business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story the other day about disruptive changes in the hotel business, from which we drew business lessons for retailers. It prompted one MNB reader to write:

What if more hotels offered actual in-room coffee makers and not crappy coffee, Kuerigs pods, or none at all - forcing you to buy room service? What if there was an actual room fridge that fit more than overpriced mini bar beers?

What if more hotel, even chains, were more unique and reflected the community, and offered unique dining options that were out of the ordinary? What if room service didn’t incur a ridiculous surcharge?

I seldom stay at hotels anymore unless it’s just for a night or two as a quick getaway or on the way to somewhere else. And even then we look for small, quirky boutique hotels or inns. (and I’m no Millennial - LOL) I want a place with a kitchen or kitchenette so I can make my own coffee and buy delicious foods from the area to enjoy for breakfast, at a minimum - sometimes dinner too. I want a place to spread out and lounge, away from crowds. Most hotels, even upgraded suites, don’t offer much in the way of in-room coffee or comfortable lounging areas. Plus, it’s hard to beat the price of VRBO and Air BnB even for luxury stays. I can travel with friends, stay in a neighborhood, and have a unique experience far below what it would cost for even a middle-of-the-road hotel - but even if it cost more or the same, it would be worth it.

Regarding some of the new problems being encountered by Instacart, MNB reader Tracy Lape

The Instacart situation brings to mind the third party installation/delivery for big box stores like Home Depot, Lowes, carpet companies, etc.  They are the last phase of the consumer purchase and can enhance or ruin the customer experience. And they don’t even “work for the company” that the product was purchased from.  My experience is that the last phase is typically NOT enhanced.  In an effort to save money, the companies put their reputation on the line and hope for the best.  Down the road the companies that will come out ahead will need to find a way to motivate the “third party” to represent them well.  Or someone needs to develop a third party company that excels in customer service and sells that service to multiple companies.  Higher pay for better customer satisfaction?

MNB reader Karen Shunk chimed in:

I saw your item on Instacart employees taking to social media, and I wholeheartedly agree with your comment regarding the risks to retailers who may end up being tarred by the brush of a labor dispute they are only peripherally involved in.
I shop for groceries in a store that is a hub for Instacart activity. I have been concerned about this for two reasons: one is that having what amounts to a lot of warehouse pickers in the store degrades my experience as a shopper. (Anyone who has been in a grocery DC knows to stay out of the way of a determined picker.) Second, the Instacart employees *always* seem to be under the gun, so they must be under a lot of pressure from the company to fill orders. It just doesn’t seem like a great gig, so I am not surprised many of the employees feel as though they are treated poorly.
If retailers wish to do online order fulfillment from stores (the new holy grail), it shouldn’t diminish the experience of people who actually come into the stores, and they should strive to do business with partners who treat their employees well.

One MNB reader had some observations about Amazon Go:

OK, I admit it . . . I’m an old guy and I don’t buy into a lot of “current forces” going on around me culturally/societally. I see them, but I just choose NOT to participate. Case in point . . . Smart Phones. Yes, I have one. And the only reason it gets updated is when I change carriers/plans. And I consciously try NOT to use it because it’s an invasion into how I have lived my 71 years. I resent it, actually. I’m only saying this because I want to comment about the new AmazonGo location at the Ogilvy Transportation Center in Chicago.

How could I not notice? They carved out a space where a Bath and Beyond and a GNC once stood, and built their store. I walk past it every morning. It’s in the path of a stream of anywhere from 500 to 900 commuters advancing and narrowing specifically towards a pedestrian bridge over Canal Street heading into the Loop. I know, it’s a daunting challenge to walk in the opposite direction, as I do. So there it is, right in their path.

I rarely see anyone in it. I admit, I don’t stop and analyze it’s functioning. But it truly puzzles me. Could it be because it doesn’t have a checkout that people just move in like “Stealth Shoppers,” grab their stuff and split? Kind of like shoplifters . . . But honestly, with all the hubbub . . . wouldn’t there be more activity? I mean, I’ve never seen more shoppers than there are helpful staff standing around. I was anticipating at least a small crowd of people looking over merchandise. But nothin’! I just see rows and rows of stuff . . . and those employees, whatever they’re called, Retail Assistants, Clerks, maybe even Security . . . because it all happens so fast I don’t even see what goes down.

Or is that the object? In and Out. (Maybe that should have been the name, except it’s already taken). I see their orange posters all over for “Sign Up for the Amazon App!” So what’s the message? “I dare ya’?”

KC's View: