business 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: May 14, 2019

    by Michael Sansolo

    Things don’t always work the way they are supposed to. Frankly, when it comes to customer service or any kind of business success, a company’s ability to deal with problems is in many ways far more important than coasting along when things are going well.

    With this in mind, let me explain about a recent odyssey with American Airlines, possibly the only company that makes me pine for United.

    Late last week I was scheduled to fly from Dallas to my home airport in Washington, DC. Things, to put it mildly, didn’t go as planned.

    My flight was scheduled to depart DFW at 10:30 am. Got to the airport early. (I was with the Content Guy, with whom I’d been giving a speech.) Unsurprisingly, we had a short delay to kick things off, but were boarded onto our jet about 30 minutes late. No big problem there. Except once we were all herded onto the plane and into our seats, the pilot announced there was a problem with one of the tires and, due to safety concerns, we needed to off-load. Dutifully we did that, with the main conversation being whether AAA would be on scene to replace the tire.

    No one expected this to be a big deal. After all, DFW is a major American hub and no one doubted that the airline would simply roll out a new tire and get us on our way. Then again…

    Apparently, getting that tire required a minor miracle. We sat staring out the window at what seemed to be the slowest tire change imaginable. Where is a NASCAR pit crew when you need it?

    Two hours later - and still no action on the tire - we were told to move 11 gates away to another available plane. We did. Once at the new gate, we boarded another plane, got bags stowed and took our seats. All seemed good until the pilot came on to tell us there was a concern about debris in the engine and once again we needed to off-load. Again, this seemed like a prudent safety issue; nobody really wants to fly on a plane that might have a bad engine.

    So back into DFW, Terminal C, and back to our original gate only to find out (no surprise) that our flight crew had been on duty too long and needed to be replaced. The good news was the plane’s tire was clearly new; we could tell by the white sticker that seems to be on every new tire. So we waited another hour for a new crew, we greeted them with a standing ovation and soon enough (nearly eight hours after our scheduled departure time) we were boarded back onto our original plane.

    Sure enough, the pilot came on again - incredibly, American forgot to cater our plane and apparently we couldn’t depart without our complement of soft drinks and pretzels!. (Really? Is this an FAA regulation?) So we waited another hour… eventually, we took off.

    Needless to say, more than our patience was exhausted.

    While this is a highly specific example, there are universal lessons to be learned. As many passengers noticed, not once did anyone actually say, “We are sorry.” Sure, problems occur. Sometimes they cannot all be fixed. But a human touch can actually help.

    When the flight finally landed in DC - nine hours late - the inexplicably perky flight attendant told me to “have a pleasant evening” as I got off the airplane. I was too tired to point out it was 11:30 pm which meant that the evening ended long ago and the odds of anything being pleasant were infinitesimal.

    In many ways, her lame, thoughtless comment was the coup de grace on a terrible day of travel. And that I think provides the best lesson. Lord knows the farewell flight attendants give us upon landing is so ridiculous that “Saturday Night Live” mocked it with a wonderful skit (featuring Helen Hunt and Total Bastard Airlines) more than 20 years ago.

    Our people have to be trained to understand the situation and avoid robotic responses. All that flight attendant had to do was provide one small apology and fake a little sincerity. She wasn’t going to fix all the day’s problems, but she didn’t have to make it worse. That’s a lesson for us all. Bad things happen and many are beyond our control. What we can control is how we react and certainly how we avoid making things worse.

    Problems are random. Responses are not.

    One final comment: By way of apology American contacted me a day later to offer me a few thousand frequent flier miles as a consolation. Nice effort, but I don’t think I’ll be flying American for a while after this.

    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:
    I must admit that I gave Michael a hard time about all his whining. This happens to everybody … I was with him in Dallas, and it could’ve as easily happened to me as to him. (As it happens, before he took off I managed to fly home on United, go from Newark International to my home in Connecticut, get a haircut, have dinner, and sit in my office and enjoy a Tito’s-and-soda-with-lime. I was sympathetic to his situation. Really.)

    That said, I agree with Michael. Totally. Problems are random. But responses are not … if you don’t get it right, it is your fault. Nobody else’s, and certainly not attributable to fate.

    Published on: May 14, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    It was been well documented here how much of a fan of “Star Trek” Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos is. My feeling always has been that he’s pursuing a path in which his businesses will find ways to emulate the replicator and the holodeck and pretty much everything else in “Star Trek” - fast delivery is just one step along that path.

    In fact, Bezos is such a fan that he even made a cameo appearance in the last “Star Trek” movie, Star Trek Beyond.

    Now comes word from the Hollywood Reporter that Amazon “has grabbed worldwide streaming rights (outside of the United States and Canada) to an upcoming Trek series starring Patrick Stewart, who will reprise his Jean-Luc Picard character” from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

    This new series - scheduled to debut later this year - is said to be an exploration of Picard’s life two decades after his time on the USS Enterprise; beyond that, little is known, except that the concept apparently was sufficiently ingenious to get Stewart to sign on to play a character with which he thought he was done.

    I’m not surprised that Amazon is in the mix, though. Bezos is a huge “Star Trek” fan. (I’d love to interview him about nothing else other than this.) Bezos is firmly committed to space travel. And he’s clearly a believer that people - and businesses - should go where nobody has gone before.

    Eyes Open. Usually at Warp Speed.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2019

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Walmart is launching a next-day delivery service for customers in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Southern California, on orders of $35 or more.

    Walmart says that orders “will be shipped in one box to address common customer complaints about multiple boxes arriving at different times.” A rollout of the service to additional markets is expected later this year.

    The move comes as Amazon has committed to the investment of $800 million to improve its default Prime delivery times from two days to one day.

    The Journal writes that Marc Lore, head of Walmart U.S. e-commerce business, says that “the next-day-shipping model will lower Walmart’s cost per delivery … because shoppers will only be able to buy items available in warehouses near their homes and all items in an order will arrive together.”
    KC's View:
    I think that ramping up improved e-commerce services makes sense, but it also strikes me that there are a lot of caveats attached to this announcement. It will matter only if you live in certain markets, only if you spend $35 or more, and only if the ordered items are in a warehouse near me.

    This isn’t to say that Amazon doesn’t have caveats. To enjoy its advantages, one has to be a paid-up member of Prime … but then Amazon keeps adding benefits to that membership and makes it all sort of painless once you’ve made that annual payment. Which somehow seems less transactional than the Walmart approach.

    Customers, I think, don’t want to have to deal with all these caveats. They just want the merchandise when they want it. Walmart is smart to get this rolling, but I think it is going to have to roll it faster and further.

    Published on: May 14, 2019

    The Associated Press reports that Amazon is making its employees an offer it hopes they can’t refuse - quit your job working for us, and we’ll set you up in a business delivering packages for us.

    According to the story, “Amazon says it will cover up to $10,000 in startup costs for employees who are accepted into the program and leave their jobs. The company says it will also pay them three months’ worth of their salary. The offer is open to most part-time and full-time Amazon employees, including warehouse workers who pack and ship orders.” (Not Whole Foods employees, however.)

    The company said in its announcement that “Amazon will take an active role in helping interested employees launch their own package delivery businesses. An employee will leave their role at Amazon to build their business knowing they will have consistent delivery volume from Amazon, access to the company’s sophisticated delivery technology, hands-on training, and discounts on a suite of assets and services, including Amazon-branded vans customized for delivery, branded uniforms and comprehensive insurance.”

    The move comes as Amazon seeks to improve its default Prime shipping time from two days to one day, an initiative in which it has committed to investing $800 million. “The company sees the new incentive as a way to get more packages delivered to shoppers’ doorsteps faster,” the AP writes.

    The story notes that “the new employee incentive is part of a program Amazon started a year ago that lets anyone apply to launch an independent Amazon delivery business. It is part of the company’s plan to control more of its deliveries on its own, rather than rely on UPS, the post office and other carriers. Startup costs start at $10,000 and contractors that participate are able to lease blue vans with the Amazon smile logo stamped on the side.” More than 200 Amazon delivery businesses have been launched since this program started, the AP writes.
    KC's View:
    This is an indication the degree to which Amazon apparently wants to create its own delivery network … not necessarily own it, but certainly control it to a greater extent than it can when depending on FedEx or UPS or the US Postal Service. It isn’t a matter of if it wants to compete with them, but when.

    Published on: May 14, 2019

    Fast Company has a story about designer Susie Lu, a senior data visualization engineer at Netflix, who has been rethinking the notion of what a paper receipt should be.

    “What she created - using a grocery receipt of her own as reference - was a better receipt, with three distinct elements,” Fast Company writes. “On top, it features a bubble chart where spending is itemized by category. In her case, ‘meat & seafood’ is a big bubble, representing about a third of her spending, and ‘snacks’ is a tiny bubble, representing only 10%.”

    The story goes on: “Today, a receipt is nothing but a piece of paper most of us throw away. But if it could actually be designed to explain our purchases, it could teach us to shop more mindfully over time.”

    You can read the story here.
    KC's View:
    I’d never really thought of the receipt as something that needed reinventing. But this story makes the case for how it can be … though I’d be even more impressed if this were all digital, accessible via my smart phone.

    If I could go on an app linked to my loyalty account, for example, and analyze my purchases, see where I could do better both nutritionally and financially, and maybe even segue from that information to getting advice from a nutritionist or a chef, let’s say … well, that’d be a game changer. But I’m not really aware of anybody doing that.

    By the way … why isn’t Whole Foods doing that, with all that Amazon technology at its disposal? And wouldn’t it be interesting if Amazon did do this when it opens its new supermarket chain later this year? (We know almost nothing about this chain, but I still believe that Amazon is likely to use some of its secret sauces as it creates a new bricks-and-mortar recipe.)

    Published on: May 14, 2019

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

    Bloomberg reports that Amazon is striking a series of deals with European bricks-and-mortar retailers - apparel chain Next in the UK, and bookstore Giunti in Italy, for example - that will begin providing click-and-collect services for Amazon shoppers.

    Customers, the story says, will be able to “retrieve parcels from staffed counters” in those stores.

    The Journal writes that “the new service, called Counter, marks a rare example of the e-commerce giant debuting a new offering outside its U.S. home market. Amazon said it chose Europe for the launch because of customer demand for convenient click-and-collect locations and the high penetration of online retailing. It has created a new app to make the process more efficient for customers and retail partners.”

    The story goes on to point out that “at a time when stores are closing across the U.K. amid concern about the impact of online shopping, Amazon wants to show it’s providing services that could drive footfall to malls and shopping streets. Amazon said the tie-ups announced Tuesday were just a start and it would consider partnering with other retailers, large and small, that could offer pickup services.”

    Tesco CEO Dave Lewis has been pushing for a two percent tax on online purchases, the profits from which could be used to bolster the prospects for distressed bricks-and-mortar retailers.

    CNBC reports that Amazon “is rolling out machines to automate a job held by thousands of its workers: boxing up customer orders. The company started adding technology to a handful of warehouses in recent years, which scans goods coming down a conveyor belt and envelopes them seconds later in boxes custom-built for each item … Amazon has considered installing two machines at dozens more warehouses, removing at least 24 roles at each one.”

    Amazon likes to say that we’re a long way from the point where machines will be taking over people’s jobs on any sort of scale. But we may not be as far away as some would like to suggest, and others would like to think.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2019

    Business Insider has a story about how “vegan and vegetarian menu items are taking the world of fast food by storm … Chains including TGI Fridays, Carl's Jr., and Red Robin serve either the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger. Del Taco announced that its vegan Beyond Taco was on track to be one of the chain's best-ever new-product launches. And Burger King announced that it has partnered with Impossible Foods to roll out the Impossible Whopper nationally by the end of 2019.”

    The story notes that chains that have not introduce meatless burgers - McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A, for example - are under consumer and investor pressure to do so. (McDonald’s has tested one in Germany, but has not yet brought it to the US.)

    • The Akron Beacon Journal reports that “Meijer continues making bets on bricks-and-mortar retail in Ohio with the opening Tuesday morning of supercenters in Stow and two other Northeast Ohio communities … Meijer will open similar 155,000-square-foot supercenters in Avon and in Mentor, in what the Michigan retailer says is its first foray into Northeast Ohio. The supercenters feature a grocery on one end and department store merchandise on the other.

    “The addition of three Northeast Ohio stores means Meijer will have 42 retail locations in Ohio plus a distribution center and dairy processor plant. With the new stores, the privately owned chain based in Walker, Michigan, northwest of Grand Rapids, will have more than 240 supercenters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2019

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Steven Temares is out, the victim of activist investors who have criticized the company’s poor recent financial performance. He will be succeeded on an interim basis by company board member Mary Winston - a former executive with Family Dollar and Giant Eagle - while a search for a permanent replacement is conducted.

    Bed Bath & Beyond has been the subject of criticism in recent months because it has not adapted sufficiently to the current e-commerce climate, and remains committed to a marketing program which gets its customers addicted to coupons and unwilling to pay full price for anything.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2019

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2019

    In this new edition of the Retail Tomorrow Podcast, we discuss the unique partnership between Kroger and Microsoft, developing cutting edge innovations that will take each of them to the next level when it comes to things like digital shelving, video analytics, sensor networks, temperature tags … and beyond. And here’s the thing - the innovations that emerge are not proprietary, but will be available to any retailer looking to leap into the future.

    This podcast was recorded at GMDC’s recent Retail Tomorrow Immersion conference in Los Angeles.

    Our guests:

    • Kevin Fessenden, Senior Product Manager at Sunrise Technology, which is a Kroger company.

    • Chris Dieringer, Senior Director of Industry Solutions for the Retail and CPG Industry at Microsoft.

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

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

    Pictured, from left to right:

    Kevin Coupe, Chris Dieringer, Kevin Fessenden.

    KC's View: