business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story the other day about how CVS is increasing its commitment to its HealthHUB concept, which led me to comment:

This goes back to something that I've long said here - that the successful retailers will be more than just a source of product, but will develop a reputation for being a resource for the shopper. That's what CVS is doing here, which makes competitive sense at a time when both Walmart and Amazon are building up their street cred in the healthcare/self care segment.

Prompting MNB reader Jerome Schindler to respond:

Based on my personal experiences, that mirror a lot of consumer comments on social media, CVS is doing a very poor job of responding to their shoppers' comments, concerns or complaints.  Their company customer services dept. won't even respond to my emails.  Phone conversations with them are equally less than satisfactory.   Management needs to read the book "A complaint is a gift".   (I have the same issues with Kroger - maybe it is me.)

I formerly was a very good patron of CVS but no longer shop very often there.

From MNB reader Brian Blank:

Interesting item on Walmart’s growing use of in-store robots.  I haven’t spent a ton of time in Walmart stores recently - although I made a couple trips in to the Supercenter in my rural Ohio hometown during our Thanksgiving and Christmas visits, and picked up an online order at my local store as well - but I haven’t encountered their robots so far. I’m actually hoping to do so at some point so I can compare their execution to the Stop & Shop robots.

We have friends who have declared the S&S robots to be “creepy as [very bad word]” - I don’t find them creepy, just annoying, as they seem to have a propensity from blocking my access to the aisles I need to shop.  Also, they seem to just utilize the robots to monitor for spills (and apparently, a dropped shopping list or store flyer counts as a “spill”).  I hope Walmart’s ‘bots are successful in their mission of identifying (and fixing) out-of-stocks on the store shelves.

One thing to watch out for, if anyone in Bentonville is reading this, is that humans may undermine these efforts, even if unintentionally - something that seems to happen at ALL grocers and mass retailers.  There seems to be a tendency for certain SKUs to be perpetually out-of-stock, and I believe it can be traced to the misguided notion that there shouldn’t be holes on the shelves.  Well, the notion is valid and well-guided, but the reality is that inevitably, empty spots are filled in with adjacent product to disguise the OOS situation, which means careless humans do not restock or reorder items that are out, and would also mean that a robot would also not “see” a hole that has been camouflaged by fill-ins.

Regarding Amazon's ecosystem approach, one MNB reader wrote:

Amazon seems to have found a new way to sell books by making successful Prime TV shows using characters from popular authors - examples include Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books, and coming soon a new series with Lee Child's iconic Jack Reacher. These are natural tie-ins for Amazon with its roots as a bookseller. After watching the Jack Ryan episodes I've begun reading the old Tom Clancy books on my Amazon Kindle. While written in the 1980's and 90's his stories involving military and government agencies continue to be relevant and compelling (and I don't have to lug around 1,000 page 'doorstops').

We've had some stories about the Amazon-Kohl's relationship, which led MNB reader Pam Samaniego to write:

When I heard that Kohl’s was going to take Amazon returns, I questioned whether that would be a good idea for Kohl’s.

Just this weekend, I was prodded into using that in-store return service by my young adult son. Evidently he felt it was easier than finding a shipping box, printing a label, and mailing it back, and I was willing to give it a try, so off we went to Kohl’s. 

By design, Kohl’s had the Amazon return desk deep in the store, but the return process was very quick and very easy. The unexpected bonus was receiving 25% off Kohl’s coupons with our return confirmations.

Turns out, we spent most of our Amazon return money on in-store purchases that day, so I’d say that scenario worked out just fine for Kohl’s.

From another reader:

In regards to the Kohl’s - Amazon partnership: I do believe it’s working - personally returned 3-5 items to my local store. As well as even looked to take advantage of the 20% off coupon that I received each time I made the return.

The issue is KOHL’s: (1) the coupon is not valid on all items (Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, etc..). This is the same compliant you hear from customers in regards to Macys!

