business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader who wanted to take issue with another reader who expressed some skepticism about the broad import of Walmart's announcement that it will be hiring 10,000 employees:

It seems that adding 10,000 jobs in this economy ought to be a good thing.  For many of those people, the alternative maybe be to remain unemployed or work for someone else.

An entry level job at Walmart may be one additional paycheck for a household, which gives them just that much more to help out.  It might be the first job for a teenager, and perfect for their age and experience.   Most of the 10,000 will also have a good chance of working their way up to better pay and benefits. 10,000 people without a job is a drain on their families and the economy.  In many cases the benefits of unemployment and other government programs will be paid for by the taxes charged to those who do have jobs. New jobs will result in additional purchases, which helps many others.

Adding low paying jobs doesn't instantly solve income equality. That's a different conversation, with many other factors such as how to equip the workforce for the new economy, how to create more business investment that results in better paying jobs...

In all, I'd say adding these jobs is much better than the alternative!

Some interesting emails about Sears, which stands accused of running an analog/catalog business in a digital world.

One MNB reader wrote:

Somehow the irony that Sears once disrupted retail during my grandparents generation with their catalog yet missed converting that to a modern era looms very large every time I think of this iconic retailer going out of business. I can only surmise that nobody listened to the new person that suggested killing the catalogue to use the internet. Or perhaps, that person was not present at all which is a great case study for expanding our circles and including dissenting views!

From another reader:

Speaking as an individual consumer, Sears lost me before there were computers, never mind internet ordering services or mobile phones. Sears became irrelevant because it was, in my personal experience, an incompetent and uncaring retailer often enough that it wasn’t worth the trouble to deal with them.

I used to buy a lot from them – literally thousands a year, when I lived in a small town in Maine and managed to acquire a number of older multi-family properties, where maintaining them was essentially my second job. Tools, water heaters, paint and wallpaper, plumbing and electrical parts, lawn and garden equipment, as well as clothes and children’s furniture and who knows what else.

And they gradually lost me because they couldn’t keep parts in stock, because they sold too many defective items and didn’t make it good, because they stopped carrying things of quality in preference for things that were cheap, not merely inexpensive,  because they didn’t care and it showed.

We are talking decades in the past here. But the few times I gave them another chance, as recently as 4 or 5 years ago, when I dropped in on a whim to get a filter for my ancient Sears shop vac, it was the same story. The vacuum still works. But Sears doesn’t.
The internet is a convenient whipping boy, but it is not even remotely the reason Sears is in trouble. They stopped being good at what retailers need to do. They lost the shoppers they could have retained, they practically chased them away. That ain’t Amazon, Kevin. That’s Retail 101come back to bite them.

MNB reader Bob Vereen wrote:

Sears has had two big problems—its stores were located in big malls, and they are losing traffic.  The second problem has been its owner.

And from another reader:

Imagine how incredible it is.  We can sit down at our own leisure, thumb through the hundreds of pictures, and pick what we want to buy:  clothing for every member of the family, hats of all shapes and sizes, furniture to fill our rooms, tools for work and hobbies, sewing machines, thermometers, cameras, appliances, and trunks to put it all in.  All you have to do is place your order and wait for the shipment to arrive.

Amazon?  Nope.  It’s the 1897 Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogue.  I find it fascinating that Amazon is now doing what Sears was doing over a century ago.  The details and the technology are different, but the overall aim is the same – to be the go-to retailer for everyone.  I think it’s sad that Sears wasn’t able to maintain the forward thinking it started with.

Got the following email from MNB reader Chuck Burns:

My wife's big complaint about going into brick and mortar stores is that IF she finds something she wants to buy it is hard to find a clerk so she can pay for the item. She may go past three or four unmanned checkout stations before she finds one manned; and there will always be a line. Many times she has just set the purchase down and left the store in frustration. Management invests in stores, inventory and advertising and then run short staffed, to save money, and make it hard to complete the purchase.

Other than food items I would say that 80% of all of our purchases are from Amazon.

And on another subject, from another reader:

I read your article about how lacking Staples is in the customer service department.. I had an equally painful experience at my local Staples. First I bought a new printer on Staples website since I had gotten a very good deal on it using a coupon code. It delivered very quickly to my house. Then, long story short, the printer seemed to malfunction so I had to return it. It turns out that they didn't carry this particular printer in the stores so they couldn't exchange it and they also were now out of stock online. So I just wanted to return it. They had to call a manager up to the front to return an online item.. After arriving up front and finding out what was happening the manager immediately gave a very long and loud sigh.. He said that I can't return an online item to a store. He said they are separating online from in store. This was very inconvenient. They wouldn't even ship it back for me.. I had to go home, call a very terrible phone system to finally be able to return the printer.. What's the point of having stores if you don't utilize them to make the process easy for all customers. I learned my lesson, just use Amazon.

The other day I wrote that Amazon is either the Death Star or the Rebel Alliance, depending on your point of view.

MNB reader Mark Baum wrote:

Death Star or Rebel Alliance.  HMMMM – I like it!

And MNB reader Karen Alley wrote:

Great metaphor about Amazon today!

Thanks. I'm sort of proud of that one ... and I'm going to make it a centerpiece of future speeches.

Finally, I got the following email from MNB reader Deb Faragher about Bosch - the books and the TV series:

I’ve also been a huge fan of Michael Connelly from the beginning.  Am not a member of Amazon Prime but since the series was introduced, I’ve been dying for them to release it on DVD.  They haven’t done it and, at this point, I’m guessing they won’t.  As you say often, “resistance is futile”.  I guess if I want to see it, they’ll have me!

It may seem inconvenient if you're not a member of Prime, but I have to admire Amazon's discipline in cases like these. They could go for some short term bucks by offering DVDs, but they know that the longer-term business model is better served by continuing to build the value of Prime.

If I were you, I'd just join. The $99 I spend each year on Prime are 99 of the best dollars that I spend in any given 12 months.
KC's View: