business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had email yesterday about the Walmart click-and-collect experience, which prompted more.

MNB reader Karen Techeira wrote:

My favorite part of the Walmart commercials is "free in-store pick up".

Really?!  They should be paying us to enter their doors!

From another reader:

Walmart’s instore pick-up station, for on-line purchases, is located in the back of the store.  This is convenient for Walmart, but not for customers.

Which, in a phrase, is precisely Walmart's problem. If it does things that are convenient rather than customer-centric, it will have problems competing with Amazon in this space.

Yesterday, we took note of a Washington Post report that several major retail chains - including The Disney Store, Aeropostale, and PacSun - are eliminating the use of "on-call scheduling," described as " a practice in which employees must be prepared to come in for a shift, but could find out at the last minute that they don’t have to report to work.

The reason? Well, it isn't because the companies' human resources departments suddenly had an attack of conscience, realizing that this wasn't fair to employees. No, it was because labor advocates drew enough attention to the practice that a group of state attorneys general started questioning the legality of the policy.

I commented, in part:

I think this is a reprehensible and unconscionable way to treat employees. I'm glad that government officials have stepped in to "persuade" companies that they need to go in a different direction. Though I wouldn't be surprised if some legislator somewhere decides to introduce a bill that would legalize such a practice.

MNB reader Tom Herman responded:

I have a slightly different take on this.  My daughter worked at a bar/restaurant during college that had on-call scheduling.  I thought it was terrible, but she really didn’t mind it.  They were pretty accurate in their forecast and maybe cancelled 10 to 20% of her shifts.  It was a small business and they probably couldn’t afford 20% more payroll if it wasn’t needed.  She made great tip money and really liked the place.  At no time did anyone force her to take the job and she wasn’t held hostage there. I think the sign of a robust economy is when employers compete for employees.  They do this by providing differentiated benefits and working conditions.  By mandating every benefit and work rule, you take out innovation and differentiation.  I trusted my daughter enough to decide where she worked and the pay and benefits she received.

From MNB reader Bob Lewis:

It seems to me, the business model of retailers engaging in on-call scheduling must be very reactive as opposed to being proactive. There are many tools available to accurately predict customer shopping patterns. Those tools allow business to put the right number of employees in place to meet the needs of their customers. In addition to the negative impact on their employees, poor planning practices negatively impact customer experience. If I sold scheduling software, I would view the retailers on this list as prime prospects for new business.

I think that on-call scheduling is essentially lazy management ... but I continue to believe that it is a reprehensible way to treat people. This doesn't mean that every company abuses it, but a lot of companies put employees on-call without giving them actual hours, and they don't get paid for sitting around. Not only that, they can't take other jobs.

When so-called innovation and differentiation result in employees being taken advantage of, it have a problem with it.

On the subject of Starbucks' AI plans, MNB reader Tony Moore wrote:

My first reaction to the story of AI shortly coming to Starbucks was one of indifference. Who cares that my name is on a screen, or what my order history was, or what others "like me" ordered?  Not really interested in being "up sold" by some algorithm.

The more I thought about it my indifference was replaced by a low level of irritation.  It seems a bit intrusive and possibly a bit creepy.  On a broader level I hate the thought of a human positively interacting with me being replaced by a cold "black box."

Got a lot of email yesterday with my automat memories:

I have fond memories of going to the Automat. I can remember as a little kid being taken to the Automat on the southeast corner of Third Avenue and 42nd Street by aunts and uncles who thought it was the coolest thing ever; it inevitably would be followed by a walk or cab ride over the Radio City Music Hall where we'd see a movie and Rockettes stage show. Good times.

MNB reader Tom Stenzel wrote:

Kevin, I think we may have been at the Automat on the same day – December 1963.  And, of course we went to Radio City for the Rockettes Christmas show that afternoon!

And MNB reader Carl P. Salamone wrote:

Thanks for the memories. I live in Rochester,N.Y. –my family would take the train to NYC once a year-we stayed at then Dixie hotel and YES I thought the Automat was the neatest thing going.  I still remember the Tuna fish sandwiches we ate from their if we were in NYC on a Friday!!
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