business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday we reported about the antitrust suit filed against Amazon "alleging that the e-commerce giant wields monopoly power that has resulted in higher prices for consumers."

I commented:

I have to admit I am a little skeptical about this suit, largely because Amazon is transparent on its own site when products are being offered by marketplace vendors for a lower price than even Amazon sells them.  It would just seem to run counter to Amazon's commitment to eliminating friction and doing things that are consumer-centric.

But, who knows?  Maybe there are incriminating documents that will prove the case.  Maybe Amazon has been fooling us all these years.

But I'm dubious, and think it may be hard to prove that Amazon is bad for consumers.

One MNB reader responded:

After reading your views on this story I have to say, as a top seller on Amazon in the US, it’s a company far from being transparent.  The seller forum board is on fire today with so many happy sellers excited about this.  Amazon quietly removed from their TOS recently that we (we sellers) can now, or are able to, sell the same item elsewhere for a lower price.  That includes being terminated as a seller if you sell for less elsewhere like eBay and Walmart.  PRICE FIXING at its finest.

You said, “… hard to prove that Amazon is bad for consumers”, I have to ask, are they hosting your site and did they make you say this?  I cannot be the only seller who wonders this exact thing…

I have no business connection to Amazon, and they've never told me to say anything.  And if they did, I'd report it here.

On another subject, MNB reader Dan Jones wrote:

Thinking about your quote, “Essentially [Kroger] is looking to prove that in some cases and some places, stores may not be necessary.” 

Perhaps Kroger is not in the Food Business, which features aromas, creativity, authenticity and expertise.  Maybe they are just in the Food Distribution Business – and that is entirely different.

Excellent point.

Lots of email yesterday about our pandemic coverage.

One MNB reader wrote:

The following contradictory information was in your COVID update section.

•  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 61.6 percent of the US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 50 percent has been fully vaccinated.

•  There's an excellent piece in The New Yorker entitled "The Beginning of the End of the American Pandemic," that looks at what the future may hold for the country as the pandemic recedes.  An excerpt:

"The shift toward reopening is not without risk. The first issue is timing. Less than half of Americans have received even one shot of a covid-19 vaccine, and only around four in ten have been fully vaccinated. This means that the majority of the country remains susceptible to infection and disease. 

Which is true? IMHO, it’s really a glass half full or half empty at this point.

The eastern part of the country suffered greatly with the virus early and that set a tone that lives on. Some want to focus on scariants and some want to focus on how amazingly effective the vaccine is. As more time goes on, we find the vaccine effectiveness gets longer. Also, the scariants keep being blocked for the most part. I follow epidemiologists on Twitter now (like Monica Gandhi from San Francisco), no more NYT, NPR, Wash Post with their “may happen,” boogey-virus garbage.

First of all, remarkably enough, I found Dr. Gandhi quoted quite often in the Times, Post, and on NPR … as they do what they're supposed to do, which is get a lot of different views and opinions on this kind of stuff.

As for the difference in the numbers … that has more to do with a difference in deadlines than anything else, I'd guess.  My numbers were sourced yesterday morning, and I'm not sure when that issue of The New Yorker went to bed.

I think that it is entirely fair to say that the vaccines, from all reports, seem to be as effective, maybe even more effective, as could be expected.  That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be conscious of the variants (I think we should), of the possibility that there could be a resurgence, and the greater the vaccine hesitancy the higher the possibility that we could get more outbreaks.

Of course, we might not.  But vigilance is all.

From another reader:

Shaw's is no longer requiring masks for those that are vaccinated. No proof is required from vendors or customers(how could it be?). However associates that are not vaccinated must still wear masks, and they know who they are because of the $100 bonus we received for getting the vaccine.

Seems that it's going to be an HR/HIPPA issue, as some associates are threatening to quit, unfortunately.

Also got an email about a note we posted yesterday from an MNB reader:

It is interesting that Rich Heiland would go out of his way to update us on the US mask policy or lack there of. Once again - who cares? And the reader who watched the PGA and the first thing that came to mind is "no one is wearing a mask". Wow - what a crappy life if that is what comes to mind.

In the post truth era - We have everyone looking over everyone's shoulder so that they can define the truth, so that they can judge others while clearly stating that they are superior by either getting the vaccine or wearing a mask when they dont have to.

Stay in your lane folks. The first amendment is beautiful and we should not let go of it, at any cost, because it provides insight into the Gladys Kravitz' of the world... Which there seems to be a lot of today.

Clearly you are letting your readers do the heavy lifting on the mask syndrome. 

I think you are making a lot of assumptions there … Rich Heiland never made mention of "truth" - he simply reported what he was seeing.  (By the way … Rich Heiland may be the only MNB reader who has won the Pulitzer Prize, so I'm inclined to believe his reporting.  Just sayin…)

As for the person who noted the lack of masks at the PGA … well, I noticed the same thing, and I don't think I have a particularly crappy life.  I just have eyes, and spend an awful lot of time trying to understand this stuff and then write about it.

The science, as I understand it, says that vaccinated people are overwhelmingly likely not to get Covid, but they can, and if they do, are likely to have mild symptoms or be asymptomatic.  But, if they do get it, they can pass it on.

In addition to all the people who don't believe that Covid exists, don't believe the death toll, or don't believe that the vaccine or masks are necessary, there also are people who are immunocompromised, may be too young to get the vaccine, or just haven't been able to get it yet.  Non-vaccinated people run the risk not just of getting Covid, but also of giving the disease to these other people.

This isn't a judgement, the way I understand what most scientists are saying. It is just a recitation of the facts as they are understood by experts right now.

I will say this, though.  You may be the first person who has accused me of letting readers do the "heavy lifting" on the mask issue.  I got a lot more email suggesting that I was talking about it way too much … and everybody is entitled to their opinion.  But I'm sort of proud of the fact that I was calling for stores to establish and enforce mask mandates as early as April 7, 2020.

Responding to yesterday's piece about robots that make paella and drones that deliver Girl Scout cookies, one MNB reader wrote:

I am an old Irish Catholic guy who grew up on meat and potatoes every night.  I had to look up what was a paella... pretty sheltered life.

Robot chef and drone delivery might allow me to try my first paella.

Yesterday I wrote:

One note in the story that sort of surprised me was that alarm clock sales doubled during April.  Not that people need to be more conscious about when they wake up these days, but rather that people actually use alarm clocks.  I haven't used once since I got my first smart phone, and I sort of assumed that everybody else was the same way.

One MNB reader wrote:

These alarm clocks are not for old guys like us that figured out a long time ago how to use the alarm clock feature on our phones. These are for the kids that are finally going back to "in person" school for the first time in over a year. Many in this age group still do not have their own phone (which is a great thing from my perspective) so they need something to get them up and going in the morning (which is something a lot of them haven't had to do for a long time). My youngest daughter isn't much of a morning person so I was a part of this group in April looking to buy a basic alarm clock. I was shocked how tough it was to find a one. There were plenty of alarm clocks that came with a million different options but very few choices for a basic alarm clock. This is a good business lesson for companies that sometimes focusing on (and not forgetting about) the basic needs of your customers can help ensure you are able to meet their needs.

Just in case you are curious, my daughter's alarm clock is now set for 6:30, 6:35 and 6:40 each morning for school... :).

How old are these kids do not have their own phones?  And are they Amish?

MNB reader Steven Ritchey wrote:

One of the first things a smart manager learns in the supermarket business is to not make assumptions.  To assume others don't use a product because you don't is dangerous.  I've seen too many managers lose out on a new product because they erroneously thought if they wouldn't buy it, neither would anyone else.

Oh, and by the way, I still use an alarm clock at home.

I'm not a retailer, so I didn't get that lesson.  But I am a pundit, and the same lesson applies … which is why I made a point of it.

The Wall Street Journal story that prompted this exchange said the following:

"As vaccination rates climb and restrictions on human interaction ease, shopping carts are filling up with items designed to facilitate people’s re-entry into civilization instead of toilet paper and baking flour … Deodorant, teeth whitener and condoms are in high demand. Sales of perfume, nail polish, swimsuits, sunscreen, tuxedos, luggage and alarm clocks are climbing fast, according to companies that make these products and large retailers."

Prompting one MNB reader to write:

You will receive commentary I’m certain but one cannot allow the increased sales of condoms to be a Trojan horse for male consumers with high expectations and clearly for retailers, this is where the rubber meets the road. 


And finally, thanks again to all of you have enjoyed the Bob Dylan song videos, as we observe his 80th birthday.

Today, we have one last video … a read oddity … Dylan doing a duet with Joan Baez, covering Jimmy Buffett's "A Pirate Looks At 40."  It's weird, but I love it.