And (2) the stores are a MESS - everything is on sale or on clearance, product never on correct racks - looks like Marshalls met Macys and had a KOHLs

Mgmt. (as you always mention) needs to walk some store (think Target mgmt. previously did when reviewing what needed to change) and realize what makes them different - providing a reason for their customers to shop!

I took an Amazon return to Kohl's this weekend, and also found the return desk to be way in the back of the store, sharing space with the customer service desk. When I got there, there was only one person in front of me, and so things went quickly … but by the time I was done, five minutes later, there were maybe eight people on line. Timing was everything, and if'd gotten there a few minutes later, I would've been frustrated.

MNB last week took note of a Reuters report that Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos has committed $1 billion to help small businesses in India online, "reaching out to some of his fiercest critics in a goodwill visit that saw him donning traditional Indian attire and fly a kite with children … Amazon said it will setup digital centers in 100 Indian cities and villages to help businesses get online to sell their goods and will offer support in marketing and logistics."

One MNB reader responded:

I read this and literally had to re-read it.  I work for a major corporation, and our IT and bill payment functions are out-sourced to India, which eliminated hundreds of jobs for long-time employees here.  I also own a small business on the side, and I am fully aware of the struggles small businesses face here to get their product in front of people and make sales.  I am just appalled that those funds couldn’t have stayed here.  Many people selling on Amazon are mothers that can’t work “normal” business hours, veterans, or a myriad of other examples of people really trying to provide, but willing to make an effort instead of taking government assistance.  This could be a very long comment, but let’s just say this totally disgusted me.

Finally … last week we had a story about Vessel, which can best be described as a program encouraging coffee shops to offer reusable mugs instead of disposable cups; when people are done with them, they can drop them off at any of the other participating locations, where it will be collected, washed, and returned.

The story noted that new laws and rules governing the use of single use items - from bags to straws, plates to cups - are creating business opportunities for companies like Vessel, which isn't making money yet but is ahead of projections when it comes to adoption by cafes.

I commented, in part:

I have to be honest here. I'm not sure that I'd want to use one of these cafes' reusable cups, simply because I'm not entirely confident about the whole washing thing. But … and maybe this is part of the point … these policies would probably encourage me to bring my own mug to the coffee shop.

I don't do it now. I don't even think about it. But part of what these changing laws and resultant policy changes do is impact how we all think about things. We consider stuff that we never considered before. We develop habits that we never had before. And the result can be less crap out there that fouls a planet that seems increasingly fragile.

Lots of MNB folks challenged part of that comment.

From MNB reader Suzanne Riel:

If you are concerned about the cleaning process – how is that any different than getting served a beer in a glass or using silverware at a restaurant?
From MNB reader Gregory Gheen:

I assume that when you go out to eat you don't always eat at fast food? So if you are partaking in nicer restaurants (cafe's), aren't you using their cups, glasses, plates, silverware which is basically the same as this story?

From another MNB reader:

Seriously Kevin? If you have concerns about the cleanliness of the Vessel mugs you should give up dining out. No difference IMO from a restaurant dishwasher cleaning everything you eat & drink with. I hope that Vessel is the long overdue death knell for styrofoam cups.

From MNB reader Dan Jones:

I am betting you eat at restaurants with ceramic plates and permanent cutlery.  You do not bring your own, do you?  Why would this be any different?

MNB reader David Armstrong wrote:

You are  probably too  young but, think milk bottles!

I am not too young to remember.

From MNB reader Jeff Weidauer:

Interesting that you’re uncomfortable reusing a coffee cup because of the washing thing. Do you bring your own dishes when you eat at a restaurant as well?

And from MNB reader Bill Ziegler:

You’re "not entirely confident about the whole washing thing?” Do you bring your own plates to restaurants? What about drinking glasses in hotel rooms?

I suspect you haven’t thought this through. It seems like a real opportunity to enable positive change and worthy of support.

Okay. I get the point.
KC's View: