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    Published on: December 10, 2019


    by Michael Sansolo

    Like most people, I haven’t loved every job I’ve had. In the past I was a camp counselor, a cashier, a food delivery boy and even worked in the accounting department of a travel wholesaler. Trust me, those were not great jobs.

    But somehow, I have fond memories of every one of them. Better yet, I have great memories of the jobs I really, really enjoyed, including working as a newspaper reporter and, of course, being a columnist at MNB.

    Here’s the reason for this short trip of nostalgia. Life is rarely perfect, but somehow we need do more than muddle through. As fashion designer Christian Dior once said, “Whatever you do, do it with passion.”

    Two weeks ago, my daughter adopted her second rescue dog and being a supportive dad, I accompanied her and the new pooch, Ruby, to PetSmart for supplies and a much-needed training session. My daughter commented that she could always tell which cashiers in the store actually seemed to like their jobs and, more importantly, who actually like pets.

    The pet enthusiasts, she said, always rushed out to meet Ruby and his older sibling, Tibbett, and usually offered up a treat or two. More blasé cashiers would simply ring up the purchase, with no sense that the customer had a dog, an alligator or a dragon. For them, it is just a job.

    But obviously, my daughter - the customer - doesn’t feel that way. She loves her dogs, pampers them and knows her parents will do the same. She relishes those moments when strangers drop to one knee in the middle of the street or sidewalk to pet or play with the dogs.

    (You can understand why. The dogs' pictures are below. If KC can run his new puppy's picture, I can do the same.)

    Think about that cashier though. It takes very little training to create those customer connections. However, it’s far more likely that cashier was trained in speedy transactions and limiting theft - important topics all, but nothing that will ever delight a shopper. If stores are to survive the battle with on-line shopping the experience will have to improve everywhere and that includes the front end.

    Supermarkets have an edge over pet stores in this regard. After all, not everyone loves animals, but we do all eat. How do we incorporate in training a reminder to store level staff to be human? If someone is buying a product the cashier personally loves, say something. Or simply make some kind of connection to let the shopper know you see them and to give them an experience that improves upon what my computer asks.

    (At least during my computer-based purchases I am asked if I am a robot. I assume a person can do much better.)

    Now I know this suggestion isn’t a perfect competitive weapon. First, it might slow transaction time by a few seconds and there may be shoppers who have no interest in a conversation. But I’d bet many more shoppers might find such small moments give them pause in their day and make them think differently about their store. Connections and experience are only growing more important.

    By the way … Forbes has a story this week about how the folks at Chewy, the pet supplies e-tailer, puts a premium on communicating to customers that its people understand "how pet parents think, and that it knows how to connect with them, so they will become lifetime customers.

    "Part of that narrative is convincing pet owners that everyone at Chewy, from the customer service reps who answer their calls, to the tech wizards who tweak the algorithms that recommend the right dog food, to the CEO, cares about their pet as much as they do."

    You can read the story here … and it is a reminder that many e-commerce companies are focusing on the importance of consumer connections. It isn't just bricks-and-mortar retailers, which, if they don't bring their A-game, could lose an advantage that they should have.

    I saw another example of how retailers can do it right the day: the charity where my wife works will be having its annual holiday party this coming weekend, and as usual we try to find tacky sweaters to wear. Of course, we don’t want to spend very much on such a useless piece of clothing. In search of something that fit the bill we ended up at Aldi, where we found the perfect solution.

    But as we checked out the cashier noticed our somewhat unusual purchase, looked at us and said, “Going to a holiday party, I see.” It caused no delay, no discomfort and gave us all a chuckle and a little connection.

    See, I’m not a robot. More importantly, neither was the cashier.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . 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: December 10, 2019




    by Kevin Coupe

    I may regret this, but I'm going to wade into the Peloton controversy.

    As you may know, Peloton managed to generate a ton of social media controversy last week when it released a commercial for its highly expensive stationary bike. Titled "The Gift That Gives Back," the commercial (which you can see at left) showed what happens when a man gives his wife a Peloton bike for Christmas, and she records many of her exercise sessions over the following year - sometimes frustrated, sometimes terrified of the commitment, sometimes tired, but always working hard to get in/stay in shape. At the end of the year, she presents a video of the sessions to her husband, saying that she "didn’t realize how much this would change me."

    The backlash was broad and immediate. Many people believed that the commercial was pushing unrealistic expectations about body image, especially considering that the wife and mother portrayed by actress Monica Ruiz already looks to be in pretty great shape. The "husband" in the ad was denounced online as a miscreant - he's never shown on the Peloton equipment. And not only was Peloton denounced on social media, but it got a number of references on last week's "Saturday Night Live." (Perhaps my favorite joke was when "Weekend Update" co-anchor Colin Jost said, “At least they decided against using the slogan ‘Peloton: You’d better keep it tighter than the babysitter.’”)

    I have to be honest here - I was gobsmacked by the contretemps.

    When I watched the commercial, I didn't see all the stuff that the detractors saw. I saw a guy giving his wife a piece of exercise equipment that cost more than two grand, and that over a year, she developed a commitment to physical fitness and an understanding of the discipline it requires. (As someone who jogs four miles a day five days a week, I get it - I've been jogging for 45+ years, and I still struggle with the commitment and discipline. And I'm frustrated - I don't understand why it doesn't get any easier.)

    Now, maybe I didn't get it because I'm a guy and perhaps even a budding miscreant.

    So I checked with our own Kate McMahon, and she told me she thought it was all much ado about nothing.

    Then I checked my daughter, Allison, and she told me that if I'd like to get her a Peloton for Christmas, she promised not to be offended.

    Mrs. Content Guy told me that she thought it would've been wise of Peloton to produce a similar commercial featuring a different couple in which the woman gave her husband a Peloton, and he went through a similarly themed experience. I agree with her - it would've been smart to do that. And then Mrs. Content Guy told me that like our daughter, she wouldn't be offended if I got her a Peloton for Christmas.

    Kevin Cullen, the Boston Globe columnist, judged the Peloton commercial "majestically stupid" (which strikes me as a little hyperbolic), but then wrote something with which I totally agreed - that this is hardly the most offensive commercial on TV: "There is, for example, that one where a woman scores a pair of matching trinkets on Black Friday and her husband upstages her by buying a pair of matching, fully loaded GMC pickup trucks worth almost $100,000. When the little lady says she likes the blue one, which he had intended to give himself, the husband gallantly agrees to settle for the red one. What a guy."

    But in so many ways, the best response to the Peloton commercial came from actor Ryan Reynolds, who has evolved into a canny marketer with a taste for irony that builds on his Deadpool persona.

    Reynolds, seeing the backlash, moved with the kind of alacrity that every marketer should attempt. Reynolds is a co-owner of an entertainment and marketing company, Maximum Effort Productions, and also owns a stake in Aviation gin. He reached out to Monica Ruiz, who had been in the Peloton commercial, and offered her a new job - appearing in a commercial for Aviation that takes advantage of the Peloton controversy while managing to be very funny and brand-centric. They hired her on Wednesday, shot the commercial on Friday for less than $100,000 … and had it on the internet on Friday night. (You can see it above left.)

    “Ads are generally disposable pieces of content,” Reynolds tells the New York Times. “If you’re going to do something like this, you have to jump on the zeitgeist-y moment as it happens.”

    It seems to me that there are a lot of Eye-Opening lessons here. One is that no matter what you do these days, somebody is going to have a gripe. Some of those gripes may be legitimate, no matter what your motivations.

    I'd be curious to know how many women were involved with the production of the original Peloton commercial. Did nobody ask, "Are we sending the right message here/"

    Finally, you have to be ready to move fast in this environment. If Peloton had been more nimble, it might've quickly produced the kind of commercial suggested by Mrs. Content Guy, and that might've tamped down on the controversy.

    Maybe Peloton needs to hire Ryan Reynolds, who has shown a real talent for self-deprecation.


    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    The Chicago Tribune reports on a new Mintel survey saying that "a growing share of consumers are considering swapping stuff for gifts that let recipients explore a new hobby or enjoy a night on the town. Businesses from cooking schools to theaters say they’re benefiting from interest in gifts of experiences, despite risks of giving presents that can be tough to return, not to mention challenging to wrap."

    This creates a real challenge to traditional retailers that have done a large percentage of their annual sales during the holidays, selling holiday gifts.

    According to the story, "Half of consumers surveyed on their 2019 holiday shopping said they prefer experiences to tangible gifts, a trend that has been 'up across the board' in recent years, said Diana Smith, associate director at market research firm Mintel … Activities like dining out, traveling and entertainment are among the most common ways consumers say they’re spending discretionary money, she said. When Mintel asked consumers about their goals, one of the most popular answers was trying new things."
    KC's View:
    I believe this, especially at a time where a lot of people are trying to de-clutter their lives.

    But … I think one has to keep this in context. I suspect that many of the people who say they don't want "stuff" for Christmas are the people who already have lots of "stuff." This may not be quite as across-the-board as the survey would suggest.

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    The Associated Press reports that the folks at Merriam-Webster have declared that "they" is the word of the year, "based on a 313 percent increase in look-ups on the company’s search site, Merriam-Webster.com, this year when compared with 2018."

    The reason: "They" is the personal pronoun used by transgender non-binary people, who identify as both male and female, to described themselves. Not "he" or "she." But "they."

    According to the AP story, "In October, the American Psychological Association endorsed 'they' as a singular third-person pronoun in its latest style guide for scholarly writing.

    "'We believe writers should try to use a person’s self-identified pronoun whenever feasible,' said Jasper Simons, chief publishing officer for the APA. 'The singular ‘they’ is a way for writers to avoid making assumptions about gender when it is not known'."
    KC's View:
    Something that every business leader has to know and respect if he/she/they want to be relevant in 2019 and beyond.

    Interestingly, Bloomberg has a story the other day about how "according to Pew research, 35% of Generation Z knows someone who identifies as non-binary and prefers gender neutral pronouns—and millennials and even Generation X aren’t far behind."

    The Bloomberg story, by the way, was about the growth of gender-neutral fashion, and how it is moving beyond designers' runways and high fashion magazines and into more mainstream clothing retail. "Big clothing retailers like H&M are starting to incorporate gender fluidity into a larger retail strategy," the story said.

    Again … stuff that a lot of retailers and business leaders never thought they'd have to think about, but now must.

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    Fast Company has a story saying that people may be less focused on socially responsible behavior than one might think, that "such behaviors are continuing to decline across the country. What’s worse is that we see the greatest slide among younger Americans, the poster children for being purpose-driven and socially responsible."

    This seems to be happening at a time when brands are positioning themselves as being more socially responsible.

    Why? Well, it may be that it is very complicated to behave in socially responsible ways - it rarely is a simple matter, complicated by ethical conundrums and sometimes by misinformation and/or misconceptions.

    "Moving forward," the story suggests, "we have to simplify our terminology and make it much easier for consumers to do the right thing. We have to be honest with ourselves and admit we don’t have all the answers, while pressing ahead to quickly find them. And we have to strive for clarity, so that consumers can take action with some degree of confidence. And last but not least, we must keep pressure on businesses and government to act with increasing urgency to address our biggest challenges."

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

    Published on: December 10, 2019

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

    CNBC reports that less than a year after Amazon decided not to build half of its HQ2 installation in New York City because of a local political backlash, the company announced that it will lease more than 335,000 square feet of space in Manhattan's new Hudson Yards neighborhood.

    The HQ2 deal got a lot of scrutiny because the state and city governments were offering close to $3 billion in incentives to Amazon for building in Long Island City in Queens, across the East River from Manhattan. Many local politicians - including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star in the Democratic party - criticized it as a bad use of tax dollars that could be better devoted to the needs of local businesses and people.

    CNBC writes that "the new lease will bring just a fraction of the jobs Amazon promised as part of the HQ2 deal. The company will have over 1,500 employees at the new site, according to the Journal. Amazon had made clear it would continue to grow in New York even after it pulled out of its HQ2 project there. The new Amazon jobs will also be located in Manhattan, not the developing neighborhood of Long Island City in Queens.

    "An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that the new office space will open in 2021 and house employees from its consumer and advertising teams. The spokesperson also said the office is part of the company’s previously announced plan to add jobs “organically” in many U.S. cities, including New York City."

    I wrote earlier this year that the HQ2 deal with New York exposed some real and irresolvable cultural differences. Amazon, right or wrong, believes that communities need it more than it needs communities, but in New York, that sort of rubs folks the wrong way; it is, after all, New York. And I also thought that as much as Long Island City might benefit from Amazon's HQ2, it also could put some enormous stresses on the city's infrastructure, which already has its problems. It seemed entirely plausible to me that there were places where the building would be a lot simpler, where maybe Amazon could have a far bigger and even more positive impact.

    This strikes me as a smarter way for Amazon to go if it wants to be in New York. It is a natural place for its consumer and advertising teams to be, it is a neighborhood where Google already has a presence and Facebook reportedly is coming, and avoids some of the controversy that the HQ2 project generated.

    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that "California’s Salinas Valley is grappling with a new outbreak of E. coli contamination linked to packaged salads.

    "The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the latest multistate outbreak, which sickened eight people in upper-Midwest states and 16 in Canada, involves a different E. coli strain than the one involved in a previous set of illnesses announced before Thanksgiving. The outbreaks, however, share a common geographical origin: lettuce harvested in California’s Salinas Valley, according to the CDC.

    "This time, Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp salads were the “likely source” of contamination, the agency said."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    Paul A. Volker, who dedicated much of his life to helping to shape the nation's economic policies, often in turbulent times, has passed away. He was 92.

    In its obit, the New York Times offers the following perspective:

    "Mr. Volcker, a towering, taciturn and somewhat rumpled figure, arrived in Washington as America’s postwar economic hegemony was beginning to crumble. He would devote his professional life to wrestling with the consequences.

    "As a Treasury Department official under Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, Mr. Volcker waged a long, losing struggle to preserve the postwar international monetary system established by the Bretton Woods agreement.

    "As a senior Federal Reserve official from 1975 to 1987, in addition to battling inflation, he sought to limit the easing of financial regulation and warned that the rapid growth of the federal debt threatened the nation’s economic health.

    "In his last official post, as chairman of President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, formed in response to the 2008 financial crisis, he persuaded lawmakers to impose new restrictions on big banks — a measure known as the 'Volcker Rule'."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    Yesterday MNB took note of a New York Daily News story about how Chipotle employees only are allowed to take a sick day if they get a note from a medical professional. The company has a nurse on call to whom employees have to reach out before taking a day off; it is all part of the company's emphasis on food safety.

    But, I commented:

    I don't get it. First of all, this strikes me as reflecting an enormous lack of trust that Chipotle has in its store employees. How, over the phone, will a nurse be able to tel whether it is the beginning of the flu or a hangover?

    How many people will go to work - even when not feeling well because they don't want to be cross examined by a nurse?

    Not the best approach, I think, for a company that has had more than its share of food safety issues.


    MNB reader Bob Overstreet replied:

    Do the employees have to sign away their HIPAA  rights?  What if the nurse (over the phone) determines you are not sick?  Does the employee have an appeal right or do they go to work sick?

    What if the employee does not want to sign off on giving the employer HIPAA rights?

    Sounds like a misstep.


    But MNB reader Scott Nelson provided some more context:

    I had the same response initially when I heard the story on a radio news report.  They then added an audio clip from a Chipotle spokesperson who clarified that they will pay for a sick day if the employee calls the nurse.   Paid sick days are available from day one of employment at Chipotle.   To me it sounds like the nurse policy is to prevent employees from faking sick while giving them an incentive to stay home if they are ill.   To me this is a smart move.




    Regarding the declining Christmas tree market, MNB reader Jackie Lembke wrote:

    As much as my husband would love a real tree, due to allergies we have always had a plastic one. Since my children were raised on artificial trees, they don't have real ones either. Never a tradition to go chop our own. Not planning on starting the tradition at this point.

    But MNB reader George Denman wrote:

    One of the first things that I encountered with my wife’s family for our 1st Christmas together was their annual tradition of heading out to the country to choose their live tree. In over 35 years of marriage nary a fake tree has ever entered the Denman household. It helps that we have a Christmas tree farm in our backyard and normally we go there with her family as well and come back for a hot chili lunch and then watch some football.

    This year I decided to do something different. My family has a 680 acre Christmas tree farm in upstate NY, just 20 minutes south of Syracuse. I drove 8 hours to cut a live tree there, a first for me, and brought it back on top of the Jeep all the way to Cincinnati. Thirty minutes outside of the farm I hit a horrible ice storm that nearly shut down the NYS Thru-way. Check the picture of my car at a rest stop encrusted in ice. The good news is that I made it home safe 10 hours later with the tree still attached to the roof of the Jeep. This will be one of the best trees ever…. Merry Christmas!


    Wait a minute. You have a Christmas tree farm in your backyard and your family owns a Christmas tree farm?

    Talk about an embarrassment of riches.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    In Monday Night Football, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Giants 23-17.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    Past Retail Tomorrow podcasts have focused on how technology can have an impact on business models and people's lives. In this edition, however, we drill down to talk about how technology affected one life … and, in fact, makes living a best life possible.

    Our guest: Heidi Dohse, senior program manager in Google's Cloud - Health and Life Sciences division. Dohse's personal and professional story makes for a compelling narrative that is at once provocative and inspiring.

    Hosted by Kevin Coupe, MorningNewsBeat’s “Content Guy."

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

    This edition of the Retail Tomorrow podcast is brought to you by GMDC, the Global Market Development Center.








    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2019

    The Chicago Tribune reports on a new Mintel survey saying that "a growing share of consumers are considering swapping stuff for gifts that let recipients explore a new hobby or enjoy a night on the town. Businesses from cooking schools to theaters say they’re benefiting from interest in gifts of experiences, despite risks of giving presents that can be tough to return, not to mention challenging to wrap."

    This creates a real challenge to traditional retailers that have done a large percentage of their annual sales during the holidays, selling holiday gifts.

    According to the story, "Half of consumers surveyed on their 2019 holiday shopping said they prefer experiences to tangible gifts, a trend that has been 'up across the board' in recent years, said Diana Smith, associate director at market research firm Mintel … Activities like dining out, traveling and entertainment are among the most common ways consumers say they’re spending discretionary money, she said. When Mintel asked consumers about their goals, one of the most popular answers was trying new things."
    KC's View:
    I believe this, especially at a time where a lot of people are trying to de-clutter their lives.

    But … I think one has to keep this in context. I suspect that many of the people who say they don't want "stuff" for Christmas are the people who already have lots of "stuff." This may not be quite as across-the-board as the survey would suggest.