retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a piece on Friday about how, at Dorothy Lane Market, they SELL milk ... and not just milk, but the experience and the quality that can make their milk transformational.  (And they sell some cookies, too.)  It was, I thought, brilliant.

MNB reader Craig Espelien wrote:

Wow - that is some of the best milk advertising I have seen and you are absolutely correct - it “sells” milk in a way that most folks will not. Milk has become commoditized so price is the only thing that too many retailers think matters. What a great way to “sell” milk, their brand and, of course, cookies.  Two other points:

#1 - Kemp’s in the Minneapolis market went down this pathway as the consumer saw Kemp’s milk (history of home delivery throughout the state) as better than the cheap plastic jug milk - and Kemp’s charged a premium for a better jug and for the quality their name created in milk perception. They could probably take a page from DLM and enhance that to maximize the overall value.

#2 - when you think about it, this is basic marketing. I was taught way back when that marketing was finding out what people wanted to buy and sell it to them. Sell bolded as I always saw that as a verb (sort of like compete). DLM has chosen to SELL rather than just allow consumer’s to buy based on price. Good for them - and good for their consumers.

Another MNB reader wrote:

As a customer I'd be saying to myself, if they put that much thought into their milk, everything else they sell must be fantastic as well!


Last week there was a New York Times report that consumer activists were urging regulators to take action against Amazon "over a Prime feature that warns people who want to opt out of membership that 'cancellation will mean losing 'exclusive benefits'."  The system also offer prompts in case people want to change their minds.

I commented:

Maybe I'm crazy, but it strikes me as being responsible for Amazon to inform consumers what they'll lose access to if they cancel their Prime membership.

I went on Amazon yesterday because I was curious how hard it would be to find the "cancel account" button.  It took me about five seconds…

One MNB reader responded:

Like you, I see no issue with what Amazon is doing here, and they make it extremely easy to walk away.  Much easier than other subscriptions to cancel, like your cable or satellite radio service that takes almost a full hour on the phone to get out of.  If we’re targeting tech giants, however, Apple is the one that should be drawing the focus of consumer advocate groups.  Good luck finding out how to stop auto-renewal of subscriptions without a tutorial on the process!

I agree.

MNB reader Dave Parker wrote:

I don’t get it either. Prime is a product. You can buy it or not buy it. Of course the “penalty” for cancellation is loss of benefits, because the benefits are what you pay for! We should worry more about the loss of critical thinking.

Got the following email this morning from a reader:

When will MNB start to label Walgreens as the next version of Kmart?

I’m not being entirely flippant here.  They are going to be squashed by Amazon in Pharmacy ( two-thirds of their trips).  There’s little new in Walgreens, except for the employees saying “welcome to Walgreens” when a customer enters the store.

Some of the store managers (and pharmacy managers) I talk with are saying that hours are getting cut.  I recently had a script moved from one store to another and the manager told me their hours were cut and the Rx department was no longer open on Sunday.  I went to the store to collect the RX on Monday, only to wait 12 cars deep in the outside queue.  My wife went inside to find a line of 15 waiting to pick up their Rx. Only two employees were working in Rx that Monday.  I returned to the store two days later to find only 1 person working in Rx (who later told me they were the only one scheduled to work).

I’m seeing less clean stores, out of stocks in various departments and out of date merchandise in food sections, in Walgreens stores across multiple states. Their cooler are dirty; I really doubt they are being cleaned in support of any COVID protocols.  

The only thing I can see that continues to go up is their fees to get products on their shelves.

Yes, they have many stores.  But, with no real innovation they can own, I think we’ll be seeing Walgreens as the “next Kmart” sometime in 2021. Amazon’s going to eat Walgreen’s lunch unless Walgreens comes up with a reason for its existence – soon.

I wrote the other day that "there will be a tendency, especially among public companies, to look to cut costs in 2021 because they'll be concerned about 2021's comps - the pace of pandemic-driven sales in 2020 will be hard to match and/or exceed this year."

Prompting MNB reader Joe Axford to write:

You hit the nail on the head KC!  IMO this will be number one sadly, not innovation. Employee hours will be cut, and morale will be affected. 

Regarding Kroger's new smart cart, one MNB reader wrote:

Maybe I just have an old spirit for a 31 year old, but this seems a bit much for me. I already look at a screen in nearly every aspect of my life (work, tv, kindle, online shopping, etc) and I don’t want to change that to literally every aspect of my life. If someone wants to shop on screen, great! Shop from home and pick up at the store…it’s even faster than walking the store and picking up items with a “smart cart”. If you prefer to not have screens staring back at you at every moment, shop in store. Maybe I’ll adjust over time but this kind of innovation seems duplicative and, to your point, also posses the threat of reducing customer-employee interactions that can be a major element to building higher levels of shopper equity with your brand.

FMI-The Food Industry Association has proclaimed February 22, 2021 as Supermarket Employee Day, urging its member retailers to "recognize employees at every level for the work they do feeding families and enriching lives," and offering a "free toolkit - messaging, logos and turnkey resources - to help celebrate your supermarket employees."

I commented:

I think this is a smart move, well deserved, though I do have a few observations.  (Naturally.)

One is that if retailers don't think about their employees this way, then all the help FMI can give them probably isn't going to change their companies' culture.  (That said, some may feel that way and the FMI approach will give them structure, and that's a good thing.)

I also know that I get enough emails from supermarket employees who feel that they are underpaid - especially by the big chains - to think that there could be some blowback to this campaign.   I'm sure I will get emails that will say, "Save the money on t-shirts and just pay me better."  And I think retailers have to be prepared for that.

One MNB reader responded:

I'm very excited that FMI brought this event forward for retailers.   I like your comments about retailers needing to embrace this and it shouldn't just be on the date FMI gave us.   Although pay is important, store Managers are often limited in what they can do under corporate policies.   Its the recognition that is within their total control. 

When I ascended into a DM position I instructed all of my Store Managers that certain days would be employee appreciation days and I expected them and the Department Managers to be involved in it.  I'm  proud to say that my dynamic group of managers came up with many great ideas for the appreciation events exceeding not only my expectations but of their employees.   In a world of uncertainty and hardship more then ever we need to show the people on the front lines how important they are.

Finally, I got a number of emails about my "OffBeat" interview with author Ace Atkins.

One MNB reader wrote:

Happy Friday, Kevin! Made all the more happy by your interview with Ace Atkins! I’m finishing up his latest Quinn Colson, with “Someone to Watch Over Me” on deck. Such a great talk with him – congratulations and thank you!  

And from another reader:

Thank you for sharing your interview with Ace Atkins…..I’ve read most of the Spenser and all of the Quinn Colson books.

This is a great surprise.

Thanks.  I hope to have a few more surprises in coming weeks, if things work out.