retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader about our story concerning J. Crew’s decision to back off its value-brand strategy:

J Crew has struggled with defining the Mercantile concept for several years – they could never figure out if it was a store, a merchandise line, or an actual brand.  They had actual “Mercantile” labeled stores that felt more like overpriced outlets – some full-price goods on sale, some outlet-branded goods, stuff with a Mercantile label.  They did not seem to have that trouble with Madewell but this concept fell apart before they even opened a store.  I think it reduces the confusion with the consumer to not have two concepts that are effectively doing the same thing.

Yesterday, we took note of a Business Insider report that Cleveron, described as the technology firm that designed the pickup towers being used in some Walmart stores, has developed “a self-driving car that delivers packages to homes and businesses. The car uses a robotic arm to place the packages in pickup lockers outside homes and businesses. Eventually, it will be able to deliver to mailboxes and pickup towers as well.

“Autonomous delivery could be a boon for retailers, which have seen shipping costs balloon in recent years.”

I commented:

Vox has a story about the same subject, suggesting that while a majority of Americans worry about being transported in autonomous vehicles, there is less concern about packages and products being transported in such vehicles.

I don’t know about you, but I worry more about getting hit by one of the damn things than riding in them.

Like drones, autonomous cars probably will take a little longer to gain popular and regulatory acceptance … but we’ll get there. It won’t be for everyone, everywhere. Some cars - like my manual transmission Mustang convertible - will be seen as dinosaurs, driven by dinosaurs.

But I won’t judge you if you won’t judge me.

One MNB reader responded:

I would never call you a dinosaur - because I drive a Mustang convertible, same year, I think only automatic transmission. (Sorry, the 405 is a pain.)

But I think the thing most people miss about automated driven cars is the number of accidents that DON'T occur. Off course, it's a statistic that can't be measured because it doesn't happen. That's tragic, because it doesn't get a lot of play in the media. But I think I would feel safer in these cars than by some of the Uber and Lyft drivers I have been with.

You’re right about the accidents … I remember reading somewhere how one of the unintended consequences of self-driving cars likely would be a drop in available organs for transplants, since many of these organs only become available after fatal car accidents.

An MNB reader yesterday was quoted here as saying:

The idea that “we shouldn’t do anything about climate change because other countries aren’t doing enough” is equivalent to being in a leaky lifeboat and refusing to bail the water out of the boat because there are other passengers who aren’t bailing the way you think they should. You may feel justified in doing nothing but you’re still going to drown.

I agreed.

But MNB reader Jim Huey said, no so fast:

If the Trump administration were indeed arguing that we shouldn’t do anything, this point would have merit. The Trump administration is saying we aren’t going to do as much as the Paris Accords call for. There is certainly an argument to be made for being part of the Paris treaty but let’s keep the discussion to facts. Arguments like the one above are great for riling up the base (I know Trump is the king of this so I don’t feel sorry for him when he gets pushback like this) but really only diminish a particular sides’ point.

I’m not sure the original correspondent was criticizing the Trump administration specifically; the comment, I thought, was more aimed at a broader spectrum of thought.

It is worth noting that this morning Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, is quoted as saying that the Trump administration wants to end all electric car subsidies in the near future - meaning 2020 or 2021.

Now, it apparently remains to be seen whether this is an actual plan or just political rhetoric - the incentives were put into place by Congress, and it seems dubious that they could be ended via executive order … and with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives starting in 2019, it seems less likely to get through the Congress.

But, the question is why we’d want to do anything that gets in the way of encouraging smarter use of energy. In my view, this has nothing to do with what other countries are doing. It has to do with being smart, with conserving energy where possible, and showing leadership. Sometimes, if other folks aren’t rowing enough, the biggest, strongest and smartest folks in the boat have to row harder and faster.
KC's View: