retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday we took note of a Venture Beat report that Amazon is testing two different artificial intelligence- driven systems that it hopes will help the company deliver better customer service.

I commented:

I was preparing to write a wistful, elegant commentary yearning for the time when people would talk to people because that was the best way to really discern what matters to the customers, because algorithms can only take you so far.

But then I got to the part about how $23 billion in annual salaries could be saved by using AI for such interactions, and at that point I gave up.  That's real money … and if two-thirds of shoppers are open to the chatbot experience, who am to get all sentimental?

One MNB reader responded:

Next time you are in O'Hare airport and and walk by one of the McDonald's....especially those that have kiosks for self ordering......watch how fast people at kiosks place their orders vs. waiting in line.....similar experience with Panera during any lunch hour at their locations outside of airports.

it's not about people taking their order, it's about spending less time in line placing order and therefore more time eating with friends.

Fair enough.  I can't argue with those priorities.

We reported yesterday that in a move designed to directly compete with a similar service offered by Amazon to its Marketplace vendors, Walmart is launching a new initiative in which, for a fee, it will store, pack and ship items being sold on its website by third-party vendors.

One MNB reader observed:

It would be interesting to know about Amazon’s view and treatment of outside vendors, who are also Amazon customers.  As an industry insider who works on site in grocery retailer and wholesaler offices, the way businesses treat their vendors provides a window into their corporate culture.  You just know that when you are welcomed and treated with respect, even as a vendor, you are working with a business that values their reputation and the way they want to be perceived in the community.

I used to spend much time working in retail stores.  Normally, store management and those in subordinate management roles were reasonably friendly even if very busy.  However, there were instances when I, as an outside vendor, was treated poorly and disrespectfully.  I am sure that these people never gave a thought that my wife and I were also customers.