retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday we took note of a Wall Street Journal report that Albertsons is planning an initial public offering that would value the company at $19 billion.

MNB reader Glenn Cantor responded:

The hidden gem in the news story about a possible IPO for Albertsons is “Albertsons has substantially reduced debt since it last filed paperwork for an IPO in 2015. It ended November with about $8.34 billion in net debt excluding operating leases, down from $10.52 billion a year earlier.”  In my experience, the remaining $8.34 billion in debt is still a considerable burden on any company.

Regarding a story about how at the current time there are more women in the workforce than men, MNB reader Mitch Hill wrote:

I absolutely agree that it is a positive thing to see a growing role for women in the workplace.  However, until there is completely equal pay between men and women this is not really an achievement.

We had a story the other day about how Taco Bell has made a 2020 commitment to "convert all consumer-facing packaging - that’s anything the customer comes into contact with when they order food, like the wraps around tacos or the physical box that holds the $5 Cravings Box items - to be either reusable, recyclable, or compostable at all locations across the globe within the next five years."

I commented:

For me, the problem always has been that Taco Bell food tastes like cardboard packaging, albeit packaging that is slathered with cheese and sauce.

Prompting MNB reader Russ Allison to write:

Taco Bell approaching a progressive sustainability initiative in over 7000 stores is impressive on several fronts (be more impressive if/when it occurs) and imo exhibits a strong leadership move.  Definitely more worthy than an incredibly predictable and tired stab at their food, which is definitely not being marketed to your (or mine) demographic.

Fair enough. I went for the easy joke. I do that almost reflexively.

We linked the other day to a Fast Company piece about how to fix the toxic brand that is Victoria's Secret. There were two suggestions:

• "Fix the company’s C-suite problem, and hire women in leadership roles. You know, lady-folk whose ages start with 5- and 6-, with letters like ‘M’ ‘B’ and ‘A’ after their names - such as any of the dozens of highly talented executives running U.S. fashion retailers. Keep hiring until the C-suite overflows with ladies who fully comprehend two important words: 'me too'."

• The second step is an extension of the first step: "Clean house. Multiple executives, including the chairman and CEO of L Brands, Lex Wexner, were heavily intertwined with Jeffrey Epstein. It’s time to realize that women can purchase coverings for their lady bits in numerous ways that will not enrich men implicated with a sex trafficker of underage girls."

One MNB reader responded:

Step 3: Start selling sizes that fit the diverse body types that exist. Not just small, smaller and smallest.

Commenting on robots that patrol stores to identify messes that need to be cleaned up and out of stocks, I wrote yesterday:

I saw several of these things wandering the exhibit floor at the National Retail Federation show in New York City yesterday, and while they are impressive, I did find myself feeling a little skeptical about them.

Not that they can't do what they're pitched as doing. They seem perfectly capable. But I can't help but wonder if stores - and more importantly, customers - would be better served by having employees in the aisles, able to detect out of stocks and clean up messes, but also able to talk to shoppers and serve both an ambassadorial and utilitarian role.

MNB reader Bob McGehee wrote:

In my last manager gig in retail grocery, I would make sure that at least once per hour my most pleasant cashier would take a lap through the store to seek out people with the ‘lost look in their eyes’ to assist them.  I increased the frequency to every 30 minutes prior to holidays.  It was understood that any person with a piece of paper in their hand and a expression that said ‘I don’t want to be here’ would get special attention to hopefully ease their pain.
They would also check the shelves for low/empty sale items and pass a list to the grocery staff. 
While a robot might be able to do the second item but I doubt it could do the first.

Regarding a dip in wine consumption in the US last year, MNB reader Craig Espelien wrote:

For me, it is no surprise that wine consumption is down. With land values in CA skyrocketing and cheap/sweet wine (think Yellow Tail or Two Buck Chuck) there are not high quality (or at least perceived quality) wines to entice the new generation. Additionally, wine got “old” - think The innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christenson. With craft beer and now hard cider and craft cocktails (backed by local distillers) wine has become a bit of a victim of their own success.

The cycles will continue…remember Zima? The first try at hard seltzer - sweet but not cheap and did not last as taste buds matured.

Responding to a comment by former Apple Store exec and JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson that he thinks that Amazon is going to be in some competitive trouble going forward, one MNB reader wrote:

I found Ron Johnson’s comment interesting: “… It has everything to do with how old school retailers are reinventing themselves - finally - to not only compete against Amazon, but be the first choice for consumers."  I wonder how much of his view is from the C suite, and if any is from the trenches.
As a consumer, I find “old-school retailers” are still driving me to Amazon.  In the last few months, I’ve gone to both Home Depot and Staples to buy a basic item that I figured would be in stock.  I drove to these retailers because I wanted to use the item that day.  In both instances, a very nice clerk told me that they didn’t carry that item in store (a tool case from Home Depot and a label maker from Staples), but they could easily order it for me online.  It would arrive at the store in a couple of days, and I could pick it up then.
Sooooo, I can wait a couple of days and drive back to the store?  Two days later, I’m opening my items, the exact models I wanted at the same or better price, that were delivered from Amazon to my door step.  No return visit needed.

And finally, on another subject, from another MNB reader:

I too am in this age cohort of considering retirement (I am 63, my spouse is 61).  My concern over the greying of the workforce stems from the reality our firm faces daily – that is, how to manage workers in retail grocery who are no longer capable of performing the tasks & physical demands of their jobs?  We have no valid, legal tools to exit or transition these folks and no lily pads to jump to for these older workers.  Sedentary jobs in our business are few and far between.  The business is geared towards taking 10’s of 1000’s of pounds of product from the loading docks to the point of sale systems without injuring workers in the process.  I hate it when a 73 year old tears a rotator cuff while trying to separate 2 ‘nested’ shopping carts, or when a 65 year old falls while walking back to the front-end of the store then trips over a pallet jack in the pathway near the employee break room breaking both arms in the fall.
I have empathy for my fellow seniors – yet I’m blessed with a desk job and don’t have to stand/walk 8 miles/day in a big box location.  I have no answers to these problems, just questions.  I’d venture to guess I am not alone in this regard.

KC's View: