business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Tom Murphy:

We so seldom disagree that it pains me to write this email.

Your comment, “I think that not only is Walmart/Jet a potent combo to which Amazon needs to pay serious attention…” is off-base, as you personally have noted in the past.

Amazon asks three questions every day when they are thinking about their future and their strategy: 1) what does the customer want, 2) what will make the customer happy, and 3) how can Amazon make a difference to the customer.  Not once do the words competitor, Walmart, Target, or Jet show up in their discussions.  It is what differentiates them from the competition and what is the “eye-opener”.  I am truly hoping this slip in your observations and compelling insights is merely based on an over-exuberant Holiday celebration!!

Nope. I was sober when I wrote it.

I totally agree with you about Amazon's advantages and mindset. I was just arguing that Walmart is a powerful entity with a big footprint, and that Jet gives it another weapon in its arsenal. I might not focus on what they're doing, but I'd certainly keep an eye on them. To ignore them would be arrogant and complacent ... and that's a bad combination, I think.

Writing about self-checkout and no-checkout innovations, I commented:

“Supermarkets,… can use them to redeploy people to where they might make a difference. C-stores, probably less so.

Leading MNB reader Ben Ball to write:

A different POV – C-stores can use that labor to up their game in full-service food service. Enhancing the legitimacy of food service is going to do a lot more for C-store success in the next ten years than having someone chatting up customers in a supermarket aisle will.

Fair enough.

On another subject - the problems companies like PepsiCo are having getting consumers to buy into their focus on healthier foods - MNB reader Peter Talbott wrote:

It seems to me that Pepsi’s business was built on consumer addictions to caffeine, sugar and salt which led to boundless success.  I’m not sure they’ve yet cracked the code on the next human vulnerability, but watch out when they do.

Funny line from an MNB reader writing in about how Japan's Asahi Group will spend $7.8 billion to acquire a number of Central and Eastern European beer brands from Anheuser-Busch InBev:

Probably a wise move. I had Asahi for the first time at a sushi bar last weekend and it makes Bud Light taste like real beer.

MNB took note the other day of a story quoting experts as suggesting that long-term studies indicate that automation ultimately creates jobs rather than destroying them.

One MNB user wrote:

Your article in today’s MNB about automation creating more jobs is complete B.S.! For every article like the ones you have chosen to mention, I can show you 3 with the opposite POV…Nice to be in a position where you can pick and choose your sources.

Aren't we all in that position?

Still, I wish you;d told me how you really feel...

From another reader:

Agreed that more thoughtful analysis is needed about the employment impacts on the next generation of automation.  That analysis should focus on the future effects and not just use analogies of previous century effects such as agriculture.  The WSJ report notes that number of bank tellers increased after the introduction of the ATM. OK, but not clear to me that was caused by ATM's, seems to me more by the move to retail branches.
Automation is here, it is replacing not just manual labor.  Doctors, radiologists, stock analysts, media buyers, accountants, etc. are being replaced.

So what are the new opportunities that automation/AI are creating? We have about 4.5 million truck/bus/taxi drivers- what should they plan next?

The article also reports a further bifurcation of the job market- in a world where income inequality is a growing problem, this concerns me.  Will this also accelerate the urban/rural divide?   For the first time ever a new generation of Americans is less educated than the previous and their projected income is not largely better than their parents.  Retail employs one out of four Americans and these employees are also shoppers. What do we need to be doing to prepare all Americans for the opportunities of the future?

And from another reader:

Since I have worked in the computer field for the past 40+ years, I think I can safely make a couple of points.

• Back in the late 80's, when technology was in its boom era, an article was published (I think it was in ComputerWorld, but not sure) about how "technology has NEVER displaced any jobs".  A bold headline for the time, to be sure.  But they made the point that for every job that fell by the wayside due to automation, 1.5 jobs were created elsewhere.

Now I know, you can make statistics prove anything, but I recall when supermarkets first installed scanners, and every item had the "mark of the beast" printed on it.  So, in my best paraphrase... Change is bad, only until it is good.  When done right, cashiers are more productive, inventory is better controlled AND the checkout process is faster.

• Compare the example of the buggy whip maker, I doubt he/she spent anytime at all learning auto mechanics, so they could keep pace with the technology of the times.  They really had no idea what an industrial revolution lay on the horizon.  The tool that controlled the power that pulled the buggy, was lost to technology, but unlike then, today's people can (or SHOULD) see it coming and it is their responsibility to be ready when it gets here.  If you don't / can't see where your job will be affected by technology, find it, or find someone that does and listen to them. We have SO MANY more opportunities today, than the poor buggy whip maker.

Some may consider this an eye opener, but I just call it common sense: If the world passes you by, it's nobody's fault but your own.  Although Compete IS a verb, it may not always mean "in the same arena".  Thanks to MNB, at least no one in THIS industry can say "I had no idea." LOL.

KC's View: