business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Brian Blank, regarding the former Toys R Us employees who lost their jobs when the retailer went belly up and now have reached out to the three private equity groups that owned it, hoping for some sort of hardship fund that could help them out financially:

Let me preface this by saying that I share your contempt of the Wall Street types who acquire businesses such as Toys R Us only to plunder them and screw over the employees AND customers.

But…I do have to ask:  Why didn’t these hard-hit employees do something to help themselves?  If you know you’re about to lose your job—go look for a new job!  Supposedly - and maybe this is “fake news” - the economy is in such a good place that employers are reported to be begging for workers.  TRU has been in trouble for a long time, and the plan to shut down the company was well-publicized and a long process - not one of these situations where people showed up to work one day and found the doors locked.

I agree with you to a point. I’m not sure we know that the employees haven’t looked for new jobs. And ultimately I’m okay with employees getting just a little bit of the consideration that the people who wrecked the company got.

We had a story the other day a new Food Marketing Institute (FMI) study, conducted by Precima, concluding that “the best way for food retailers to gain an advantage over digital retailers and other competitors is to have a large, loyal customer base,” and that “to achieve this, it is critical for retailers to take a next generation approach to customer loyalty.”

I commented:

The problem with this is that second-generation loyalty marketing may not be much good to stores that never got the first generation right. They called them loyalty programs, but they really were just juiced up coupon programs … about bribing customers into staying rather than demonstrating their loyalty to the shopper.

The stated purpose of these programs seems obvious. They won’t mean much to retailers that are oblivious.

MNB reader Glenn Cantor responded:

Store Managers should know their best shoppers and they should know when they are in their store.  ( Amazon does!) They can make this familiarity comfortable for these shoppers by then providing customized services- dedicated deli service, meal suggestions, special offers, etc.  Retailers kind of do this now, through their loyalty marketing programs.  They need to bring loyalty marketing into the store.

Another reader objected to the phrase, “"they really were just juiced up coupon programs … about bribing customers into staying rather than demonstrating their loyalty to the shopper.”

Perhaps they're demonstrating their loyalty to the shopper by providing them with coupons on the products they buy.  Can you really think of a better way to meet that objective?

I think that when loyalty becomes all about price, the vast majority of retailers are going to end up losing. Very few retailers can win that battle … most can be undercut by somebody else.

Back in the day when people had loyalty card fobs on their keychains, they often had dozens … because they weren’t really loyal at all. Just opportunistic. And retailers weren’t doing anything differentiated to prove their loyalty to their shoppers.

So I disagree with your argument.

On another subject, from another reader:

Costco’s continued adjustments to its’ food menu started with their decision to eliminate the "real thing", Coca Cola, and bring in Pepsi (yuk!) products. Then the snack items began to be altered, e.g., the berry freeze was replaced by a supposedly better for you mixture albeit at almost twice the price. Their legendary hot dog is no longer kosher, sorry Sol Price, but in place they have substituted a lesser concoction of fats and boned meat. Life is short . . . let the people have what they crave . . . tasty food with lots of carbohydrates. Can you imagine if John Blutarsky (Bluto) in Animal House had organic food only from which to choose at the college cafeteria!

Wait. The green jello wasn’t organic?

Imagine how disappointed I am.

Finally…on Friday we took note of a CNet report that a new vodka is about to hit the market - Ten Forward Vodka, named after the USS Enterprise bar tended by Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

It is part of a line of “Star Trek”-themed alcoholic beverages. The Silver Screen Bottling Company, which makes it, recently announced the James T. Kirk Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and already makes Klingon Bloodwine.

The vodka’s label is designed to look like the Enterprise D’s computer screens. It will retail for about $30 per bottle. The launch was announced at Comic Con 2018 in San Diego.

As I said Friday, this was a story that was made for MNB … and its readers, one of whom, Dennis Barthuly, wrote:

I assume they will have to have a "Tribble" Fuzzy Navel.

And then there was Leo Martineau, who wrote:

But can they produce a Tzartak Aperitif properly aligned to the consumer’s body temperature? Just asking.

All compliments to Leo, who came up with a reference that I actually had to research. According to one Star Trek fan site, the Tzartak aperitif “was an extremely delicate and difficult-to-make beverage with many different ingredients. When made properly, the evaporation point of the drink's main ingredient was one-half degree lower than the body temperature of the consumer. Thus, the liquid evaporated immediately after it touched the tongue, and the flavor was carried entirely by the vapors. However, the slightest miscalculation in the mixing process would crash the vapor point, and the entire drink would evaporate away.”

The Tzartak Aperitif was first mentioned on a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode called “Time’s Arrow,” in which Guinan is explaining to Capt. Picard the delicacy of the timeline, and how easy it is to disrupt it.

I remember the episode (Samuel Clemens actually makes an appearance!) and the metaphor, but I didn’t remember the actual drink. So thanks to Leo for reminding me yet again why I love MNB and its readership so much.
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