business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had an email Monday from MNB user MNB user John Catsimatidis responding to a piece about e-grocery, in which he observed: I still don't know anyone that has made a nickel profit in online groceries.

We responded that it has been our impression that Tesco makes money in the UK on e-groceries, that Peapod in the US makes money on online shopping in some of the markets it serves, and that a number of the retailers who use MyWebGrocer’s service are making money with it.

But there were other responses…

One MNB user wrote:

I agree with John C...does anyone make a profit ALL year in ALL markets as a total company? I doubt it. Peapod may claim it makes money in some markets(which is a financial figure that is easy to manipulate based on where costs are allocated), but as an corporate entity, it is still losing several million dollars per year even after 15 years of existence. That in my opinion is not a successful business model.

And another MNB user wrote:

The profits Tesco makes from its online grocery service includes a large element of non-food. Looking just at their grocery sales might produce different figures. You might also be interested to know that they are currently being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (see BBC Online and our weekend newspapers for details) for overcharging customers who shop online.

We had a story the other day about how Wal-Mart is being sued by a group of Maryland customers because the retailer stocks a CD by the rock group Evanescence in which during one song the group drops the F-bomb.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages of up to $74,500 for each of the Maryland customers who bought the CD at Wal-Mart. They say that Wal-Mart purports to sell only “clean music,” and that it knew the word was on the CD but continued to stock it anyway. The CD does not carry a parental advisory warning of the offending word.

Wal-Mart said it would not pull the CD off its shelves, but would investigate the allegations.

MNB user Mark Delaney wrote:

For what it's worth, as a parent the issue that scares me the most about watching this ridiculous lawsuit come to light is the amount of freedom these people seem willing to give up. Do any of us really want a for-profit retail entity deciding for us what we or our children should read or listen to? That's what strikes me as the real underlying issue. Do we really want to become lemmings allowing someone else that kind of editorial license? As a famous philosopher with the initials JB said (and I'm taking editorial license with the lyrics...) " I don't want that kind of control in my life ... " Isn't this sort of what the founding fathers were thinking?

While I chuckle at Wal-Mart falling on its' own sword of mock righteousness on this one, it would be nearly impossible for anyone or any entity to thoroughly screen all of the albums, books, magazines and such – especially given the varying standards of what is deemed appropriate or not that exist among people from varying backgrounds and cultures. That choice should be left to the individual, or to the parents (until such a time that the kids are out from under our roof anyway...)

Another MNB user wrote:

In reference to the Wal-Mart/Evanescence story, I think there is a broader point of interest that has not been pointed out. I completely agree that it is absurd to hold Wal-Mart responsible for a single word on the CD.

However, has anyone thought about the broader implications of Wal-Mart’s policy of imposing its moral standards on shoppers? There is a degree of hypocrisy in Wal-Mart’s audacious practice of selling censored CD’s, movies, etc…First of all, they don’t even indicate on the packaging that the material is any different from the same item elsewhere. Moreover, how can Wal-Mart take a stand on censorship of explicit material when they still carry guns in some stores, force US manufacturers out of business through their pricing demands, treat their own employees poorly, etc…I make it a point to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart simply because I seek a more engaging shopping experience and I hope that my efforts could save an independent retailer somewhere. I certainly refuse to buy CD’s from Wal-Mart. Who are they to tell me what I can and cannot listen to and who am I to say it is Wal-Mart’s responsibility to parent my child?

And yet another MNB user wrote:

As a grandparent with young, impressionable children in my home, I think I can see the difference between the picture in a book and profanity written in the pages of books.

Children scoping out books in a store could pick up and leaf through a picture book and find something totally inappropriate to look at. They are far less likely to pick up and begin reading a chapter book, looking for profanity. The children at risk in this situation, do not even have the reading skills necessary to find profanity in a book unless the book is filled with it.

I remember from my own middle school days when Peyton Place came out, that people at school passed around the page numbers to look at to find the titillating material. Not too likely to happen today, and certainly less likely to happen in Wal-Mart while shopping.

I think Wal-Mart was very wise to remove the book with inappropriate pictures in it and the suit bringers in this case is just another group of the many people who want to get rich on someone else's money in this country.

It is interesting how standards and impressions change.

Our 15-year-old is reading “The Catcher in the Rye” for school, and we were talking about it the other night. We remember vividly reading it in high school, and like most boys of that age, we were titillated by the scene in which Holden Caulfield encounters a prostitute in a hotel room; for many of us, it was the first time we’d read a novel with a scene like that, and it was riveting.

It is fascinating to us that our son isn’t at all affected by the scene – he’s grown up with HBO and video games and the Internet, and while we monitor what he sees pretty carefully, it is just a different world. What we found scandalous, he finds routine.

This raises an interesting problem for a culture, because it become increasingly hard to get kids of that age to read books like “Catcher in the Rye” or “The Great Gatsby,” because these books simply don’t meet their excitement quotient.

But it’s our job as parents to reinforce for our kids the critical role of culture, the value of diversity, and the importance of being well-rounded. And why, at the end of the day, any parent that blames a retailer for his or her own failings is full of it.
KC's View: