Amazon Go store is scheduled to open in Chicago in 2019, at 111 E Wacker Drive.

    There are three Amazon Go stores currently operating in Seattle, and one in San Francisco, with another San Francisco location expected to be opened this winter.
    KC's View:
    I have to wonder what the next city will be to get an Amazon Go … I’d bet, in fairly short order, we’ll see them in New York, Washington, and Boston … it makes sense to put them in places with tons of walking traffic. Though it would be interesting to see how they’d fare if Amazon opened them in highway rest stops.

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    TechCrunch reports that Walmart is testing same-day delivery of groceries from one of its stores in China, enabling local shoppers to order from a list of some 8,000 SKUs via mobile app and get them delivered, sometimes within an hour.

    There also is the ability to reorder products from home that have been bought in-store via Walmart’s Scan and Go technology.

    According to the story, “The service is accessed through a mini-program within WeChat - the Tencent-owned messaging platform Walmart partnered with earlier this year in order to better reach its Chinese customers. The retailer hasn’t made a formal announcement about the same-day grocery delivery because the service is being tested while Walmart collects customer feedback. However, there is signage in the store that informs customers about the option.”
    KC's View:
    The part of this that really intrigues me is the way that different components of the shopping experience are being integrated … the idea that I can reorder from home based on previous in-store activity makes a lot of sense.

    The next step, I believe, will be for someone to integrate automatic replenishment into the experience.

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    A week after the the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that nobody should eat any romaine lettuce because of concerns about E. coli contamination, the New York Times reports that it now can be safely eaten - as long as it isn’t from California’s north and central coast.

    The story says that “investigators had traced the romaine lettuce associated with an outbreak of E. coli that has sickened 65 people in 12 states and Canada to ‘end of summer’ romaine lettuce harvested from that region.

    “With the growing and harvesting season over there, according to the F.D.A., people may eat romaine lettuce that has been hydroponically or greenhouse grown, or has been harvested from the winter growing desert regions of the United States, and is labeled such.”

    But, it emphasized, lettuce without clear source labeling should not be consumed.
    KC's View:
    I have to imagine that consumer confidence in growers and retailers has been shaken a bit by the succession of problems … and the business would be smart to address this issue head-on, not ignore it.

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    Wired has a story about how, despite the fact that there seems to be clear evidence that dirty farm water is responsible for recent E. coli outbreaks, regulators are doing little to address the issue.

    An excerpt:

    “For more than a decade, it’s been clear that there’s a gaping hole in American food safety: Growers aren’t required to test their irrigation water for pathogens such as E. coli. As a result, contaminated water can end up on fruits and vegetables.

    “After several high-profile disease outbreaks linked to food, Congress in 2011 ordered a fix, and produce growers this year would have begun testing their water under rules crafted by the Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration.

    “But six months before people were sickened by the contaminated romaine, President Donald Trump’s FDA – responding to pressure from the farm industry and Trump’s order to eliminate regulations – shelved the water-testing rules for at least four years.

    “Despite this deadly outbreak, the FDA has shown no sign of reconsidering its plan to postpone the rules. The agency also is considering major changes, such as allowing some produce growers to test less frequently or find alternatives to water testing to ensure the safety of their crops.”

    The FDA, according to Wired has come up with the following calculus: that not ramping up water testing rules could save growers as much as $12 million a year, while costing consumers $108 million per year in medical expenses.

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    In announcing this week that it will stop manufacturing operations in five North American factories - four in the US, one in Canada - and lay off some 14,000 employees, General Motors essentially was following the lead of Ford, which earlier this year said that it would stop making virtually every traditional sedan in its stable, such as the Fusion, Fiesta and Taurus. The two Ford car models surviving are the Mustang and a new Focus crossover that it plans for next year.

    General Motors’ announcement includes the fact that it “is killing several passenger cars, including the Chevrolet Volt and Chevrolet Cruze, two compact vehicles that were held up as examples of the automaker's post-bankruptcy revival … GM will also discontinue the Chevrolet Impala full-size car, the company confirmed.” USA Today writes, adding, “The move - part of a sweeping cost-cutting plan unveiled Monday - comes as Americans are abandoning passenger cars in favor of crossovers, SUVs and pickups.”
    KC's View:
    There’s an obvious tragedy here in the number of people who are going to lose their jobs, their access to health care, the ability to feed and clothe and house their families.

    There also are some other components. One is the fact that Americans, prompted by low gas prices, are moving away from smaller cars. I can’t help but feel that this is short-term thinking … gas prices won’t always be low, and Americans will be stuck with gas guzzlers. (And if that isn’t enough, see the U.S. National Climate Assessment published last week, which gives us economic as well as environmental reasons to treat the planet as if it is a fragile place. We reported on it yesterday.)

    Conversely, there’s also something else that GM’s move teaches us - it demonstrates the importance, even if politically incorrect, of being willing to walk away from a legacy part of one’s business if it has grown out of touch with or irrelevant to the needs and desires of one’s customers.

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    Tech Crunch reports that “Amazon is shutting down its two-year-old restaurant delivery service in London … Customers were sent emails which informed them of the change, saying they would no longer be able to order from Amazon Restaurants UK after Monday, December 3rd.”

    The story notes that “in London, Amazon has faced fierce competition from local players, including Deliveroo and Uber Eats, the report noted. That may have contributed to its decision to shutter its business in that market.”

    Amazon is still offering restaurant delivery in the US.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that “online sales totals for Black Friday broke a record again this year, and they’re on track to make Cyber Monday the biggest online shopping day the nation has ever seen … Adobe predicted that Cyber Monday would be the largest online shopping day ever with an estimated $7.9 billion in sales.”

    The story goes on: “On Friday, shoppers racked up $6.2 billion in online purchases, up 24% from $5.03 billion during last year’s Black Friday, according to data from Adobe Analytics, which tracks U.S. shopping during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. That marks the largest Black Friday online spending total ever, Adobe said.”

    Bloomberg reports on a new PwC study suggesting that millennial shoppers are expected to spend freely on their pets during the current holiday shopping season.

    According to the story, “Millennial households earning $70,000 or more will be the biggest spenders, forking over an average of $183 for pet gifts this holiday, versus the $67 that overall consumers will spend, according to PwC … The holiday spending comes as pet owners increasingly treat their animals like members of their families - a trend known as ‘humanization’ - boosting spending for premium pet food and toys.”

    Bloomberg goes on to say that “high-earning millennials, feeling good about the economy, will spend an average of $2,021 on all gifts this holiday season - including for humans.”

    Fast Company has a story about how “earlier this year, Starbucks sent 18 truckloads of old paper cups to a paper mill in Wisconsin to prove a point: Contrary to a widespread myth, paper coffee cups can be recycled cost-effectively. The cups–25 million in total, from excess inventory that the coffee chain otherwise would have sent to landfill–were processed at the mill. Then the recycled fiber was sent to another partner to be incorporated into paperboard for new Starbucks cups … It’s commonly thought that it’s difficult or expensive to separate the plastic lining from the cups, or that contamination from coffee is an issue. But it’s no more expensive to recycle cups than other paper.”

    • Massachusetts-based Wholesale Club announced that the company is expanding to Eastern Michigan, opening two new clubs in 2019 in Madison Heights and Taylor, serving the Detroit metro area. The company also said it is seeking other area sites for its regional expansion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    Two reports from the field…

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Had to run into Dollar General on Thanksgiving Day, against my wishes. One clerk just came in at 3 pm, to relieve a clerk. The clerk that was being relived had worked all day by herself, no break, no lunch, didn't even get to use the restroom. That is illegal, and should be talked about. I wonder if the executive level of Dollar General worked stores over the holiday to help out? How many of them went without these basic worker needs? At some point this will boil over for them, and be a huge issue. You can only push people so far. When you operate at a bare bones level, worker rights and pay suffer.


    On another subject, from another MNB reader:

    I laughed when I read your quote from Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer of Walmart US about how the company is “agnostic” about whether people shop online or in its stores.

    I was talking with friends on Saturday about their Black Friday adventures. They had gone into Walmart to purchase a laptop which they saw online. The manager in the electronics dept wouldn't honor the sale (same laptop, just a $300 different) so my friend had to order it online and pick it up from the SAME store. I think Walmart has a situation with the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.  Steve may want to believe that they are agnostic about where people shop but if Walmart won't honor their online sales in the store, people are just going to leave frustrated.

    No question. You have to deliver on the promise, and sometimes business models are engineered not to. Walmart is no exception, and in fact, because of its size and tradition, much of the company is genetically engineered to resist anything that challenges its legacies.

    The instinct to be format agnostic is correct. Institutional implementation may be lacking.

    Another MNB reader chimed in:

    I always was puzzled by stores treating their online division like a competitor. If you bought something on line you couldn’t bring it to the store for an exchange or refund, got it in the mail had to mail it back. They weren’t using all their resources and losing one of their competitive advantages. Now they figure it out?  

    On another point, I always thought of an agnostic as an atheists hedging their bets.

    In a business context, I think a lot of retailers are trying to figure out how to hedge their bets without really making a commitment; they’d like to be a little bit pregnant.

    In a religious context, though, I’ve always though of agnostics as actually having an open mind … having an opinion, but leaving open the possibility that they could be wrong.

    Finally, regarding the Elton John Christmas ad we posted last week, an MNB reader wrote:

    This ad touched me in two ways: First, I became a die-hard Elton John fan at the age of 12 and have never lost my love for his music. Second, as a grandfather now, I have an eight year old granddaughter learning piano and two grandsons (10 and 12) about to get guitars for Christmas. I firmly believe that music is one of the most important things in a young person’s life, and I want my grandchildren to have a lifetime of enjoying whatever kinds of music they love, the way I have with Sir Elton.

    I hope your grandsons don’t read MNB; I’d hate to have ruined Christmas morning for them.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2018

    In Monday Night Football action, the Houston Texans defeated the Tennessee Titans 34-17.
    KC's View: