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    Published on: April 23, 2019

    by Michael Sansolo

    As all businesses struggle to best delight and connect with shoppers in the new world of uber-convenient competition, it’s interesting to find examples of companies actively recreating some traditional experiences. Especially experiences that shoppers generally think suck.

    For example, there’s probably no shopping experience worse than buying car tires. It’s expensive, always inconvenient, confusing and, to top it off, requires that you sit in a crappy waiting room for a far longer period than you have been promised.

    Now, Goodyear seems to understand that it’s clearly an experience ripe for remaking. Or, dare I say, disruption.

    A shopping mall near me (inexplicably, my part of Maryland seems to be ground zero for this experiment) has an unusual store called Roll. The store, in a typical mall space, has a wall decorated with car tires, but no service bays or anything else you’d expect in a tire shop.

    As the lone employee explained to me, Roll is about reinventing the tire shopping experience.

    Step 1: Either in the store or on-line (, you can select tires guided by information from Goodyear on what your car might actually need.

    But then comes the change.

    Step 2 is about choosing your method of installation. Goodyear will dispatch a mobile van to your house, office or wherever you are to install the tires right there. Alternatively you can drop off your car at a Goodyear location or Goodyear will come get your car and return it with new tires.

    Step 3 is “do your own thing” or, as Goodyear says, “go enjoy your time while we change your tires.” No more sitting around that waiting room. Stay at home or in the office and Goodyear solves the problem for you.

    Granted this is just an experiment and frankly, the Roll store isn’t packing them in at the Mall, but it’s worth considering. Anytime a company actively takes on a problem that shoppers hate strikes me as a potential big win.

    The second great example or solving a sucky experience comes from Hyundai. The South Korean car maker you might recall did a masterful job of meeting customer needs back at the depths of the 2008 recession with its Assurance program that allowed customers to undo a new car purchase if they suddenly had a major (negative) economic turn of events. In other words, if you lost your job suddenly, Hyundai would take your car back.

    The program worked. Hyundai was the only car company to record sales gains during the downturn.

    Now Hyundai is going at all the miserable parts of the car buying experience with Shoppers Assurance, a program says completely overhauls the process and looks like a winner. As CNet reports: Shopper Assurance improves the experience four ways. First, it allows customers to find all the pricing information on Hyundai cars on line so the entire process of haggling and hunting for deals disappears and everything becomes transparent.

    Then, Hyundai offers a “flexible test drive,” which allows the shopper to book a test drive and have the car brought to them. Third, if the shopper likes the car all the paperwork can be done on line for simplicity. And fourth, if the customer has second thoughts, he or she can cancel the purchase at no cost and return the car for three days after buying it. CNet reports that initial surveys show fantastic satisfaction among shoppers and clear signs that the program is convincing them to consider and buy a Hyundai.

    Both these programs are worth thinking about, regardless of your business, because both are clear signs of businesses recognizing how their shoppers can be overwhelmed or put off by interactions that can be improved.

    Time to ask yourself how you too can fix those things that suck.

    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: April 23, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    I recently had the great pleasure of appearing as a guest on the Tech Cat podcast hosted by Lori H. Schwartz, a technology futurist who is a lot smarter that I am about the impact of technology on business and a wide range of marketing and tech innovation trends.

    Not only is Lori a CNN Technology Contributor and a frequent speaker at major industry events, but she’s also a facilitator for company conversations about new business models and technology innovation. And - she’s an adjunct faculty member at Loyola Marymount University, where I went to school.

    It was great fun to spend time with her on the Tech Cat podcast, which served as a follow-up of sorts to her appearance on the Retail Tomorrow podcast (which can be accessed at the bottom of the MNB home page). We chatted a lot about retail and customers and where technology can and can’t take us … and I hope you’ll enjoy it (as well as some of the many other podcasts Lori has posted).

    You can access it here.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    Politico has an excellent breakdown on the US Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments inn a case that will decide whether SNAP retail sales data is confidential or can and should be made public.

    The story says that “The court will ultimately decide what constitutes confidential business information as it relates to public access to government records. Retailers have argued that store-level SNAP sales data essentially amounts to a trade secret and releasing it would harm retailers.

    “The Argus Leader, a newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., has argued the public has a right to know how and where taxpayer dollars are being spent in the $65 billion program … The long-running fight began in 2011 when the Argus Leader filed a lawsuit after USDA denied its Freedom of Information Act request, which had sought retail sales data for five years of store-level SNAP purchases. For awhile, the department fought the request in court.

    “But in 2017 USDA decided not to appeal a judge’s ruling that the government had failed to show that releasing the data would cause real competitive harm to retailers. At that point, the Food Marketing Institute, which represents major retailers, stepped in and eventually succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to take the case.”

    The case, Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, “could end up having much broader implications for what is considered confidential financial and business information in the context of FOIA requests,” Politico writes. While the media maintains that the data - which essentially is about where $65 billion in taxpayer money is going - could be used “to search for trends and write about which companies were profiting from the program,” FMI maintains that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests “are meant to shed light on government activities, not the sales trends of private business.”

    The paper’s request wasn’t capricious. The Wall Street Journal notes that “the paper had set its sights on ‘retailer trafficking,’ where food stores allegedly pay cash to low-income individuals at reduced rates in exchange for their food-stamp benefits, which the stores then redeem at full value with the government. The Argus Leader asked the USDA for information on government payouts on a per-store basis for more than 300,000 retailers that participate in the program.”

    A decision is expected before the Supreme Court ends this session in June.
    KC's View:
    I understand FMI’s position in this case, but my worry is that this is the beginning of institutional hostility to the very notion of freedom of information. I worry about that, and the ways in which an anti-press ruling - which I completely expect SCOTUS to hand down - could be applied and extended in future cases.

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Sears, having emerged from bankruptcy protection and now hoping to keep the company alive albeit in a vastly smaller form, is counting on the DieHard brand to provide some badly needed power.

    Having previously extended the brand from batteries, battery chargers and flashlights to other auto-related products and even work boots, Sears now plans to stretch its relevance even further, “to products as wide-ranging as riding lawn mowers and off-road bikes” as well as flannel shirts and caps.

    Needless to say, there’s a legal wrinkle. The Tribune writes that “Sears already created one brand with a strong reputation for tools and lawn and garden products: Craftsman. But it sold Craftsman to Stanley Black & Decker in 2017, in a deal valued at $900 million.

    “Under that agreement, Sears can still make and sell Craftsman products … But Sears and Stanley have butted heads over the brand since the sale. Stanley, which sells its Craftsman products at retailers like Lowe’s, filed a lawsuit last month asking the courts to make Sears stop promoting itself as ‘the real home of the broadest assortment of Craftsman’.”
    KC's View:
    Could work. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be surprising if Sears, given the golden touch that Eddie Lampert has shown throughout his ownership of the company, manages to totally destroy the credibility and brand equity of one of its few enduring product lines. It also seems completely in character that they’d try to sell Craftsman and they try to act as if it hasn’t sold it, and undermine the folks from whom they took the check.

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    Two announcements yesterday from retailers looking to make Earth Day-related news…

    • Albertsons Companies announced a broad plastic waste reduction pledge to advance sustainability throughout the company.

    According to the announcement, Albertsons’ pledge includes a commitment to “achieve even greater sustainability of Own Brands product packaging by ensuring that 100% of packaging will be recyclable, reusable, or industrially compostable by 2025 … decrease plastic usage, with an emphasis on single-use plastics … (and) recycle operational (non-consumer facing) plastics for use in new retail, industrial and/or consumer items.”

    USA Today reports that “Wegmans plans to eliminate the use of plastic bags at its New York stores by year's end, and shoppers are being discouraged from reusing old ones,” putting it ahead of a New York State law banning plastic grocer bags that goes into effect on March 1, 2020.

    "We want to get out ahead of this because we have a lot to learn from our customers about how we can help them make the shift to reusable bags, which are far better than paper bags for the environment," says Wegmans packaging and sustainability manager Jason Wadsworth.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    • The Drum reports that Walmart plans to open 40 Sam’s Club stores in China by 2020, almost doubling the number of membership warehouse stores that it operates there.

    There are 23 Sam’s Clubs in China at the moment, with some two million members.

    According to the story, “The Sam’s Club stores are part of Walmart’s China business, which also includes hypermarkets and compact ‘community-based’ small supermarket businesses. Walmart also operates an online grocery delivery business JD Daojia, through a partnership with, as well as WeChat mini program, which has more than 30 million members.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    MarketWatch reports that Luckin Coffee, a Chinese company that has gotten a lot of attention by being surprisingly competitive with both Starbucks and McDonald’s there, has filed for an initial public offering (IPO) inn the US that values the company at close to $3 billion.

    Luckin reportedly plans to open about 2,500 stores in China this year, which would bring its total to 4,500. The battle with Starbucks and McDonald’s seems to be largely in the delivery space, which in China’s densely packed cities requires the ability to respond quickly and provide differentiated service.

    • Interesting piece in the GW Hatchet - an independent student newspaper serving the George Washington University campus - about how “Starbucks outposts in neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, Chinatown and Downtown D.C. have closed their doors, and local coffee shops have begun to take their place. Workers at local coffee shops and students said more people may turn to coffee shops only found in D.C. and smaller chains for a more personal experience between customers and employees.”

    According to the story, “The closures are a result of Starbucks’ plan to close 150 stores nationally … A Starbucks spokesperson declined to say how many locations have closed in the District within the past year or if the chain will open more stores in D.C. … In interviews, a dozen students said they prefer local chains or independent coffee shops to chains like Starbucks or Dunkin’ because of the welcoming atmosphere and quality of coffee.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    • Kings Food Markets and Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market announced a series of headquarters moves…

    Karen Roche, Senior Director in the company’s Marketing Department, has been promoted to Vice President, Marketing.

    Don Morris - who the company describes as being “an accomplished storyteller versed in all media” who “has launched and rebranded companies, designed three film festivals and numerous events, helped start-up restaurants, redesigned and launched many high- profile magazines, launched and rebranded websites, launched products, art directed books, and created successful marketing campaigns” - joins the company as Senior Creative Director.

    Laura Wallace, formerly a Marketing Director at Food Network and Cooking Channel, has been promoted to Director of Marketing.

    CNBC reports that “Kraft Heinz CEO Bernardo Hees will step down on June 30, marking the embattled company’s most significant executive shakeup since its formation four years ago. Hees … will be replaced by Miguel Patricio, who worked for two decades at beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, including as chief marketing officer from 2012 through last year.”

    The story notes that “Hees leaves at a critical time for Kraft Heinz, which is struggling to boost sales in the slow-growing food industry and facing questions from investors about the business model created by its second-largest shareholder, private equity firm 3G Capital, which focuses heavily on cutting costs, sometimes at the expense of brand investment.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    • Nielsen CEO David Kenny has written a New York Times op-ed piece taking a political stance, objecting to a citizenship requirement that has been proposed by the Trump administration for the 2020 census.

    The background is this: The Department of Commerce announced that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status, which never had been included in the survey. The decision was objected to by activists and institutions maintaining that the requirement would lead to parts of the population in certain parts of the country being undercounted, which would lead to some states and municipalities receiving less in federal benefits than they are entitled to.

    More than 30 states, cities and counties opposed Treasury’s proposal, and New York State actually won a lawsuit, which Treasury then appealed to the US Supreme Court, which will hear the case this week.

    In his op-ed, Kenny writes:

    “If the government is successful in adding the citizenship question, the census will yield flawed data. This has significant consequences for American businesses, which rely heavily on census data and on the accurate reporting of consumer behavior to make their most critical business decisions.

    “A citizenship question will pollute a data set that is foundational for businesses all over the country. The Supreme Court has previously recognized that the census serves as a ‘linchpin of the federal statistical system by collecting data on the characteristics of individuals, households, and housing units throughout the country.’ Presidents from both political parties have recognized that the private sector, like the government, uses the wealth of information generated by the census to make critical business decisions.

    “My company, Nielsen, believes that American businesses’ reliance on this data cannot be overstated. As soon as the decennial census data is available, for example, we revise our ranking of the top media markets in the United States, by population. This ‘designated market area’ list is always eagerly anticipated by our clients, and it has a direct impact on how advertisers spend their money.”

    Kenny goes on: “In the era of big data, an accurate census is more critical than ever. We know that big data sets have inherent structural biases, and those biases require calibration to a ‘truth set,’ which in almost all cases is benchmarked to the census. Even a small error in the census can be amplified over and over again as the data is used in new and ever evolving ways. The last thing that business needs is for the next 10 years of data to be built on a faulty foundation.”

    Kenny argues that “this truth set is more critical now than it has ever been before, as business reflects a changing America. In 2044, white Americans will be a minority. We know that because prior decennial census data has told us so. At that time, Hispanics will constitute 25 percent of the population; African-Americans, 12.7 percent; Asians, 7.9 percent; and multiracial people, 3.7 percent. American businesses are already adapting to this evolving customer base, but they require the best possible data to do so.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 23, 2019

    Hooray for Hollywood! This podcast comes to you from GMDC’s Retail Tomorrow Immersion conference in Los Angeles, which may have more storytellers per capita than any other place on earth. With visits to Google’s new campus in Playa Vista, in the converted hangar where Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose once resided, and to some of the most interesting and experiential retail spaces in the city, this conference also featured several sessions that, now as podcasts, bring this fascinating content to you.

    First up - a discussion of disruptive storytelling - told through stores, pop-ups and, coming soon, AI and VR - that is changing the way marketers connect with and influence existing and potential customers.

    Our guests:

    • Cody Rapp, CEO of Calmist, a fascinating and growth-focused retail concept recently featured on MorningNewsBeat.

    • Lori Schwartz, founder of Tech Cat, which helps marketers shape their narratives in a fast-evolving environment.

    • Amanda Solosky, co-founder/CEO at Rival Theory, which is developing game-changing AI capabilities that definitely will impact the relationship marketers have with shoppers.

    • And Mariya Zorotovich, director of Responsive Retail Strategy and Incubation, at Intel Corporation, which helps to make all this possible.

    The host: Kevin Coupe, MorningNewsBeat’s “Content Guy.”

    You can listen to the podcast here, or on iTunes ands Google Play.

    Pictured, from left to right:

    Kevin Coupe, Mariya Zorotovich, Amanda Solosky, Cody Rapp, Lori Schwartz.

    KC's View: