business news in context, analysis with attitude

With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  USA Today has a story about Bed Bath & Beyond, which is closing some 200 of its stores, or about 21 percent of its fleet, as it tries to "right-size" the company to be more competitive.

One interesting note from the story - while the stores that have going-out-of-business sales likely will stop accepting the company's ubiquitous blue-and-while coupons, the use of them for the remaining stores is likely to become  more "surgical."

"I think it's fair to say that the coupon is absolutely part of our DNA, and we want to use it more strategically and more surgically going forward," says CEO Mark Tritton. “It will not disappear; it is part of who we are."

Those coupons are more like a disease embedded in the company's DNA - they've been used so aggressively over the years that a lot of people won't go to a Bed Bath & Beyond without clutching one in their hands, which sort of undermines the whole notion of value.  It is like nothing in the store is worth the price, which is sort of a weird message to be sending.

•  The New York Times reports that "the Trump administration on Friday said it would impose new tariffs on $1.3 billion worth of French goods, including cosmetics, soap and handbags, in retaliation for a French tax that largely hits American technology companies, escalating a trade dispute that threatens to further damage the global economy.

"Notably absent from the tariff list, published by the United States Trade Representative, are French cheese, sparkling wine and cookware, which the administration had threatened to tax in December. Wine retailers and other U.S. importers of French goods had voiced opposition to those potential tariffs, saying they would hurt American companies and their workers.

"The 25 percent tariffs will be delayed 180 days and take effect in January 2021, a hiatus meant to give both countries time to resolve their differences over a digital tax that will hit American tech companies."

•  The New York Times writes that when Barnes & Noble had to close all its bricks and mortar stores because of the pandemic, CEO James Daunt - charged by the retailer's private equity owners with revitalizing the troubled company - decided to take advantage of the moment.

Rather than stick to the two-year plan to "refurnish and refurbish" stores, "Barnes & Noble used lockdowns around the country as a chance to refresh more than 350 of its 614 stores throughout the United States, using small teams to move furniture around, paint walls and bring in new books. Revamping the stores was part of a broader plan to revive the company, a difficult task to begin with that has become a lot more formidable under the weight of the pandemic."

“I knew I wanted to rip these stores apart and put them back together in a different way,” Daunt tells the Times.    “And then suddenly: ‘Oh my goodness, they’re all shut. Let’s get to work.’"

The Times writes:  "Some of the walls are painted blue now, and the signs look a little different. Many more of the books face out on shelves, so that customers can see the covers as they walk by. The books have been reorganized — for instance, nutrition titles and cookbooks are next to each other now, instead of on opposite ends of the store. And overall, the floor feels much more open. Many of the bulky displays have been thrown away  — Mr. Daunt said every store got a dumpster — and replaced by smaller tables that are easier to browse and to walk around … Fundamental to his approach, he said, is to keep the efficiencies and buying power of a big chain while giving individual stores a bit more independence, which would, in theory, allow them to better reflect and cater to local tastes. Each store’s manager will have more say in how they augment stock. If a book sells through and they don’t think it makes sense to restock it, they don’t have to — though there are limits."